Here Are Ins, Outs of U.S. Party Gatherings

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), August 27, 1996 | Go to article overview

Here Are Ins, Outs of U.S. Party Gatherings


Byline: Dennis R. Maher

Every four years, the Democrat and Republican parties meet and select candidates to run for president and vice president of the United States. These late summer meetings every four years are called the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.

Selecting candidates for the highest office in the land is one of two primary responsibilities of the convention. The second is developing a party platform. The people who attend the conventions are called delegates.

Conventions have become a regular fixture in American history since the 1830s. Prior to the 1830s, selection of party candidates was done by caucus. A caucus is a private meeting of the party leaders - better known as backroom politics. It was Andrew Jackson who demanded that the system be changed.

The first major national convention was held in 1831 by the Anti-Masonic Party. A year later, the Democrats met and nominated Andrew Jackson. Though influential party members continued to chose presidential candidates, the process was more open for the common man.

The first Republican National Convention was held in 1856, and the party nominated John C. Fremont for president. Fremont was a soldier and explorer who had no political experience. By World War I, slightly less than half the states were selecting convention delegates through primary elections. (The people were having more of an input in the selection process.)

Most national conventions were held in cities that were centrally located. Baltimore, Md., was the site of the first six Democratic conventions. The city also was the site of Whig and Republican conventions during the mid-part of the 19th century.

As the population center moved westward, so did the convention sites. Chicago became a favorite host city of both parties - the first in 1860, when the Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln. Altogether, Chicago became the site of 14 Republican conventions and 10 Democratic. This month's Democratic Convention will mark the city's 25th major political convention.

Established by tradition, the party that controls the White House (in today's case, the Democrats) will hold its convention after the other party - in this case, the Republicans.

The Democrats have already allowed the Republicans to have their week in the sun.

As with the Republicans, they hope to show what they have to offer. As in sports, both parties are concerned with the "Big mo," as in momentum.

There is the slight advantage to the party that holds its convention last, hoping the momentum from all the convention hoopla will carry them through Election Day. …

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