Emergence of the Presidential Nominating Convention, 1789-1832

Emergence of the Presidential Nominating Convention, 1789-1832

Emergence of the Presidential Nominating Convention, 1789-1832

Emergence of the Presidential Nominating Convention, 1789-1832

Excerpt

Preceding the election of 1832 the Antimasonic, National Republican, and Democratic parties selected their presidential tickets in national conventions. Except for the Whigs in 1836 all major and most minor parties have used the device ever since. The impact of the national convention on the development of American politics requires no underlining. The purpose of this volume is to reveal, insofar as it is possible, the circumstances responsible for the convention's nearly simultaneous introduction by three parties.

None of the men immediately involved realized they were founding a great American institution; their gaze extended no further than the next election. And in later years, when its significance had become apparent, no memoirists claimed credit for any of these initial conventions. Martin Van Buren did not even remember, when writing his autobiography, that the convention which nominated him for vicepresident was the first in the history of the Democratic party. So obscure were its beginnings that in 1905 a political scientist could plausibly characterize the national convention as "neither a political inheritance nor a conscious contrivance" but "an unfathered institutional waif" (thereby turning the early national period into a modern equivalent of the Dark Ages).

Notwithstanding the recentness of the convention's birth, this remark struck an appropriate evolutionary note, for well before the Antimasons met in 1831 knowledge of convention theory and practice was commonplace in all but a handful of the twenty-four states. In a sense the national convention has no origin. It emerged as the climax . . .

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