The Nominating Process: Finding Someone to Run
American colonists were electing delegates to various local and provincial offices long before the idea of independence from Britain gained any currency. Usually candidates for such offices were proposed by informal assemblies of local elders. At least by the 1720s, many of these candidateselection sessions were called caucuses, or contemporary variations on what became that word.
However spelled, the caucus probably originated as the name of a Boston political club or clubs early in the eighteenth century. "Caucus" may or may not derive from an Algonquian word, caucausu, meaning an advisor, or from an obscure Latin borrowing from a Greek word for drinking vessel, kaukos. In 1763 John Adams wrote in Boston of learning
that the Caucas Clubb meets at certain Times in the Garret of Tom Daws [where] they smoke tobacco till you cannot see from one End of the Garrett to the other. There they drink Phlipp I suppose, and there . . . select Men, Assessors, Collectors, Wardens, Fire Wards, and Representatives are Regularly chosen before they are chosen in the Town. ( Adams 1961, 1:238)
Elsewhere Adams spelled the word "caucass," but these versions were rendered as caucus in his grandson Charles Francis Adams's edition of the second president's papers. Other of John Adams's contemporaries wrote it as Caulkers, supposing the meetings to have occurred in a place where ship- related business went on. We know that there were several Boston caucuses, and in the 1740s one such meeting was known as the West-Corcus. However spelled, the term spread from Boston across the colonies, and if Americans did not know its origin they clearly understood its purpose.