Monday, May 21, 2007

May 21, 1832:

The First Democratic Party Convention

It isn't a page-turner, but Summary of the Proceedings of a Convention of Republican Delegates from the Several States in the Union, for the Purpose of Nominating a Candidate for the Office of Vice-President of the United States; Held at Baltimore, in the State of Maryland, May 1832 With an Address, to the Republicans of the State of New-York, Prepared by Their Delegates, in Compliance With the Recommendations of Said Convention does shed some light on the beginnings of national Democratic Party conventions.

These days, we're used to the quadrennial light-and-smoke show that nominates major party candidates for the presidency, but in the Age of Jackson it was a novelty. Previous candidates had been nominated by state caucuses, but the flaw in this approach was all too obvious in 1824, when the Democratic-Republican splintered into factions, with four candidates running against each other (there was no Federalist opposition by this time).

The Anti-Masonic Party held a national convention in 1831, and the next year the Democratic-Republicans did too, convening on May 21, 1832. Its purpose wasn't to select a presidential candidate, since the party already had one: President Jackson. Instead, the vice presidential nomination was up for grabs, and it went to the man who had done the most to organize the party nationally, Martin Van Buren.

As a curious aside, the Summary of the Proceedings notes that a delegation was sent to ask Charles Carroll of Carrollton to attend. At that moment in time, he was the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence. Carroll declined, citing ill health. (He died later that year.)

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