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The First Political Conventions

September 8th, 2012

Long before we had 24-hour news cycles, an endless stream of pundits, and a slew of social media websites, America had no problem nominating Presidential candidates.  In fact, we went decades before political conventions were even thought of!

Up until the 1820’s, members of Congress nominated Presidential candidates.  In those days, the candidates didn’t hit the stump and travel all over the place campaigning.  Instead, they left that up to their supporters.

But, eventually, people got sick of that.  In September 1831, 96 members of the Anti-Masonic Party headed to Baltimore and held America’s first political convention.  (Ironically, they nominated William Wirt — a former Mason.  Apparently flip-flopping existed back then, too!)

Not to be outdone, the National Republicans held their own convention in Baltimore a couple months later.  But like today’s conventions, everyone knew ahead of time that Henry Clay was going to be nominated.  So much for suspense!

Five months later, the Democrats decided to drum up some enthusiasm by holding a convention of their own.  Unsurprisingly, sitting President Andrew Jackson got their nomination.  But in an effort to add some suspense, the Democrats decided to unveil their Vice-Presidential candidate at the convention.

Imagine what things were like at those very first political conventions.  There were no screaming primetime speeches, no balloons dropping from the ceiling, no glitzy videos, and no one Tweeting all of the action in real-time.  All you had was a group of people getting together for one day and picking who they thought would be the perfect choice to run the country.


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