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It appears that early in the year 1800 a few Federalist members of Congress met in the Senate chamber for the purpose of coming to some decision with regard to the pending presidential election. Owing to the secrecy which shrouded this meeting, there is considerable uncertainty as to its real purpose. It is contended by some that Mr. Hamilton desired to use it to thwart Mr. Adams; and by others, that it was convened with a view to lending support to the candidacy of Mr. Adams. At all events it was roundly denounced by the Republicans as an attempt to coerce the voters; but it proved such an admirable device that the Republicans held one of their own for the purpose of selecting a nominee for VicePresident, the candidacy of Jefferson for the presidency being conceded. From this time forward the congressional caucus was regularly used in making presidential nominations until it was overthrown by the adoption of the convention system.
It was soon recognized that the method of nomination by the congressional caucus had made a revolution in the system set up by the framers of the federal Constitution, according to which the presidential electors were supposed to be free to vote as they pleased. Clearly the real power of selecting the President had passed from the hands of the electors to an extra-legal body. "The members of the two Houses of Congress," said Mr. Gaston, in a speech delivered in the House of Representatives in 1814, "meet in caucus or a convention and there ballot for a President or Vice-President of the United States. The result of their election is published through the Union in the name of a recommendation. This modest recommendation then comes before the members of the respective state legislatures. Where the appointment ultimately rests with them, no trouble whatever is given to the people. . . . Where in form, however, the choice of electors remains with the people, the patriotic members of the state legislatures, vieing with their patriotic predecessors, back this draft on popular credulity with the weight of their endorsement. Not content with this they . . . make out a ticket of electors and thus designate the individuals who in their behalf are to honor this demand of their suffrages. This whole proceeding appears to be monstrous; it must be corrected or the character of this government is fundamentally changed. Already, in fact, the chief magistrate of the United States owes his office principally to aristocratic intrigue, cabal, and management."
It was not, however, by constitutional amendment, as many members of Congress proposed, that the caucus method of making nominations was to be destroyed; it met its doom at the hands of the national convention organized by a popular uprising against the domination of the political leaders in Congress.
The Rise of the Nominating Convention
This uprising came with the democratic movement that carried Jackson into the presidential office. The last congressional caucus was held in 1824, when a few friends of William H. Crawford gathered in the chamber of the House of Representatives and selected him as their candidate for the presidency. subsequent election showed that Jackson was by far the most popular candidate, although his support in Congress was almost negligible. Jackson's friends, therefore, turned fiercely upon the caucus. The legislature of Jackson's state, Tennessee, had already sharply denounced it,3 and several other states followed this example. In the presidential election of 1828, no attempt was made to hold a congressional caucus. Jackson was nominated by "spontaneous" legislative caucuses and conventions held by his followers in the various states, and thus, to use a phrase then current, "King Caucus met his death."
About the same time, the legislative caucus was being abandoned as a machine for nominating state candidates. It appears that the state convention was revived in Pennsylvania as early as 1812, but it was not until 1823 that the last vestige of the older caucus system was swept away by the definite establishment of the convention composed of delegates supposed to have been regularly chosen. In Rhode Island the mixed legislative caucus disappeared by 1825, and regular conventions, composed of delegates from all the towns in the state, were fully established in popular favor. In New York, the nomination of Mr. Crawford for President by the congressional caucus at Washington
1 See above, p. 108.
2 For the minutes of this caucus, see Readings, p. 114.
See Readings, p. 117, for this denunciation.
J. S. Walton, "Nominating Conventions in Pennsylvania," American Historical Review, Vol. II, pp. 262-278.
Proceedings of the Rhode Island Historical Society, Vol. I, pp. 258-269.
resulted in the call of a Jackson conference which resolved that a state convention, composed of the same number of delegates as the lower house of the state legislature, should be chosen by the voters opposed to Mr. Crawford and in favor of "restoring to the people" the choice of presidential electors. This convention assembled at Utica in August, 1824, and thus began the regular convention system in the state of New York. In general, the legislative caucus had been most violently opposed by the disgruntled politicians, who had failed to carry their plans in it, and they eagerly welcomed the convention system as a method of ousting the older machine.
The state convention, composed of delegates selected by party voters, afforded a splendid model for a national convention; and in 1831 this piece of state political machinery was brought into use for national purposes. About this time, there had sprung up a violent opposition to secret societies, especially to the Masonic fraternity, on account of the mysterious disappearance of a man who had proposed to reveal Masonic secrets. It was contended that Free-Masonry was a political danger; and at a preliminary assembly of Anti-Masonic delegates at Philadelphia in 1830, a call was issued to all opponents of secret societies to send delegates to a convention for the purpose of selecting candidates for President and Vice-President. The following year the first national convention, composed of 114 Anti-Masonic delegates, assembled at Baltimore, and nominated a ticket which was sadly defeated in the ensuing election. Although the Anti-Masonic party speedily disappeared, it initiated a revolution in our national political machinery.
The example thus set by the Anti-Masons was followed in December of the same year by the assemblage of a convention, representing the National Republican or Whig party, at the city of Baltimore. There were present 156 delegates, representing eighteen states and the District of Columbia. Clay was nominated as the candidate of the party for President; a delegation was sent to Washington to notify him, and received his acceptance; and an appeal to the voters, called "the first platform ever adopted by a national convention," was drawn up. Furthermore, a campaign committee, composed of one member from each state selected by the delegations at the convention, was instituted. Although the nomination of Andrew Jackson
by the Democrats to succeed himself was a foregone conclusion, a Democratic national convention was called for the purpose of putting forward Jackson's friend, Van Buren, for the office of Vice-President. It seems that Mr. Lewis, an astute wirepuller, conceived this device as a means of excluding rivals from the field; and it appears that Amos Kendall, a member of Jackson's kitchen cabinet, persuaded a Democratic member of the New Hampshire legislature to use his local legislative caucus in calling a national convention.1 This assembly met at Baltimore in the spring of 1832, and, as Jackson had shrewdly planned, nominated Van Buren for the office of Vice-President.
As the scheme worked so excellently in this instance, Jackson determined to use it to secure the presidency for Van Buren in 1837. Accordingly he wrote to a friend suggesting a national party assembly "fresh from the people" for the purpose of nominating candidates. The convention met in Baltimore in the spring of 1835, and, according to the well-laid plan, nominated Van Buren. Preparatory to the election of 1840, the Whigs and the Democrats held general party assemblies to choose their candidates; and since that time all parties have uniformly employed the national convention in selecting nominees for President and Vice-President.
It was many years, however, before each party was so completely organized down to the election district or precinct as to secure regularity in the choice of delegates. In the earlier period it seems that delegates to the national convention were sometimes chosen by state conventions, sometimes by legislative caucuses, and sometimes by local meetings. Even as late as 1864 some of the delegates to the Republican (or Union) national convention were selected by legislative caucuses. Owing to this irregularity in choice, there were always many contesting delegates, and, as there was no possibility of applying definite rules, it seems that the majority of the convention usually decided contests by admitting their own supporters. Occasionally, however, it was found expedient to placate both factions, and consequently the two contending delegations would be admitted, each member being given one-half a vote.
Once established, the national convention and its accompany
1 For the opening address at this convention, see Readings, p. 119.
ing political devices began to force, steadily and persistently, the completion of the party system down to the lowest unit of local government in every state and territory. The Republican call for the national convention after the year 1884 provided that the delegates at large should be chosen by state conventions, and that the other delegates should be selected by congressional conventions. The necessity of deciding between contesting delegations forced the national committee and the convention to look into the rules and regulations governing the selection of delegates, and as a result, from year to year, the rules of state party organizations controlling primaries and local party conferences became more and more precise. Although the call of the Democratic national convention left the selection of all delegates to the determination of the convention in each state, the result was the same.
The national party organization was further developed and centralized shortly after the close of the Civil War by the establishment of a congressional campaign committee at Washington for the purpose of directing congressional elections. The committee of each party was composed, either principally or entirely, of members of Congress selected by their party colleagues for their astuteness in conducting campaigns. This committee has always worked in more or less close relations with the national committee and has been able to penetrate into the local politics of many districts more deeply than the larger committee has been able to do.
The Forces Working for Strong Party Organization
The pressure for organization and discipline brought to bear upon the states and other subdivisions by the national machine was increased very powerfully by local circumstances. The keen competition of parties for the offices and their spoils necessitated closer coöperation, more discipline in the ranks, and more efficient leadership. Thus it came about that in a number of western and southern states the convention system and its accompanying organization had to be adopted, although they were odious to the more independent politicians. As Mr. Lincoln pointed out in Illinois, in defence of the adoption of the convention by the Whigs, it was madness for any political party