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Eagle Archive: If the past is a guide, political conventions are sure to be entertaining

National GovernmentRepublican PartyDemocratic Party

As the Olympics draw to a close and the end of the summer looms on the horizon, you can be sure that the upcoming Republican and Democrat national conventions will provide end-of-summer entertainment.

For those setting their DVRs: The Republican National Convention is in Tampa on Aug. 27-30 and the upcoming Democrat National Convention will take place in Charlotte, N.C., Sept. 3-6.

Today's presidential nomination process is very different from the early days of the Republic, when the two major parties — the Federalists and the Democrat-Republicans (the forerunner of the today's Democrat Party) — determined their respective presidential nominees by a caucus made-up of members of Congress or state legislatures. This process prevailed through 1828.

The first national political convention of what we now know as the two major political parties was held by the Democrat Party just down the road in Baltimore, May 21 and 23, 1832.

According to a brief history of the Maryland Democratic Party written by Carroll County historian and former Maryland Secretary of State John T. Willis, that convention "was held at the Atheneum (and Warfield's Church) … located on the southwest corner of St. Paul and Lexington Streets. Twelve delegates from each county and six delegates from Baltimore City were invited to attend."

From 1832 to 1872, eight of the 12 Democrat Party national conventions were held in Baltimore. Considering that two of the main routes to Baltimore from all points west travel through Carroll County, an historian's imagination can run wild as to what national political figures may have passed through our fair county in those days.

What we now know as the Republican Party essentially began in 1854 and replaced the Whig Party, which had replaced the much earlier Federalist Party.

The first Republican National Convention, June 17-19, 1856, was attended by 600 delegates and 100 news reporters, who had ample room to move in the 1,200-seat Musical Fund Hall, in Philadelphia.

The Republican Party was in its infancy, having been organized only two years earlier in at a meeting in Ripon, Wisc., from a mishmash of anti-slavery Democrats, the remnants of the Whig Party, abolitionists and "Free-Soilers."

Originally, the party was a single-issue consortium of citizens who were adamantly opposed to slavery, although many of the tenets of the party that remain in place today — economic development, education, limited government with an emphasis on individual freedoms and a personal responsibility for one's future fate — were ancillary issues gluing together a mix of groups and individuals dedicated to abolishing slavery at any cost.

In fact, according to the "Independence Hall Association" in Philadelphia; the key plank of that first GOP convention was firm opposition to the extension of slavery. The association records that the parties founding documents said, "It is the duty of Congress to prohibit in the territories those twin relics of barbarism, polygamy and slavery."

When he is not watching reruns of previous political conventions on TV — in slow motion — Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at kevindayhoff@gmail.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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