In "The First American Political Conventions: Transforming Presidential Nominations, 1832-1872," Stan M. Haynes writes that the modern presidential nominating convention evolved during the campaign of 1832.
Between the fall of 1831 and the spring of 1832, three political parties met in Baltimore to select their candidates.
"The first presidential nominating convention in American history was held at the Athenaeum in Baltimore, located at the southwest corner of St. Paul and Lexington streets," writes Haynes, a Semmes, Bowen & Semmes attorney who lives in Ellicott City.
It was here in 1831 that the Anti-Masonic Party nominated U.S. Attorney General William Wirt of Maryland, who received 108 of the 111 votes, on the first ballot. That December, the National Republicans arrived to nominate Henry Clay of Kentucky for president and John Sergeant of Pennsylvania for vice president.
Then it was the Democrats' turn in 1832, when they renominated Andrew Jackson, who dumped his vice president, John C. Calhoun, in favor of Martin Van Buren.
"Old Hickory," who was re-elected that year, and Calhoun had fallen out over the "nullification" crisis, when the vice president became a leading champion of states being able to "repudiate or nullify" an act of Congress, observed Haynes.
"To Jackson, any recognition of a state's right to nullify federal laws would destroy the Union," writes Haynes.
The growing struggle of states' rights over federal authority was a harbinger of things to come.
And as the slavery issue came to dominate the national agenda and political conventions of the 1850s, perhaps the stormiest convention year was 1860, as the nation careened toward civil war.
The Democrats first met in April in Charleston, S.C., which they had chosen to "promote sectional harmony and unity" and party solidarity, observed Haynes, but their hopes were to be short-lived.
Sen. Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, the leading contender for the nomination, had adopted the principle of "popular sovereignty." When a territory became a state, its people, through their elected representatives, would decide whether or not to allow slavery.
And when the Southerners failed to get an endorsement of slavery into the Democratic Party platform, they simply walked out. The deadlocked convention ended up leaving Douglas without the votes he needed for the nomination.
The convention reconvened in June at the Front Street Theatre in Baltimore, where Douglas was finally nominated for the presidency.
Once again, the Southerners stormed out. They retreated to the Maryland Institute, where they nominated John C. Breckinridge, President James Buchanan's vice president, as their candidate for president.
"On Friday, June 22, 1860, the American Civil War began. Shots would not be fired until the following April at Fort Sumter, but the die was cast on this early summer day at the Front Street Theatre in Baltimore," writes Haynes. "On this day, the great Democratic Party of the United States irreconcilably split, foreshadowing the split of the nation within a matter of months."
Four years later, the GOP regulars gathered at the Front Street Theatre, site of the Democratic split, to renominate President Abraham Lincoln. He became the first incumbent U.S. president to be nominated for a second term by his party in 24 years.
Lincoln did not appear at the convention (which was the tradition for candidates until Franklin D. Roosevelt) and somehow had missed the news of his renomination, which had come over the telegraph wire while he was at lunch.
Haynes writes that Lincoln "responded with a low-key 'What, I am renominated?' " to the telegrapher. He asked that the news be conveyed to his wife, for "she will be more interested in it than I am."
The next morning in the East Room of the White House, Lincoln told well-wishers, "I have not permitted myself, gentlemen, to conclude that I am the best man in the country, but I am reminded, in this connection, of a story of an old Dutch farmer, who remarked to a companion once that 'it was best not to swap horses when crossing a stream.' "Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun