Philadelphia's other historic convention


    Philadelphia's other historic convention


Philadelphia's other historic convention 01:45

Story highlights

  • The 2016 DNC isn't the first historic party convention Philly has hosted
  • The Republican Party hosted its first national convention in Philadelphia in 1856
  • The GOP was the more progressive party at the time

(CNN)Philadelphia isn't just the go-to place for cheesesteaks, it's also played host to political assemblies since the revolution. Democrats and Republicans alike have chosen Philly to host some of their most important and historic party conventions.

Next week in Philadelphia, the Democrats are expected to nominate Hillary Clinton as the party's first female presidential candidate. But in 1856, the Republican Party hosted an equally momentous event in its history: its first national convention.
    The modern Republican Party didn't come about until 1854, rising from the ashes of what had been the Whig Party. Coming into the election of 1856, the fledgling party was looking for a strong contender for the presidency. They nominated John Fremont in June of that year at Philadelphia's Musical Fund Hall. Fremont went on to be defeated by Democrat James Buchanan in the general election.
    In addition to selecting the party's nominees, the business of the convention focused on the party's main policy issue. The Republican Party was formed around antislavery sentiments.
    "It made (the Republican Party) a party that was very different than the Democrats, who were the party that really supported slavery. Or at least supported popular sovereignty as it related to slavery," Michael Gerhardt, a professor and scholar in residence at the National Constitution Center, told CNN.
    That's right -- in the mid-19th century, the Democratic Party was the one arguing for state choice while the Republicans were pushing for a national solution. But that's not the only way the parties have switched places since the 1850s. In the 160 years since the first Republican convention, the parties' regional strongholds have also flipped.
    In the 1860s, the anti-slavery ideals of the Republicans took hold in the free states of the North and West while a state-by-state solution resonated in the slave-holding South.
    "Back in 1856, the South would have been very solidly Democratic. And it would remain that way as a result of the Civil War until the 1960s," University of Pennsylvania Political Science Associate Professor Matthew Levendusky told CNN.
    It was major policy shifts in the mid-20th century regarding civil rights that served as the table turners for the parties.
    "With the Civil Rights Movement and the passage of civil rights bills, as well as the Voting Rights Act, the South began to shift," Levendusky said. "You have a movement from Democratic to Republican as it is liberal Northern Democrats who help lead that fight for civil rights."
    Even though the progressive mantle has been passed from the Republicans to the Democrats in the last 160 years, this year's convention will live up to the history made in 1856.