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Democratic Convention History

An historical overview from 1831-1992

1912

1831 The first national convention by a major party was held in Baltimore by the Anti-Mason party.

1832 The Democratic party held its first party convention in Baltimore, and 22 of the 23 states sent delegations. President Andrew Jackson was the party's nominee. Unlike modern conventions, where delegates chose the nominee, state legislatures picked Jackson. However, convention delegates chose his running mate, Martin Van Buren of New York. 1832 also marked the first year that Democrats adopted party rules.

1835 The Democrats held their second convention in Baltimore. Jackson held the convention early to prevent the emergence of any opposition to his hand-picked successor, Vice President Martin Van Buren of New York. Delegates from 23 states attended. The size of the delegation depended not on the size of the state but on the state's distance from Baltimore. Maryland sent 188 delegates. Tennessee sent only one. The Tennessee delegate cast all of the state's 15 votes on the floor. Pennsylvania sent two separate delegations.

1840 The Democrats held their third convention in Baltimore, as well. Delegates from 21 states attended. Again, the state's distance from Baltimore determined the size of the delegation. Massachusetts sent only one delegate, who cast the state's 14 votes. 1840 marked the first year the Democrats issued a party platform. It contained fewer than 1000 words. The Democrats adopted an address to the people. President Martin Van Buren was renominated, but the convention did not nominate a vice presidential candidate.

1936

1844 The Democrats again chose Baltimore as their convention site. 1844 marked the first time the nomination required multiple ballots. It took nine ballots to nominate James K. Polk of Tennessee. Many Democrats called for the annexation of Texas and Oregon. But Martin Van Buren opposed annexation, leading the way to Polk's nomination. The convention also appointed a central committee and recommended a national party organization be established. This was the forerunner of the Democratic National Committee.

1848 Again, Democrats held their convention in Baltimore. The Democratic National Committee was formed to handle party affairs until the next convention, four years later. Slavery began to inch its way to the forefront of controversial issues facing the party. The platform stated Congress did not have much power to interfere with slavery in the states. Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan was the nominee for president.

1852 Slavery was splitting the country. The Democrats, to procure temporary peace, adopted the Compromise of 1850. The Compromise was a plan negotiated by the Whigs and the Democrats over the states' rights concerning slavery. It was included in the 1852 platform. It took 49 ballots to nominate Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire, a compromise candidate whose name was not introduced until the 35th ballot. The convention once again was held in Baltimore.

1856 The Democrats held their convention in Cincinnati, Ohio, the first time it was held outside Baltimore. A platform committee was established for the first time. The Democrats confirmed the continuance of the Monroe Doctrine and called for a more expansionist foreign policy. James Buchanan of Pennsylvania won the nomination.

1860 The Democrats held their convention in Charleston, S.C. The 1860 convention was one of the most divisive conventions in American history. Slavery was the major issue. The southern delegation walked out when the party refused to accept a platform plank which stated no government -- federal, state or local -- had the power to outlaw slavery in the territories. The convention was then moved out of the South to Baltimore, where Sen. Stephen Douglas won the nomination.

1864 Because of the war, the Democratic convention was fairly uneventful. General George McClellan of New Jersey was the nominee. Also due to the war, the convention was held without any southern delegations.

1868 The Democrats held their first post-war convention in New York's newly built Tammany Hall. Nominee Horatio Seymour, a former governor of New York, had to be physically pulled out of the convention because of his opposition to his candidacy. Once he was taken from the hall, he won the nomination.

1872 The Democrats held this convention in Baltimore. In one of the strangest conventions in history, the Democratic delegates rubber-stamped the platform of the Liberal Republican party. (Which was not the same as the Republican Party.) Key planks called for an end to reconstruction, civil service reform, and a limited federal government. Horace Greeley of New York, who also was the Liberal Republican Party's nominee, won the Democrat nomination.

1876 The Democrats held their convention in St. Louis, Mo., the first Democratic convention west of the Mississippi River. The Democrats put together an unusual platform. Instead of arranging the planks in numerical form, the language was written in paragraph form in unusually powerful prose. The presidential nomination went to Governor Samuel Tilden of New York.

1960

1880 The Democrats held their convention in Cincinnati. Civil service reform was placed in the platform for the third straight convention. The platform prose style was changed from long sentences to a short detailed address. General Winfield Scott Hancock of Pennsylvania was the nominee for president.

1884 The Democrats held their convention in Chicago. For the first time, delegate voting privileges were extended to the District of Columbia. The platform was one of the longest of the 19th century, with the document containing over 3000 words. Gov. Glover Cleveland of New York won the nomination. The general election of 1884 was one of the nastiest personal campaigns in U.S. history. Republican nominee James G. Blaine charged Cleveland with personal immorality and evading military service during the Civil War, while Cleveland supporters raised questions about corruption in Blaine's record.

1888 This was the first time since 1860 the Democrats were occupying the White House. The convention was held in St. Louis. There was no contest for the renomination, as President Glover Cleveland won by acclamation. The Democratic party emerged as the anti-tariff party. Vice President Thomas Hendricks' death in 1885 led the way for Allen Thurman to win easily on the first ballot.

1892 The most interesting aspect of the 1892 convention in Chicago was the noisy, violent rainstorms that caused water to leak through the roofs. This led to several interruptions during the proceedings. The platform included strong anti-tariff language and a plank calling for the creation of a canal through Nicaragua. Former President Cleveland again won an easy nomination. Adlai Stevenson won the vice presidential nomination.

1896 The convention in Chicago was dominated by the currency issue. The silver/gold debate reflected a regional East-West difference. Western delegations were pro-silver and were very critical of the eastern financial institutions. William Jennings Bryan, 36, who headed the Nebraska delegation, picked up his first Democratic presidential nomination. He gave his famous "Cross of Gold" speech during the platform debate.

1900 The Democrats held their convention in Kansas City, Mo. Anti-imperialism was the main plank of the platform, which also included strong anti-trust legislation. William Jennings Bryan was nominated without opposition. Adlai Stevenson of Illinois, a former vice president under Cleveland, was again nominated for the vice presidency.

1904 At the 1904 convention in St. Louis, gold and silver once again was a major issue. For the first time in three conventions, the currency issue was not even part of the platform. Alton B. Parker, the Chief Justice of the New York Court of Appeals, was the nominee for president. He stunned the convention by announcing his support for the gold standard. The vice presidential nominee was Henry Davis, an 80-year-old former senator from West Virginia. He is the oldest candidate ever placed on a national ticket by a major party.

1908 The Democrats held their convention in Denver. William Jennings Bryan again won the nomination, his third, but could not go on to win the presidency. The platform included strong anti-tariff language and a call for a graduated income tax. Campaign finance reform was a major issue and was included in the platform.

1972

1912 For the first time since 1872, the Democrats held a convention in Baltimore. Governor Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey won the nomination on the 46th ballot. (This was the first time in four consecutive conventions that the delegate needed more than one ballot to select the nominee.) The 46 ballots are the most in any convention since 1860. One of the candidates Wilson defeated, House Speaker Champ Clark of Missouri, became the first candidate since 1844 to fail to win the two-thirds majority required for nomination after getting a simple majority. (Which he gained in the 10th ballot.) Indiana Governor Thomas Marshall was selected for vice president. The platform included anti-imperialism, a single-term presidency, and strong anti-tariff language.

1916 The Democratic convention was held in St. Louis. President Woodrow Wilson was renominated by a vote of 1092-1. The only dissenting vote came from a delegate who disapproved of Wilson winning by acclamation. The platform was dominated by military issues and war preparation, a major issue.

1920 The Democratic convention was held in San Francisco, marking the first time a convention was held west of the Rockies. Governor James Cox of Ohio won the nomination on the 43rd ballot, defeating 23 other candidates. The major platform issue was U.S. involvement in the League of Nations. Wilson was being tapped to run again (the seriousness of the stroke he had suffered was kept secret from the public), but his failing health kept him from doing so.

1924 The 1924 convention in New York was the longest in U.S. history. It lasted 17 days. As with the Civil War, regional differences were very apparent with the vocal debates over the Ku Klux Klan. A deadlock between urban and rural interests created a record 103 roll call votes with John Davis of West Virginia finally winning the presidential nomination. William Jennings Bryan made his final appearance at a Democratic convention, attending as a delegate from Florida. Also at this convention, Franklin Roosevelt made a nominating speech for New York Governor Alfred Smith, calling Smith "the Happy Warrior," a nickname that remained with Smith for the rest of his career.

1928 The convention was held in Houston, marking the first time since the Democrats met in a southern city. Gov. Alfred Smith of New York became the first Roman Catholic to be nominated by a major party. For the first time since 1912, there were no roll call votes on amendments to Democratic platform.

1932 Governor Franklin Roosevelt of New York won the nomination on the fourth ballot and broke with what he described as "absurd tradition" by flying from Albany to Chicago to accept the nomination in person. Before 1932, the nominee was formally notified by a committee at some point after the convention. The convention in Chicago was the birthplace of Roosevelt's "New Deal." House Speaker John Nance Garner of Texas was the vice presidential nominee. The platform advocated unemployment relief, public works projects, and a competitive tariff for revenue. The most enthusiastic plank was the call to repeal prohibition. A milder plank pushed by "dry" delegates was defeated.

1936 The Philadelphia convention in 1940 was one of the most harmonious in Democratic history. There were no floor debates and for the first time since 1840, there were no roll call votes. President Roosevelt and Vice President John Nance Garner were renominated by acclamation. They delivered their acceptance speeches outdoors at the University of Pennsylvania's Franklin Field. The main issues were the continuance of America's commitment to stay out of the war in Europe and New Deal programs. Democrats scrapped the two-thirds nominating rule.

1940 On the second night of the Chicago convention, a Roosevelt statement was read indicating he was not going to run and urging delegates to vote for anyone they wished. But the next day, Roosevelt won an easy first ballot victory with only 13 delegates voting against him. Agriculture Secretary Henry Wallace of Iowa was nominated for vice president. The main platform planks dealt with foreign policy and included a strong national defense to discourage aggression.

1984

1944 Roosevelt formally decided to seek a fourth term a week before the Chicago convention. Roosevelt decided to defer to party bosses who were uncomfortable with Vice President Wallace's liberalism and accepted Senator Harry S Truman of Missouri as his vice presidential running mate. Again, foreign policy dominated the platform. It included calls for a Jewish homeland and for the creation of the United Nations.

1948 The convention in Philadelphia was not a love fest for incumbent Harry Truman. There were massive defections by liberals and southern Democrats. But Truman won 926 of the 1192 votes on the first ballot, which gave him the nomination. Alben W. Barkley of Kentucky, a veteran senator and the convention's keynote speaker, was the nominee for vice president. Civil rights issues dominated the platform debate, with southern Democrats wanting a much weaker commitment to civil rights.

1952 The six-day convention in Chicago was the longest since the end of World War II. Governor Adlai Stevenson of Illinois, grandson of the former vice president of the same name, was drafted and eventually won the third ballot. Stevenson chose Senator John J. Sparkman of Alabama as his running mate.

1956 The Democratic party held its Chicago convention in August, the latest since 1864. For the first time since 1888, the date of the Democratic convention preceded that of the GOP. The Democratic platform was the longest yet, 11 sections totaling over 12,000 words. Adlai Stevenson once again was the nominee. His name was placed in nomination by Sen. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts. When Stevenson declined to pick a running mate, the convention selected selected Sen. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee over Sen. Kennedy.

1960 The Democrats held their 1960 convention in Los Angeles. For the second time,the party nominated a Roman Catholic -- Sen. John Kennedy of Massachusetts. Kennedy was opposed by two other candidates -- a Stevenson draft movement and Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson of Texas. Kennedy won on the first ballot. In his acceptance speech. Kennedy spoke of the United States as being on the edge of a "new frontier...of unknown opportunities and perils, a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats." Kennedy selected Johnson as his running mate.

1964 The convention was held in Atlantic City, N.J. Some 5260 delegate and alternates attended the convention, more than attended any previous convention. Lyndon Johnson was nominated by acclamation. Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota was Johnson's pick for vice president. 1964 and 1936 are the only Democratic conventions where there were no roll-call votes. The emotional highlight of the convention was Robert Kennedy's introduction of a film about his dead brother.

1968 The 1968 Chicago convention was marred by violence and protests over the Vietnam War. There were 11,900 Chicago police, 7500 Army troops, 7500 Illinois National Guardsmen, and 1000 Secret Service agents. Wednesday saw the worst violence in the streets. During a speech nominating George McGovern, Sen. Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut said, "With George McGovern as president of the United States, we wouldn't have Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago." The 18,000-word platform met all the demands of the party liberals, except the Vietnam War planks that called for support of administration policy. Hubert Humphrey won over Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern. Humphrey selected Sen. Edmund Muskie of Maine as his running mate.

1988

1972 After the violence of the 1968 convention, new party rules were adopted to reflect the diversity of the Democratic party. Forty percent of the delegates were women, 15 percent black, and 21 percent were 30 years old or younger. Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota was nominated on the first ballot at the Miami convention. He selected Sen. Thomas Eagleton of Missouri as his running mate. Because of a long roll call during the vice presidential balloting, McGovern didn't begin his acceptance speech until nearly 3 a.m. eastern time, long after most of his potential national television audience had gone to bed. After the convention, Eagleton disclosed that three times between 1960 and 1968 he had voluntarily hospitalized himself for treatment of "nervous exhaustion and fatigue." After several days of controversy, Eagleton withdrew from the ticket on July 31. McGovern then chose R. Sargent Shriver of Maryland as his running mate. The Democratic National Committee officially nominated Shriver at a meeting in Washington on August 8.

1976 The Democrats held their convention in New York, where Jimmy Carter of Georgia won the nomination. Barbara Jordan and John Glenn were the keynote speakers. Carter was considered a long shot before the primary season. The morning after his nomination, Carter announced he had chosen Sen. Walter Mondale of Minnesota as his running mate.

1980 The 1980 New York convention was divided between Jimmy Carter and Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. While Carter won the first ballot, the big fight was over the platform. The platform debate lasted 17 hours and dragged on for two days. Most of the Carter issue defeats and platform changes were in the areas of human rights and economics. Kennedy gave one of the most memorable speeches in convention history.

1984 The 1984 convention in San Francisco saw the selection of Walter Mondale for president and Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of New York for vice president. It was the first time a woman was placed on a major party's ticket. New York Gov. Mario Cuomo's "Tale of Two Cities" speech was the convention's highlight. Jesse Jackson also gave a major speech. In his acceptance speech, Mondale said he would raise taxes.

1988 Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts won an easy first ballot victory in Atlanta. The platform was the shortest Democratic platform since the end of World War II. Ann Richards' keynote speech, in which she declared George Bush as "born with a silver foot in his mouth," set the tone for an unusually negative campaign. The so-called "Jackson Rules" were adopted in Atlanta. The rules created a 15-percent threshold and proportional allocation of delegates in future state presidential primaries and caucuses. Jackson also got several concessions in the platform. Dukakis chose Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas as his running mate.

1992 The Democrats met in New York from July 13-16. Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton received the nomination on the third day of the convention (July 15) and gave an acceptance speech the next day, underscoring the centrist and family-oriented theme of the convention -- his so-called "New Covenant." Sen. Al Gore of Tennessee accepted the vice presidential nomination. Another theme of the convention was best summed up by the closing song, "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" by the Fleetwood Mac -- it emphasized the youthful and positive image Democrats wanted the public to associate with Clinton and Gore. The platform stressed moderate themes such as welfare reform and reducing the size of government, along with traditional liberal themes such as abortion rights and universal health care.

1992

The Democrats had three keynote speakers address their convention. Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey, Gov. Zell Miller of Georgia and former Texas Rep. Barbara Jordan gave keynote speeches on the first night of the event. All three speeches bashed President George Bush and emphasized how the Democratic party has changed to meet the needs of the future. Most analysts noted Bradley's speech was thoughtful but dull; Zell Miller attacked Ross Perot and warmed the crowd up for Barbara Jordan's eloquent speech.

The Democrats snubbed Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey, a strong opponent of abortion rights. Casey held a press conference on July 13 to announce he would ask convention officials for a chance to speak on the abortion issue. The request was denied and, adding insult to injury, Clinton officials let a group of pro-abortion rights Republican women address the convention.

Other notable speeches were given by Texas Gov. Anne Richards, Jesse Jackson and Clinton's primary rivals, former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas and former California Gov. Jerry Brown.

The last day of the convention, Texas billionaire Ross Perot said, "Now that the Democratic Party has revitalized itself, I have concluded that we cannot win in November....So therefore I will not become a candidate." (Perot later changed his mind and got back into the presidential race in the fall.)

(SOURCES: CQ Guide to U.S. Elections; CQ 7/18/92; Facts on File 7/16/92)



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