[AllPolitics - DNC '96 Facts]

Democratic Convention History

An historical overview from 1831-1992


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.


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.


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.


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 dea