Democratic National Convention
The Democratic National Convention is a series of presidential nominating conventions held every four years since 1832 by the United States Democratic Party. They have been administered by the Democratic National Committee since the 1852 national convention. The primary goal of the Democratic National Convention is to nominate and confirm a candidate for President and Vice President, adopt a comprehensive party platform and unify the party.
Delegates from all fifty U.S. states and from American dependencies and territories such as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands attend the convention and cast their votes to choose the Party's presidential candidate. Like the Republican National Convention, the Democratic National Convention marks the formal end of the primary election period and the start of the general election season.
The party's presidential nominee is chosen in a series of individual state caucuses and primary elections. Superdelegates, delegates whose votes are not bound to the outcome of a state's caucus or primary, may also influence the nomination. Due to the scheduling of caucuses and primary elections early in the election year, the party's presidential nominee is usually known months before the Democratic National Convention. Historically, however, the party's choice of the presidential nominee was usually not known until the last evening of the convention. The choice was an often contentious debate that riled the passions of party leaders. Delegates were forced to vote for a nominee repeatedly until someone could capture a minimum number of delegates needed.
Backroom deals by party bosses were normal and often resulted in compromise nominees that became known as dark horse candidates. Dark horse candidates were people who never imagined they would run for President until the last moments of the convention. Dark horse candidates were chosen in order to break deadlocks between more popular and powerful prospective nominees that blocked each other from gaining enough delegates to be nominated. One of the most famous dark horse candidates nominated at a Democratic National Convention was James Knox Polk who was chosen to become the candidate for President only after being added to the eighth and ninth delegate ballot.
By 1824, the congressional nominating caucus had fallen into disrepute and collapsed as a method of nominating presidential and vice presidential candidates. A national convention idea had been brought up but nothing occurred until the next decade. State conventions and state legislatures emerged as the nomination apparatus until they were supplanted by the national convention method of nominating candidates. President Andrew Jackson's "Kitchen Cabinet" privately carried out the plan for the first Democratic National Convention; the public call for the first national convention emanated from Jackson's supporters in New Hampshire in 1831.
The first national convention of the Democratic Party began in Baltimore on May 21, 1832. In that year the infamous 2/3 rule was created, requiring a 2/3 vote to nominate a candidate, in order to show the party's unanimous support of Martin Van Buren for vice president. Although this rule was waived in the 1836 and 1840 conventions, in 1844 it was revived by opponents of former President Van Buren, who had the support of a majority, but not a super-majority, of the delegates, in order to prevent him from receiving the nomination. The rule then remained in place for almost the next hundred years, and often led to Democratic National Conventions which dragged on endlessly, most famously at the 1860 convention, when the convention adjourned in Charleston without making a choice and reconvening in separate groups a short time later, and the 1924 convention, when "Wets" and "Drys" deadlocked between preferred candidates Alfred E. Smith and William G. McAdoo for 103 ballots before finally agreeing on John W. Davis as a compromise candidate. At the 1912 convention, Champ Clark was the first person to receive a majority of the votes who did not go on to achieve a two-thirds vote and the nomination. The 2/3 rule was finally abolished in 1936, when the unanimity in favor of the renomination of President Franklin D. Roosevelt allowed it finally to be put to rest. In the years that followed only one convention (the 1952 Convention) actually went beyond a single ballot, although this may be more attributable to changes in the nominating process itself than to the rules change.
During the time the rule was in force, it virtually assured that no candidate not supported by the South could be nominated. The elimination of the two-thirds rule made in possible for liberal Northern Democrats to gain greater influence in party affairs, leading to the disenchantment of Southern Democrats, and defection of many of the latter to the Republican Party, especially during the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s. Strom Thurmond was one such Democrat who joined the Republican party.
William Jennings Bryan delivered his "Cross of Gold" speech at the 1896 convention. The most historically notable—and tumultuous—convention of recent memory was the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois, which was fraught with highly emotional battles between conventioneers and Vietnam war protesters and a notable outburst by Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley. Other confrontations between various groups, such as the Yippies and members of the Students for a Democratic Society, and the Chicago police in city parks, streets and hotels marred this convention. Following the 1968 convention, in which many reformers had been disappointed in the way that Vice President Hubert Humphrey, despite not having competed in a single primary, easily won the nomination over Senators Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern (who announced after the assassination of another candidate, Senator Robert F. Kennedy), a commission headed by Senator McGovern reformed the Democratic Party's nominating process to increase the power of primaries in choosing delegates in order to increase the democracy of the process. Not entirely coincidentally, McGovern himself won the nomination in 1972. The 1972 convention was significant in that the new rules put into place as a result of the McGovern commission also opened the door for quotas mandating that certain percentages of delegates be women or members of minority groups, and subjects that were previously deemed not fit for political debate, such as abortion and lesbian and gay rights, now occupied the forefront of political discussion. That convention itself was one of the most bizarre in American history, with sessions beginning in the early evening and lasting until sunrise the next morning, and outside political activists gaining influence at the expense of elected officials and core Democratic constituencies such as organized labor (thus resulting in a convention far to the left of the rank-and-file of the Democratic Party).
The nature of Democratic (and Republican) conventions has changed considerably since 1972. Every 4 years, the nominees are essentially selected earlier and earlier in the year, so the conventions now officially ratify the nominees instead of choose them. (Even the close race of 2008, which was not decided until early June, did not change the modern function of the convention). The 1980 convention was the last convention for the Democrats that had even a sliver of doubt about who the nominee would be. (Ted Kennedy forced a failing vote to free delegates from their commitment to vote for Jimmy Carter). The 1976 convention was the last where the vice-presidential nominee was announced during the convention, after the presidential nominee was chosen. (Carter choosing Walter Mondale). After the "ugly" conventions of 1968 and 1972, the parties realized it was in their interests to show a unified party to the nation during the convention, and to try to eliminate any dissent. And as the conventions became less interesting, and television ratings have generally declined (as they have on average for all television shows), the networks have cut back their coverage significantly, which in turn has forced the parties to manage what is televised even more closely.
In addition to the well-known presidential nominating conventions, the Democrats have held three mid-term conventions in recent decades: In 1974 in Kansas City, in 1978 in Memphis, and in 1982 in Philadelphia. The mid-term conventions were held to create enthusiasm and rally the party faithful. The mid-term convention was begun in 1974, after the fiasco of the 1972 Democratic National Convention, which saw the presidential nominee, George S. McGovern, accepting the nomination at 3:00 a.m., and which was followed by an electoral disaster, in which the party's candidates received only the electoral votes of Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, and was intended to reorganize the party structure and get it back on track for future elections. The mid-term convention was held in 1978 and in 1982, but they were discontinued due to the cost, and the over-emphasis of campaigning by potential presidential candidates.
- List of Democratic National Conventions
- History of the United States Democratic Party
- Democratic Party (United States) superdelegates, 2008
- Democratic Party
- Republican National Convention
- 2008 Democratic National Convention, the most recent.
- ^ Exceptions are the 1835 national convention, which occurred 3 years after the 1832 national convention, and the 1840 national convention, which occurred 5 years after the 1835 national convention.
- ^ Wolgamott, L. Kent (2005-11-06). "Mass audiences aren’t very mass anymore". Lincoln Journal Star. http://www.journalstar.com/articles/2005/11/06/sunday_am/doc4367f68466ce4751333244.txt. Retrieved 2008-05-11.
- The American Presidency Project, contains the text of the national platforms that were adopted by the conventions (1840–2004)
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