Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
PARTY GOVERNMENT IN THE UNITED STATES. The first recorded party contest in New York state, in 1789, ended in a total poll of 12,453; the total vote in 1880 was 1,102,945, and the number of voters over 1,200,000. This advance in the voting and the possible votes of nearly one hundred fold, or six times larger than the growth of population, aptly measures at once the needs, the conditions and the development of party government in the United States. Meetings at "Martling's" in New York, and the "Long Room" in Boston, were sufficient for the conduct of party affairs, while the voters of one city numbered less than 3,000, and the poll list of the other fell short of this number by one-half; but the enormous increase of the voting voter, due, first, to the spread of political privileges by law, second, to the growth of political interests by party contests, and third, to the increase of population—has rendered the earlier methods obsolete, and developed an intricate system of party government, the product of the last sixty years, whose working is most vigorously attacked by those least aware of the tremendous difficulties presented by the quadrennial mobilization of 9,000,000 voters. The development of party government has, therefore, been along the inevitable lines of increasing organization and delegated powers, whose development in the state is the familiar story of representative government. Burke's definition, "Party is a body of men united in promoting by their joint endeavors the national interest upon some particular principle in which they are all agreed," was accurately applicable to the small and coherent body of electors which be represented. While remaining true in spirit, it has ceased to apply in detail to the two great political camps into which the United States has been substantially divided for thirty years. In these two parties a bare fraction of voters, not a tenth at most, carrying on the active work of party government, constitute the standing army of political life, which in periodical struggles exhausts its efforts in the endeavor "to poll the last man"; in a word, to mobilize the great mass of inert voters with constantly increasing success. Beginning in 1820 with a polled vote in New York state (where the records are most complete), with one voter in five (12,453 in 1789, out of 57,606 voters in 1790), the proportion steadily rose to 31.12 per cent. in 1826, increased rapidly during the next six years, in which the foundations of party government were laid, to an average of 60 per cent., or very nearly the average now obtaining in Great Britain, rising in the ten years ending in 1865 to 77, reaching in the presidential year 1876 to 88 per cent., and in 1880 to 90 per cent. How largely keen political interest and high intelligence are needed to increase this per cent. is made best apparent by the fact that the highest percentage of voting voters in those states has been for years in the counties whose percentage of American-born population is largest. This growth in the percentage of voters exercising the right of voters, no less than the widening of suffrage, has increased the complexity of party management during the last century upon a scale rather one of kind than of degree.
—At the organization of the federal government the number of voters in each political division was still small enough to permit the management of parties by the simple and rudimentary methods long in use among English-speaking peoples. These were, self-nomination for the candidate, the caucus or meeting to express the desire of the voter, and in addition, as a dormant political power in the state, there existed the convention, which the traditions rather than the usage of the English constitution made the form in which the general body politic took original and initiatory action. Except in the southern states, which retain many archaic forms in their political life, self-nomination has disappeared in this country, the public meeting has become the caucus or primary, and is treated elsewhere (see
—These two widely divergent forms of the convention originated in the same stem; but while one attained full development and power in the constitution-making period of the revolution, the other only reached its development in the party-making period, which began in 1820, and ended in 1840, with the party organization now (1883) in existence in full operation, although the development of its details is still in progress. The convention, as a primal political force in the body politic, appeared early in American history. "They had no doubt," says Hutchinson of the action of the Massachusetts colonists when the old council had taken possession of the government from which a mob had driven Gov. Andross, "received advice of the convention called by the prince of Orange, and, in imitation of it, they recommended (May 2, 1689) to the several towns of the colony to meet and depute persons," who assembled, and assumed the right to decide what constituted the government of the colony, as the convention parliament of 1688, assembled without a writ, had decided upon the constituent powers of the English government. The whig lawyers who managed the revolution in the thirteen colonies, itself essentially a political struggle, were mindful of the organic character which precedent attached to a convention, and termed the meeting of commissioners from the colonies a congress. Meanwhile, the radical changes in progress through the colonies were conducted by conventions, the work being at length completed by a federal constitutional convention, while the political government of the day was carried on by meetings in the large cities, supplemented by the collective action taken by the members of colonial assemblies. The latter, as well as the former, bridged over the period between their sessions and their assembly through the appointment of committees of correspondence, a body which is the lineal predecessor of the "state central committee" of the present day, and which remained for over fifty years after the revolution the stated political authority in deciding upon the executive conduct of campaigns. These public meetings and committees of correspondence, in the post-revolutionary period, conducted normal political action; the convention was employed when extraordinary steps were proposed. Shay's rebellion was preceded by one which met at Springfield, and embraced delegates from the counties about; the alarm created by the Hartford convention was in part due to the selection of this term in summoning it, and, without much regard to whether the body was made up of delegates, any mass meeting of more than usual importance was termed a convention; e.g., the New York meeting nominating George Clinton in 1811, the mass meeting led by Daniel Webster in New Hampshire in 1812, or even the early "conventions" in Maryland and Pennsylvania which nominated Jackson and Harrison.
—The initiative in local and state party government, which rested at the opening of the revolutionary war with city meetings, societies and their committees of correspondence, was transferred in the period succeeding this struggle to state and federal legislatures, by whom it continued to be exercised until 1830 in all parts of the country, and in some southern states until 1860. The change in New York state, a closely divided political body, whose politics early reached, and has since maintained, a high degree of organization, which makes its development typical, was distinct and definite in this direction. George Clinton had been the chief executive of the state through the war of independence, by unopposed election. The first serious step toward the organization of an opposition was by a meeting of Clinton's opponents Feb. 11, 1789, which nominated Robert Yates, and appointed a committee of correspondence to promote his election, while a letter soliciting his candidacy was addressed to him from Albany. Three years later the nomination of John Jay was made by a called meeting of his special supporters, and confirmed by a larger body held later; Clinton, representing the more popular organization, received his nomination from a general meeting "composed, as was alleged, of gentlemen from various parts of the state," followed by meetings in each county. Here was the early germ of the convention, as now known; but it withered from the practical difficulty and the vast expense of travel, which made it impossible to bring political delegates together, except as they were already assembled in state legislatures. It is highly significant that each step in the higher organization of our parties has been at a time when internal transportation was developed. The state convention reached its development in New York state in the decade which saw the Erie canal opened; the national convention first became complete in the period of railroad expansion from 1850 to 1860, and the management of a national campaign from a single party centre only became possible from 1870 to 1880, when the telegraph system of the United States was first extended over our territory. These are the real conditions which have made possible the development, and determined the character, of party government. Tocqueville early pointed out the extraordinary freedom of political association enjoyed in this country, but this would have continued dependent on cliques and caucuses at state capitals and at the seat of federal power, if it had not been supplemented by a freedom and facility in travel and communication inconceivable when he wrote. By 1795 an unprecedented advance in population had extended the base of political action in New York state beyond the scope of any meeting, large or select, on Manhattan island, and John Jay was nominated by a quasi legislative caucus held at Albany, which was, for a quarter of a century after, the centre of political action. To the close of the century, the action of the Albany caucus was still shared by citizens of the state capital; but the tendency was to recognize only legislators as its members, and in 1804 Aaron Burr and Morgan Lewis were nominated by fully organized legislative caucuses. Even then the Burrite ticket was completed by a public meeting at Albany, which nominated Oliver Phelps as lieutenant governor; but for Burrites and "Quids" the Albany caucus of legislators was the controlling body, its "address" the party platform, and its "committee of correspondence" the governing body of the campaign. A "regular" party organization now first appeared in New York politics, which has never since been without a political organization claiming "regularity" by virtue of its unbroken political succession from the body which in 1805 nominated D. D. Tompkins. For twenty years afterward the business of carrying on party government was conducted at Albany, and the struggle against the "Albany regency" was in fact the struggle of the counties and their political action against power which out of the necessity of the post road had gravitated to Albany. The same development of party government was in progress at all the state capitals, at least as far south as Virginia and as far north as Massachusetts. In New Hampshire the "Rockingham convention," Aug. 5, 1812, a mass meeting of 1,500 voters, adopted a platform, nominated a full ticket, state, electoral and congressional, and joined in a vigorous address to President Madison. In Vermont "conventions of free men" and the legislative caucus acted indiscriminately, sometimes reaching the same nominations. The public meeting preserved its place as the origin of political action much later at the south, and the extent of the states west and south of Virginia left a political initiative to the county, which has long survived, although the legislatures were in all these states centres of political action. Inevitably, however, the condition of society on the frontier rendered impossible methodical political action. Nominations in Kentucky, in 1799, for a constitutional convention and state legislature, were "agreed upon" in many counties by "committees of two from each religious society and from each militia company"; a combination of religious and secular affairs in political organization which had its analogue in Philadelphia at a recent period in the cant political question, "Are you a presbyterian or democrat?" whose answer opened more than one election fight.
—In Virginia a periodical Richmond caucus early in the century decided on state nominations, and appointed a committee of correspondence, which acted with like committees in the counties. The action of this legislative caucus was so strictly a matter of state party government that in a presidential year, as in 1812, it did not go beyond the nomination of electors, and passed no resolutions expressing a preference as to a candidate for president, or enunciating a national platform, the "only test laid down" in the selection of electors being "Will he vote for Mr. Madison?" In Pennsylvania nominations were made at this time in the same way, and party management vested in members of the legislature. In Massachusetts, even as late as 1826, the Jackson "corresponding committee," appointed by a meeting in Boston, deferred meeting "until the legislature met, and a state convention could be assembled," steps in this direction still hinging on the legislature. To party management the members of the legislature naturally added the declaration of party policy and party principles. The sphere which has been occupied during the half century closing in 1880-90 by the party platforms and the letters of candidates, was earlier filled by addresses from state legislatures on federal and state topics, taking a range and appearing with a frequency since unknown. For nearly fifty years after the revolutionary war these addresses summed up the opposing political doctrines of the day, and the members who signed them managed the party organizations. Nor, in comparisons between the personal character of state legislatures at an earlier and later date, is it fair to forget that membership in these bodies fifty years ago gave the political control of party nominations and party policy which has since become vested in the party convention and its "central committee." (Ability will always gravitate where real power is exerted) This is exercised to-day upon the floor of conventions, whose members are quite as often hindered in their influence as aided in their authority by a seat at Washington or in a state capital. The control exercised by the legislative caucus found its natural analogue in a like control over federal affairs in the congressional caucus at Washington, whose power was first challenged, not by the national convention which succeeded it, but by the state legislative caucus, which envied both the power of the body at Washington and the preponderating influence enjoyed in the councils of the meeting at Washington by the Richmond caucus. Aaron Burr's nomination as vice-president was the first formal action taken by a caucus at Washington—Jefferson's selection being a foregone conclusion—and Burr was nominated at the suggestion of an Albany conference. By 1808 seventeen members of the "republican" caucus at Washington bolted its action on another suggestion from Albany. State legislatures had begun, each on its own account, to make presidential nominations, but holding their action subordinate to final determination at Washington, precisely as in the convention period state conventions present their "favorite sons" to national conventions. The objection to the congressional caucus as the manager of national politics had become so serious in 1812 that the call that year laid stress upon the regular character of the assembly, while the resolutions passed disclaimed any power in its members to act except in a personal capacity. Albany was, as usual, the first to break ground in a new direction, and the republican legislative caucus at Albany nominated De Witt Clinton ten days (May 29, 1812) after Madison's nomination at Washington. "One nomination," said "Niles' Register," in commenting upon their action, "is just as legitimate as the other." The convention which met at New York in September of the same year, with a representation from eleven states included in its membership, and which is sometimes cited as the first nominating convention, was in fact a mass meeting held to approve, or, in modern phrase, "indorse," the nomination made at Albany. Four years earlier a like assemblage held at "Martling's" styled itself a "general meeting," and, while approving by name state nominations, in the address which it instructed its committee of correspondence to "forward to republicans of the United States," exhorted them to "support such candidates for offices in the general government as are regularly selected and recommended by a republican majority of the Union"; meaning, of course, the congressional caucus.
—Party government had now reached a stage in which the congressional caucus, whose power, though questioned, was supreme, carried on the loose national organization of the day through its standing committee of correspondence; state legislatures did the same for state contests; while an inchoate representative political body did the like in the cities. The "general meeting" had already become too cumbrous to carry on party affairs in cities like New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore; Boston was still a town whose inhabitants enjoyed right of pasturage on the common for thirty years later. Secret societies had been an earlier substitute for the mass meeting, of which "Tammany, a society of the Columbian order," is the last lingering representative. The "democratic society," organized in Philadelphia during Washington's second term, had its affiliated branches over Pennsylvania and the neighboring states, extending to the outer bounds of the Kentucky wilderness. Federal politics in western Massachusetts and the region about were for nearly a generation at this period powerfully influenced, if not controlled, by a secret society which had affiliated branches in New England and the middle states, and more transient organizations existed elsewhere; all circumstances which played an important part in giving edge to the anti-masonic movement. None of these societies offered a basis for popular action during a time when the number of voters was yearly augmenting, quintupling in New York state in thirty years; 57,606 in 1790, 259,387 in 1821. The committee of correspondence, which each "general meeting" left to continue political action until another met, was gradually supplanted by ward organizations, first temporary, then permanent. The great "general meeting" which met, 12,000 strong, to approve Madison's nomination and the prosecution of the war, in Philadelphia, May, 1812, called ward caucuses to appoint five delegates to a "general committee," which sat apparently for no other purpose than a more formal and weighty declaration than was possible in a tumultuous mass meeting. A similar appeal to the primary was taken in Baltimore; but the usual course with these large city meetings—of which a number were held in these stormy war times—was to approve existing nominations made by state legislatures, and to appoint the customary committee of correspondence. From cities, counties and single districts representative party government spread rapidly to the state, while the term convention began to be employed for any "general meeting" which included members of more than one place. The last nomination of the congressional caucus in 1824 made plain the disappearance of its political power, which had received a fatal blow eight years before. Eight years later the Albany caucus, which had dealt this blow, alarmed at the growth of a new political engine in the convention, called for a revival of the congressional caucus as an escape from the dangers of separate state nominations for the presidency. The committee of correspondence of the congressional caucus has survived in unbroken succession as the "congressional campaign committee" of to-day, appointed biennially in the joint caucuses of the senators and representatives of each political party. The influence of this body varies greatly with the strength of the national committee and the ability of its secretary and members. In a presidential year the congressional campaign committee can do little but distribute documents, the party in power in either wing of the capitol using its facilities, folding rooms, employés and what not, for this purpose. In the intercalary congressional election the powers of this committee are considerable. It makes, or has made, the assessment on officers, organizes the congressional campaign where the party is weak, sometimes assumes to decide between conflicting claimants for a regular nomination, and furnishes doubtful districts with their speakers and supplies; but in the practical work of politics all this proves of less advantage to party success than in furthering conflicting intrigues within the party for the places in its gift, in particular those which depend upon the action of the party caucus in the house when deciding upon its candidates for speaker and other officers in the organization of the lower chamber of the federal legislature.
—The state legislative caucus remained in full away upon the disappearance of its Washington rival; but it was near its end. Presidential nominations by state legislatures as a formal official act were becoming more frequent, and paved the way for a broader representation than a party legislative caucus, in which the voters of the party living in districts where it was in a minority had no representation. The "convention" of the day was steadily widening its base and increasing its influence, and what was of nearly equal importance, ceased to be regarded as a dangerous or revolutionary political tool. It is a familiar fact that the legislature of Pennsylvania early lost the high relative importance attached to state legislatures and service in them in the post-revolutionary period, and it was in this state that the nominating convention first appeared in full action. A fruitless proposal for a national convention to make an anti-slavery nomination against Monroe was made in Philadelphia in 1820; in the previous four years the nomination of state officers through a convention consisting of delegates chosen by public meetings had become familiar. In the decade opening in 1820 this became the practice in Pennsylvania, beginning five years before the like innovation in New York state, ten years before it was rooted in Massachusetts, and fifteen years before the legislative caucus had disappeared in Virginia, while in some western and south western states it survived the first highly organized national campaign of our history in 1840. A convention held in Carlisle, Pa., in February, 1821, made up of county delegates, which nominated Heister in opposition to Gov. Findlay, was one of the first state conventions on the modern plan, if not the earliest. Six years earlier, Feb. 27, 1815, when a "meeting of citizens from every part of the state" was "holden at Boston," it confined itself to an address to the independent electors of Massachusetts, and only "confirmed" the nomination of Caleb Strong and William Phillips, already reached by a legislative caucus.
—In general terms, it may be said that, up to the slack-water politics of Monroe's second election, the general meeting in the centres of population, while it bad been widened by the presence of voters from other parts of the state, assumed no strict representative capacity, and left the initiative in politics to the legislative caucus; but in the decade beginning with 1820 two changes took place: state conventions, embracing representatives from most of the counties of the state, began to make state and national nominations, and conventions for a special purpose, embracing quasi delegates from many states, began to formulate opinion on questions of national politics, and out of these separate threads was spun the national convention. So slowly did this take place that, reckoning from the earliest state convention of a representative character, it was fifteen years before all the counties of a large state were represented in a convention, and forty-eight years before all the states were represented by national conventions. These early bodies were, as was natural, most loosely organized. The Hartford convention, in spite of its official character, received from New Hampshire delegates elected by county meetings, and carelessness of form or credential was still more characteristic of the bodies which met at a later period to represent some particular form of national opinion. Early as these bodies assumed a representative character, their systematic organization came more slowly, and important political gatherings which exerted a serious influence upon current party policy were in fact nothing but voluntary assemblages of men chosen by no formal constituency. This was the case even with the protection convention which met at Harrisburg, upon the call of the Pennsylvania legislature, July 30, 1827, delegates to which were elected by counties in Pennsylvania. The address of the free trade convention which met in Philadelphia Sept. 30, 1831, was accepted by Mr. Justice Story, in his Commentaries, as an authoritative exposition of the political views of the party denying congress the right to levy protective duties; but the convention itself met pursuant to a call issued at the suggestion of the "New York Evening Post"; the delegates, who voted singly and with equal powers, represented states, cities, counties, mass meetings and themselves; Mississippi being "represented" by a single delegate, Mr. Pinckney, a member of congress, and the proceedings throughout point to a loose structure only possible while the functions and methods of a political convention were still unformed. The like was true of the protectionist convention which met in the same year in New York, of the convention of the friends of American industry held in Harrisburg in 1824, and of most interstate conventions of the day. In the first of the long series of conventions dealing with the needs of the Mississippi valley, which met at Memphis, Nov. 12, 1845, upon a call issued by the Tennessee state legislature, with John C. Calhoun as its presiding officer, delegates from eleven states, one territory, Texas, an independent power, St. Louis, and a number of counties, all met and voted on a common basis. In fact, the many interstate conventions which met for a quarter of a century after the Hartford convention, bore the same relation to the strictly organized national conventions of the post-rebellion period, that early parliaments sustain to the completely organized body now at St. Stephens.
—In most states the convention had reached a complete organization long before its representative capacity was recognized. In 1820 the "republican" legislative caucus at Albany, whose address put Tompkins and Mooers in nomination in accordance with the "settled and approved ways" of the party, was met by a bolting caucus, whose address dealt freely in the current charges of fraud against Gov. Tompkins. In the ensuing four years the constitution of 1821 added largely to the voters of the state, and the popular convention sprang into being under the control of the young leaders in the central counties "by the lakes," who were beginning, first as anti-masons, and later as whigs, their struggle against the control of politics from Albany. In ten years, the new and facile instrument of political action had driven the legislative caucus out of existence. The first conspicuous, but by no means the earliest, convention of the new order was an anti-masonic body, which met in 1826, with Thurlow Weed as its influential manager. It still took longer to go from New York to Buffalo than in 1883 to go from New York to San Francisco; and, in the loose practice of the day, any man with interest enough to take a week's journey to a political convention was accepted as a representative, with little scrutiny of his credentials, if any were required. Progress, however, toward a different procedure, was rapid. Originating in a local call in local newspapers to the "young men's republican clubs" through the state, the "republican young men's convention," which met at Utica Aug. 12, 1828, and chose W. H. Seward as its presiding officer, was a full-fledged political convention, whose neat and rapid working shows how early the hand of Thurlow Weed learned its cunning. Its record presents delegates elected and ranged by counties, a temporary and permanent organization, committees on credentials, organization and resolutions, appointed on the instant by the chairman by congressional districts, and its close presents a complete working machine. Central corresponding committees of three were named from each county, and these were instructed to complete the county organization by a committee of five in each town, while the general conduct of affairs was intrusted to a "state central corresponding committee" of twelve "to be taken from the town of Utica and vicinity," a necessary concession to the practical difficulty of bringing together a committee including members scattered over a wider area. This convention adopted a modern platform, tacking on a tariff plank as an afterthought; but it made no nominations; approving those already made of Smith Thompson and Francis Granger on the state, and Adams and Rush on the federal ticket. Resolutions were passed, but they did not as yet constitute a comprehensive platform, and action upon nominations was reached through the adoption of a resolution—a practice which still survives in many states in the apparently useless form of adding to the platform an additional resolution giving the names of the candidates who have been put in nomination by the vivâ voce choice of the convention between several candidates. The new form of party rule was already in full operation in Pennsylvania, where by 1823 the nomination of J. Andrew Shulye was reached in a convention (March 4, 1823) only after five ballots; but so loose was party organization that the state committee appointed by the convention was at this period in the habit of meeting only to call another convention, interconvention political control vesting, as it had for so many years in "committees of correspondence" appointed by general meetings in the larger cities. In Massachusetts, at the same period (Jan. 23, 1823), the first step was taken toward a convention by adding to the "mass meeting of republican members of both branches," delegates from "republican towns not represented in the legislature." Five years later the Jackson republicans in the state had fully organized on the convention plan, and both parties in 1832. In Virginia, where, as in New York, the opposition seized on the convention in 1828, the ruling legislative caucus extended its numbers in the same method by adding representatives of counties where the party being in a minority had no representatives in the legislature. Without entering into unnecessary detail, like changes took place elsewhere, and by 1840 the legislative caucus was everywhere confined to legislative issues. "Conventions appointed by the people," said "Niles' Register," in 1827, of the coming change, "appointed by the people for a specific purpose, are not liable to the objections which apply to legislative caucuses." The result has not justified the hope.
—The national convention grew by the same slow degrees. The disappearance of the congressional caucus was not felt in the eight apathetic years of Monroe's administration. The nominations of state legislative caucuses, by dividing the electoral vote, led to the serious and dangerous struggle of 1824, in which national politics sank to its lowest personal plane. A remedy was plainly necessary. A congressional caucus had been considered a "republican tenet," and the powerful caucus at Albany in 1823, as in 1831, urged that one be held, while the Massachusetts caucus convention, which put forward John Quincy Adams, deprecated the necessity of "nominating a candidate for the presidency by assemblies in the states." By 1827-8 it became plain that no other course was open, and the combined action of legislative caucuses and state conventions, held in general on Jan. 8, 1828, placed Jackson in the field, usually but not always, with J. C. Calhoun as candidate for vice-president. In Virginia this was done by a convention made up of fourteen senators, 157 members of the house of delegates, and twenty-three special deputies, representing in all ninety-six counties out of 109. In North Carolina and New Jersey the counties elected delegates to a nominating convention, as did the anti-Jackson men in Virginia; in Pennsylvania and New York a legislative caucus acted, and in the former a convention filled out the electoral ticket; in Vermont a "convention of freemen" made a presidential nomination, and "certain citizens of Batavia, New York," did the same. The preliminary party struggle presented, in short, every form of party action. Four years later it was clear that the concerted action between the states which had given Jackson's canvass such momentum could best be reached by a national convention. A congressional caucus better suited the Albany regency, and they pleaded for one without effect. All parties adopted the convention; but Jackson's friends in New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina, endeavored, in the last instance fruitlessly, to secure a nomination from a legislative caucus, while Clay's friends obtained like action in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Louisiana, Kentucky and Maryland. The convention was at this period the favorite device of the opponents of the administration, and their national convention was the best organized, although the selection of its delegates was made by loose methods which early disappeared. The whig convention, which met in Baltimore, Dec. 12, 1831, was called by a caucus of the Maryland legislature. This call proposed a representation for each state equal to that enjoyed in the electoral college, and suggested, but did not require, the election of delegates by congressional districts. In Maine and Pennsylvania this was done; in New Hampshire a legislative caucus chose delegates; in Massachusetts "a convention of 200 members" acted for the state in expressing a presidential choice, besides making state nominations; in Connecticut harmonious action was taken by a legislative caucus and a state convention, the districts, in addition, choosing their own delegates; in New York a state convention chose the entire state delegation of two at large and one for each congressional district; while Maryland and most of the southern states acted through conventions. These irregular elections were order itself compared with the loose election of delegates to the democratic convention which nominated Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, at Baltimore, May 23, 1832, where the vote of Pennsylvania was cast by a group of self-appointed delegates. At these early national conventions each delegate cast one vote, except as a vote by states was required, when the electoral apportionment came into play, and the rule requiring a two-thirds majority in making a nomination was adopted by the democratic convention of 1832. This rule was re-enacted by the democratic convention which met at Baltimore, May 20, 1835, and has become the common law of the party in its national conventions and in many state and county democratic conventions in the south. At the same time the unit rule, giving each state delegation the right to cast its entire state vote as a majority of its members should direct, was also adopted, and, like the other, has gained the sanction of unbroken democratic usage. In whig and republican conventions neither of these rules has obtained, although an effort to enforce the last led to a long and bitter struggle in the republican national convention at Chicago, in June, 1880.
—As late as 1852 the call for a democratic national convention treated a congressional caucus of democratic congressmen as one basis for the summons; and the action of the whig Washington caucus, met to nominate a speaker in 1851, was expected to furnish the common grounds on which northern and southern whigs could meet in a "nationalized convention." These were the last traces of congressional influence in the highly organized body which has now, in the practical selection of a president, taken the place of the electoral college, the conventions of the two parties naming the two candidates to whom voters are of necessity restricted. It was forty years, 1831 to 1872, from the first national convention until one met in which all the states and territories were represented; but the work of organization is now completed, and the only change in party organization lies in the direction of greater safeguards about the caucus or primary in which the first delegates are selected, who in successive stages choose delegates to the conventions above. As it is no intention of this article to give a history of American politics, a further account of the working of the convention is unnecessary. It will be sufficient to describe the general working of party government.
—Precedent, custom, and the slow, unwritten development of representative party government, render it impossible to make any general exposition of the present system which will not be subject to many exceptions. On the one hand, in the loosely settled south and extreme west, selfnomination is still in use for all subordinate and local offices without the interposition of a convention, and the canvass is conducted by the personal solicitation of candidates, the work of the hustings being unchanged, but spread over wearisome square leagues of territory, instead of being concentrated around a polling booth. State officers are now nominated in all states by conventions, but where a system of permanent local nominating bodies does not exist, the state convention still partakes largely of the character of a legislative caucus, and the county convention is a meeting of the narrow group which carries on the government of each county at its court house; political action being largely confined to state and county office holders. On the other hand, in nearly all cities of over 100,000 in population, and in some, like Albany, still smaller, local political action and representation in state conventions are decided by a continuous political organization which in each party holds annual primaries, not to send delegates to a convention, but to choose the members of its governing body, ordinarily known as a "general committee." This body is self-elective under the thinly disguised forms of popular selection in primaries. Highly organized state conventions, like those in New York, find themselves unable, after years of effort, to break through this organization of office-holders and tax-eaters to reach the voters on whom party action should rest. In addition, while the theory of American party government contemplates the convention as coming fresh from the spontaneous initiative of the people, in fact it has become in many states, and is tending to become in all, a body which receives its initiative from the standing state central committee. This body, in New York and several of the larger states, has a member to each congressional district, the delegates to the state convention from these districts meeting apart in groups to select the committeeman from the district. In Pennsylvania and a number of other states the districts electing to the upper state chamber are the basis of membership. As the apportionment of conventions is in general by the party vote, and these districts are laid out by population, in the republican party the allotment of members of the state central committee by these districts gives the centres of population a preponderance in the permanent committee which they do not possess in the convention, and do not contribute in elections to the voting strength of the party. The one exception is in Pennsylvania, where the city vote is republican. The state committee organizes, immediately after its appointment, by the selection of a chairman and secretary, with whom are associated from three to five members as an executive committee. Unless some extraordinary exigency arises, like the resignation of a nominee, vacancies on the ticket being usually filled by the committee, the state committee does not meet until it issues the call for the next convention. The executive committee of five or seven is through the campaign the real centre of party management, and the actual work of party direction devolves on the chairman and secretary. The first is nearly always a man of wealth, with a taste for politics and skill in intrigue; the second attends to the manifold details of the campaign, and is assisted by a corps of clerks in the work of issuing assessments to the office-holders of the party, distributing documents, and conducting the wide and varied correspondence of a political headquarters. The chairman, the secretary and the executive committee constitute, therefore, a quasi party ministry, selected by the party parliament or convention. The delicate work of raising and distributing funds, of making engagements for speakers, of arranging local disputes, of watching over the interests of the state nominees, of arranging the "trades" and "deals" by which great masses of votes are secured in the large cities, or smaller schemes of corruption prepared in the rural districts, is all in the hands of these managers, to whom, if they are fit for their work, run all the threads of political intrigue. In a large state, where hundreds of local officers are chosen, besides state officers and the legislature, the candidates in the field will be between 1,500 and 2,000, and it is the first business of the officers of a state committee to know the strength, the motives, the support and the character of each of these candidates. Aside from a laborious canvass of the voters, school district by school district, which even in large states often accounts for all but 5 or 6 per cent. of the vote, minute information is gleaned in great central states as to the precise political condition of each polling district over a territory a quarter as large as France. Supplemental to the regular party machinery of a state committee, congressional, district, county, city, town and ward committees, an astute manager, like Mr. Tilden, will have from three to five correspondents in each election district of a state, making, in a state like New York, from 12,000 to 15,000 persons whose addresses are registered, and whose standing is known. To the general observer, an American political contest is a seething battle, in which the noise of the captains and their shouting, charges and counter-charges, the din of speakers and the clatter of newspapers, work their way to an unexpected result. To the few managers who attain success in the conduct of a campaign, even a great state like Ohio, New York, Indiana or Pennsylvania lies clearly mapped to its uttermost bounds, and a host of signs indicate from day to day the drift of public feeling and the intentions of voters, the plans of candidates and the purposes of the opposition.
—The minute personal acquaintance which makes this knowledge forcible, constitutes the real strength of the "machine" in American politics, which, like all organization that produces real results, is not a venal accident, but the fruit of the patient, continuous work of years. The men who make up the party ministry, intrusted with its direction, are not speakers, for speaking would be wasted on their work; nor political thinkers, for their object is not to carry out a policy, but to win an election. They are generally almost unknown to the public, and they have all the contempt of the professional expert for amateurs in their chosen field. Beginning with the careful management of a ward, they have risen by the rude natural selection of political strife; and conventions, while they often make mistakes in candidates, rarely blunder in their selection of managers. Inevitably, by the time the members of an executive committee, and still more the chairman and secretary, have "run" a campaign, particularly a successful campaign, their influence is felt and their personality known throughout the party organization. The next summer, when the state committee meets, and issues a call for the next convention, which will select its successor, the managers are in a vastly better position to touch the springs of party action and secure a convention to their liking than any one else. Nor does this control of the convention end with the election of delegates. In theory, each convention is still a public meeting which organizes itself; in practice, by unwritten law now almost invariably followed, the chairman of the state committee, acting as its representative, calls the convention to order, and proposes the "temporary" chairman. This chairman, whose election is so much a matter of course that in New York state, for instance, the selection of another chairman has occurred only once in both parties for twenty-five years, appoints the crucial committees on a permanent organization and on credentials; the one decides the officers of the convention, and the other its roll. While formally made by the "temporary" chairman, these committees are actually selected by the state committee, each of its members naming one for his congressional or state senatorial district. To personal influence with the party organization in the selection of delegates, the state committee, and particularly its executive committee, add, therefore, a profound influence in directing the action and determining the character of the convention, while it is still an inchoate body. If state and other conventions sat, as legislatures do, for a term of months, the discovery of debate would disclose other leaders; but conventions very rarely sit over two days, and usually only one. The practical result is, that acquaintance and knowledge of men, acquired beforehand, is everything in the swift canvass and rapid combinations of twenty-four hours. In all this, the campaign manager has an overpowering advantage. He accomplishes his results in the brief and wakeful night, while his amateur opponent is marshaling his forces and ascertaining on whom he can depend. The wonder is, not that the machine wins, but that it is ever beaten.
—A comprehensive union of the scattered members of party organization has never yet been successfully attempted. It was proposed in 1880 by the national democratic committee, that in future the chairmen of state committees should be elected to membership in its ranks, that the members of state committees should preside over district committees, and so on down; but this artificial plan collapsed at the start through the natural jealousy of state managers. In both parties each series of committees acts independently in its own sphere. In the presidential election the national executive committee overshadows all the rest, but its immediate efforts are confined to doubtful states; the state executive committee in like manner is most active and exerts the widest influence where party success is most doubtful; and, while least is heard of them by the general public, and least known except by politicians, the little local committees which "run" a ward or township are the most vital and permanent of all. An organization, adopted in 1882 by the democratic party in Pennsylvania, has carried party evolution in a state to its last form in the United States by linking the state committee to these local bodies through a provision that each county organization, with an apportionment based on state senatorial districts, shall elect a member to the state committee. This body has, therefore, become permanent and independent of the state convention, the party having provided itself, by a curious and unconscious imitation of the federal government, with a permanent executive. Add to this the progress made in some rural Pennsylvania counties in bringing 90 to 95 per cent. of the registered party voters to the polls in choosing the county organization, and it will be seen that this state, as in 1820-30, has probably anticipated the inevitable path of party development elsewhere.
—I. The National Convention. The call for a national convention in all organized parties is issued by the national committee, a body consisting, in the democratic party, of a member from each state, and, in the republican party, of a member from each state, and territory. In both cases this member has been selected by the delegation from each state or territory at the preceding national convention. The organization of the committee takes place immediately after the convention, its choice of a chairman and executive committee is usually greatly influenced by the wishes of the presidential candidate, and to this select body is generally committed the immediate conduct of a presidential campaign. After the campaign is over, the committee rarely meets until it assembles to call the next convention. Its membership is generally, not always, made up of men both of wealth and political influence, as a campaign assessment is expected from each member, and a large sum from the chairman; in the two campaigns, 1876 and 1880, $25,000 or more in each party. The call names the time, place and apportionment of the convention. In a republican convention the call provides for a body twice the size of the electoral college, with two delegates from each territory. In a democratic national convention, down to 1880, the number of delegates was an indifferent matter, each state delegation casting a vote equal to its electoral vote; but as the delegates are in general twice this number, and are not always required to act as a unit, half-votes result, being the choice of single delegates. In 1880 each state was directed to send twice its electoral representation. The republican national convention in 1880 directed its national committee to prepare before the next national convention a plan for the apportionment of representation in future conventions by district representation and upon the party vote. Twice in a republican convention the candidate has been decided by the vote of territorial delegates, whose votes carried R. B. Hayes in 1876, and J. A. Garfield in 1880, across the majority line. The national committee, in whose meetings written proxies are by usage allowed, besides issuing the call, decides the provisional roll of the convention pending organization, and passes in this way upon contests, provides the temporary organization, and has charge of the approaches to the convention—three most important prerogatives. In republican conventions the adoption of a platform precedes the choice of a candidate; in democratic conventions it succeeds the nomination. In both, while the term "ballot" is used, the voting for candidates is vivâ voce, the "chairman" of each delegation announcing the numerical vote of his state. If this is questioned in a republican convention, the roll of the convention can be called by the secretary of the convention. In democratic conventions it is the rule, not without exceptions, to treat the action of a delegation as final; and a majority of one, if the delegation be instructed to vote as a unit, is permitted to direct the entire vote of the largest state. The theory of the republican convention is, that the delegates standing for congressional districts are chosen by those districts, either directly by conventions in them or by the delegates from those districts to the state convention, acting as a separate group; the state convention merely certifying this result, the selection and control of the state convention being limited to the four delegates-at-large apportioned by each state. This theory was questioned by the supporters of ex-President Grant's nomination in 1880; but the convention established district representation as the common law of the party. The democratic national convention is, on the other hand, organized upon the theory that the entire state delegation is appointed and controlled by the state convention, which acts for the party in the state as a whole. Its instructions are therefore mandatory, and are so recognized by the party convention. In both parties the call for the national convention is followed by a call issued by each state committee for a state convention, to choose delegates. In New England, and in some of the western states, each district chooses its pair of delegates, and the state convention chooses the state delegates-at-large; but in a majority of states the work is done at a single convention, the delegates from each district presenting their choice, and the convention passing on the entire list. Inflexible usage requires residence, within a state or district, of their delegates, who are in general a picked body of most able men, averaging above the level of congressmen. The importance of the issue, the size and character of the assemblage, the immense throng of spectators, and the rapidity of its decisions, make a national convention the most imposing and interesting body in American politics.
—II. The State Convention. State conventions have been held since the war by each party before every general election, for the nomination of state candidates and the adoption of a platform, and, as above stated, once in four years, to choose delegates to a national convention. The call is in all cases issued by the state central committee, originating with the previous convention. The powers of a state committee over the preliminaries of a state convention are like those described above in national affairs. In addition, in New York state, the state committee names the committee which reports a permanent organization. The guard of a state committee over the hall in which a regular convention sits is sometimes insufficient to prevent its forcible capture, as in the New York democratic convention in 1859, and the Massachusetts democratic convention in 1878. The control of a state committee will not convert a minority in a convention into a majority; but it is invaluable in enabling a small and brittle majority to carry out the wishes of skillful leaders by giving it a definite course to pursue. The apportionment of delegates to a state convention is still, in a majority of the states, upon the basis of the lower branch of the state legislature; but in many states, as in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Ohio, Illinois, etc., in both parties, and in New York and most other states, in the republican party, an apportionment is based upon the last party vote. The size of state conventions varies from 1,200 to 1,400 in New Jersey to small bodies of between 100 and 200; the average being between 300 and 500. Substitutes are always permitted; and as late as 1883 the state democratic convention in Ohio contained county delegations on the "mass system," a large number of voters coming en masse from a county and casting its apportioned vote in the convention.
—III. Local Party Government. The county convention in rural districts consists of delegates from the towns, and is, in its county committee and general working, a miniature of the state party machinery, and needs no special description. Conventions and committees exist, likewise, for congressional districts, and while conventions meet for every possible nomination, a standing committee is infrequently appointed by these bodies. A sketch of local party machinery in New York city is given in the article on CAUCUS. Primaries for the purpose of providing permanent party machinery, aside from those held to select delegates to nominating conventions, are also held by the republican party in Philadelphia, and by the democratic party in Jersey City, N. J., and in Albany, N. Y., in each case leading to the corrupt control of party machinery, while a party democratic registry exists in South Carolina. In addition to the network of districts thrown over an American city, Philadelphia and New York are, for instance, divided into congressional, state, senatorial and representative, aldermanic and judicial districts, besides electing county and city officers. Taking both parties together, from fifty to sixty conventions are held in each of these cities on the eve of an important election. None but professional politicians are able either to understand or follow this complicated mill for grinding out candidates, and a permanent local organization relieves the busy citizen of all concern in the matter by providing him with a choice between two equally bad nominations.
—As a result, the final evolution of party government in the United States has been the appearance in city politics of self-appointed committees, of which the Philadelphia "committee of 100" is a most conspicuous instance, made up of leading merchants who have assumed political control, "indorsing" party nominations, furnishing tickets and workers at the polls, prosecuting repeaters, conducting long investigations into city offices, and securing the passage of needed legislation. The downfall of Tweed was in great measure due to such a committee, the "committee of 70," and the appearance in American politics of such committees has so far uniformly been for good. They are in general accepted as more closely expressing the popular will than city conventions, and in time such committees are likely to play a wider part. Simple as American party government appears in this outline, it must be remembered that it places the voter at many removes from the exercise of power. In dealing with a presidential nomination, the voter, for instance, shares in choosing delegates to a ward convention, which chooses delegates to a city or county convention, which sends delegates to a state convention, which names the delegates who name the candidate. The surprise is, that the popular will is felt at all through these removes, no one of which has the guarantee of law save the first in some states, and the action of nominating conventions in Ohio, where bribery in such conventions is made a crime.
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