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the possession of the White House. No doubt the extreme fierceness of the struggle between the followers and the opponents of Jackson, which made everything subordinate to his success or his defeat, powerfully contributed to infect all the elections without exception with“ politics,” but the convention system set up the same result as a logical postulate independent of the passions of the moment.
The national convention, which took the place of the congressional Caucus, as regards the selection of candidates for the two chief offices of the Republic, did not succeed to it at
After the fall of the congressional Caucus there was an interregnum of a few years. When the power of the congressional Caucus came to an end, the State conventions tried to step into its shoes, but concurrently with them State Legislatures and, in some cases, legislative caucuses, also came forward to get possession of the presidential nomination. And it was to the combined action of all these various bodies that was due the nomination, in view of the election of 1828, of Jackson on the one side and of Adams on the other.
But soon both State Legislatures and caucuses definitively retired before the conventions, and the choice of candidates for the Presideney was made over for good to the national conventions.
The first national convention was brought about by a casual episode which had agitated the Union for some years, by the anti-masonic movement. A freemason in the State of New York, who wanted to write a book divulging the secrets of the order, having disappeared in a mysterious way, a report was circulated that he had been captured by the freemasons and murdered by them. The indignation aroused by this alleged crime soon extended to the adjoining counties and, outside New York, to one State after another. Anti-masonic associations sprang up, measures were demanded against the freemasons in general, and the members of other secret societies bound by an oath. The anti-masonic contagion spread with extraordinary rapidity, and in a short time the enemies of freemasonry became so numerous that they thought themselves strong enough to contest elections throughout the Union on the question of freemasonry. They started an organization, held conventions to select candidates for the highest elective offices in the States, and finally resolved to try and carry the Presidency in order to get a strong opponent of freemasonry elected and dislodge it from the political power which, according to its antagonists, was its principal object. A general convention of ninety-six anti-masonic delegates, from different parts of the Union, met at Philadelphia, in September, 1830, and having affirmed, in a very lengthy report, the political danger presented by freemasonry, invited all the citizens of the United States who were hostile to secret societies to send delegates, corresponding in numbers to their representatives in Congress, to a convention, with instructions to nominate candidates for the Presidency and the Vice-Presidency. The convention met in the following year at Baltimore; one hundred and fourteen delegates were present, almost all of them from the East; Ohio was the only Western State which sent delegates. It decided that the candidates should be chosen by vote and that the majority required for election should be three-fourths of the members present. The voting took place in a second sitting, and the candidates nominated fought the presidential contest throughout the Union.2 Defeated at the polls, the anti-masons soon disappeared as an organized party.
But the example of the national convention which they introduced was followed immediately by the opponents of Jackson and then by his supporters. The former had amalgamated, more or less satisfactorily, under the common denomination of National Republicans. Their most brilliant champion, Henry Clay, was clearly marked out for contesting the Presidency with Jackson, who stood again in spite of the recommendations which he had made in his messages against the re-election of the President. On the invitation of the Caucus of the National Republicans of the Maryland Legislature a national convention of delegates of this party met at Baltimore in December, 1831. It became the true prototype of
1 The Proceedings of the United States Anti-masonic Convention, held at Philadelphia, Sept. 11, 1830. Philadelphia, 18:30.
2 The Proceedings of the Second United States Anti-masonic Convention, held at Baltimore, Sept., 1831. Boston, 1832.
those great periodical party assizes which from that time to this have played a unique part in the political life of the United States. From this point of view the details connected with the meeting of that convention deserve to be related.
The convention was attended by one hundred and fifty-six delegates, representing eighteen States and the District of Columbia; five States (Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Missouri, Mississippi) did not appoint delegates; the sixth, Illinois, elected one, but he did not put in an appearance. The States were very unequally represented; thus Tennessee had only one delegate, Louisiana and Indiana two, while the District of Columbia, adjoining Baltimore, had five. Evidently in the remote States there were not, owing to the difficulties of travelling, enough persons ready to accept the mission; for the same reason, sixty-five delegates did not answer the roll-call, twelve of whom, however, arrived before the close of the convention. After having chosen a temporary organization and instructed the delegations of the States to examine the credentials of their members, the convention appointed a permanent organization, with James Barbour as president, and decided that the nomination of the candidates should be made by calling over the States in their geographical order (Maine, New Hampshire, etc.), each delegate rising in his place to declare the name of the person for whom he gives his vote as the candidate for the office of President of the United States in opposition to Andrew Jackson. The name of Henry Clay having been repeatedly mentioned in this connection, the president, "after making such prefatory remarks as he supposed proper,” laid before the convention a letter which he had received from Clay. In this personal letter Jackson's illustrious rival expressed his regret that several delegates had been sent to the convention with instructions to vote for him, Clay; he held that all restrictions on the freedom of deliberation and decision of the convention were inexpedient, that the convention ought to have the power of freely comparing the merits of different candidates. No doubt, Clay was sure of being nominated; but his formal disapproval of the instructions given to the members of the convention is none the less worthy of note. Clay was nominated unanimously, and a committee of eighteen members, one for each State, was ordered to notify to him the decision of the convention. The deputation repaired for this purpose from Baltimore to Washington and brought back his acceptance on the following day. In the third sitting, which, in pursuance of a decision taken the day before, opened with a prayer read by a clergy man, the convention proceeded to nominate a candidate for the Vice-Presidency. John Sergeant was proposed and seconded for this office, and each delegate having voted for him viva voce, he was proclaimed candidate, after which a committee of five members was directed to notify his nomination to him in person. Before separating, the convention adopted a long address to the citizens of the United States, which was really an indictment of Jackson's administration. It also took care to appoint a central State corresponding committee in each State which had none, and to recommend to the several States to organize subordinate corresponding committees in each county and town in their respective States, and, finally, approved the suggestion of a general convention of “Young Men of the National Republican Party.” From a feeling of patriotic loyalty the convention proceeded in a body to the residence of Charles Carroll to pay its respects to the “ sole survivor of those benefactors of the human race who affixed their names to the Declaration of American Independence." I
In conformity with the decision taken by the Baltimore convention, the “convention of young men” met at Washington in May, 1832. It was composed of three hundred and sixteen delegates, who unanimously approved the nomination of Clay and Sergeant. The speeches made on this occasion were “in strains of eloquence but seldom equalled.”2 Clay paid a visit to the convention, which listened to his speech standing. It concluded its labours by voting ten resolutions, which defined the policy of the party and which anticipated the custom since adopted by the conventions of drawing up the "platform" of the party. Following the example of its elder sister, the “convention of young men
repaired in a body to Baltimore
1 Journal of the National Republican Convention, which assembled in the city of Baltimore, Dec. 12, 1831, for the nomination of candidates to fill the offices of President and Vice-President. Published by order of the convention, Washington.
Niles, Vol. XLII, p. 206.
to greet John Carroll, and then made a pilgrimage to the tomb of George Washington at Mount Vernon.
Lastly Jackson's followers, the Democratic Republicans, met in their turn, in national convention, at Baltimore in May, 1832, not to nominate the candidate for the Presidency, who was of course Jackson himself, but to solemnly proclaim the candidate for the Vice-Presidency. Jackson chose Martin Van Buren for this post, to reward him for his devotion to him, but Van Buren was far from enjoying general consideration in the country; he did not command the support of the party by himself. The convention was to be the means of obtaining it for him; this plan was hit upon, even before the convention of National Republicans, by Jackson's intimates, who formed a sort of occult government around him known as the “kitchen cabinet.” Instead of holding councils of his constitutional advisers, Jackson fell into the habit of discussing affairs of state with a few subordinates who were in his confidence, and in whose society he felt more at his ease; he was not obliged to submit to the formality of a regular discussion, but could carry on a general desultory conversation over his pipe. One of the leading members of this kitchen cabinet, Major Lewis, "the great father of the wire-pullers,”? who had displayed prodigious activity and consummate skill in Jackson's first election, set to work to organize behind the scenes, in favour of Van Buren, a movement which was the first example of great manifestations of opinion, apparently spontaneous, but in reality produced by a machinery with popular forms which screened the doings of the wire-pullers. Lewis conceived the idea of getting the plan of a national convention adopted by the members of a State Legislature, who, having put it forward with the authority belonging to the representatives of the people, would be followed by other Legislatures, with the result that local and consequently rival nominations would be pre
1 Niles, Vol. XLII, p. 236.
2 " Lewis was the great father of the wire-pullers. He first practised in a masterly and scientific way the art of starting movements apparently spontaneous, at a distance, and in a quarter from which they win prestige or popularity, in order that these movements may produce, at the proper time and place, the effects intended by the true agent, who, in the meantime, prepares to be acted on by the movement in the direction in which, from the beginning, he desired to go" (Sumner's Jackson, p. 77).