Jesse Jackson has more than held his own in what has become the Democratic convention's nightly series of oratory. Spokesmen for the party's dominant factions take the stage - Mario Cuomo for the overlooked ethnics, the Rev. Mr. Jackson for aspiring minorities, Gary Hart for the new-generation Yuppies, and tonight Geraldine Ferraro as the first woman on a major ticket, plus Walter Mondale, who won on the shoulders of the party establishment.
Looking back, Jackson acknowledged there were things he would have done or said differently. Public oratory has recorded few moments as poignant as Jackson's appeal for his party's forgiveness. He had tested its tolerance by remarks and positions that affronted Jews and others, by threatening to shut down black support for the ticket even as black voter registration has swelled. ''Charge it to my head ... not to my heart,'' he said. ''I am not a perfect servant. I am a public servant doing my best against odds as I develop and serve.''
But looking back to the precampaign months of debate over whether a black should run at all for the White House, Jackson and his backers can feel enormously satisfied with their decision. To arrive at the convention as one of three finalists, to have emerged from public debates with a reputation for intelligence and respect for his gifts of persuasion, reflect how much Jackson made of his political opportunity.
The political gains for blacks extend beyond Jackson. Experience in running a nationwide campaign, putting together teams of writers, lawyers, and logistics people, is all part of reaching political maturity. So is the experience of deploying floor captains and of back-room negotiation at the convention useful to the political aspirations of any faction.
Blacks can feel gratified by the political capital Jackson's campaign represents, as should women, who witnessed their own success chapter after long effort.
Mr. Jackson is a young man. By his own admission he has much to learn. He can have a long career ahead. He faces tough competition - from a Mario Cuomo, a potential woman candidate, and another try by Gary Hart or his Senate colleagues.
Mondale wisely gave the Jackson forces enough of a face-saving victory on the platform - an equal-opportunity plank that deleted the word ''quotas'' - for Jackson to claim a concession and pledge full support for the ticket.
Ultimately, race and gender, ethnicity and religion, should go unremarked in a national campaign, and intelligence, experience, character, and a grasp of the nation's direction alone serve as criteria for a candidate's qualifications.
Working toward that idea apparently requires individuals to prove on the hustings that distinctions such as color and sex are not legitimate impediments to office.
Mr. Jackson's convention speech, the apex of his presidential adventure, represented progress for all Americans against false disqualifications.