It’s political convention season, so we’ve got a relevant trivia question: One US city hosted 10 of the first 11 major party presidential nomination meetings. Which one?
Hint: At the time, it was a large, vibrant city that was central to one of the fastest-growing industries in the nation.
While you’re thinking that over we’ll give a brief history of how they used to choose convention locations. These confabs of delegates began in the early 19th century as a reform meant to lessen the power of “King Caucus,” the small groups of elected officials who to that point had handpicked nominees. Conventions had to be held in cities that were easy to reach via the rudimentary transportation networks of the day. That meant cities on the Eastern Seaboard. A big party did not hold a convention in a city unreachable from the ocean until 1856, when the Democrats met in Cincinnati.
That pick began a trend. As the population moved westward, political power moved with it, and party conventions followed. The center of convention life moved to the Midwest. Chicago remains the nation’s leading political convention city; it has hosted 11 Democratic and 14 Republican presidential nomination get-togethers – most recently in 1996, when Democrats renominated Bill Clinton. (The first? That would be the historic convention of 1860, which picked Abraham Lincoln as the Republican standard-bearer.)
Democrats met in San Francisco in 1920. But in general, the Midwestern convention model held until the years after World War II.
Since 1960 they’ve been all over the place: Los Angeles; San Francisco; Miami Beach; Atlantic City, N.J. (where LBJ accepted the Democratic nomination in 1964); and so forth. These choices are made for a number of reasons, including the desire of party leaders to sway voters in swing states. Why else would the GOP be meeting in Tampa, Fla., during hurricane season? Florida is always big, electorally speaking.
And which city kicked off the whole convention movement in the 1800s? Baltimore. The Democrats held six conventions there (1832 to 1852). Their opposition held five during that same period, four in Baltimore, one in nearby Harrisburg, Pa.