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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Political Conventions 1860 v 2012

~ Building in Chicago where 1860 Rep. Convention was held...

We're not going to talk much about the political conventions this week, or really at any point in the future.  It would be like a local newspaper sending a correspondent to cover the local High School football team's pep rally then covering the opponent's...

'Yay Elephants -- Beat Donkeys!' ~ ~  'Yay Donkeys -- Beat Elephants!'

Historically, the conventions used to matter..  Political candidates were Actually chosen there after the wealthy and influential power-players negotiated back room deals and 'secret' ballot votes' to ween the candidates down to one who would represent the party best.

Now its just speeches--  not even long speeches anymore... just efficient speeches meant to start promptly when national TV begins its coverage and efficiently to wrap up with 5minutes to spare.

And the speeches say nothing...  'Elect me and I promise this...and I promise that..  and my opponent will lead us to this bad place, or that awful period...'

Have you ever wondered how Abraham Lincoln was nominated to represent the Republican Party in 1860?

Its an interesting story and one that shows in many respects how times have changed (and yet in certain ways, how politics really hasn't)
A brief background of the Republican party back then:  The Reps used to be the Whig Party. They did not possess quite the same meaning or value systems as Britain's Whig Party, but obviously the name was taken from them.

After the 1852 Election, the Whigs had disbanded as a political party.  Two years later in 1854, the Republican party was formed to fill the void, to combat the Kansas Nebraska Act which threatened to extend slavery into the territories, and to promote more vigorous modernization of the economy.

The party had almost no presence in the South, but in the North it enlisted former Whigs and former Free Soil Democrats to form majorities, by 1858, in nearly every Northern state.

1860 was the first year the Republicans were going to seriously put up a challenge to win the Presidency and obviously as we all know, Lincoln did win even though he was not on the ballot in any Southern state.  He was able to secure victory in that general election because the Democrats had splintered off into supporting three distinct candidates.

That's quite an interesting piece of history in itself but we're going to stay focused just on how Lincoln, who despite the 'Lincoln-Douglas' debates of a few years prior,  was not a household name outside of Illinois, was able to secure the nomination...

The Republican National Convention met in mid-May 1860 in Chicago, after the Democrats had been forced to adjourn the 1860 Democratic National Convention in Charleston, South Carolina without a nominee due to deep, contentious differences over the slavery question and other economic matters.

The Dems would later re-convene in Baltimore, Maryland to disastrous results
~ 1860 Political poster (Lincoln did not yet have his famous chin beard)

With the Democrats in disarray and with a sweep of the Northern states possible, the Republicans were very confident going into their convention. William H. Seward of New York (who eventually would serve as Lincoln's Secretary of State) was considered the front runner, followed by Lincoln, Salmon P. Chase of Ohio (who served as Lincoln's Treasury Secretary), and Missouri's Edward Bates (served as Lincoln's Atty Gen. for his first term)

As the convention developed, however, it was revealed that Seward, Chase, and Bates had each alienated factions of the Republican Party. Delegates were concerned that Seward was too closely identified with the radical wing of the party, and his moves toward the center had alienated the radicals.

Chase, a former Democrat, had alienated many of the former Whigs by his coalition with the Democrats in the late 1840s, had opposed tariffs demanded by Pennsylvania, and critically, had opposition from his own delegation from Ohio.

Bates outlined his positions on extension of slavery into the territories and equal constitutional rights for all citizens, positions that alienated his supporters in the border states and southern conservatives. German-Americans in the party opposed Bates because of his past association with the Know-Nothings (The Nativist, anti-foreigner & anti-Catholic party actually called themselves the American Party  [the term 'Know-Nothings' was given by outsiders]).
Since it was essential to carry the West, and because Lincoln had a national reputation from his debates and speeches as the most articulate moderate, he won the party's nomination on the third ballot on May 18, 1860.

Back then Vice Presidents were not chosen by the nominee.  Like the Presidential nominee, the VP nominee was voted upon by the party power-brokers.  On the 2nd ballot, a man named Hannibal Hamlin would be his VP on the ticket and for Lincoln's first Administration  (VP and future President Andrew Johnson would be nominated onto the ticket for the 1864 Convention)

Hard to say honestly which method is better.. allowing the Party or the candidate to select?

So many billions of dollars pissed away by candidates representing both parties-- the vast majority going to court voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.  And usually its all decided by March even though many states do not have primaries till May or June.

All this of course to save money for the media bombardment of the general election.

So if you're going to watch the DNC do their little thing, then enjoy.  We're not watching.. We didn't watch last week either except for Clint Eastwood's speech which once we realized was full of intentional pauses, thought it was quite refreshing in its uniqueness.

In the future, we hope celebrities take a page from Tom Hanks in 'Castaway' and just speak instead to a volleyball with a smiley face imprint on it.