Political Party Gatherings In Baltimore, Then and Now

Election Day is a good day to appreciate the history of party gatherings that have occurred in Baltimore. A couple of decades ago, Congressional Republicans had several retreats here. From the Baltimore Sun (11/25/96):

“House Republican freshmen, who met in Baltimore a year ago to prepare for their tumultuous first session as the driving force in the Republican-led Congress, are headed back to the city today for a mid-term refresher.

This year’s Republican retreat at the Lord Baltimore Hotel will be much shorter than the three-day session in December 1994. Thanks to the prolonged budget negotiations and an eagerness to return to the campaign trial, the lawmakers will be in Baltimore for less than 24 hours — from this evening until tomorrow afternoon.”

The GOP came back in 2011 for another retreat, as reported in the Washington Post:

“Decamping 35 miles to the north, the resurgent House Republicans this week will host a parade of leading GOP officials – including several would-be challengers to President Obama next year – at a three-day retreat in Baltimore designed to forge unity on the party’s agenda.

Led by House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio), Republicans plan to hear from a host of experts on federal spending and long-term deficits, as well as discuss strategy for trying to repeal the Obama administration’s health-care overhaul.”

Further back in the city’s history, proximity to D.C. was a major factor in hosting numerous early political conventions. As described by Frederick N. Rasmussen in the Baltimore Sun in August of last year:

“With the presidential convention season upon us, political and campaign junkies will most likely find Stan Haynes’ recently published book, “The First American Political Conventions: Transforming Presidential Nominations, 1832-1872,” a fascinating and entertaining look at the way these quadrennial gatherings used to be — before primaries and caucuses took all the drama and fun out of them.

The years covered by Haynes, a Semmes, Bowen & Semmes attorney and Ellicott City resident, marked a critical time in the nation, with issues that included the Panic of 1837, slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction.

It is a little-known fact that in the history of the Republic, no other American city has hosted more of these conventions than Baltimore — 20 in all, with the latest last month when the Green Party’s Jill Stein beat out actress Roseanne Barr.

Seventeen men have been nominated for the presidency in Baltimore, and six of them were elected. The first of these six was Andrew Jackson, a Democrat nominated in 1832. The last president to be nominated in the city was Woodrow Wilson, also a Democrat, during a convention held in 1912 at the 5th Regiment Armory.

Easy accessibility to railroads, steamship lines and turnpikes helped make Baltimore an attractive convention destination.”

In another article, Rasmussen describes a particularly historical convention in Baltimore, in 1860, on the cusp of the Civil War:

“The Democrats first met in April in Charleston, S.C., which they had chosen to “promote sectional harmony and unity” and party solidarity, observed Haynes, but their hopes were to be short-lived.

Sen. Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, the leading contender for the nomination, had adopted the principle of “popular sovereignty.” When a territory became a state, its people, through their elected representatives, would decide whether or not to allow slavery.

And when the Southerners failed to get an endorsement of slavery into the Democratic Party platform, they simply walked out. The deadlocked convention ended up leaving Douglas without the votes he needed for the nomination.

The convention reconvened in June at the Front Street Theatre in Baltimore, where Douglas was finally nominated for the presidency.

Once again, the Southerners stormed out. They retreated to the Maryland Institute, where they nominated John C. Breckinridge, President James Buchanan‘s vice president, as their candidate for president.”