In the coming weeks, delegates from the Republican and Democratic parties will gather at highly choreographed events to formally anoint their respective presidential nominees. But the decisions that these conventioneers make will for the most part have been cemented long before.
American political conventions haven't always been so predictable. Before they became scripted for TV, conventions were where some of the most critical policy questions were resolved, and where political careers were made or ruined. In this episode of BackStory, the American History Guys venture into the back rooms, chaotic halls, and streets where these dramas unfolded. They consider the radical roots of the convention ritual itself and explore the ways that ritual was mainstreamed. Over the course of the hour, the History Guys hear the voices of anti-corruption crusaders in the 1820s, women’s rights activists at Seneca Falls, and civil rights workers in 1964, all of whom turned to conventions as venues for change. Through it all, they ask how well American political conventions have lived up to their promise of representing constituents back home.
Michael Holt, University of Virginia, on the Anti-Masonic Party Convention of 1830.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-Washington, D.C., on the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) of 1964.
Leslie B. McLemore, former MFDP delegate, on the strategy of the Party at the ‘64 Democratic National Convention.
Nancy Hewitt, Rutgers University, on the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention.
Richard Bensel, Cornell University, on William Jennings Bryan’s 1896 “Cross of Gold” speech.