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Mar 13, 2008 9:46 pm


2008 and 1824



Stephen Schlessinger has an interesting HNN post on the Myth of the Pledged Delegates. He looks back at several 20th century races in which the conventions did make the nominations. He also makes the very logical point that if neither candidate comes in with a majority, then it is the duty of the convention to choose.

But in politics, logic is not always enough.

Since the 1960s, primaries have been the selection process and conventions the coronation process. While I am personally not uncomfortable with the convention choosing a candidate, in part for the reasons mentioned in this article, it appears that many people active in politics, on both sides, truly see this as a cheat. In short the political culture has changed. The majority now rejects conventions as a selection vehicle except perhaps in true emergencies.

One can see a somewhat similar change emerging in the election of 1824. As is well known, that election had four major candidates. One, William Crawford was stricken with illness. The supporters of the other three, JQ Adams, Henry Clay, and Andrew Jackson campaigned hard. Jackson received a clear plurality of the popular vote but not an electoral majority. (A summary of the number is here.)

In the negotiations in the House of Representatives, Clay and Adams struck a logical bargain in the tradition of the caucus politics of the time. They were in general agreement on policy. Adams had received far more votes than Clay, and the popular votes of the two combined slightly surpassed the votes received by Jackson. As a result of their agreement, Adams became president, and Clay received the second most important executive post, Secretary of State.

But the political culture had changed quite abruptly since 1820. Jackson’s supporters were outraged, and they apparently were joined by at least some of Clay and Adam’s supporters, as well as by many new voters. In 1828, Jackson won easily, and the radically higher vote totals for both candidates in 1828 speaks to the greater sense of popular interest that the anger over the Corrupt Bargain both signified and encouraged.

I don’t want to press this comparison too far, A nomination is not an election, and the change in political culture signified by the current situation has been evolving for a generation. Still, I think that those historians and other interested parties who see conventions as a legitimate and perhaps even superior selection process should take heed. A convention is not superior if people don’t accept its legitimacy.


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Randll Reese Besch - 3/30/2008

Of election mechanics. It aids in may understanding of a process I must by necessity have some knowledge of.