164 years of Democratic partying Conventions: Baltimore has been a favorite site for Democrats to nominate presidential hopefuls, but the conclaves used to offer more color and suspense.

Sun Journal

August 23, 1996

They called themselves "Democratic-Republican." Then "Republican Delegates from the Several States." Then, at a convention in Baltimore in 1832, they adopted the name that has endured: Democrats.

Baltimore must have charmed them. The Democrats returned for their next five conventions, through 1852. Baltimore's attraction? In the decades when slavery was being debated, the city seemed a safe, middle ground between North and South.

The Democrats hold their latest convention next week, this time in Chicago. There is not a lot of mystery. President Clinton can depend on being re-nominated on the first ballot, and the TV networks will know the timing for the acceptance speech long before the actual event.

But these certainties are relatively new to politics.

In 1860, the Democrats met in Charleston, S.C., but gave up after 10 days without having chosen a nominee. (Some of them reconvened two months later in Baltimore and chose Stephen Douglas as their candidate, while dissidents nominated a slate of their own. But the Democrats lost to Republican Abraham Lincoln.)

In 1912, Democrats meeting in Baltimore nominated Woodrow Wilson but not until the 46th ballot. The party's convention in 1924 in New York lasted a record 17 days and required a record 103 ballots to choose the nominee John W. Davis, the loser in November to Republican Calvin Coolidge.

And until 1932, when Franklin Roosevelt broke with precedent, it was considered bad form for a potential nominee actually to visit the convention.

"I have never entertained the thought for a moment," Woodrow Wilson responded to reports that he was about to travel to the 1912 conclave. "It would manifestly be very nearly an act of impertinence on my part to appear before the convention as if to seek their interest in me personally.

"I am interested in arguing causes, but not in such errands as I would seem to have if I went to Baltimore."

Pub Date: 8/23/96

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