WASHINGTON -- It's a long way from the Democratic National Convention being held in Los Angeles this week, but in the 1830s, Democrat Simon Cameron suggested his party hold its national convention the third week in May of each presidential election year in Baltimore.
His suggestion was never formally adopted, but 15 national political conventions were held in Baltimore during Cameron's lifetime, most of them involving the Democrats.
Even so, the Democrats weren't the first to hold a convention in Baltimore. That honor goes to the Anti-Masonic Party, which met at the Athenaeum in 1831 and nominated Maryland's former attorney general, William Wirt. The Anti-Masons suspected that the Masons (to which several presidents belonged) was not a fraternal organization but a secret cabal running the country.
The Democrats met the next year in both the Athenaeum and the Universalist Church on the corner of Calvert and Pleasant streets. They nominated the incumbents and eventual winners, President Andrew Jackson and Vice President Martin Van Buren.
The Democrats returned in 1835. Van Buren had no trouble getting the presidential nomination, but his choice for vice president, Kentucky's Richard M. Johnson, barely made it out of Baltimore on the national ticket. Johnson shocked the party by living with a woman who was not his wife. But scandal or no, the Democrats won again in 1836.
In 1840, the Democrats stormed into Baltimore's Music Hall to renominate Van Buren, but they refused to do the same for Johnson. Nevertheless, the Democrats lost to the opposition Whigs.
Both Whigs and Democrats held their conventions in Baltimore in 1844. The Whigs went first at the Universalist Church and selected Henry Clay. The Democrats came back a few weeks later and gathered in the Egyptian Saloon of Odd Fellows Hall on North Gay Street.
They remained deadlocked after three days. Finally, a compromise emerged in James K. Polk, who got the nomination on the ninth ballot. Polk won.
Four years later, the Democrats returned to the Universalist Church and chose Sen. Lewis Cass of Michigan as their standard bearer. But Cass lost to the Whigs' Zachary Taylor, who was nominated in Philadelphia.
Both parties were in Baltimore in 1852. The Democrats moved into the more spacious Maryland Institute on Central Market and Baltimore streets. It held 5,000 people, and they were treated to a real donnybrook. It took 49 ballots before an obscure congressman from New Hampshire, Franklin "Handsome Frank" Pierce, secured the nomination.
Not to be outdone, the Whigs moved in after the Democrats moved out and went to 53 ballots before deciding on Mexican war hero Gen. Winfield Scott. Pierce won a forgettable election.
In 1860, Baltimore hosted no fewer than three conventions, all in six weeks
In April, the Democrats met in Charleston, S.C., but could not agree on a candidate. They scheduled another convention for Baltimore in June. Meanwhile, the newly formed Constitutional Union Party met in early May at a federal courthouse that once was a Presbyterian Church on the corner of Fayette and North streets. The party, whose only goal was to keep the Union together in the face of dissolution, nominated John Bell of Tennessee.
The Democrats tried again at Baltimore's Front Street Theater, on the corner of Low Street. With tensions high, several fistfights broke out among delegates, pistols were drawn and, to make matters worse, a portion of the theater's floor collapsed.
Still, Sen. Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois got the nomination, leading many southerners (along with nine of 16 Marylanders) to walk out and gavel a third convention into session at the Maryland Institute. Vice President John Breckinridge was the presidential nominee of that convention.
The Republican Party, which had been formed in 1854, held its second convention in 1860 and selected Abraham Lincoln, who won the election with less than 40 percent of the vote. The Republicans came to Baltimore's Front Street Theater in 1864 but met as the Union Party to re-nominate Lincoln. They won again but haven't been back since.
The Democrats held their next Baltimore convention in 1872, when they gathered at Ford's Opera House to nominate Horace Greeley. He lost to Republican Ulysses S. Grant and died soon after Election Day.
Baltimore's final Democratic convention took place at the Fifth Regiment Armory in 1912. Woodrow Wilson was nominated on the 49th ballot of a raucous convention. He won the election.
Neal Lavon covers domestic and foreign issues for the Voice of America in Washington. The views expressed are his own.