Ohio's First Political Conventions

Featured Audio

For two years we've been talking about 2016 and the Republican National Convention.

But this was not the first time here for the GOP. 
It is actually Cleveland's thirs time host an RNC, and for the state that has been the home of Presidents, it's the sixth such bash.

The others were held in Cincinnati - all - in the 19th century.

The Queen City of today is quite different  from the rough and tumble times of 1856, when Ohio hosted its first convention – for the Democratic Party.

Held at the long demolished and nearly forgotten to history Smith and Nixon's Hall, the occasion was historic, with Ohio hosting the first national party convention outside the 13 original states.

A site chosen - with great forethought says Dr. David Niven, who teaches political history at the University of Cincinnati, and has written books on the events of those times. 

            "They came out to Cincinnati in part because, even then, Ohio was a battleground state. The democrats had won the state in 1852 and they hoped to hold onto the state. So even then, they were thinking this is a state that's important, because the battle lines really were North versus South then… and the South was for the Democrats, most of the North was Republican – and Ohio was a bit up for grabs. So Cincinnati was a big place, in an already important state." 

He says in 1852 – Democratic delegates rejected the sitting President, Franklin Pierce, in favor of James Buchanan… 

But Buchanan… 
….wasn't sure he wanted the nomination.

         "He didn't want to be rejected, obviously, but the challenge was – this is a country on the precipice of a civil war. He didn't have particularly any answers, and his political strength going into 1856 was that he was the Ambassador to Great Britain. So he wasn't IN the country as things started falling apart. He wasn't in the country as insurrections started in Kansas. 
So that was his strength relative to the other Democrats, his ability to say… "Not my fault
".  

The sessions were contentious – as depicted in this detailed on-the- scene drawing – preserved today in the Cincinnati Hamilton County Library.

No sound is needed to see how battles waged – 

Etched in the faces; many of which were familiar to magazine readers of the day…. tempers flare – As heated arguments carried throughout the hall….

     "... full of bargaining, arguing… full of intrigue, because not only do you not know how it's going to turn out - you don't know who has made deals with whom – and what the pieces are – and to give you an idea how contentious 1856 was for the Democrats; Hannibal Hamlin, the senator from Maine, found the convention so distasteful, and the fact that nobody had any plans to abolish slavery; that he said of the Democrats. 'WE are now the party of slavery', and found it so abhorrent that he quit the party right after the convention." 

Yet after 15 ballots, none of the three candidates – President Pierce, Stephen Douglas, or Buchanan - had received enough votes to win the nomination. 

On the 16th ballot, Douglas withdrew, leaving Buchanan to take all 296 votes on the final ballot.

It was 24 years later the Democrats returned to Ohio.

At what was then the brand new – majestic, and acoustically near perfect….. Music Hall.

       (Rick Jackson - standing in hall)
      "Clearly the auditorium is different now than it was in 1880, and it's being remodeled again, but this – was the scene of the floor fights."    

Lisa Wood is with the Ohio History Center
     "The tone isn't polite it's not really gentlemanly… there is a lot of name calling and a lot of sniping going on. There's not a 24 hour news cycle… the media in the 1800's were daily newspapers and weekly magazines, things like that… 
You don't have the same amount of national media and the news cycle was definitely a bit slower, but in terms of politeness, no politics wasn't really polite
."  
   

Artwork shows what the newspaper accounts depicted – delegates walking in to see a giant banner that read "Ohio Greets The Nation", in a show of Buckeye pride…

But having been badly beaten four years earlier – the Democrats mustered little enthusiasm …eventually tabbing Pennsylvania Civil War hero Winfred Scott Hancock… after just two ballots….

Dr. Niven: "Winfield Scott had been a Civil War general, not involved in politics, never had run for office before. He had actually been their 'In case of emergency break glass' candidate …for over a decade… He was one of the candidates seriously considered in 1868… he was always on the list. And in 1880, they went with Winfield Scott."

William English of Indiana was the VP choice, who ran with no opposition.

The pair was roundly defeated in the General election… by Ohioan James Garfield.

 

Support Provided By

More Wcpn Schedule
More Wclv Schedule
Schedule
Donate
90.3 WCPN
WCLV Classical 104.9
NPR Hourly Newscast
The Latest News and Headlines from NPR
This text will be replaced with a player.
This text will be replaced with a player.
This text will be replaced with a player.