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Philadelphia Presidential Conventions




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R. Craig Sautter Philadelphia Presidential Conventions Highland Park IL: December Press, 2000. 344 pages. This book chronicles nine national nominating conventions which were held in Philadelphia: the Whig (1848), Republican (1856, 1872, 1900, 1940, 1948), Democratic (1936, 1948), and Progressive (1948). His writing style is rather entertaining, and I highly recommend the book if you can still find a copy. Sautter wrote the outstanding book _Inside the Wigwam: Chicago Presidential Conventions 1860-1996_ for the 1996 election, and this was his second such book. Chicago was actually a more obvious choice for holding such national conventions because it was a railroad hub of the midwest at a time when 90% of the delegates arrived at the convention that way. Philadelphia, by contrast, had railroad lines which ended there: someone wanting to ride from Chicago to New York City through Philadelphia had to get off the train and actually walk to a different station to resume the trip (until about ten years ago). One of the more interesting aspects of both Sautter books is that he discusses the various venues for the conventions. Philadelphia is blessed that all its convention halls remain in place save the Chinese Museum (although two others are slated for demolition this year). Having an opportunity to actually go inside Convention Hall with a map of where the delegates sat, visit the press boxes, and look over the convention floor from the visitor seating helps to understand the vantage points of the thousands of people who were involved in these events. A major difference between Sautter's work and Bain and Parris is that he consulted other sources, including newspapers. These other sources help to flesh out the details from the Proceedings and enliven the discussion. The recent Charles Peters book on the 1940 Republican convention did not improve a great amount over what Sautter wrote in this book, which helps to convey just how comprehensive Sautter was with his research. Sautter is also more careful with the geographical references of the city than Peters was. Most of the conventions which Sautter covers are the major party events. His discussion of the Progressive Party National Convention of 1948 is the first detailed account of that event that I have seen. It was attended by the likes of Norman Thomas, Rex Tugwell, Vito Marcantonio, and Charlotta Bass, all from the very far left of the political spectrum of 1948 (although Sautter does not mention Thomas, who did not play a major role there). I am not sure why Sautter did not provide a more detailed account of one other 'major party' convention, the American Party Convention of 1856. When it met in Philadelphia in the late winter, political prognosticators all thought that the American Party would place second in the election that year. Sautter provided two pages of text on this convention, which was certainly considered at the time one of the two major parties. Interestingly enough, minor parties have not held many of their conventions in Philadelphia. I would have preferred to have each of them at least mentioned, of course. One example is the Native American Party, a forerunner of the American / Know-Nothing Party. This party managed to elect members of the U.S. House throughout the 1840s and held their first national nominating convention in Philadelphia. The party actually first put Zachary Taylor into contention for the 1848 election, boosting his chances with the Whig Party. Sautter mentions the party in passing but ignores their convention. The last 'convention' held in Philadelphia before the Republicans in 2000 was the Consumer Party in 1988 (not mentioned by Sautter). Pennsylvania's Consumer Party pre-dated the Barry Commoner campaign of 1980 but affiliated with the new Citizens Party. It actually gained ballot status in Pennsylvania, precipitating a new state law changing the system to exclude the Consumer Party from holding publicly funded primaries. The Citizens Party imploded during Sonia Johnson's 1984 campaign, and the Pennsylvania party decided to take a chance at going national. They approached former Sen. Eugene McCarthy to run for President, and he agreed to do so. He announced his candidacy in front of Independence Hall. A major convention was planned for Philadelphia in the summer of 1988, but as the time for the convention approached, it was becoming increasingly clear that it would be sparsely attended. Consumer Party leaders scaled back their schedule of events. And that was the last story that the Philadelphia Inquirer ran on it. I don't know if it even took place. [Do you know, Thomas?] Anyway, the book is certainly worth the time overall. If you are intersted in national nominating conventions, you will probably like Sautter's Chicago book better because he covers so many more conventions there. If you come across this one at a good price in a used bookstore, don't pass it up.


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