Convention of Conventions

July 20, 2020

By Katherine Buck '20

Join us on a journey through the history of party conventions in the United States, leading up to the 2020 Democratic and Republican National Conventions.

We’ll be examining how the “convention” of conventions has evolved, spotlighting various years including: 1796, 1860, 1936, and 1976, before moving on to the 2020 Democratic and Republican conventions.  Our story will also feature interviews with New Hampshire Democratic and Republican National Convention delegates and press. Through these interviews we aim to learn more about the role of a delegate, as well as how the current pandemic will affect this year’s convention and future elections. Our virtual exhibit will feature a variety of donated items from the NH Institute of Politics & Political Library archives and related blog posts. Follow along on Instagram and check out our blog posts in the coming weeks.

We begin with the year 1796 marked the end of the Washington Administration and the beginning of the contested presidential elections Americans are accustomed to today. 1796 also marks the beginning of the now commonplace convention of hosting gatherings, or conventions, to decide party candidates for president.   

1860 saw a development of the convention into something more alike to what we know today. In the young Republican party’s first convention, and one of the most crucial in American history, Abraham Lincoln and William H. Seward competed for the nomination. The outcome of this would decide their first presidential candidate, and with them the fate of the Union.  

By 1936 the convention was finally becoming like what we know today. This multi-session event saw several changes in the rules, as Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for renomination. Thus, for five days the delegates gathered with division over the New Deal and Civil Rights as Roosevelt struggled to retain the unity of the Democratic party.  

1976 was one of the more contested elections in U.S history. With the Nixon administration having declined into disgrace, and the Ford administration not doing too much better, challengers were abound in both the Democratic and Republican parties. Thus, each of the National Conventions were lively affairs.  

Exhibit curated by Katherine Buck ‘20, Luke Anastasiades ‘21, and Ryan Heath ‘22. 

Luke Anastasiades ‘21, an American Studies Major and Greek minor from Nashua, NH, began working on the Convention of Conventions project in January tasked with historical research and fact finding. Luke became the sole researcher and writer for the historical portion of the project. In this effort, he sought out the historical documents to find the information within context. 

Ryan Heath ’22, an Economics and Marketing double major from Salisbury, NH, had the responsibility of taking the information Luke uncovered and imagined how to turn it into bite-sized social media posts. Ryan had to ensure we stuck to the story the research was telling, while finding or creating visuals to narrate it in an online environment. Ryan came to the conclusion to use Instagram since viewers would be able to swipe through multiple panels and go along for the ride through each year of Conventions that we chose. Ryan strategically wrote captions with the intention of giving followers a sneak peek of the longer-form blog posts, directing them to the website to check out the full stories.