Online Primary Sources for American History: Political Conventions

As both the Democratic and Republican conventions are meeting shortly, we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to direct your gaze to previous proceedings, as well as provide some top-rate secondary sources as well. And, yes, there are/were other parties’ convention, but we are concentrating on these two. Where else can you find a speaker being showered with “…numerous bouquets from the ladies’ gallery” (1852 Democratic Convention, p.49) or find a true example of authentic legislative mumbo-jumbo as recorded at the 1864 Republican Convention (p.10+).


Because the various conventions did not employ uniform titles, you will find the “proceedings” listed by that term as well as “official proceedings” or “official report of the proceedings”. Be that as it may, you can find the convention proceedings for the Democrats here; the Republican convention proceedings are here. You will notice that in both instances the result lists are not in order; a simple “find on this page” using the year of the convention will yield results. Another place to find similar information, but arranged chronologically is here for Democrats, here for Republicans.

Democratic Party platforms (1840-2012) and the Republican Party platforms (1856-2012) can be found here. (Definition of “platform“.)


Democratic National Political Conventions, 1832-2008 (from the Library of Congress) is a succinct yet very informative chronological synopsis of these meetings; there is also the Republican National Political Conventions, 1856-2008 from the same reputable source. The Smithsonian Magazine published The Top 10 Political Conventions That Mattered the Most. The History of Political Conventions is available from C-SPAN. The ever-reliable Congressional Research Service has issued several relevant reports: The Presidential Nominating Process and the National Party Conventions 2016: Frequently Asked Questions; Funding of Presidential Nominating Conventions: An Overview; and Contested Presidential Nominating Conventions: Brief Background and Questions. A fascinating read is How To Cover Political Conventions, a presentation hosted by the State Department. And much information can be gleaned from Presidential Campaigns & Elections.



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