While it’s nice to be remembered, I’d hate for that tumultuous event to once again define what happens whenever Chicago hosts out-of-town guests. That disaster isn’t the only convention we’ve had. Chicago is the most popular city in the country for such events, having hosted 11 Democratic and 14 Republican gatherings including the first one in — did none of you pay attention in school? —1860 when the newly-formed Republican Party, worried that huddling in an Eastern city would “run a big chance of losing the West,” picked Chicago as a symbol of “audacity.”
They gathered at a large log building at the corner of what is now Lake and Wacker Drive and nominated, indeed rather audaciously, a homespun downstate lawyer and failed senatorial candidate named Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was tempted to hurry to Chicago, but his cronies waved him off, worried he would undo the backroom deals they struck to get him the nod. “Honest Abe” was a fine campaign slogan, but could be difficult in practice.
I won’t go through all the conventions, there are history books for that. Though Chicago can boast that our conventions tend to stand out, and not just because of rioting. There was the 1920 Republican Convention nominating nonentity Warren G. Harding, basically because he looked like a president and nobody knew he had an illegitimate daughter, the deal putting “smoke-filled room” into the political vernacular (actually smoke-filled rooms, 408-10 of the Blackstone Hotel).
Or the 1932 Democratic convention where Franklin D. Roosevelt helped usher in our modern campaign age with two political firsts: being the first nominee to show up and accept in person, and the first presidential candidate to fly in an airplane. The flight was delayed due to storms, and FDR explained, apologetically, “I have no control over the winds in heaven.”
Our next convention could very well instead reflect the 1996 Democratic convention, sending Bill Clinton on his way to re-election and helping revitalizing the West Side an in general allowing the city to shine instead of screw up.
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