How Political Conventions Began—And Changed

George Washington did not have a naming convention. As commander of the colonial forces of the American Revolution, he was an easy candidate to select from the eligible pool of any white male 35 and over, and he won his first two elections with no real competition. After that, there was no clear way to reduce the pool, so political parties developed their own methods of selecting candidates.

Parties began to organize conventions at the beginning of the 19th century and presidential primaries at the beginning of the 20th century. The convention remained the primary means of selecting candidates until 1972, when new rules gave primaries more power to determine the candidate. Since then, conventions have become a way to celebrate a pre-determined candidate, rather than a way to pick one.

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