Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Ohio Governor Robert Lucas and the First Democrats: Convention of 1832


Ohio Governor Robert Lucas served as the Chairman and President of the 1832 Democratic National Convention held in Baltimore, Maryland, from May 21 to May 23, 1832. This distinction was one of the highlights of Lucas's governorship. He had served as a member of the Ohio House of Representatives and the Ohio State Senate before becoming governor, and he was a staunch Jacksonian.

In fact, one source ironically describes Governor Lucas as “a man much like Andrew Jackson in appearance - tall and slender, with a sharp nose, thin lips, heavy eyebrows over deep-set eyes, and heavy gray hair combed back from a high forehead.” In addition to his political service, Lucas was a wealthy landowner, surveyor, and a merchant who had built “one of the finest houses in southern Ohio set on farm of 437 acres.” Lucas was undoubtedly a man with a commanding presence.

* Note of Interest -- Lucas had been opposed in one state election by an illiterate Pennsylvania Dutchman names Delawder, whom he beat easily. According to the local historian, Delawder explained his defeat by saying he “was making a pooty good race, when that tam big General Lucas came along riding on his horse and the tam fools voted for him.” It was said “this (presentation by Lucas) was a not inappropriate style for a politician of the victor of New Orleans.”

A strong, self-reliant personality made Robert Lucas one of the most esteemed pubic servants of his day. Although he was a man of strong impulses, he was also a man of strict integrity. His experience in the War of 1812 helped make Lucas an exceptional leader. Stern and unbending in his policies, Lucas made an excellent statesman and governor of not one, but two states. 

The Convention of 1832

This was the first national convention of the Democratic Party of the United States; it followed presidential nominating conventions held previously by the small minority Anti-Masonic Party (in September 1831) and the National Republican Party (in December 1831).

In this convention, the Democratic Party formally adopted its present name. The party had previously been known as “Republican Delegates from the Several States.”

By the time of the convention, Lucas had achieved national prominence. Biographer Benjamin F. Shambaugh in Robert Lucas: Iowa Biographical Series (1907) relates the following:

The activity of Lucas in support of Andrew Jackson in the late twenties, together with his long and faithful career in the halls of the General Assembly had brought him, in 1830, to a place of distinct prominence in the Democratic politics of the State of Ohio.

To Robert Lucas belongs the distinguished honor of presiding over the first national convention ever held by the Democratic party of the United States. In the campaign of 1832 for the first time in the history of American politics the various parties pursued the policy of holding national conventions to nominate candidates. The Congressional caucus had passed away, and the nomination by local legislatures and mass meetings failed to give the requisite backing for a party candidate.”

Of Lucas' appointment, Shambaugh writes …

Judge Overton of Tennessee had been agreed upon as the presiding officer of the convention. He had been a lifelong friend and supporter of Andrew Jackson, and had succeeded him as Judge of the Supreme Court of Tennessee. Upon his name being proposed as chairman pro tem. however, his colleague John H. Eaton, Jackson's late Secretary of War, arose and remarked that Judge Overton was sick and unable to attend that morning; he thanked the convention for the honor conferred upon his friend, and closed his remarks by moving that General Robert Lucas of Ohio should be chosen chairman pro tem. in place of the Judge. The motion was unanimously earned and Lucas was conducted to the chair.

The first day of the convention passed in organization and preliminaries. Tuesday morning the saloon of the Athenaeum (original site of the convention) was found too small to accommodate the convention and the members met in the Universalist church in St. Paul Street. Here the business of the convention began in earnest. Mr. King of Alabama, from the committee appointed to nominate officers, presented the name of General Robert Lucas as permanent chairman. The nomination was approved by the convention and Lucas took the chair.

After expressing his deep appreciation of the honor which they had bestowed upon him, Lucas paid tribute to the party they represented, whose object was to preserve the pure principles of Republicanism and to secure to the people the free and uninfluenced enjoyment of their rights and privileges. He emphasized the importance of the session and the propriety of sacrificing all personal feelings and local preferences for the sake of the cause in which they were engaged, which was to preserve the harmony and advance the prosperity of the great Republican party throughout the Union. He expressed a consciousness of his inability to perform the duty assigned to him in a manner corresponding with his wishes; but feeling no doubt of the support and kindness of the convention, he accepted the appointment.”

The purpose of the convention was to choose a new running mate for incumbent President Andrew Jackson of Tennessee, rather than employ previous methods of using a caucus of Congressional representatives and senators.

In 1830, Vice President John C. Calhoun (Jackson's first term VP) had fallen out of President Jackson's favor because of many things:

1. A letter written by Treasury Secretary William H. Crawford stated that Calhoun as Secretary of War in President James Monroe's Cabinet pushed for a reprimand of General Jackson over his actions in the Invasion of Florida in 1818.

Jackson's troops had invaded Florida, captured a Spanish fort at St. Marks, took control of Pensacola, and deposed the Spanish governor. He also executed two British citizens whom he accused of having incited the Seminoles to raid American settlements.

2. The Petticoat affair in which Calhoun's wife, Floride was a central figure further alienated Jackson from the Vice President and his supporters. Floride led other cabinet members' wives in socially ostracizing John Eaton, the Secretary of War, and his wife Peggy over disapproval of the circumstances surrounding their marriage and what they considered her failure to meet the moral standards of a cabinet wife.

With the encouragement of President Jackson, who liked them both, Peggy and Eaton had married on January 1, 1829, shortly after her husband's death, although according to custom, it would have been proper for them to wait until the end of a longer mourning period.

3. The final blow to the relationship came when Calhoun sank Van Buren's nomination to be Minister to England by casting a tie-breaking vote in the United States Senate.

Calhoun resigned from the vice presidency on December 28, 1832 (seven weeks after the presidential election) and became a Senator of South Carolina, where he continued to be a proponent of the doctrines of nullification in opposition to Jackson.

* Note of Interest -- The Nullification Crisis of 1832-33 was a confrontation between South Carolina and the federal government. It ensued after South Carolina declared that the federal Tariffs of 1828 and 1832 were unconstitutional and therefore null and void within the sovereign boundaries of the state. Nullification claimed that a state had a right to nullify federal laws within its own borders. This debate foreshadowed the slavery controversy that would become the most divisive national political issue in U.S. history.

Calhoun was a native South Carolinian. For Southerners like him, the tariffs were intolerable since they artificially raised the prices of imports. Calhoun was appalled at this legislation, which appeared to benefit only Northern industry while gouging Southerners.

For some time Martin Van Buren had been cherishing the hope of inheriting the presidential robe of Andrew Jackson; and with this hope Jackson was fully in accord. However, Washington D.C. In 1831 was not a place in which one could patiently await such a legacy. The internal workings of the Jackson administration were anything but harmonious.

Early in 1831 Jackson decided to remake his cabinet. In April Martin Van Buren resigned his place as Secretary of State with the understanding that he was to be made Minister to England. In resigning, he admitted his candidacy for the office of President and laid his resignation to the fact that a cabinet minister with those ambitions would be open to the charge of manipulating politics to his own private ends.

Receiving the appointment as Minister to England, Van Buren soon left for his new post. Congress, however, was not in session when the appointment was made, and he arrived in London in September of 1831 without having had the action of President Jackson confirmed by the Senate.

In England, Van Buren entered upon a field of work for which he was eminently fitted. His ingratiating manners and fascinating personality at once brought him friends and social enjoyments. He made contacts with many of the leading representatives of Europe.

But Van Buren's enemies at home were not idle. His nomination, sent by President Jackson to the Senate in December, was rejected after a series of formal speeches by Webster, Clay, and others condemning the late Secretary of State. As President of the Senate, Vice President Calhoun had “the extreme pleasure” of casting the decisive vote against his enemy. Thomas Benton in his Thirty Years in the United States Senate tells us that Calhoun afterwards remarked: "It will kill him, sir, kill him dead. He will never kick sir, never kick."

Instead, Calhoun and his friends had overreached themselves. They had placed Van Buren in that uncomfortable but eminently advantageous position of a man publicly wronged. The reaction against the movement of Calhoun, Clay, and Webster soon made itself felt in America; and it was everywhere acknowledged that Martin Van Buren had, by that short-sighted blow, been thrust upon the people as the inevitable Vice Presidential nominee. Only by this compliment could his party defend him from the action of their enemies.

As President of the convention, Robert Lucas, together with the four Vice Presidents, drafted a letter on May 22, 1832, and sent it to Van Buren, announcing his nomination. Upon his return from Europe, Van Buren, on August 3, 1832, cheerfully consented to come before the American people as a candidate for the office of Vice President of the United States.

Martin Van Buren won more than two-thirds of the total delegates' votes. The convention endorsed the prior nominations in various areas of the United States of Jackson for the presidency. The convention concluded by adopting a resolution calling for an address or report from the delegations to their constituents.

The address described what they claimed were political similarities between Andrew Jackson and Thomas Jefferson and it defended the policies of Jackson's administration. It characterized Van Buren as a strict constructionist and welcomed his nomination.

The address denounced the National Republicans as Federalists under a new designation. The address also denounced the Nullifiers. And, they declared their own party held the middle ground between the positions of the National Republicans and the Nullifiers.

Historian Shambaugh relates the end of the historic convention ...

Before adjourning Robert Lucas and the four Vice Presidents received the thanks of the convention for the prompt, impartial and dignified manner in which they had presided over its deliberations. It was then ordered that immediately upon adjournment tlie members would proceed to visit the venerable Charles Carroll, the only survivor of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. With prayer by the Reverend Mr. Wallace, the meeting ended and the Democratic party closed with the greatest of harmony its first national convention.”

The 1832 conventions played a crucial role in making organized parties a fixture of the U.S. political system. The Democratic convention adopted rules that succeeding conventions retained well into the 20th century. One rule based each state’s convention vote on its electoral vote, an apportionment method that remained unchanged until 1940. The 1832 convention also adopted the procedure of having one person from each delegation announce the vote of his state.


The Election

Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren defeated their main competitors, Henry Clay and John Sergeant of the National Republican Party, by a large electoral vote margin in the election of 1832. The electors of Pennsylvania supported Jackson, but cast their votes for William Wilkins for the vice presidency.

Governor Robert Lucas was a force who wielded considerable power in national politics. Ohio was a very important state in Andrew Jackson's election strategy. Jackson won Ohio's 21 Electoral Votes by a margin of 2.98% over Henry Clay. Lucas undoubtedly played a major part in Jackson's victory.

Most Ohioans initially welcomed Andrew Jackson's election. During his time in office, Jackson continued to force American Indians to forsake their land east of the Mississippi River for land west of the river. Many of Ohio's small farmers and industrial workers believed that land seized from the natives would open up new opportunities. Land prices would hopefully fall, allowing working-class residents the chance to either own or expand their landholdings. Ohioans also welcomed Jackson's attack on the Bank of the United States due to the Panic of 1819 and the Banking Crisis of that same year. Jackson succeeded in destroying the National Bank, but new economic problems arose in the late 1830s.


“1932 Democratic Convention.” Library of Congress. Main Reading Room.

Richard F. Grimmett, Richard F. (2009). St. John's Church, Lafayette Square: The History and Heritage of the Church of the Presidents, Washington, DC. Minneapolis, MN: Mill City Press.
“How Iowa Became a Territory.” Stories of Iowas For Boys and Girls. Chapter XXXI

James C. Humes. (1992). My Fellow Americans: Presidential Addresses that Shaped History.

William Nester. (2013). The Age of Jackson and the Art of American Power, 1815-1848. Washington, DC: Potomac Books.

John C. Parish. Edited by Benjamin F. Shambaugh. Robert Lucas. Iowa Biographical Series. The State Historical Society of Iowas. 1907.

Donald John Ratcliffe. The Politics of Long Division: The Birth of the Second Party System in Ohio, 1818-1828. 2000.

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