This year, the most anticipated moment of both national conventions will be the acceptance speeches of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. However the idea of candidates addressing the convention is relatively new. For more than a century, it was deemed unseemly to actively campaign for the presidency, and that extended to making a formal appearance at the convention. All that changed in 1932 when Franklin D. Roosevelt broke with tradition and became the first person to accept the nomination in person. Roosevelt had entered the convention as one of several favorites, and it took four ballots before he secured the nomination. With the country reeling from the onslaught of the Great Depression, Roosevelt felt that a public appearance could perhaps offer reassurance to both his party and the nation. However, there was a far more practical—and calculated—reason for this decision. After a promising early career, which saw him named assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy at the age of 31, Roosevelt was struck down by polio in 1921 and left permanently paralyzed from the waist down. He returned to politics several years later and was elected governor of New York in 1928. However, rumors and doubts about his physical condition lingered, which Roosevelt hoped to dispel with his appearance. He flew to Chicago and delivered his acceptance speech, establishing a tradition that continues to this day.
One city has been host to 25 national conventions.
In 2012, Tampa Bay, Florida, and Charlotte, North Carolina, played hosts to their first national conventions, but for other cities, that role is far more familiar. Transportation played a key role in the selection of early host cities. Baltimore, Maryland, an easily accessible port on the Eastern seaboard, was particularly popular. It hosted 10 of the first 11 national gatherings, including all three of the conventions held before the 1832 presidential election. The arrival of a transcontinental railway system made Midwestern locations more viable, and St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri, have hosted several times each. The current champion, however, is Chicago, Illinois, which since 1860 has become the favored spot for both parties, hosting a total of 25 conventions.
While the chance to welcome thousands of delegates can be tempting—and lucrative—for some cities, having the convention in your backyard can also prove to be problematic. Just ask the Houston Astros. When the Republicans took over the Astrodome in 1992, the Astros had to hit the road, resulting in a 26-game road trip, one of the longest in major league sports history. One of the unlikeliest of host cities was also the scene of one the most unusual moments in convention history. Democratic delegates attending the 1964 gathering in Atlantic City, New Jersey, were greeted with the usual pomp and spectacle, but with one special twist. President Lyndon Johnson, never one to shy away from public adoration, had arranged for the final night of the convention to fall on his 56th birthday. His acceptance speech was followed with a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” from the crowd, and topped off by not just balloons but fireworks as well.
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