America's emergence as a bastion of freedom and equality is a history that couldn't be told without using prior Democratic National Conventions as guideposts to mark the momentous occasions that shaped the politics of our melting pot country.
From its roots as a faction of anti-federalist conservatives, the party has housed at one time or another plantation aristocrats, poor European immigrants, corrupt Tammany Hall ward bosses, pro-slavery Fire-Eaters, Copperheads, Bourbon Democrats, prohibitionists, Free Silver populists, progressives, Ku Klux Klan members, New Dealers, Dixiecrats, liberals, civil rights marchers, LGBT activists, women's rights advocates, New Democrats, neoconservative hawks, and anti-war protesting doves.
As Charlotte prepares to play host, it would serve us well to realize what's in store. Here are some of the more unique moments from past Democratic National Conventions.
1832: The first convention nominates Martin Van Buren as the vice presidential candidate for incumbent Andrew Jackson and formally adopts the name Democratic Party.
1840: Van Buren's own vice president, Richard Johnson, is too unpopular to be re-nominated. Why? Johnson had fathered two children with a slave, deemed unacceptable conduct by Southern delegates. But owning slaves also makes him unacceptable to the North, so Van Buren becomes the only man in history to run for president without a running mate.
1844: Disputes over annexing Texas leaves delegates divided over which candidate to pick. Historian George Bancroft recommends North Carolina native James K. Polk on the ninth ballot as a compromise. Polk is the first "dark horse" candidate to win the presidency.
1860: Charleston hosts the only Democratic convention in the Carolinas before this year's confab in Charlotte. At the convention, militant pro-slavery Democrats known as "fire eaters" reject a moderate platform and storm out of the building. Two separate conventions are held weeks later, one nominating Stephen Douglas, the other John Breckenridge. The split causes the election of Abraham Lincoln and later the Civil War.
1868: The party gathers at Tammany Hall in New York City to reunite after the divisive Civil War. With the corrupt William "Boss" Tweed and KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forrest as distinguished guests, it is quite imaginable that there is a reunion of that convention now taking place in Hell.
1880: The rather conservative party platform calls for smaller decentralized government and no more Chinese immigrants. Sound familiar?
1900: King David Kawananakoa of Hawaii is the first member of royalty to attend a convention as a delegate, and his party adopts an anti-imperialist platform that would have made Dennis Kucinich proud.
1908: The first political convention to include women as delegates.
1916: President Woodrow Wilson uses opposition to entering World War I to ensure his reelection, with "He kept us out of the war" becoming the slogan of the convention. After his reelection, Wilson takes us to war anyway.
1924: Prohibition divides the party into "Wets" and "Drys." Upset over certain aspects of the platform, rural delegates walk out, put on white hoods, and hold a "Klanbake" outside.
1932: During the height of the Great Depression the party nominates Franklin D. Roosevelt, who calls for the New Deal in his acceptance speech. He wins, and his program, which includes Social Security, drastically transforms the social compact and arguably saves America's economy.
1948: Minneapolis Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey leads the fight to add a civil rights plank to the platform. Southern delegates in favor of segregation walk out, form the States' Rights Democratic Party, better known as Dixiecrats, and nominate Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. Humphrey consequently becomes known as the father of the civil rights movement, but in fact he never wanted to give the speech and was shamed into giving it.
1964: After his brother John F. Kennedy is assassinated, it falls on Robert Kennedy's shoulders to pay tribute to the fallen president at the convention in Atlantic City. Bobby recites Shakespeare in his reflection: "When he shall die take him and cut him out into stars and he shall make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun."
1968: While covering the Chicago convention for ABC news, Gore Vidal and William Buckley argue over the protests. Vidal calls Buckley a crypto-fascist, and Buckley responds, "Listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi, or I'll sock you in the goddammed face."
1972: New party rules mandate quotas of female and minority delegates and produce a sideshow affair that nominates peace candidate George McGovern. He hastily settles on a running mate: Sen. Tom Eagleton, who had voluntarily undergone electro-shock treatment for depression, which he had concealed from McGovern. Eagleton was dumped from the ticket.
1980: Upset over President Jimmy Carter's handling of the economy and inflation, liberal lion Ted Kennedy forces a primary fight and looses. But the feud carries on to the convention. After Carter speaks, Kennedy joins party elders on stage. Carter and Kennedy share an awkward handshake that signifies their distaste for one another. Carter is weakened by the challenge — and the Iran hostage crisis — and loses to Reagan on Election Day.
1984: Walter Mondale selects New York Rep. Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate, making her the first woman nominated by a major party.
1988: Introduced to the convention by his son as "the next president of the United States," Jesse Jackson uses his experience as a preacher to turn the night into a Democratic revival. He brings Rosa Parks on stage. "Red, yellow, black, white, we are all precious in God's sight," Jackson says in a nearly hour-long address interrupted by 18 standing ovations.
1992: Elizabeth Glaser sets fire to the soul of the audience with a speech on the AIDS epidemic, of which she is a victim. Glaser mourns her deceased daughter, criticizes the under-funding of research, and calls on the audience to help save her son, also a victim. She dies two years later.
2000: Al Gore picks as his running mate Joe Lieberman, the first Jewish member of a major party ticket. When Gore takes the stage to accept the presidential nomination, he pauses and clumsily makes out with his now ex-wife Tipper.
2004: John Edwards is nominated to share the ticket with John Kerry, but the focus quickly turns to an unknown state senator from Illinois named Barack Obama, who uses his own unique story to paint America as a land of opportunity in a tearjerker of a keynote. "There is not a liberal America and a conservative America, there is the United States of America," Obama says, turning his "funny" name into a household name.
2008: With the nation's economy falling all around them, Democrats appoint Obama, the first black nominee, as their candidate in a packed football stadium in Denver.