Tuesday, December 11, 2012

One City's Surprising Tie To The Grand Old Party

Where was the first Republican National Convention held?
Well, it was held in 1856 in a place called the Musical Fund Hall.
The party nominated James C. Fremont for president but he lost to James Buchanan. Buchanan was the 15th President of the United States. He is the only president from Pennsylvania, the only president who remained a lifelong bachelor, and the last president born in the 18th century.
Of course, the Republican Party was founded to oppose slavery and its mission came alive four years later in 1860 when it elected its first president, Abraham Lincoln.
But where exactly is the Musical Fund Hall? In what city was the first GOP convention held?
The Musical Fund Hall can be found on Locust Street near 8th in Philadelphia. It is just a few blocks away from Independence Hall and sits within the most historic square mile in America.
Charles Dickens lectured in this hall in 1842. Among the others who performed in this hall were Ole Bull, the Norwegian violinist and Jenny Lind, the "Swedish Nightingale," whom Barnum brought to America.
The Musical Fund Hall was originally the First Presbyterian Church, and then in 1820 the famous architect William Strickland converted it into the largest musical auditorium in the town. For several years, a group of music lovers had been meeting to discus the problem of aging and retired musicians, most of them impoverished. They decided to give several benefit performances each year to raise money for retired musicians, and the idea was enlarged to create a Musical Fund Society to put on regular concert series. Since it was by far the largest public auditorium, it also served as the logical location for graduations, speeches and conventions.
Today, the building houses condominiums. And to look at it now, you wouldn't regard the building as all that large. But buildings (and audiences) were generally smaller then.
BTW: You'd never know it today but Philadelphia was a solid bastion of Republican strength from the 1870s to 1952. Only one Democrat and one independent were elected Mayor of Philadelphia during those 80 years.  
So, it makes sense that the GOP came to Philadelphia for six of its nominating conventions. The Republicans returned to pick presidential candidates in 1872, 1900, 1940, 1948, and 2000.
And the Democratic Party? Well, they chose Philadelphia only twice for national conventions in 1936 and 1948 -- and this despite the fact that Democrats have solidly controlled the city for 60 years.
That's gratitude for ya!

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