The Republican Convention Site Is Chosen & the Dirty Tricks Begin!

Norman Judd, political brain behind the idea

Just as political parties wrangle now, so it has always been. In mid-December of 1859, Chicago’s finest, or maybe just Chicago’s wiliest–Norman Judd–went to New York City with one purpose in mind: to get the Republican Convention of 1860 held in Chicago!

Norman Judd was the Chairman of the Illinois Republican State Central Committee and the Illinois Representative to the Republican National Committee. Although, as a Democrat, he had worked against Lincoln’s election as U. S. senator in 1835, he was now a Republican, and the most powerful politico in the state of Illinois.

Judd and his cronies, including Judge David Davis (later Lincoln’s campaign manager), and Joseph Medill (editor of the Chicago Tribune), decided that Lincoln’s best chance to win the nomination as the Republican presidential candidate was to have the nominating convention in Chicago, thereby eliminating William Seward from having it in New York, Seward’s home town.

William Seward, before he got all grumpy!

There were several men vying for the nomination, and no one was mentioning Abraham Lincoln–yet! Seward–then U. S. senator from New York and a powerful figure in Thurlow Weed’s game of New York politics–was the most obvious presidential pick. Seward was not only connected to Weed’s powerful engine, Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, supported him. Salmon Chase and Edward Bates were the other front-runners.

Norman Judd would be going to the lion’s den to confront the lions themselves.

The meeting was held at the Astor House. Seward supporters argued that the convention should be held in a New York City; Ohio’s Chase men pressured the committee to choose Cleveland or Columbus; Bates’ representatives were certain that holding the convention in St. Louis would guarantee a Republican win. No one mentioned Chicago–yet.

The Astor House, New York City

City after city was turned down because there were not enough hotel accommodations, or because it was a slave state, in Missouri’s case. Finally, almost as an afterthought (a carefully calculated afterthought!) Norman Judd suggested Chicago as a “compromise.”

After all, since Illinois had “no prominent presidential candidate,” it would be a neutral site for the contest among Seward, Chase, and Bates. Besides (heh, heh, heh) Chicago would even offer to build a temporary convention center, and the railroads would give delegates special travel rates. Judd even assured the group that there would be equally special lodging rates, so . . . why not Chicago?

The committee, with Judd voting, chose Chicago by a single vote, and Abraham Lincoln secured the hometown advantage.

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