Image Gallery: U.S. Presidents
Image Gallery: U.S. Presidents

The Reagans at the Republican National Convention, New Orleans, La., Aug. 15, 1988. See more pictures of the presidents.

Photo courtesy NARA

The political convention is a uniquely American tradition, one that is focused on the political parties that have defined Americans' choices in government for nearly 175 years. Political conventions, and the party system they are an integral part of, are not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. Indeed, the founding fathers of American government viewed political parties with distrust or outright hostility. Yet today, Americans can hardly imagine a government without political parties, and the parties' conventions are enormous, televised media events.

In this article, we'll learn how political conventions came about, how they have changed, and what they are used for. We'll also look at some famous events at political conventions in American history.

First, let's figure out what these conventions are supposed to accomplish.