How Political Conventions Work

Historic Conventions

1968 DNC
Members of the New York delegation protest the Vietnam War during the 1968 Democratic National Convention held in Chicago, Illinois. Washington Bureau/Getty Images

Perhaps the most infamous political convention was the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago (see below), but there have been other important events at conventions. In 1888, abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass became the first Black person to receive a vote at a political convention — a single vote at the Republican convention.

In 1908, Democrats added legislation to their platform that would separate the interests of corporations from those of Republicans. They felt that corporations and the Republicans were too closely allied, a theme that remains relevant almost 100 years later.


In 1940, two unique events occurred at political conventions. First, Franklin D. Roosevelt was nominated for a third term as president. After some debate over his choice of vice president, he accepted. Second, the Republicans held the first ever televised convention that year.

The 2000 Democratic Convention in Los Angeles was marked by extensive protests in support of numerous causes. Pro-union, gay rights, anti-corporate welfare, pro-environmental and other movements made their voices heard a good distance from the convention site, due to the heavy presence of security fences and police officers. A performance by the politically active rock group Rage Against the Machine was interrupted by police, who used pepper spray and fired rubber bullets at fleeing spectators.

The 2020 political conventions are being held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic which has made social distancing a necessity. Most events will be livestreamed.