In the early days of the Republic, candidates for the office of President were chosen by congressional party caucuses. As the nation expanded westward — seven western states entered the Union in the first third of the 19th century — remote geography led to severe differences of opinions between the voters and the politicians who resided in Washington D.C. The solution was to bring together larger numbers of party members in one place in a national party convention. The major parties held national presidential nominating conventions in nearly every election cycle since 1832. The most popular city for these conventions is Chicago, Illinois.
Saint Louis was the host of a number of national presidential nominating conventions:
- 1876, Democrats, nominating Samuel J. Tilden. First national party convention held west of the Mississippi. Platform positions included: complete acceptance of the permanent Union of the United States and the Constitution; separation of Church and State, particularly in public schools; opposition to sumptuary laws, carpetbagging, centralization, patronage, and debased currency; lower taxes and tariffs, land for settlers; and opposition to Asian and encouragement of European immigration. Held at the old Merchants Exchange Building (destroyed in 1958 and now the location of the Adam's Mark Hotel). Festivities included fireworks launched from the Old Courthouse.
- 1888, Democrats, nominating Grover Cleveland. The incumbent Cleveland was nominated unanimously. Platform positions included lower taxes, giving land to homesteaders, better veteran benefits, and opposition to cheap foreign labor and manufactured goods. Held at the St. Louis Exposition and Music Hall. This was one of the earliest buildings in the country to have electric lighting, and was the home of the symphonic orchestra. Located near Olive and 13th Streets, it is now the site of the Central Branch of the Saint Louis Public Library.
- 1896, Republicans, nominating William McKinley. The party platform supported the gold standard, a canal across Central America, the Cuban revolution, annexation of Hawaii, and women's rights. Originally to be held at the St. Louis Exposition and Music Hall, that venue needed work which could not be completed in time. Taking place soon after the Great Cyclone of '96, a temporary structure was built on the lawn south of City Hall.
- 1896, People's Party, nominating the Democrat's candidate, William Jennings Bryan. This short-lived but influential populist party supported poor famers in the South and Great Plains, and was opposed to bankers, large landowners, and the railroads. The party was simultaneously one of liberal progressivism and traditionalist conservatism, and got support from northern Democrats and southern Republicans. This convention was contentious and marked the waning of the party, which was crushed within a few years by violent disenfranchisement throughout the South. The convention was held in the same hall used by the Republicans a month earlier.
- 1904, Democrats, nominating Alton B. Parker. Held at the Coliseum of the St. Louis Exposition and Music Hall; the convention took place during the 1904 Olympics and World's Fair held in Saint Louis. This convention was called "one of the most exciting and sensational in the history of the Democratic Party." The platform called for lower taxes and tariffs, less government corruption, an end to monopolies and imperialism. It was in favor of the 8 hour work day, Panama Canal, direct election of Senators, and was against polygamy.
- 1916, Democrats, nominating Woodrow Wilson. The platform included opposition to tariffs and monopolies; and was for banking reform, easy credit, trade unions, expanding post office delivery, encouraging patriotism and building up of the Navy, avoidance of war, opposition to the new government in Mexico, and simultaneously for the conservation and exploitation of natural resources. The convention was held at the Saint Louis Coliseum, built in 1908 as the largest public building in the United States. It was located at the southwest corner of Washington Avenue and Jefferson Boulevard, and was torn down in 1953.
- 1999, U.S. Taxpayers', American Independent, or Constitution Party, nominating Howard Phillips. The party platform is explicitly Christian, and calls for a limited constitutional government, elimination of income taxes and increased tariffs and excise taxes; the party also wants to put restrictions on immigration. The convention was held at the Regal Riverfront Hotel, built in 1974 and originally known as Stouffer's Riverfront Towers, and is now called the Millennium Hotel. It is located on Memorial Drive, near the Old Cathedral and Gateway Arch.
- 2007, Socialist Party USA, nominating Brian Moore. Opposed to both capitalism and authoritarian communism, the party wants public ownership and workers' control of corporations, and is variously open to nonviolent revolution, pacifism, and armed struggle; it is opposed to foreign wars and to the support of Israel. The convention was held at the Holiday Inn Select Hotel across the street from the Convention Center.
National party conventions are now little more than celebrations.