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    "[T]he Southern States will doubtless adhere to it [the two-thirds rule] with her tenacity, as it gives them the power of preventing the nomination of any individual obnoxious to themselves"

    James Buchanan Autograph Letter Signed. One page of a bifolium, 8" x 10", "Wheatland, near Lancaster [Pennsylvania]," January 28, 1852. The future Democratic president writes to another Democrat, Andrew H. Reeder, about the possibility of repealing the Democratic Party's two-third rule for nominating presidential candidates. He also explains the heavy Southern influence over the nominating process, which will be the reason, Buchanan predicts, that rule will not be repealed as some hoped. The text of the letter is very clear, and Buchanan's signature is very bold. Clean paper with folds. The letter reads in part:

    "[I] know not how, in adequate terms, to express my gratitude to yourself & others friends for our triumph over [Richard] Brodhead in Old Northampton [Pennsylvania]. I hope you will complete your work by consenting to be a Delegate to the National Convention.

    It will be very difficult to repeal the two thirds rule. The reason of its adoption was that if a majority should nominate, a majority of their majority might consist of delegates representing States which could not give a single electoral vote to the Democratic Candidate. By adopting the rule, it was believed that a majority of the Delegates representing Democratic States could be secured in favor of the nominee. Besides, the Southern States will doubtless adhere to it with her tenacity, as it gives them the power of preventing the nomination of any individual obnoxious to themselves. But 'nous verrons' as father Ritchie says.

    I spoke strongly to Mr. Morison about your supervisor, but he is very much his friend & assured me that his continuance was necessary to carry Bucks County, he should regard the wishes of yourself & other friends.

    It is long since I have heard from Goundie [possibly George H. Goundie, the consul to Basle, Switzerland]. I believe him to be a good fellow, but he has chosen a difficult part to play that of being the friend both of Brodhead & myself."

    The first Democratic National Convention was held twenty years earlier in 1832. To facilitate the presidential nomination process, the Democratic Party created the two-thirds rule for its first convention, which required a two-third supermajority to nominate a candidate. The rule, as Buchanan mentions in this letter, gave an undue amount of nominating influence to delegates from Southern states. It became an unpopular rule with many, not least because it took a lot of time. (For example, later during the 1860 convention in Charleston, the convention ended without a clear winner. Delegates, instead, reconvened in various locations.) The rule was also unpopular with many members of the party from the North. It was finally replaced for Franklin Roosevelt during the 1936 convention, transferring much power from the Southern Democrats to liberal Northern Democrats, beginning Southern disenchantment with the party which exists to this day.

    Andrew Horatio Reeder (1807-1864) was a lawyer also from Pennsylvania and a member of the Democratic Party. Two years after receiving this letter, President Franklin Pierce appointed him governor of the Kansas Territory. He was removed only one year later because of voter irregularities and his refusal to make Kansas a slave state. He soon migrated to the Republic Party. Richard Brodhead (1811-1863) had been elected a Democratic member of the U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania only months earlier, though he likely didn't carry Northampton County, as Buchanan alludes. Buchanan's reference to "Father Ritchie" was Thomas Ritchie, an influential journalist, who bore the nickname "Thomas Nous Verrons" (French for "we shall see").


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    Auction Dates
    April, 2015
    9th Thursday
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