Traditional Elements

As political gatherings, conventions required careful attention to structure, presentation and form. Participants were expected to follow a precise order of events from the dissemination of the call to convention, to the seating of the delegates, to the closing address and the subsequent publication of the proceedings [1].

A general overview of what occurred at the conventions is as follows:

  • a Call is issued and published in newspapers
  • delegates assemble
  • opening remarks
  • the call is read into the minutes
  • a prayer is offered
  • delegates present their credentials to the credentials committee for approval and take their seats; a roll call of delegates is included in the minutes
  • some mention of additional persons present is made; often ‘honorary’ status is awarded to some gentlemen
  • delegates elect officers for the convention
  • a general outline of when business will be conducted is set in regards to beginning and closing sessions, and taking a break for lunch in the middle of the day
  • a committee is established to oversee and draft the rules of conduct which will govern the convention
  • rules are read and adopted (or debated and amended before adaptation)

Carefully adhering to the rules of parliamentary procedure throughout the day’s sessions, the delegates debated contentious points, passed resolutions addressing a variety of social, economic and political concerns, deliberated in small committees, and then returned at regular intervals to present reports to the entire body. Before adjourning, delegates presented all the finalized committee reports, speeches and petitions prepared over the course of the multi-day gathering, closing the event with a prayer and a song.

When reading the minutes of the conventions, it’s easy to largely skim over the rules that each convention adopted. However, to do so would fail to fully recognize the political power being claimed at such a time. Until these rules were adopted, no actual business could be conducted. Furthermore, these rules establish the ritual politesse of the conventions and are the element that separates the Colored Conventions from other types of community gatherings.

Below is an example of how the Rules of one Convention are carefully spelled out. The 1833 Philadelphia Convention is one of the earliest known Colored Conventions [2]. The way the rules were handled and recorded in the minutes also set a precedent for other conventions and the rules that would govern them.


[1] The idea of political theater in, especially, early nineteenth-century politics has been long establish. See W. Caleb McDaniel, “The Fourth and the first: Abolitionist holidays, respectability, and radical interracial Reform” AQ, March 2005, 129-151; Mark Weiner, Black Trials: Citizenship from the Beginnings of Slavery to the End of Caste (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004); Michael Pierson, Free Hearts and Free Homes: Gender and Antislavery Politics (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2003); Martin Summers, Manliness and its Discontents; John Stauffer, The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2002) and Elizabeth Varon, We Mean to Be Counted. David Waldstreicher, In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes: The Making of American Nationalism, 1776 – 1820 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997); Mary Ryan, Civic Wars: Democracy and Public Life in the American City during the Nineteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997); Nancy Isenberg, Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998; Glenn C. Altschuler and Stuart M. Blumin, Rude Republic: Americans and their Politics in the Nineteenth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).

[2] "Minutes and proceedings of the Third annual Convention, for the Improvement of the Free People of Colour in these United States, :held by adjournments in the city of Philadelphia, from the 3d to the 13th of June inclusive, 1833.," Philadelphia, PA,”, accessed April 6, 2016,