1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Caucus

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CAUCUS, a political term used in America of a special form of party meeting, and in Great Britain of a system of party organization. The word originated in Boston, Massachusetts, in the early part of the 18th century, when it was used as the name of a political club, the “Caucus” or “Caucas” club. Here public matters were discussed, and arrangements made for local elections and the choosing of candidates for offices. The first mention of the club in contemporary documents occurs in the diary of John Adams in 1763, but William Gordon (History of the Independence of the United States of America, 1788) speaks of the Caucus as having been in existence some fifty years before the time of writing (1774), and describes the methods used for securing the election of the candidates the club had selected. The derivation of the word has been much disputed. It was early connected with “caulkers,” and it was supposed referred to meetings of the caulkers in the dockyard at Boston in 1770, to protest against the action of the British troops, or with a contemptuous allusion to the lower class of workmen frequenting the club. This is, however, a mere guess, and does not agree with the earlier date at which the club is known to have existed, nor with the accounts given of it. That it was a fanciful classical name for a convivial club, derived from the late Greek καῖκος, a cup, is far-fetched, and the most plausible origin is an Algonquin word kaw-kaw-was, meaning to talk. Indian words and names have been popular in America as titles for societies and clubs; cf. “Tammany” (see Notes and Queries, sixth series, vols. xi. and xii.). In the United States “caucus” is used strictly of a meeting either of party managers or of party voters. Such might be a “nominating caucus,” either for nominating candidates for office or for selecting delegates for a nominating convention. The caucus of the party in Congress nominated the candidates for the offices of president and vice-president from 1800 till 1824, when the convention system was adopted, and the place of the local “nominating caucus” is taken by the “primaries” and conventions. The word is used in America of the meetings of a party in Congress and other legislative bodies and elsewhere which decide matters of policy and plan campaigns. “Caucus” came first into use in Great Britain in 1878. The Liberal Association of Birmingham (see Liberal Party) was organized by Mr Joseph Chamberlain and Mr F. Schnadhorst on strict disciplinary lines, more particularly with a view to election management and the control of voters on the principle of “vote as you are told.” This managing body of the association, known locally as the “Six Hundred,” became the model for other Liberal associations throughout the country, and the Federation of Liberal Associations was organized on the same plan. It was to this supposed imitation of the American political “machine” that Lord Beaconsfield gave the name “caucus,” and the name came to be used, not in the American sense of a meeting, but of a closely disciplined system of party organization, chiefly used as a stock term of abuse applied by opponents to each other's party machinery.