Entry in progress—B.P.
A caucus is a meeting of supporters or members of a political party or movement, especially in the United States and Canada. As the use of the term has been expanded the exact definition has come to vary among political cultures.
Origin of the term
The origin of the word caucus is debated, but it is generally agreed that it first came into use in the English colonies of North America.
A February 1763 entry in the diary of John Adams of Braintree, Massachusetts, is one of the earliest appearances of Caucas, already with its modern connotations of a “smoke-filled room” where candidates for public election are pre-selected in private:
This day learned that the Caucas Clubb meets at certain Times in the Garret of Tom Daws, the Adjutant of the Boston Regiment. He has a large House, and he has a moveable Partition in his Garrett, which he takes down and the whole Clubb meets in one Room. There they smoke tobacco till you cannot see from one End of the Garrett to the other. There they drink Phlip I suppose, and there they choose a Moderator, who puts Questions to the Vote regularly, and select Men, Assessors, Collectors, Wardens, Fire Wards, and Representatives are Regularly chosen before they are chosen in the Town...
An article in Great Leaders and National Issues of 1896 surveying famous presidential campaigns of the past, begins with an unsourced popular etymology of the origin of the caucus:
The Origin of the “Caucus”
The presidential nominating convention is a modern institution. In the early days of the Republic a very different method was pursued in order to place the candidates for the highest office in the land before the people. In the first place, as to the origin of the “caucus.” In the early part of the eighteenth century a number of caulkers connected with the shipping business in the North End of Boston held a meeting for consultation. That meeting was the germ of the political caucuses which have formed so prominent a feature of our government ever since its organization.
No wholly satisfactory etymology has been documented. James Hammond Trumbull suggested to the American Philological Association that it comes from an Algonquian word for “counsel”, ‘cau´-cau-as´u’. Other sources claim that it derived from medieval Latin caucus, meaning “drinking vessel” such as might have been used for the flip drunk at Caucus Club of colonial Boston.
An analogical Latin-type plural “cauci” is occasionally used.
C-SPAN Congressional Glossary
A CAUCUS is an informal group of members sharing an interest in the same policy issues.
Examples include the Arts Caucus, the Democratic Caucus, the Black Caucus, the Rural Caucus, etc.
Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary
cau·cus noun \ˈkȯ-kəs\
Definition of CAUCUS
: a closed meeting of a group of persons belonging to the same political party or faction usually to select candidates or to decide on policy; also : a group of people united to promote an agreed-upon cause
Origin of CAUCUS
First Known Use: 1760
Online Etymological Dictionary
1763, Amer.Eng., perhaps from caucauasu “counselor, elder, adviser” in the Algonquian dialect of Virginia, or the Caucus Club of Boston, a 1760s social & political club whose name possibly derived from Mod.Gk. kaukos “drinking cup.” Another candidate is caulker’s (meeting). The verb is from 1850.
(Oxford English Dictionary)
Pronunciation: /ˈkɔːkəs/ Etymology: Arose in New England: origin obscure.
Alleged to have been used in Boston U.S. before 1724; quotations go back to 1763. Already in 1774 Gordon (Hist. Amer. Rev.) could obtain no ‘satisfactory account of the origin of the name’. Mr. Pickering, in 1816, as a mere guess, thought it ‘not improbable that caucus might be a corruption of caulkers‘, the word “meetings” being understood’. For this, and the more detailed statement quoted in Webster, there is absolutely no evidence beyond the similarity of sound; and the word was actually in use before the date (1770) of the event mentioned in Webster. Dr. J. H. Trumbull (Proc. Amer. Philol. Assoc. 1872) has suggested possible derivation from an Algonquin word cau′-cau-as′u, which occurs in Capt. Smith’s Virginia 23, as Caw-cawaassough ‘one who advises, urges, encourages’, from a vb. meaning primarily ‘to talk to’, hence ‘to give counsel, advise, encourage’, and ‘to urge, promote, incite to action’. For such a derivation there is claimed the general suitability of the form and sense, and it is stated that Indian names were commonly taken by clubs and secret associations in New England; but there appears to be no direct evidence.
In U.S. A private meeting of the leaders or representatives of a political party, previous to an election or to a general meeting of the party, to select candidates for office, or to concert other measures for the furthering of party interests; opprobriously, a meeting of ‘wire-pullers’.
1763 J. Adams Diary Feb. (1961) I. 238 This day learned that the Caucas Clubb meets at certain Times in the Garret of Tom Daws.
1788 W. Gordon Hist. Amer. Revol. I. 240 More than fifty years ago, Mr. Samuel Adams’s father, and twenty others‥used to meet, make a caucus, and lay their plan for introducing certain persons into places of trust and power.
1809 E. A. Kendall Trav. Northern Parts U.S. I. xv. 174 A caucus is a political, and what is in practice the same thing, a party meeting; but it is not a popular meeting‥It is in caucuses that it is decided, for whom the people shall be instructed to vote, and by what course of politics the party may be secured.
1818 S. Smith Wks. (1869) 271 Caucus, the cant word of the Americans.
5 May 1760, Boston (MA) Gazette and Country Journal, supplement, pg. 1:
Whereas it is reported, that certain Persons, of the Modern Air and Complexion, to the Number of Twelve at least, have divers Times of late been known to combine together, and are called by the Name of the New and Grand Corcas, tho’ of declared Principles directly opposite to all that have heretofore been known: And whereas it is vehemently suspected, by some, that their Design is nothing less, than totally to overthrow the ancient Constitution of our Town-Meetings, as being popular and mobbish…
13 February 1763, Boston (MA) Evening-Post, pg. 3:
...to determine whether it be agreeable to “OUR SIDE” [dagger or cross
14 May 1764, Boston (MA) Evening Post, pg. 3, col.1:
To the Freeholders, &c.
MODESTY preventing a personal Application (customary in other Places) for your Interest to elect particular Persons to be your Representatives. WE therefore request your Votes for those Gentlemen who have steadily adhered to your Interest in Times past, especially in the Affair of Trade, by sending timely Instructions, requested by our Agent, relative to the Acts of Trade late pending in Parliament.
Your humble Servants,
New York City • Government/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Saturday, December 10, 2011 • Permalink