Caucus: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A caucus (About this sound Pronunciation ) is a meeting of supporters or members of a political party or movement, especially in the United States. The exact definition varies among political cultures.


Origin of the term

Lewis Carroll mocked the futility of the UK's caucuses in "A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale", Chapter 3 of Alice in Wonderland: when the "Caucus-race" of running in a circle stops, everyone is declared a winner by the Dodo and Alice is told to hand out prizes to all others, receiving her own thimble as her prize.

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...[1]

An article in Great Leaders and National Issues of 1896[2] 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[3]. James Hammond Trumbull suggested to the American Philological Association that it comes from the 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.


Caucus was widely introduced into American politics through the Democratic Party in New York known as Tammany Hall, which liked to use Native American terms.

Precincts from Washington State's 46th Legislative District caucus in a school lunchroom (2008).

In United States politics and government, caucus has several distinct but related meanings. One meaning is a meeting of members of a political party or subgroup to coordinate members' actions, choose group policy, or nominate candidates for various offices. The term is frequently used to discuss the procedures used by some states to select presidential nominees such as the Iowa caucuses, the first and largest in the modern presidential election cycle, and the only occasionally relevant Texas caucuses.[4] Since 1980 such caucuses have become, in the aggregate, an important component of the nomination process. Because such caucuses are infrequent and complex to organize, there is a practice version called a maucus, a portmanteau of mock caucus.[5][6] Another meaning is a subgrouping of officials with shared affinities or ethnicities who convene, often but not always to advocate, agitate, lobby or to vote collectively, on policy. At the highest level, in Congress and many state legislatures, Democratic and Republican members organize themselves into a caucus (occasionally called a "conference").[7] There can be smaller caucuses in a legislative body, including those that are multi-partisan or even bicameral. Of the many Congressional caucuses, one of the best-known is the Congressional Black Caucus, a group of African-American members of Congress. Another prominent example is the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, whose members voice and advance issues affecting Hispanics in the United States, including Puerto Rico. In a different vein, the Congressional Internet Caucus is a bipartisan group of Members who wish to promote the growth and advancement of the Internet. Other congressional caucuses such as the Out of Iraq Caucus, are openly organized tendencies or political factions (within the House Democratic Caucus, in this case), and strive to achieve political goals, similar to a European "platform," but generally organized around a single issue.

Among American left-wing groups, a caucus may be an openly organized tendency or political faction within the group, equivalent to a European "platform". Examples would include the "Debs," "Coalition" and "Unity" Caucuses of the Socialist Party of America in its last years.

In Washington, the caucus has become controversial.[8] According to the Web site for Washington Democrats, even though the Washington State Legislature decided the state would hold a primary, the Washington State Democratic Party decided to continue choosing its delegates through the traditional caucuses. As a result, votes for a Democratic candidate in the State Primary do not count toward delegate selection, although the state will spend $9 to $10 million on it.[9]

Despite a rule in the Democratic Party that delegates are to be allocated proportionally rather than winner take all, some individual caucus groups decide for themselves how to allocate their group's delegates — for instance, by using a majority vote to determine which of the two methods to select. Discussion of party rules is not necessarily part of the caucus experience, and few rules govern the actual process. And, in the winner-take-all scenario, a group's delegate allocation may be reported as unanimous, with the minority votes ignored. Depending on how the caucus is organized, the caucus system may require voter to publicly announce the candidates they support. Voters have the option to draft resolutions, and those are introduced by delegates at later divisional caucuses or conventions.

In Commonwealth nations

The term is used in Canada and New Zealand. In Australia the term is used only by the Australian Labor Party. However, when used in these countries, "caucus" is more often a collective term for all members of a party in Parliament, usually called a parliamentary group, rather than a word for a regular meeting of these MPs. Thus, the Australian Federal Parliamentary Labor Party is commonly called "the Labor Caucus."

The word was introduced to Australia by King O'Malley, an American-born Labor member of the first federal Parliament in 1901; it presumably entered New Zealand politics at a similar time. In New Zealand, the term is used by all political parties, but in Australia, it is restricted to the Labor Party. For the Australian Liberal and National parties, and for all parties in the UK and the Republic of Ireland (not a Commonwealth country), the usual term is "parliamentary party".

In Canada, caucus refers to all members of a particular party in Parliament, including senators, or a provincial legislature. These members elect among themselves a caucus chair who presides over their meetings. This person is an important figure when the party is in opposition and an important link between cabinet and the backbench when the party is in government.

In a Westminster System, a party caucus can be quite powerful, as it can elect or dismiss the party's parliamentary leader. The caucus also determines some matters of policy, parliamentary tactics, and disciplinary measures against disobedient MPs. In some parties, the caucus also has the power to elect MPs to Cabinet when the party is in government. For example this is traditionally so in the Australian Labor Party and the New Zealand Labour Party. Since Kevin Rudd was elected Prime Minister of Australia on 24th November 2007, he instead of the Australian Federal Parliamentary Labor Party caucus will choose the cabinet.[10]

In alternative dispute resolution

The term caucus is also used in mediation, facilitation and other forms of alternate dispute resolution to describe circumstances when, rather than meeting at a common table, the disputants retreat to a more private setting to process information, agree on negotiation strategy, confer privately with counsel and/or with the mediator, or simply gain "breathing room" after the often emotionally-difficult interactions that can occur in the common area where all parties are present. The degree to which caucuses are used can be a key defining element, and often an identifier, of the mediation model being used. For example, "facilitative mediation" tends to discourage the use of caucuses and tries to keep the parties talking at a single table, while "evaluative mediation" may allow parties to separate more often and rely on the mediator to shuttle information and offers back and forth.[11]


  1. ^ Noted by J.L. Bell, "Boston 1775: History, analysis, and unabashed gossip about the start of the American Revolution in Massachusetts."
  2. ^ Edward Sylvester Ellis, et al., eds. Great Leaders and National Issues of 1896: containing the lives of the Republican and Democratic candidates for president and vice-president, biographical sketches of the leading men of all parties ... famous campaigns of the past, history of political parties, lives of our former presidents ....
  3. ^ J.L. Bell, ""Boston 1775: Colonial Boston Vocabulary: 'caucus,' part 2".
  4. ^ Our View: Caucus turnout suggests change in Idaho politics" Idaho Statesman;"Final Caucus Results"; [ Idaho Statesman;Idaho Caucus overflow
  5. ^ MileHighGayGuy: Colorado Stonewall Dems Maucus
  6. ^ :: View topic - Maucus
  7. ^ See, e.g., U.S. House of Representatives Democratic Caucus, U.S. House of Representatives Republican Conference; U.S. Senate Democratic Caucus; U.S. Senate Republican Conference; California State Senate Democratic Caucus
  8. ^ Search Results | Seattle Times Newspaper
  9. ^ Caucus Potus | Slog | The Stranger | Seattle's Only Newspaper
  10. ^ "Rudd will wield new power carefully, experts say". ABC News. November 24, 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-03.  
  11. ^ Further details in Julie Macfarlane, Dispute Resolution: Readings and Case Studies, 2003:356-62, excerpts from C. Moore, The Mediation Process, 2nd ed. 1996:319-26.

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

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 KaiiKos, 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 vicepresident 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.

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010
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Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

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From the Algonquian Indian meaning meeting of tribal leaders.





caucus (plural caucuses)

  1. (US) A meeting, especially a preliminary meeting, of persons belonging to a party, to nominate candidates for public office, or to select delegates to a nominating convention, or to confer regarding measures of party policy; a political primary meeting.
  2. (Canadian) A grouping of all the members of a legislature from the same party.

Derived terms


to caucus

Third person singular

Simple past

Past participle

Present participle

to caucus (third-person singular simple present caucuses, present participle caucusing, simple past and past participle caucused)

  1. To meet in caucus.
    November 13, 2006, Associated Press, (reprinted in the Boston Globe) [1]
    "Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut said yesterday that he will caucus with Senate Democrats in the new Congress, but he would not rule out switching to the Republican caucus if he starts to feel uncomfortable among Democrats."

Simple English

A caucus is basically a meeting of supporters or members of a political party or movement. Caucuses are slightly different in different countries.

In the United States, in some states, such as Iowa, political parties have a caucus to choose presidential nominees for their parties.

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