Tag Archives: elections

“Abe will be reelected”

Soldier William Ballew writes from Tennessee, 1864

It was November 12, 1864, and members of the 12th Kentucky Infantry were pondering the results of the presidential election held four days earlier.

Camped near Spring Hill, Tennessee, William Ballew wrote to friend Thomas Hopkins in Clinton County that his regiment had shown a strong preference for “Little Mac” – the nickname of President Abraham Lincoln’s challenger, Major General George B. McClellan.  Earlier, Lincoln had relieved McClellan of his command after becoming frustrated with his innate caution and failure to produce results on the battlefield.  Though popular with the average soldier, McClellan had run for president as the candidate of a Democratic Party hobbled by its split over what to do about the war.

While Pvt. Ballew himself was unsure which candidate would “be the best for the US,” he claimed access to a “decision desk” of his own, namely the votes of the African Americans in Nashville.  Five thousand of them, he reported, had “voted for abe.”  Ballew forecast “that if the election is carryed on every whare like it was in nashville that abe will be reelected for the negroes had the same privalege of voteing that the white man has.”

Ballew didn’t realize that what he had witnessed was only a mock election, conducted by a still-disenfranchised community demonstrating its intention to secure the “privalege” of the vote.  On Election Day, about 3,200 African Americans had assembled on College Street to participate in a symbolic poll that gave all but one of their votes to Lincoln.  The initiative came after a delegation of Tennessee freedmen returned from the National Colored Men’s Convention in Syracuse, New York determined to press their demands for equality and the abolition of slavery.  It turned out, of course, that their “votes” were prescient. While McClellan carried Kentucky, he secured only 45% of the national vote and lost the election to Lincoln.

William Ballew’s letter is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid and typescript.  For more collections relating to the Civil War and elections generally, search TopScholar and KenCat.

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Full Disclosure

Edward Crossland and his bio

Edward Crossland and his bio

It was an impressive resume, probably written for the Congressional Directory, that Edward Crossland (1827-1881) composed on letterhead of the 42nd Congress of the United States.  Elected as a Democrat in 1870 to represent Kentucky’s First Congressional District, the Hickman County native was a lawyer and former state representative who had resigned a judgeship in order to go to Washington.  Among his accomplishments, Crossland carefully noted the margin of his electoral victory–7,930 votes to 2,980–over his GOP opponent.

As is common in a mid-term election, President Ulysses S. Grant’s Republican Party had lost seats in the House, but retained its overall majority.  Also expected, perhaps, was Crossland’s omission, in these first years of Reconstruction, of some dramatic biographical details: as an officer in the Confederate Army, he had seen battle in Virginia, Mississippi and Alabama, the last being under controversial Lieutenant-General Nathan Bedford Forrest (“that devil Forrest,” in U.S. Grant’s words) as he tried to defend Selma in the last days of the Civil War.

Crossland’s non-disclosure of his military career might have led to a flurry of cable news comment today, but there was no cause for concern among his supporters in the South, where Democratic candidates successfully ran against Radical Republicans and their civil rights agenda.  On March 11, 1871, in fact, the Hickman Courier expressed relief at the news that Crossland had been duly sworn in as a member of Congress.  “Many leading men in this District,” the editors reported, “entertained serious apprehensions that Radical vindictiveness would seek to exclude him from the seat to which our people had elected him.”

Edward Crossland’s handwritten biography is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For other Kentucky political collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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The Whig Ticket

Whig Almanac, 1845 (Emanie Arling Philips Collection)

Whig Almanac, 1845 (Emanie Arling Philips Collection)

Before its demise in the mid-19th century, the Whig Party sent four men to the White House.  In 1844, the Whigs and their candidate, Kentuckian Henry Clay, were the choice of 16 prominent Warren County citizens, who made their case in an open letter to fellow voters.  Most of their rhetoric still infuses political debate today, and could be republished with only the date revised:

The time has come when the American people should feel and know that this great great country of theirs, belongs not to office holders and office seekers, but to them.

A most momentous crisis is at hand in the history of our beloved country…Great principles are in issue.

The Whigs are the advocates of an AMERICAN tariff…discriminating in the amount of duty imposed, between those articles which the American citizen can manufacture or produce and those which they can not…  Providence…has filled our mountains and our plains with minerals…and given us a climate and soil for the growing of hemp and wool.  These being the great materials of our national defence, they ought to have extended to them adequate and fair protection.

The Whigs are in favor of a well regulated Bank of the United States; of a reduction and reform of the expenditures of Government, and a modification of the executive powers of the President.

Remembering that we are one people, in town and country all the same, elevated by the same prosperity, depressed by the same misfortunes, subject to the same laws and warmed by the same patriotism, let us unite together as one man [sic] around our principles and sustain our men [sic] and our measures by our suffrages at the polls.

A typescript of this Whiggish appeal is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For other collections about elections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCatAnd don’t forget to vote!

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A “Modern” Campaign

Harrison campaign ribbon, 1840

Harrison campaign ribbon, 1840

It was called the “log cabin and hard cider campaign,” pitting two political warhorses against each other in the 1840 presidential election.  In a now-familiar tactic, Whig candidate William Henry Harrison presented himself as a man of the people, more at home in a log cabin than in the wealthy Virginia household where he grew up.  On the other side was Democratic incumbent Martin Van Buren, who tried to frame the 68-year-old Harrison as an aging hack more suited to sitting in his cabin quaffing cider than leading the country.  But the Harrison campaign doubled down, issuing campaign ribbons declaring “hurrah boys for Harrison and [running mate John] Tyler, / A rough Log Cabin and a barrel of hard cider.”

Every presidential history buff knows how the story ended.  After edging Van Buren in the popular vote to become the nation’s ninth president, Harrison was inaugurated on a cold, damp March day.  He addressed the crowd for two hours sans overcoat or hat, then rode in the inaugural parade.  A month later, he was dead of pneumonia, his term in office the shortest in U.S. history.

A Harrison campaign ribbon touting the “log cabin and hard cider” candidate is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Special Collections Library.  Click here to download a finding aid.  For more collections on presidents and politics, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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