Tag Archives: presidential elections

An Election Prediction

Henry Clay

Henry Clay

With its use of catchy slogans (“Tippecanoe and Tyler Too”), rallies, songs, banners and ribbons, the 1840 presidential contest between incumbent Martin Van Buren and the Whig Party’s William Henry Harrison marked the beginning of the modern era of campaigning.  Then as now, predictions about the outcome also enlivened the process.

That fall, Henry Clay sat down at his Lexington, Kentucky home, Ashland, to forecast the election results in response to a request from the Tippecanoe Club of Rushville, New York.  At the time, there was no single Election Day:  states voted for their presidential electors between October 30 and December 2, and the electors then met to vote for the next chief executive.  The Whigs had done well in most down-ballot races held in the preceding months, and Clay–who had lost the Whig nomination to Harrison, one of five tries he would make for the presidency–was in a good position to assess the race.

He got things nearly, but not exactly right.  Of the 26 states in the Union, Clay believed that Van Buren “would not obtain the votes of more than six.”  (He got seven).  Although down-ballot elections in Illinois had been disappointing for the Whigs, Clay was confident that “her vote will be cast in Nov. for W. H. Harrison” (He was mistaken).  He also conceded Maine to Van Buren (Harrison, in fact, won the state).  Otherwise, despite his lack of computer models and sophisticated polling, Clay would not have been embarrassed to compare his predictions with the actual result:  Van Buren’s 7 states brought 60 electoral votes, but Harrison’s 19 states and 234 electoral votes gave him the victory.

Clay nevertheless knew that voter turnout (or lack thereof) could make a fool out of any prognosticator.  “Cheering and bright as the prospects of success are,” he wrote, “it might be fatal to the salvation of the Constitution and the Country, to relax in honorable exertions. . . .  The Whig, therefore, who. . . neglects to perform his duty, is guilty of a double treachery–a treachery to his Country and a treachery to his Whig brethren in other parts of the Union, who are exerting all their energies to ensure success to our glorious Cause.”

Henry Clay’s letter to the Tippecanoe Club is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For more collections about Henry Clay and about other presidential elections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Looking for a Candidate

Alben W. Barkley (Lincoln, Ill. Evening Courier)

Alben W. Barkley (Lincoln, Ill. Evening Courier)

It was 1952, and his sinking popularity had convinced President Harry S. Truman not to run for reelection.  But Truman disliked and distrusted the front-runner for his party’s nomination, Democratic Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, and began conspiring with other party leaders to find a more acceptable candidate.  Truman backed Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson, but Stevenson hemmed and hawed about jumping into the race.  Frustrated, Truman turned to his own vice-president, Alben W. Barkley of Kentucky.

Among those enlisted by Truman to promote Barkley at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago was Charles W. Sawyer, a delegate-at-large from Ohio.  When Sawyer met with him, Barkley and his wife Jane had just hiked a mile from the railroad station to their hotel in order to demonstrate the 74-year-old’s robust health.  Sawyer urged Barkley not to be shy about his desire for the nomination and to court as much publicity as possible, especially with his attractive wife by his side.

It worked, and soon Barkley was garnering attention as a serious candidate.  Unfortunately, his rivals, Senator Kefauver and diplomat W. Averell Harriman, convinced two prominent union leaders to pronounce Barkley too old for the nomination.  Barkley, a strong labor supporter, was devastated by the betrayal, and despite Sawyer’s urging to stand and fight, prepared to withdraw.

The party, nevertheless, offered Barkley a chance to speak at the convention.  He was tempted to lace his remarks with bitterness, but Sawyer discouraged him.  Barkley followed the advice, charming the convention with a generous speech and even reviving hopes that he could win the nomination.  But it was too late.  Adlai Stevenson had finally agreed to stand as the party’s nominee, only to suffer defeat in the general election at the hands of Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Charles Sawyer’s account of his efforts on behalf of Vice-President Barkley at the 1952 Democratic Convention are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For more political collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Politics. . . As Usual

American Party of Kentucky documents

American Party of Kentucky documents

Since existing political parties do not offer valid choices to the voters, a new party is urgently needed.  The two existing parties, Democrat and Republican,. . . have deserted the principles and traditions of our nation’s Founding Fathers.

A clip from last night’s cable news?  Au contraire, as we look back almost 50 years to the policy declaration of the American Party of Kentucky, a copy of which is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.

First convened in 1968 to “provide the vehicle through which responsible conservative candidates can be offered to the voters,” the American Party stood for allegiance to God, limited government, free enterprise, private property, and traditional morality.  It stood against totalitarianism of all stripes, foreign aid, the United Nations, and government-sponsored charity.  By early 1969, the Party was incorporated and tutoring prospective candidates on how to file for local, state and national offices.

For its presidential candidate, the American Party selected former Alabama governor George C. Wallace, who, despite his segregationist resume, electrified supporters with his fiery rhetoric.  “Yes, they’ve looked down their nose at you and me a long time,” he said on the campaign trail.  “They’ve called us rednecks — the Republicans and the Democrats.  Well, we’re going to show, there sure are a lot of rednecks in this country.”

After the 1968 election, the Kentucky American Party’s Richard H. Treitz wrote to the faithful on letterhead of the Wallace campaign to thank them for their efforts.  The best was yet to come, he declared, asking for support in turning a grassroots movement into a truly national political party.  While not victorious in ’68, the soldiers of God and country had “scared the two-alike parties like never before and . . . THEY HAVEN’T SEEN ANYTHING YET!”

Click here to download a finding aid for the American Party collection.  For more of our political collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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