Fist Of History

Posts Tagged ‘Elections’

Presidential Election of 1892 and the People’s Party

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

Populist-logoIt is 2015 and with several presidential candidates for the 2016 campaign announcing their intentions already in April, it is time to begin my irregular series of short articles this election season to outline moments in the 19th and 20th century when the United States was rocked by third party and independent candidates.  This is to show people that the modern view of politics in the United States, where two parties dominate the system and independent action cannot have any measurable impact, is inaccurate.  Third party political organizations have dominated local elections and been a presence with force in national politics repeatedly in United States history.  Furthermore history is replete with oddballs, independents, and mavericks that successfully tweaked the system.  My main goal in writing this irregular series is to provide a counter point to the idea that often circulates in social media that “a viable third party is needed but impossible to create/vote for/support because Awful Horrible Thing will happen instead.”  My only point in response to that is your predecessors in the past faced the same problem, often in worse political systems, and yet still managed to kick back.

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Meet James Weaver, third party Presidential Candidate in the 1892 election and nominated by the People’s Party.  The People’s Party was a progressive leftist political party that appeared in the late 1880s from an alliance of southern farmers with midwestern farmers who combined around the idea that gold-backed currency was bad, big business even worse, and tariff protection for industry the devil’s work.  They also rallied behind some other wacky ideas, like:  progressive income tax, the eight hour work day, the direct election of United States Senators, civil service reform, as well as nationalizing the telegraph industry and the railroads, and breaking up large banks.

Some of these crazy ideas you might recognize as now being the law of the land, and others as being concepts being bandied around today by modern leftist progressives.  (Although the idea of nationalizing the transportation industries appears to have fallen in favor in the 21st century, probably due in part to how cheap shipping of goods and personal travel are these days compared to the past.)  Weaver ended up doing surprisingly well in the election, capturing 8.5% of the popular vote, 22 electoral votes, and carrying five states in the election.  He was stomped by the other candidates solidly, but his turnout showed a strong sentiment against the viewpoints of the Democrats who gained an unexpected win in this election cycle.

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In 1896 and 1900 the Democrats quietly began to absorb some of the platform goals of the People’s Party which, in turn, backed the nomination of William Jennings Bryan for President in 1896.  (Pictured above looking sexy mid-speech at 36 years of age.)

The People’s Party faded after the 1896 election but managed to place Representatives into national office successfully until 1902.  A total of 39 Representatives, 6 Senators, and 11 governors during its period of power served under the banner of the People’s Party.

Sources:  Wikipedia entries on the People’s Party, the United States Presidential Election of 1892, and James B. Weaver

Election Fun – 19th century style

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

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In honor of the 2014 election I thought it fitting to talk about elections during the “Good Old Days” of democracy, specifically the early to middle 19th century in the United States.  Back in those days voting was not really an “individual” activity but was considered more of a “community endeavor” in which your vote was a broader reflection of the general feelings of your neighbors and those who made up your social and economic class.  Enforcement of this outlook came from many sources, including pressure and patronage from your local political machine, active pressure from the clergy on the subject, and of course the very real possibility of being brutally beaten for voting incorrectly.

19th century street gangs played a pivotal role in many local urban elections, through the fine tradition of “cooping” – an activity in which these adorable ruffians would grab random citizens who were unwilling to exercise their right to the franchise, beat the crap out of them, often force alcohol down their throats, and then deliver them to the polling station where they could cast their ballot with the help of the street gang members.  To further enhance their voting presence the street gangs would often take the drunken and injured voter back outside of the polling place, change their clothing and give them a free shave or haircut, and then run them through the ballot lines again.  Quite often with the help of these “voting enhancement” gangs some citizens got to vote a large number of times throughout the city.  One theory on the death of Edgar Allan Poe is he was a victim of a street gang helping him exercise his franchise in this manner.

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Another fine 19th century voting service provided for the general citizens was ballots with built in extra-convenience, specifically ballots were printed by local party organizations and came with the entire parties ticket pre-printed on the ballot to assist you in speeding your way through the polls.  If a citizen happened to want to split their votes in most electoral districts this was considered undesirable and inefficient and was simply not an option in early to mid 19th-century elections.  After all a voter was encouraged to support a specific party in its totality as this further assisted the efficiency of local government on many levels.  The parties also helpfully printed these prepared ballots on colored paper, to allow for easier identification of which party you happened to be supporting.  As an added bonus hired street thugs who stood outside the pooling place could tell, based on the color of the ballot paper you were carrying, if you were voting for the right party in the right district.  Often those who misunderstood how this arrangement operated were escorted, violently, from the voting booth before they could cast an incorrect ballot.

Ah the good old days of elections – so efficient, so streamlined, and so much more of a community building experience for everyone!

Sources:  Wikipedia entries on the Death of Edgar Allan Poe, Cooping, the Five Points Gang, and Straight-Ticket voting