U.S. Election History

Digital Collections Highlight: The 1817 Presidential Inauguration and the Scottish Rite

James Madison letter to David Daggett 1817The Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website contains a rich collection of digitized documents from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. As we approach Inauguration Day on January 20, it seems worth taking a look at a 200-year-old document in our collection (pictured here), which is related to both Scottish Rite Freemasonry and Inauguration Day. 

In this letter, dated January 1, 1817, President James Madison requests the presence of Connecticut Senator David Daggett (1764-1851) at a special session of the Senate held on March 4, 1817. At this session, Vice President elect Daniel D. Tompkins was sworn into office, just prior to the official inauguration ceremony of President-elect James Monroe. (Inauguration Day used to be in March, until the passage to the 20th Amendment in 1937, which moved it to January.) Tompkins was governor of New York from 1807 until 1817 and then served as Vice President under Monroe from 1817 to 1825. Tompkins’ name may also be familiar to you because of his Scottish Rite connection. He served as the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction’s first Sovereign Grand Commander from 1813 until 1825.

The Madison letter is among items digitized from the Library & Archives’ G. Edward Elwell, Jr., Autograph Collection which consists of documents collected by G. Edward Elwell, Jr., 33°, (1886-1969) a member of Caldwell Consistory (Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania) and a professional printer. The items in the Elwell Collection, which was generously donated to the Museum & Library by the Caldwell Consistory, span nearly 500 years of history (1489-1960), and each contains the signature of a well-known figure from American or European history.

Digital Collections Highlight: 1860 Republic Party Ticket

A2008_058_1DSWith the presidential election coming up next month, we thought it might be fun to highlight an item in our collection from the presidential election of 1860. While we might still use phrases like the "party ticket" or "split-ticket voting," we are no longer talking about actual printed tickets. But tickets were once just that: paper slips listing all of a political party's candidates. These tickets, often handed out at polling stations or printed in and clipped from newspapers, effectively functioned as ballots. In an era before state-printed election ballots listed candidates from all political parties on a ballot, party leaders could insure straight ticket voting by supplying voters with these tickets, which voters then placed in ballot boxes for their vote. Massachusetts, one of the earlier adopters of state-printed ballots, did not implement the practice until almost twenty years after the 1860 election, with the passage of  "An Act to Preserve the Purity of Elections" [PDF] in 1879.

Pictured here - and available at our Digital Collections website - is the Massachusetts Republican Party's ticket for Worcester County for the 1860 presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 6, 1860. Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) tops the ticket, along with Vice Presidential candidate Hannibal Hamlin (1809-1891). At the bottom of the ticket is Velorous Taft (1819-1890), of Upton, Massachusetts, running for on one of three County Commissioner seats for Worcester County.

Lincoln, of course, was elected President in 1860, but what about Velorous Taft? He was an incumbent, up for re-election in 1860 and, like Lincoln, he and was also victorious in 1860. Taft, in fact, served as one of the Worcester County Commissioners from 1858-1875.

If you like this document, be sure to check out the Library & Archives Digital Collections website where, in addition to a rich collection of Scottish Rite documents, Masonic certificates, and lots of other important documents related to the history of Freemasonry, we also have some other election-related material, like this advertising pamphlet featuring presidential candidates for the year 1884, a campaign letter from Richard Nixon from 1960, as well as a broadside promoting the Antimasonic Republican ticket for the 1835 Massachusetts state election.

For a couple of quick reads about the use of tickets as ballots during nineteenth-century elections, check out the following:

University of California, San Diego's Library blog, "That’s the Ticket: Voting in the 19th Century"

The Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection blog, "That’s the Ticket! Getting Out the Vote in the 1860s"

All the Way with LBJ!

2009_071DP1 In a previous post, we showed a few of the political textiles in the National Heritage Museum collection.  Recently, we were given an object associated with Lyndon Baines Johnson’s (1908-1973) 1964 campaign – a red plastic Stetson-style cowboy hat.

The silver label on the front shows a steer’s head and the initials LBJ.  The donor and her siblings wore this hat during childhood play, but it probably dates to the 1964 Democratic convention.  During the election that year, Johnson ran against Republican Barry Goldwater (1909-1998).  Johnson’s campaign images focused on his identity as a Texan; he was often photographed wearing a hat like this one.

After the shocking assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) in November 1963, Johnson vowed to continue to pursue the slain president’s goals, particularly working on civil rights initiatives.  Johnson gained popularity during the remainder of Kennedy’s term and it was clear early on that he would be victorious in 1964.  The only question was how large the landslide would be.  Indeed, election night 1964 found Johnson the winner, with 61% of the vote and the widest popular margin in history – more than 15 million votes.

Incidentally, Johnson did receive the first Masonic degree, Entered Apprentice, in 1937 at Johnson City Lodge No. 561, Johnson City, Texas.  But he did not receive the second and third degrees, so is not included on the list of U.S. Presidents who were Freemasons.

LBJ Cowboy Hat, ca. 1964, National Heritage Museum collection, gift of Susan Ward, 2009.071.  Photograph by David Bohl.


Roger A. Fischer, Tippecanoe and Trinkets Too: The Material Culture of American Presidential Campaigns, 1828-1984, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.

Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., ed., Running for President: The Candidates and Their Images, volume 2, 1900-1992, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.

Jordan M. Wright, Campaigning for President, New York: Smithsonian Books, 2008.

Tippecanoe and Log Cabins, Too!

Hard Cider and Log Cabine Almanac 1841 This Hard Cider and Log Cabin Almanac, from the Van Gorden-Williams Library’s collection, is an enlightening 24 pages of political memorabilia. Like other almanacs of the time, it contains valuable astronomical information for farmers and others. However, interleaved with charts of sunrises and sunsets, phases of the moon, and high tides, are illustrations and articles supporting William Henry Harrison’s 1840 presidential campaign.

Historians often view the 1840 election as the first modern campaign, in which the parties began promoting their candidates nationally, using events and advertising to create their nominee’s image and push their agenda. The Whig Party backed William Henry Harrison, the 68-year-old former governor of the Indiana Territory and hero from the War of 1812.

This almanac’s title comes from Harrison’s campaign symbol, the log cabin. It appeared on ribbons, medals, banners, brooches, buttons, prints, plates, needle cases, snuff boxes, and many other items. Some Harrison supporters even built log cabins to house their campaign rallies. Ironically, the Whigs adapted the image from an insult by Harrison’s Democratic opponents, who said he would prefer retirement in his log cabin, drinking hard cider, to being president. His campaign co-opted the log cabin idea to make Harrison—born to an elite Virginia family—seem more like a man of the people.

Touting Harrison’s accomplishments as a general and referring to him as “the Washington of the West,” the almanac features engraved illustrations of his treaty negotiations with Shawnee leader Tecumseh, as well as the battle against the Native American uprising at Tippecanoe. There Harrison earned his nickname “Old Tip,” which later led to his (other) campaign slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” Illustrations of his War of 1812 victories at Fort Meigs and the Thames are also presented.

The almanac came to the National Heritage Museum bound into a newspaper, the Auburn Daily News and Log Cabin Herald, from Auburn, New York, dated June 17, 1840. The newspaper, like the almanac, includes articles endorsing Harrison and ads for rallies in his honor. It also denounces his opponent, incumbent Martin Van Buren, for “having brought the government to the state of bankruptcy” and “pocketing the people’s money until there was no more to filch.”

In the election, Harrison narrowly won the popular vote, but the tally translated into a landslide in the Electoral College. His presidency, however, is infamous for its brevity. His inaugural address, the longest on record, clocked in at 8,445 words and nearly two hours. After standing in a cold wind without a coat, hat or gloves during the ceremony, Harrison caught pneumonia. He died on April 4, 1841, after only 32 days in office. 

Photo: Hard Cider and Log Cabin Almanac for 1841: Harrison and Tyler. Washington City: Sold wholesale and retail by John Kenedy, 1841. Call number: RARE AY 81 .P7 H3, Gift of Doris Hudson May

George Washington’s Inaugural Bible

When Barack Obama takes the presidential oath of office next week, he will participate in a ceremony that dates back to George Washington’s 1789 inauguration. His choice to swear his oath on an historical Bible—the one that Abraham Lincoln used in 1861—is much rarer. Only four presidents have used Bibles that former presidents used, and all four chose the same one: George Washington’s.

GWBible after8 cropped

George Washington’s inauguration as the first U.S. president was held on April 30, 1789, in New York City. According to a 1908 account by New York’s St. John’s Lodge No. 1, although the ceremony was elaborately planned, at the last minute, organizers decided that the president should place his hand on a Bible when taking the oath of office. Jacob Morton, parade marshal and Master of St. John’s, quickly walked to his nearby lodge meeting room, and borrowed its 1767 King James Bible. Robert R. Livingston, State Chancellor and presiding Grand Master of Masons in New York, then administered Washington’s oath of office on it.

No one knows where the Bibles that the first fourteen presidents used came from, but we do know that in 1857, William Carroll, the clerk of the Supreme Court, procured a Bible for James Buchanan’s inauguration. Carroll and his successors provided the next half-dozen inaugural Bibles—including Abraham Lincoln’s. Then, on March 4, 1885, Grover Cleveland created a new tradition when he chose to swear his oath of office on a Bible his mother had given him when he was 15. Since then, most presidents have used family Bibles.

Freemason Warren G. Harding was the first president known to select the Washington Bible for his 1921 inauguration. Dwight D. Eisenhower followed in 1953, Jimmy Carter in 1977, and George Bush in 1989. George W. Bush intended to use it in 2001, but rainy weather changed the plan. He used a family Bible instead.

The George Washington Bible has been featured at a number of other important public and Masonic occasions, including Washington’s funeral procession in 1799; the dedication of the Masonic Temples in Boston and Philadelphia, in 1867 and 1869, respectively; the 1885 dedication of the Washington Monument, and its rededication 112 years later; a 1932 reenactment of Washington’s inauguration, commemorating the bicentennial of the first president’s birth; the inaugurations of some of New York’s governors; the installations of many of the Grand Masters of New York; and numerous exhibitions. Usually on display at New York’s Federal Hall, this Bible was on view at the National Heritage Museum for a 2005 exhibition on George Washington’s Masonic life and legacy.


Proceedings of the Sesqui-centennial celebration of St. John's Lodge, no. 1. (A.Y.M.) F. & A.M. of the State of New York: December 7th ... 5907. New York: St. John's Lodge, no. 1. (A.Y.M.) F. & A.M., 1908. Call number: 17.97751 .N1 1908 

Web site of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, http://inaugural.senate.gov/history/chronology/index.cfm

Thanks to St. John's Lodge No. 1 for their help with this entry. For more information on the George Washington Bible, please click the link "The Lodge" on the St. John's Lodge web site.

Bible, 1767. Printed by Mark Baskett, London. Photo courtesy of St. John’s Lodge No. 1, Ancient York Masons, Free & Accepted Masons, New York, New York. This Bible was opened to Genesis 49–50 when George Washington took his oath of office on it.

100 Years and Radically Different...The Election of 1904

2001_067_32S1 As we prepare to celebrate the historic inauguration of our first African American president in the wake of record voter turnout, a lively rivalry and media overload, it may soothe the soul to read about what is considered one of the dullest presidential contests in history – the election of 1904.

That year saw Republican Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) running against Democrat Alton B. Parker (1852-1926).  I’m sure you’re asking, “Who?,” right about now.   Parker and his running mate, Henry G. Davis (1823-1916), can be seen on the campaign textile at the left.  Leaving the colorful textile, now in the National Heritage Museum collection, aside, neither candidate did much campaigning that year.  It’s so hard to imagine such a thing that I’ll type it again – neither candidate did much campaigning.

Parker, who was born and raised in New York, worked as a lawyer and became active in that state’s Democratic politics in the 1870s.  In 1885, he was appointed to the New York Supreme Court, and then to the Court of Appeals in 1889, eventually becoming chief justice of the appeals court.  Parker’s pro-Labor views, along with his criticism of the 14th Amendment because of its power to restrict state action on civil rights, made him an attractive candidate for the Democratic party.

Roosevelt, on the other hand, was well-known, and remains so today.  Elected as Vice President under William McKinley (1843-1901) in 1900, Roosevelt moved into the top spot when an assassin killed McKinley in 1901.  In 1904, Roosevelt honored what was then an unwritten rule – no sitting president openly participated in a campaign.  Known as a hero of the Spanish-American War, Roosevelt also popularized the motto, “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” which came to characterize his foreign policy.  Despite his lack of campaigning, Roosevelt won big, carrying 33 states out of 45.  Roosevelt declined to run for reelection in 1908, but did run in 1912 as the Progressive party candidate.  The second textile shown here dates from that campaign and includes his name, the year and the name of the party, “National Progressive.”2001_067_36S1  The textile also shows "big sticks" and bull moose, to remind voters of Roosevelt's past achievements.

The political textiles pictured here are part of a larger collection owned by the National Heritage Museum that was generously donated by Robert A. Frank.  This group numbers more than fifty items dating from 1819 to the early 1980s.  Most relate to presidential campaigns during the late 1800s.

To learn more about election history, see these previous blog entries: Voting the Party Ticket and The Anti-Masonic Party's First National Convention.

Sources consulted:
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., ed., Running for President: The Candidates and Their Images, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.

‘If Elected…’: Unsuccessful Candidates for the Presidency 1796-1968, Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1972.

Top: Campaign Banner for Alton B. Parker and Henry G. Davis, 1904, National Heritage Museum, gift of Robert A. Frank, 2001.067.32, photo by David Bohl.

Bottom: Campaign Banner for Theodore Roosevelt, 1912, National Heritage Museum, gift of Robert A. Frank, 2001.067.36, photo by David Bohl.

Voting the Party Ticket

84_009_1_democratic_ticket_1888_284_009_2_republican_ticket_1888_6Have you ever wondered why candidates are referred to as being on their party's "ticket"?

Jill Lepore's recent article in the New Yorker, Rock, Paper, Scissors: How We Used To Vote, is a mini crash-course on the history of voting at the polls in the United States that got me thinking about party tickets.

The history of the word "ticket," in the political party sense, is tied up in the history of how voting was done in the 19th century. Like many words and phrases, the "party ticket" has survived long past the practice itself, but it's a word that carries with it the reminder of how elections were conducted in the past. And while the practice may no longer survive, the physical tickets themselves do. In our Archives collection we have two such tickets, both of which are from the 1888 presidential election, and both of which can be seen here.

Up until the 1890s in the U.S., when a voter showed up at the polls on election day, he didn't receive a blank ballot with the names of the candidates printed on it. Instead, he showed up with his own ballot, which he had either written up beforehand, or wrote up when he got to the polls, or which he had gotten from a political party that had them handwritten, and later pre-printed or clipped from the newspaper. (A brief aside: a U.S. voter in the 19th century - indeed, up until 1920 - was always a "he." Interested in the history of suffrage - voting rights - in the USA? You might start here.)

Our interest today is in those pre-printed ballots, like the two seen here. It's because of these ballots which listed all of a political party's candidates for a particular election - and the ballots' resemblence to train tickets - that this meaning of the term "ticket" came into use. The ticket, like a ballot you see when you go into a voting booth today, would cover both local offices and national offices. In the two tickets seen here, which were printed for voters in Middlesex County in Massachusetts, you can see that both presidential candidates - Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison - as well as candidates for various local offices are listed. (Another brief aside: This election was one of four memorable elections - the others being in 1824, 1876, and 2000 - when the candidate who won the popular vote, lost in the electoral college vote, and therefore did not become president. In this case, Cleveland won the popular vote, but Harrison won the vote in the electoral college, and became president. Cleveland, you might remember, is the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms; his defeat by Harrison in 1888 ushered in the four years that separate his two terms in office.)

The tickets seen above are especially interesting because they are from the last election in Massachusetts to use tickets printed by political parties. With the passage of An Act to Provide For Printing and Distributing Ballots at the Public Expense, and to Regulate Voting at State and City Elections in 1888, which took effect in November 1889, the Massachusetts state government became responsible for printing the so-called Australian ballot, the ballot familiar to us today, in which all candidates are listed for each office and we select - by checking a box, filling in a circle, moving a lever, punching a hole, or touching a screen - which candidate we are voting for.

(And if you're disappointed that we didn't talk about third party candidates here, check out our earlier post on the first major third party in U.S. presidential politics.)

Both tickets above are from our Archives collection:

Democratic Ticket for 1888 Election. USM 001.126
Republican Ticket for 1888 Election. USM 001.127

The Anti-Masonic Party's First National Convention

People who know a bit about the history of U.S. presidential politics are familiar with some of the third-party candidates that have made bids for the office of President: Ross Perot, Ralph Nader, William Wirt.

William Wirt? That's right. Wirt is actually the first name in a long line of third-party candidates for U.S. President. Now that the 2008 major-party conventions are behind us, it seems like a good time to take a brief look at the introduction of the first third-party candidate in a U.S. presidential election, as well as the first nominating convention for a political party in the U.S.

Cast your mind back to the late 1820s and early 1830s...

Antimasonic_national_convention_web The Anti-Masonic Party (yes, that was its official name) had its roots in a moral crusade in upstate New York, which was the direct result of the so-called Morgan Affair. In September 1826, William Morgan, who was planning to print an exposé on Masonic rituals, was believed to have been kidnapped and murdered by Freemasons supposedly intent on making sure that Morgan did not reveal any Masonic secrets. (Morgan's book, Illustrations of Masonry, by One of the Fraternity Who Has Devoted Thirty Years to the Subject, was published shortly after his death.)

The Morgan murder was never solved and although some men were tried and convicted, the investigation dragged on for a few years with no satisfying conclusion. Many non-Masons began to fear that there was a great Masonic conspiracy to cover up the murder of Morgan and to let the alleged murderers - all supposedly Freemasons - off the hook. This incident occurred at a time when hostility toward Freemasonry and other secret societies was starting to rise to the surface, in part due to the effects of the religious revival known as the Second Great Awakening. Although there are many reasons why anti-Masons perceived Freemasonry as a threat, and why the Anti-Masonic Party took shape when it did, William Preston Vaughn sums it up well when he writes:

"Morgan's abduction and probable murder occurred at a crucial time in New York state politics. The Adams-Clay party was in a rapid state of decline, and [Dewitt] Clinton had affiliated with the Jacksonians, leaving many of his followers in a quandary, for most of them could hardly follow Clinton into a party controlled on the state level by Van Buren and the hated Regency. Conditions were ripe for creation of a new organization that would submerge factional differences and would unite voters behind a platform pledged to defend democracy and equality before the law. It was no accident that this party evolved in January 1827 from a series of local conventions that met while the first trial of Morgan's kidnappers was taking place."

The first national nominating convention held by the Anti-Masonic Party - in fact, by any political party in the United States up until that point - was held on September 11, 1830. The date was a resonant one: it was the four-year anniversary of the abduction of William Morgan. Although much took place at the first convention, it was not until the second convention, in 1831, that a candidate was nominated for the party. That candidate was William Wirt, who had served as U.S. Attorney General from 1817 until 1829.

Wirt was a reluctant candidate. When first offered the nomination he declined, but was eventually convinced to run for the party. Curiously, Wirt himself had been a Freemason thirty years before. Instead of harboring any grudges toward Freemasonry, Wirt appears to have been, instead, simply not very interested in it. In his letter accepting the nomination from the Anti-Masonic Party, he admits that he had been initiated in a lodge, but that he had never taken the Master Mason degree. In this same acceptance letter he wrote that his lack of interest in Freemasonry in not attaining the Master Mason degree "proceeded from no suspicion on my part that there was anything criminal in the institution, or anything that placed its members in the slightest degree in collision with their allegience to their country and its laws."

Massachusetts_antimasonic_conventio Wirt even gave the Anti-Masonic Party a way out, stating that if, after reading his views they wanted give the nomination to someone else, then he would "retire from [the nomination] with far more pleasure than I should accept it." (You can read the entirety of Wirt's acceptance letter here.) Even after accepting the nomination, Wirt tried to get out of it. Between October 1831 and February 1832, he tried to withdraw from the nomination, but was unsuccessful. Despite all of this, in the general election held in the autumn of 1832, Wirt still managed to get seven electoral votes and carry Vermont, a state that, as we noted in earlier post, was a particular hotbed of anti-Masonry at the time.

In our collection, we have several books, pamphlets, proceedings, and newspapers that were published during the late 1820s and through the 1830s, and serve to document a time when anti-Masonry was at its height. We'll be addressing more of those items in the future. Below we've listed some of the Proceedings of various Anti-Masonic Party conventions that are in our collections. As you can see, there were many state conventions that took place before the national convention first met in September 1830. And if you're interested in learning more about the Anti-Masonic Party and its candidate, William Wirt, a great overview is the only full-length book on the subject, which we list first, before a selection of various proceedings:

Vaughn, William Preston. The Antimasonic Party in the United States, 1826-1843. Louisville, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1983.
Call number: 19.2 .V371 1983

The Proceedings of the United States Anti-Masonic Convention, held at Philadelphia, September 11, 1830 : Embracing the Journal of Proceedings, the Reports, the Debates, and the Address to the People. Philadelphia: I. P. Trimble; New York: Skinner and Dewey, 1830
Call number: RARE 19.61 .U58 1830 [You can find a digitized version here.]

An Abstract of the Proceedings of the Antimasonic State Convention of Massachusetts, held in Faneuil Hall, Boston, Dec. 30 and 31, 1829, and Jan. 1, 1830. Boston : John Marsh, 1830.
Call number: RARE 19 .M414 A631 1830

Proceedings and Address of the Pennsylvania Anti-Masonick State Convention, held at the Court House in Harrisburgh, June 25 and 26, 1829. New-Port, R.I. : Printed by Allen and Folsom, 1829.
Call number: RARE 19.2 .A631 1829

Proceedings of the Antimasonic Convention for the State of New York : Held at Utica, August 11, 1830 : with the Address and Resolutions. Utica, N.Y. : William Williams, 1830.
Call number: RARE 19 .N567 A631 1830