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Friday, October 26, 2012

Election Patterns, Made and Broken

Election Patterns, Made and Broken

October 24, 2012

Part One
William Palmer, Anti-Masonic Governor. In 1831, Palmer was elected governor by the Vermont Legislature to the first of four consecutive terms. The Anti-Masonic movement swept Vermont in the first half of the 1830’s and, just as suddenly, ceased to be a political force.

The Great Orator. In August 1840 Daniel Webster spoke in Orford on behalf of the Whig presidential candidate. “All the north country came to hear the great man.” It was said that, for many years, people dated other occurrences from “the year Daniel Webster spoke in Orford.”

1888 Campaign Banner. Bradford Republicans encouraged support for their presidential and gubernatorial tickets with this large banner stretched across Main Street. In the tradition of Republican majority, these candidates carried both Bradford and Vermont. Apparently they rehung the banner in later times as a reminder of that victory.  Banner is now in Shelburne Museum. f(Bradford Historical Society)

Just in case it slipped your notice, there will be elections on Tuesday, November 6. On Wednesday, November 7, many will, with relief, echo the sentiment submitted by The United Opinion Piermont correspondent following the 1912 elections: “Now that the affairs of the nation are once more decided for the next four years, it is hoped we will all get down to business and stop chewing the political rag for a while.”

This column is the first of two that examines the roles of Vermont and neighboring Grafton county towns in elections of the past, those that were examples of a pattern and those that were not. It draws on local resources, including the voting records of local communities, and excellent histories of Vermont I used during my teaching career. The latter includes Freedom and Unity, A History of Vermont by Michael Sherman, Gene Sessions and P. Jeffrey Potash, a source I highly recommend.

The two-party system was well established by the 1820s. What was changing was the increased number of men allowed to participate in the choices elections offered. Local voters, influenced by community leaders and political newspapers, were often divided between, “Democrats with their populist states’ rights views and Federalists who were considered more elitist and favored power to the national government.”

The election of 1828 is described as both the longest and the dirtiest in American history. Incumbent John Quincy Adams and challenger Democrat Andrew Jackson locked in a four-year contest resulting from the disputed election of 1824. The campaigns battled over both major issues and personal attacks. Jackson won, but Adams carried both Vermont and New Hampshire. Newbury’s results were much closer than the state with 136 Freemen voting for the Adams ticket and 135 for the electors pledged to Jackson.

For the next few years, Vermont politics were dominated by the Anti-Masonic movement, “one of the strangest episodes in the whole history of American politics.” Masonic lodges with their secret fraternal rituals included some of Vermont’s most prominent citizens. The death of William Morgan of New York on the eve of his revelation of Masonic secrets along with a rising distrust of secret organizations led to the creation of the Anti-Masonic party in Vermont. The strong feelings led to split communities and the closure of many lodges.

In 1831 Anti-Masonic candidate William Palmer of Danville was elected as governor by the General Assembly to the first of four consecutive terms. In 1832 Vermont electors voted for the Anti-Masonic candidate for President, the only state to do so, and sent a representative to Congress from that third-party. In Fairlee the largest number of voters supported that party. In the three-way election of 1834, Palmer garnered 79 votes in Newbury, about one-third of the town’s total.

The 1913 history of Ryegate described the Anti-Masonic movement: “In its sudden rise, its violence while it lasted, and its sudden termination, it resembled nothing so much as a tropical tornado.” By 1836, the splinter party was no longer a political force and Vermonters were split between the Whigs and the Democrats, with Whigs more frequently dominating.

From time to time a community would break from that pattern as Fairlee did in 1844 and 1848 when it supported the Democratic candidates.

A significant event in the election of 1840 was the local appearance of Whigs supporter Daniel Webster who spoke on the West Common in support of William Henry Harrison and the Union.

It was said, “All the north country headed to Orford to hear the great man.” Similar large events were held in Burlington and Stratton Mountain. Vermont gave Harrison a highest percentage of its votes than any other state.

In 1854, the Republican Party was established in Vermont with abolition of slavery as a major plank in its platform. That year Republican Stephen Royce was elected governor, the first of a line of Republican governors that continued unbroken until 1962. In 1856 Republican presidential candidate John Fremont received 78% of the popular vote, a pattern that continued until 1964.

Vermont’s support for the Republican Party and the Union was reflected in the 1860 and 1864 elections. In the first, Republican Abraham Lincoln faced three other candidates including Vermont-born Stephen Douglas (D). Lincoln received 76% in both elections. In Fairlee and Newbury, for unknown reasons, Lincoln received less support. Sixty-one percent of votes cast in the two elections in Fairlee were for Lincoln and in Newbury it was 67% and 69%.

Vermont was truly “the star that never sets” in the Republican firmament. No other state was so dominated by a single party for so long a period. That Republican domination, the product of a strong statewide organization, resulted in complete control of all state-wide offices and most seats in the Vermont legislature.

The Democrats, with power often limited to disaffected minorities in the larger communities, offered little opposition. Between 1854 and 1934 no Democratic gubernatorial candidate garnered more than 40% of the votes.

Only once between 1860 and 1962 did Bradford majority vote for a Democratic Presidential candidate, that being for Grover Cleveland in the election of 1884. Only three times in that period did Bradford vote for the Democratic candidate for governor, but not once between 1916 and 1964.

The only way to succeed as an aspiring politician in Vermont in the century after that was to be a Republican. To avoid internal disputes the Republican Party practiced a “mountain rule” that parlayed leadership between the two areas of the state, and single two-year terms for governor. Orange County had it owns mountain rule, with its state senatorial seat shifting between the two sides of the county.

An apprenticeship tradition brought Republicans up through state offices to the governorship and Congressional seats. Businessmen such as the Proctors of the Vermont Marble Company often provided candidates. Governor Roswell Farnham of Bradford (1880-1882), reflected this business influence.

Local partisanship was highlighted by local rallies, parades and banners. In August, 1876 the following West Topsham news item appeared in The United Opinion: “On Thursday morning we were greatly surprised to see a Tilden and Hendricks flag waving in the breeze over our main street…the diminutive size and general appearance was so ridiculous it caused a great deal of sport for the Republicans…The Democrats seemed well pleased with it until we had had our laugh, and then they begun to show displeasure, and some of them even accused us of putting it up…we think it is unkind in them as long as we have been life-long Republicans, to accuse us of being Democrats now.”

In 1884 the two political parties each had a flagpole in Woodsville and North Haverhill with the names of their candidates. That year the election of Grover Cleveland, the Democratic candidate for President, was celebrated by a large banquet at the Haverhill town hall.

In 1888 a large banner for Republican candidates including Republican Presidential candidate Benjamin Harrison stretched from sidewalk to sidewalk across Bradford’s main street. Harrison was elected over Democrat Grover Cleveland and in 1891 visited the area, speaking in both Wells River and Bradford to large crowds.

Harrison’s election resulted in payment of a strange wheelbarrow bet in East Corinth as reported on November 23, 1888, “The bet was this, if Cleveland was elected A.C. Jackman was to wheel Geo. Willey from the Four Corners to the village, W. T. Jackman was to carry a Cleveland and Thurman banner…If Harrison was elected, Geo. Willey was to wheel A.C. Jackman and fifty pounds of meal, S. G. Corliss was to carry a Harrison and Morton banner….About 3 o clock the procession made its appearance led by Sam carrying the banner and his head high, and escorted by the East Topsham drum corps. George Willey furnished the motive power while A. C. Jackman held the reins in great style. The length of the village made in better time than most two hundred pounders could make it, although George did appear fatigued when the two mile heat was ended, he was not sorry when his bet was paid.”

As the 19th century came to a close, the political patterns in Vermont were well established. Vermont was dedicated to the Republican Party. How that dedication continued and then was shaken will be the topic of the second portion of this essay in the October 31st edition.

Election Patterns, Made and Broken
Part Two
October 31, 2012

Candidates in Vermont. Former President Teddy Roosevelt toured Vermont in 1912 in an effort to unseat fellow Republican incumbent William Howard Taft. Both men toured Vermont, including stops by Taft in Wells River, Woodsville and Bradford. Roosevelt is shown speaking in Barre.

Young Aiken. George D. Aiken was a candidate of the Progressive wing of Vermont’s Republican in an era when a politician had to be a Republican in order to be elected to state-wide office. After coming up through the legislative ranks, this moderate Republican was elected governor (1937-1941) and then U.S. Senator (1941-1975).

Hoff, The First Democrat. In 1962 Burlington’s Philip Hoff, one of the “Young Turks,” was elected Governor of Vermont. He was the first Democrat to be elected to that office since John Robinson was elected in 1853.

In 1984, Madeleine M. Kunin (D) was elected as Vermont's first woman govenor and served until 1991. She was the first woman to serve as a govenor without being part of an election campaign involving her husband as a former govenor.   

This column is the second of a two-part essay that examines Vermont’s role in elections of the past, those that were examples of a pattern and those that were not. It draws on local resources, including the voting records of local communities, and excellent histories of Vermont I used during my teaching career. The latter includes Freedom and Unity, A History of Vermont by Michael Sherman, Gene Sessions and P. Jeffrey Potash, a source I highly recommend.

Bradford’s newspaper, The United Opinion, like most of Orange County and much of Vermont in the years after 1853, supported Republican candidates. In the June 19, 1896 edition it announced the Republican nomination of presidential candidate William McKinley at their convention in St. Louis. That announcement was accompanied by a large picture of the candidate under the headline “McKinley & Hobart. The standard bearers of the party of patriotism, protection and prosperity.”

Election reforms were adopted during this period. Prior to 1892, ballots were provided by party supporters. Voters merely had to deposit these pre-printed ballots. Since party ballots were distinctive, there was little secrecy in the voting. The State then adopted the Australian ballot, a system that provided a government-printed ballot with all the choices included. The voter then had to enter a ballot booth and make the selections. Secrecy was enhanced.

The Republican tickets were determined at a caucus convention until 1915 and thereafter by the direct primary, thus increasing the role of the average party member. In 1920 women first exercised the right to vote in all elections.

Changes were also finding their way into the Republican Party. There were candidates within the party who expressed a more progressive agenda, one that had its basis in the reform movements of the 19th century. Its opposition to the conservative old guard was very pronounced in the election of 1912. Republican incumbent William Howard Taft faced opposition from within his own party in the candidacy of former president Theodore Roosevelt as well as Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party found considerable support, especially when he made several appearances in the state. President Taft also visited with local appearances in this area, greeting a large crowd in Woodsville. Although not scheduled to speak in Bradford the President did stop before a large crowd assembled by local leaders in the downtown Square. In October conservationist Gifford Pinchot spoke before a large Progressive rally of 400 in Bradford, calling Roosevelt “the only true pilot.”

In the three-way election, Vermont went to Taft by only 1200 votes, joining only Utah in this support. In Fairlee, Roosevelt won by a large margin whereas in Newbury the vote between Taft and Roosevelt was very close with Wilson a distant third. In the race for governor, a three-way contest threw the election to the General Assembly, where the old guard rallied around its candidate Allen Fletcher. The United Opinion bemoaned Taft’s defeat, “A good man and a good President has gone down to defeat.”

Except for that election, the Republican nominee could expect to garner between 68 and 80% of the popular vote for President in every election from 1860 to 1928. In the election of 1924, when favorite son Calvin Coolidge ran for office he received over 78% of the vote.

The Great Depression changed patterns. State-wide support for the Republican candidate against Franklin Roosevelt dropped to 58% in 1932 and 56% four years later. In the Senatorial election of 1934, Republican Warren Austin was elected with only 51% of the vote over his Democratic challenger. In the election of 1936 only Vermont and Maine gave their electoral votes to FDR’s Republican opponent. Large voter turnout at local polls supported the Republican candidates in both presidential elections.

Over the next few years the progressive wing of the Republican Party began to exercise more influence, especially with the election of candidates such as George Aiken and Ernest Gibson Jr. Their more progressive agenda gave the state government a stronger role in public affairs. After serving as an activist governor, Aiken ran for the U. S. Senate in 1940 and gained the Republican nomination with the wide support of Bradford voters.

While Republicans continued to control the state’s political scene, the margin between their candidates and the Democrats continued to narrow. In 1958, Democrat William Meyer was elected to Congress as Vermont single Representative, the first member of his party to win a statewide election in over a century. However, moderate Republican Robert Stafford was elected governor by a narrow margin and, in 1960, defeated Meyer for his seat in Washington.

In the 1960 election a group of young legislators known as “the Young Turks” joined the Vermont House. The seven Republicans and three Democrats included Republican Richard Mallary of Fairlee and Democrat Phillip Hoff of Burlington. This bipartisan group met to develop new more progressive policies.

In 1962 Hoff was elected governor over conservative Republican F. Ray Keyser Jr. Some progressive Republicans formed the Vermont Independent Party and were able to supported Hoff’s election without having to vote Democrat. Hoff was the first member of his party to be elected governor since 1853. He did not, however, have the support of voters in Orange County.

In 1964, “the star that never set” set. The United Opinion bold headline “Vermont In Somersault” announced the Democrats clean sweep of all state offices. Some candidates rode in on the coattails of the strong national ticket. Only Republicans Congressman Robert Stafford and U.S. Senator Winston Prouty won re-election. Vermont’s electors voted for Lyndon B. Johnson, the first time a Democratic candidate won those votes.

A majority of local voters in Newbury, Bradford and Fairlee supported Johnson as well as Hoff’s re-election. Piermont voters, on the other hand, supported Barry Goldwater 123 to Johnson’s 119. While LBJ won in Haverhill, it was a close 697 to 657.

In 1965, the Vermont House of Representatives responded to a court-ordered reapportionment. It was reduced from 246 members, each representing a town or city, to 150 equal population districts. The number of representative from Democratic leaning communities increased. The influx of residents from other states, the decline of conservative rural population and the influence of national media contributed to significant growth in the number of Vermonters voting for Democratic candidates.

Vermont is no longer a one-party state. No longer does a candidate with progressive ideas have to be a Republican in order to have a career in politics. In the 25 gubernatorial elections between 1962 and 2010, Democrats won 14 and Republicans 11. The majority of the latter were from the moderate wing of the Republican Party. In the 11 Presidential elections between 1968 and 2008, the Republican electors won the first six (Nixon, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Reagan and Bush) and Democratic electors won the past five (Clinton, Clinton, Gore, Kerry and Obama).

An important tradition was broken in November 1984 when Vermont elected Madeleine Kunin (D), its first woman governor. Kunin did not carry most area towns. However, when she was re-elected in 1986 and 1988 she garnered an increase amount of support locally. In the 1988 election, a majority of voters in Bradford, Corinth, Fairlee and Newbury selected Kunin.
In the Congress, Vermont is currently represented by senior Senator Patrick Leahy (D) who has held the office since defeating Republican Congressman Richard Mallary in 1974. In 2007, liberal Congressman Bernie Sanders (I) replaced Senator James Jeffords, Republican turned Independent. Sander’s place in the House of Representatives was taken by Peter Welch (D).

In the Vermont General Assembly, the Democrats hold a commanding lead in the House with 94 members to 48 Republicans and 8 Independents or Progressives. In the Senate there are 20 Democrats and 2 Progressives to 8 Republicans. Party affiliation is not always a true sign of party loyalty on issues, especially among independent thinking legislators dedicated to the welfare of local constituents.

I am often asked what I miss most about teaching. Of all the subjects that I enjoyed the most, elections ranked high. My job was to clarify the complicated procedures that characterize our democratic processes without bias. I took great pleasure in registering young citizens and watching them participate in the voting process. I was especially pleased with my role as teacher if my students were divided on which candidates I personally supported.

One thing they could be sure of, and one that I still espouse, is my belief in the importance of voting. They may also recall my admonition that those who do not exercise the vote have little right to complain about the choices made by those who do. The poster on my classroom wall said it more plainly, “If You Don’t Vote, Don’t Bitch.” Vote next Tuesday.