November 26, 2022

Horse-trading the Presidency

Posted on 01. Jun, 2013 by Stephan Helgesen in Politics

Our 2012 Presidential election distinguished itself as having had the third largest participation rate since the election of John Kennedy in 1960 and that reminds me of a phrase I heard about history. It goes something like this, “a person’s historical frame of reference begins with their own birth.”

I guess it’s only natural to focus on one’s self when looking at something as personal as history, but there’s also something very dangerous about it. Take Presidential elections, for example. Most of remember how contentious the Bush versus Gore election was, but I’ll bet we don’t remember the contentiousness of the 1876 election between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden, do we?

Let me refresh your memory…Rutherford B. Hayes was the Republican candidate and Samuel J. Tilden was the Democrat. After the first vote, Tilden had won 184 electoral votes to Hayes’ 165, but there were 20 electoral votes that were unresolved and in dispute in four states: Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina and Oregon. (By the way, Tilden won the popular vote with 4,284,020 votes (50.9%) to Rutherford’s 47.9%. It was the first Presidential election in 20 years that a Democrat had won the majority of the popular vote. )

The election was notable for other statistics as well, but historians look at this election for one REALLY INTERESTING twist of fate. It seemed that neither party was able to get the other to concede the outstanding 20 electoral votes, so a very unique compromise was made.

Basically, the Democrats gave the election to the Republicans in return for the end of Reconstruction (the post Civil War Northern militarization of the South)!  So, Midwesterner Hayes became President and Yankee Tilden became a near hero to southerners who saw Federal troops withdraw from old Dixie.

Since no one from that time is around to give us a first-hand interview, we can only speculate as to how the electorate dealt with the trade. They may have been upset, but I doubt they were as outraged as Americans during the election of 2000 when both parties went to legal war over hanging and dimpled chads AND used Federal election law and Florida State law to decide who would inhabit the White House.

When the 2000 election was finally decided by the Supreme Court, a new political Mason-Dixon Line was drawn in the sand, effectively reinforcing a Red-Blue ideological divide akin to the Blue-Grey mentality of 1876.

I suspect that it also created a boomlet of low (or no) information voters who cared less about the policies of the opposition than they did about bringing them down and replacing them with their own team.

No or low-information voters are the worst kind of voter imaginable, and a few of the founding fathers warned against them because they had no skin in the game. They owned no property but would be allowed to decide how the property of others could be treated. They had no education but could influence the workings of the educational system. They didn’t understand how government functioned but would be able to tell it how to do its job.

Americans have always been proud of the one man, one vote form of Democracy, but many, I suspect, have secretly wished that those with no real interest in the issues nor any real understanding of them would just stay home and let the rest of us who care enough to learn about those things choose the right people to represent all of us.

It’s a thorny situation alright. It’s also not talked about openly, precisely because we steadfastly protect our right to be ignorant, out of touch or uninformed. Maybe we should start discussing how to better inform our electorate before any more no/low-information votes are cast, unless of course we want another disputable election like the one in 2000 or God forbid, the one of 1876.

- Editor


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