That’s the Ticket

Well now we are in this rather ominous week between Halloween and the Election. How t0 deal with it? By retreating into the past, of course! I’ve been curious about the mechanics of elections for a while, actually, and decided to indulge my curiosity by browsing through some local digitized collections of electoral ephemera. The large collection of nineteenth-century election ballots at the American Antiquarian Society is particularly engrossing: so many stories and ideas and trends are encapsulated on these little scraps of paper. For a non-Americanist such a myself, it took quite a bit of background work just to identify the myriad political parties as well as the issues that were driving their formation, and I also came to realize that the transitions from written to printed party tickets, and from party tickets to official ballots, were very momentous, almost on a par with the evolution of voting via machine or electronically. Who knew that the Australian ballot was a secret ballot, first adopted in the United States in Massachusetts as late as 1888? Certainly not me. Here’s a small sample of a great collection, beginning with a very early printed ballot which features Salem’w own Timothy Pickering and also illustrates the electoral college very clearly.


Freedom is expressed in both words and images on nineteenth-century Massachusetts election tickets, often and in various ways: the “Free Bridge and Equal Rights” ballots from the 1820s which refer to the proposed Warren bridge over the Charles River, linking Charlestown and Boston, a liberty pole, the “Free Soil” party that split off from the Whigs over the issue of slavery, the linkage of nearly every candidate “and liberty”. The first two tickets below are also illustrations of the hybrid print-script tickets produced before printed “party tickets” became the norm after 1840 or so.




And after the Civil War: color, more elaborate typography and imagery, and a spectrum of emergent political affiliations, including various Labor and Greenback parties, Prohibition, Liberal, Independent, Citizens’, Peoples’ parties and both regular and varietal Republicans and Democrats. The party ticket evolved into such an familiar form that it would even be mocked through caricature. And then it became much the official ballot, much more private, and consequently much less interesting.








Election tickets from 1800, 1829, 1848, n.d., n.d., 1870, 1876, 1883, n.d, and n.d., all Courtesy, American Antiquarian Society and available here.

5 responses to “That’s the Ticket

  • helenbreen01

    Donna, what a great piece – colorful and timely. Wonderful that you can access these treasures from the Antiquarian Society on line.

    Thanks so much…

  • Laura Graham

    Very interesting! And thank you as always for this treasure of a blog! History is the perfect place to go, because it allows us to zoom out, widen the frame, and gives us some relief from the claustrophobic worries of, ahem, current affairs. It provides enjoyment and comfort, and increases our understanding–and yet without requiring us to put our heads in the sand!! Lots of history coming up 🙂

  • Laura Graham

    And speaking of history Too bad have to wait till 2020 for the exhibition!

  • Brian Bixby

    Your first ballot raises an interesting question: when did Presidential election ballots stop listing the slate of electors and instead just listed the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates? I know it was an uneven process, because there were still states in my youth that listed the electors.

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