Electoral Ephemera Euphoria/Escapism

I’m still very preoccupied with the large collection of nineteenth-century ballots at the American Antiquarian Society: if I had time I would drive down to Worcester and immerse myself in the real paper; because I do not, I have to settle for digital immersion. Every little slip/image fascinates me–I woke up at 4:00 the night before last thinking why is the image of an upside-down chained beast associated with the movement AGAINST the incorporation of Boston as a city in 1822? Would livestock no longer be able to roam freely on the Common? That was my 4:00 am thought, but in the light of morning I realized the image probably had a more metaphorical meaning.



I still don’t know what the symbol of the chained beast means, but these particular ballot tickets represent the failing side: Boston did indeed become a city in 1822. So today, I’m going to focus on referenda, something we should all be familiar with as I believe nearly every state has ballot questions to decide on Election Day. Here in Massachusetts, our measures pertain to: 1) slot licenses; 2) charter schools; 3) the containment of farm animals (here we are, back to the chained beast!); and 4) recreational use of marijuana. In the nineteenth century, it was all about municipal incorporations, infrastructure, and above all, liquor. And taxation, of course: you know that old saying about death and taxes.







Some of these private party tickets offered a public service by reminding voters when the polls were open–and where they where. Vote early [vote often?] and vote no.


This last ticket obvious refers to the presidential election rather than a contemporary referendum, but I had to include it because it’s just so great: eminent historian George Bancroft weighing in on the [1864?] election. Imagine a world where an historian’s words could sway votes!


All images courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society: their digitized collection of nineteenth-century electoral ballots and ephemera can be found here.

4 responses to “Electoral Ephemera Euphoria/Escapism

  • New England Nomad

    I had the same thought when I first saw the image of the tied up beast. If it was a ballot measure I would definitely voted against it! I actually wish they let us vote on some oof the measures they did back then. Now, it seems legislators (who we duly elect) vote on most of those issues.

  • julia fogg

    Yes, chains how appropriate for all of us both sides of the pond. Such is freedom.

  • mfearing

    As for the chained cow, my ignorance and/or modern sensibility is having a difficult time guessing which way the metaphor should go! Is ‘chaining the beast’ mean controlling the wildness of not having a true city government or is creating a city government ‘cruel and uneeded’ while it restrains the impulses that it should be serving?

    Having voted in states where ballot measures were rare and states where we have WAY too many I actually wish most of the issues would be settled by elected officials for a long list of reasons. And only one of them has to do with the time it takes me to read though the pages of info. Can’t we elect people better suited than me to decide these things? For the same reason I prefer going to a Dr. so I don’t have to diagnose and prescribe medications myself.

  • helenbreen01

    Hi Donna, more great stuff for the season. Really like the one with the bell ringer. Thanks for digging up these images…

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