Voting Matters

I am very, very anxious about the election and can think of little else. I have enough of a historian’s sensibility, of a human’s sensibility, to know that this is the most momentous election of my life. Of course there is little that I can do–other than donate and vote–so I have been appeasing my anxieties in my usual way: by reading about elections past. It has also helped me to read and listen to Boston College history professor Heather Cox Richardson, who has been putting the current situation in a comprehensive historical context for months now: talk about commitment! I have learned a lot about American history during this whole blogging experience, but I think I’ve learned more in the last 6 months than the past ten years: the problem is, I’ve been looking for the comfort of we’ve been here before but I seem to be surmising that many aspects of our current situation are truly aberrant! Apart from the search for context, there is just something very interesting about the logistics and detritus of elections past: in this digital age, we don’t have enough electoral texture. So here are just a few items that caught by eye.

Early Election Ballots: I love browsing through the early election ballots at the American Antiquarian Society: if you don’t understand the Electoral College—they are rather clear illustrations: also of the evolving concept of the ticket. Plus it’s interesting to see the emergence and disappearance of various political parties.

Mass Appeal: I love this flyer for Nathaniel Prentice Banks (also from the American Antiquarian Society), who was running for a Massachusetts congressional seat in the election of 1852. I don’t know if you can read it all, but he is appealing to all different sorts of men—mechanics, young men, middle-aged men and veterans! Plus he courts the ladies, and exhorts them to “stir up” their men!


Voting by Mail: since 1864. Very American. Poll Book from the Smithsonian Institution.


Poll Taxes! Who knew? I associated poll taxes with the segregated South, but in fact, people had to pay them right here in Massachusetts, and in other states as well, right up to the ratification of the 24th amendment in 1964! Imagine paying to vote. Imagine being an active suffragist, working your whole life for the voting rights of women, all women, and even after enfranchisement this barrier is still there! There were a few snarky articles published in the Boston papers right after the ratification of the 19th amendment in which the theory was put out there that perhaps women wouldn’t want to vote as they would have to tell the poll tax assessor their true ages! Unbelievable!


A Salem Parade Flag. Just because it must have been fun to see election parades, which I assume must have brought people together, but perhaps not. 13-star flag used in 1896 Salem parade, Cowan’s Auctions.

Pinback Buttons! Never can get enough of these: most are Roosevelt and McKinley, 1900 & 1904, from the Smithsonian; the Citizen pin is from 1915-20 and the Ann Lewis Suffrage Collection. I love the sentiment of Vote as you please but please vote.


A flyer from Margaret Chase Smith’s presidential campaign, 1964 (Smithsonian Collection). Because Margaret Chase Smith. And that’s as close as I am getting to our present time.

10 responses to “Voting Matters

  • Nancy

    I must say, where are you, Margaret Chase Smith, when we need you…
    A Republican all my life, I know that the current Republican Party does not resemble the ethics I have long held. She reminds us from the grave to be vigilant, and not to blindly cling to a candidate out of political worship.

    • daseger

      I know; we really could have used her these past few years; I have no doubt she would have been her strong and independent self even in this toxic context.

  • fbradkingFrancie King

    I could NOT agree more about Heather Cox Richardson! I read her blog every day and have learned more about our democratic process than I ever did in school. She is a committed historian and journalist and if you read nothing else (except of course StreetsofSalem!) from now until election day, you will be an enlightened citizen indeed.

    • daseger

      Thanks for the plug, Francie but no comparison; I cannot believe how much she has given us this year. The summaries, the details, the context! I agree with you: she’s all we need.

  • jane radocchia

    Yes, we are anxious. We are fragile even as we work to be strong, kind and keep on.
    I find many people found Heather Cox Richardson’s blog and passed it on. A friend of my daughter told me I needed to read it! She gives us context and words. Like you I spend time on my research and writing – it keeps me sane as i listen and wait.
    Thanks for voicing your fears and posting good stuff: the poll tax and Margaret Chase Smith, especially.

  • jane radocchia

    Thanks for speaking your anxiety. I think we are all on edge. It’s good top say so outloud!
    I too have focused on research – partly because I can immerse myself in it and at least have something that matters to me accomplished.
    I was introduced to Heather Cox Richardson by a young friend, and then discovered how many people I knew so valued her knowledge.
    I enjoyed all of this post – but especially your inclusion of the poll tax and Margaret Chase Smith.

  • Helen Breen

    Hi Donna,

    I think we can all agree – “this is the most momentous election of my life.”

    Again, you are great at finding this political ephemera to provide historical context. Kudos to the American Antiquarian Society for preserving these treasures.

    Wake me when it’s over!

  • Brian Bixby

    I’ve just been teaching an adult education course on electing the President, featuring everyone’s favorite: the Electoral College. It is certainly among my liveliest classes, because people DO want to understand how our government works, or doesn’t. And naturally, I spent much of the last class explaining as much as anyone can about the possibilities in Pennsylvania.

    I’ve voted; I imagine you have or will. Best to us and our nation!

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