Nov 4, 2008

From The New Yorker

A little history lesson about how tough it used to be to vote. Makes me feel like I don't deserve the privilage.

Read the entire column here.

Rock, Paper, Scissors
How we used to vote.
On the morning of November 2, 1859—Election Day—George Kyle, a merchant with the Baltimore firm of Dinsmore & Kyle, left his house with a bundle of ballots tucked under his arm. Kyle was a Democrat. As he neared the polls in the city’s Fifteenth Ward, which was heavily dominated by the American Party, a ruffian tried to snatch his ballots. Kyle dodged and wheeled, and heard a cry: his brother, just behind him, had been struck. Next, someone clobbered Kyle, who drew a knife, but didn’t have a chance to use it. “I felt a pistol put to my head,” he said. Grazed by a bullet, he fell. When he rose, he drew his own pistol, hidden in his pocket. He spied his brother lying in the street. Someone else fired a shot, hitting Kyle in the arm. A man carrying a musket rushed at him. Another threw a brick, knocking him off his feet. George Kyle picked himself up and ran. He never did cast his vote. Nor did his brother, who died of his wounds. The Democratic candidate for Congress, William Harrison, lost to the American Party’s Henry Winter Davis. Three months later, when the House of Representatives convened hearings into the election, whose result Harrison contested, Davis’s victory was upheld on the ground that any “man of ordinary courage” could have made his way to the polls.

Voting in America, it’s fair to say, used to be different. “Are you not a man in the full vigor of manhood and strength?” a member of the House Committee on Elections asked another Harrison supporter who, like Kyle, went to the polls but turned back without voting (and who happened to stand six feet and weigh more than two hundred pounds). The hearings established a precedent. “To vacate an election,” an election-law textbook subsequently advised, “it must clearly appear that there was such a display of force as ought to have intimidated men of ordinary firmness.”


  1. I have been getting highly pissed off at the dirty tricks that are going in to try to get people not to vote. We may have cut down on the overt violence but the mind games go on.

  2. A lady sitting next to me last night watching the results come in received a text message. "Due to long lines at polling places in Iowa Obama urges supporters to vote Wednesday, November 5th." We laughed at that for a moment, then we all started to wonder how many people would actually believe that and stay home...

  3. Good Lord! All I had to do was shove a few old ladys out of the way! Good thing they weren't packing heat!


  4. Great post. It certainly does make one think.

  5. Um... "men of ordinary firmness"? You don't expect me to let that one go by do you?

  6. Great post. Certainly gives one pause. Although, I also giggled out loud at "men of ordinary firmness."