These Historic Elections Were Tainted by Fraud and Voter Irregularities
These Historic Elections Were Tainted by Fraud and Voter Irregularities

These Historic Elections Were Tainted by Fraud and Voter Irregularities

Larry Holzwarth - October 22, 2019

The American electoral process has a long and often ignored history of various shenanigans manipulating the role of the voter in the democratic process. It is widely believed that English settlers brought the democratic process to the shores of North America though they did not. The regions of North America first settled by the English – Virginia and Massachusetts – were both peopled by tribes which used forms of representative government when the Europeans arrived. Voting in Colonial America became a practice performed by men, and rapidly involved into one in which only property owners participated.

These Historic Elections Were Tainted by Fraud and Voter Irregularities
Voting was limited to the landed gentry in Colonial Virginia from the earliest days of English settlement. Wikimedia

Voting was at first by voice, in an open setting, before all other voters and witnesses. This continued to be the practice when the people voted for representatives and when those representatives voted in open session. Gradually, as settlements grew larger, polling places were established where the people gathered to express their views in the form of a vote, often as part of another celebration. As the election process became more complex, corruption entered therein, in many forms. Here are examples of voter fraud and election manipulation from American history.

These Historic Elections Were Tainted by Fraud and Voter Irregularities
The Mayflower Compact was a contract to abide by locally created laws, signed by all men of the Colony in 1620. Library of Congress

1. The Mayflower Compact was not voted upon, but all male adult Pilgrims were required to sign

The Mayflower Compact, drawn up as an agreement by the adult male members of the party of Pilgrims in 1620, is often referred to as the first document in America to reflect democratic government. Recognizing that they were not under the sphere of the Virginia Company, which had been their plan when they departed from England, the Pilgrims decided that they needed a pact which would allow them to create their own laws, in accordance with those of the King of England, for the local governance of the fledgling colony.

The Mayflower Compact was more of a mandate by the leaders of the Pilgrims, which stated that the colony reserved the right to create local laws and regulate the behavior of the colonists. Once placed on paper, all adult males of the settlement were required to sign it, signifying that they were obligated to follow the laws thus established. There was no vote, and very little debate. The pact meant that the settlers, and their families, were to follow the rules which the local leaders established as being best for all, and failure to agree meant a return to England in Mayflower, which nobody at the time had much interest in doing.

These Historic Elections Were Tainted by Fraud and Voter Irregularities
John Smith was denied his seat at council and his right to vote upon arrival in Jamestown. Wikimedia

2. Early American voting was limited to men with property

When the English arrived at Jamestown in 1607, they carried with them a sealed box they were to open upon landing. In it was a list of seven men, whom the colony’s investors in England had selected to serve as the local council for the settlement. The seven councilmen were directed to decide among them which of them was to serve as president of the colony. Captain John Smith was one of the seven, but he was denied his seat on the council because he was under suspicion of mutiny during the voyage to Virginia. Edward Maria Wingfield was selected by the council as the first president of Virginia.

It was over a decade later when the first elected assembly was created in Virginia, which by then had twenty-one settlements and corporations, with the non-incorporated settlements called plantations (Williamsburg was originally known as Middle Plantation). In most colonies, including Virginia, the local officials who administered voting were appointed by the governors rather than elected, and in most colonies the governors held a royal appointment from the King of England. Voting was conducted publicly, and votes which displeased royal authority were accordingly rare.

These Historic Elections Were Tainted by Fraud and Voter Irregularities
Many seats in Virginia’s House of Burgesses were purchased by plying the voters with alcohol. Library of Congress

3. Buying votes with alcohol became a widely accepted practice before the American Revolution.

In 1755 a young (23) Virginia planter and well-known surveyor named George Washington stood for his first elective office. Virginia counties sent two men to the legislature, which remained in session until the governor dissolved it, meaning the terms were of varying length according to the governor’s whim. There were three candidates for the two seats from Frederick County, and Washington finished third. He polled 40 votes out of the total 581 cast. As would any aspiring politician, he immediately consulted aides to analyze the reasons for his defeat.

When he ran a second time, in 1758, Washington was one of four candidates vying for the two seats. His “campaign” was run by his friend, militia colonel James Wood. Wood arranged and Washington paid for roughly 160 gallons of alcohol in several forms to be available for voters to consume at the polls, a step Washington had omitted in his previous attempt to win office. In the election, Washington led all candidates with just over 39% of the total votes. He won re-election in 1761 using the same campaign measures. His only other elections were for President of the United States, when he was elected unanimously twice by the Electoral College.

These Historic Elections Were Tainted by Fraud and Voter Irregularities
Despite his less than admirable reputation, a bust of Aaron Burr is displayed in the US Capitol. US Senate

4. New York led in the development of vote manipulation under George Clinton

New York elected a governor and lieutenant-governor in statewide elections beginning in 1777, and continued to do so every three years under the Articles of Confederation. Two New York men rose to national political prominence, Aaron Burr and George Clinton. Clinton vehemently opposed the Constitution and fought against its ratification, fearful that it granted too much power to the federal government at the expense of the states. His opposition took the form of verbal arguments, written documents for publication, and controlling the voting in New York.

Under Clinton, elections were controlled by moving the locations of the polling sites, in some districts, under the supervision of local sheriffs. New York was among the states which altered the requirement to own property in order to vote, (freeholds) and considered any object upon which taxes were paid when bought or sold, such as horses, as sufficient evidence of the owner’s right to vote. In some districts where Clinton supporters were prominent, tolls paid to use ferries and bridges were considered taxes. Clinton eventually served as the fourth vice-president under Thomas Jefferson.

These Historic Elections Were Tainted by Fraud and Voter Irregularities
It took political subterfuge denying the people’s vote to ratify John Adams’ Constitution for Massachusetts. White House

5. The Constitution of Massachusetts was ratified by ignoring changes demanded by the people

The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is the oldest written constitution in continuous effect to be found anywhere in the world. It was written largely by John Adams, with work on the document beginning in 1777, and finally ratified by the state legislature in 1780. It was adopted as the model, in terms of style and format, for the Constitution of the United States in 1787. Officially it was ratified by the people, who voted on it in town meetings, but in truth the changes made by the people during the ratification process were ignored when it was officially voted upon by the convention which wrote the document.

When the document was sent to the people, many towns and local governments wrote amendments, which they then voted upon, approving the constitution as amended. The convention then counted the votes for each section, noting that the section had been approved but ignoring the amendments which had led to approval. This meant that several sections of the document were in fact not approved by the people described in the preamble as the “Inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts”. The Constitution took effect on October 25, 1780.

These Historic Elections Were Tainted by Fraud and Voter Irregularities
Before the Constitution, religious tests were applied to restrict some from voting. Library of Congress

6. Religious tests were considered as part of the right to vote, disqualifying some voters

In colonial America several of the colonies excluded members of certain religions from voting, including Quakers, Jews, and in many cases Catholics. The Delaware state constitution of 1776 required all elected or appointed to any public office to take an oath professing a belief in the Holy Trinity of Christianity (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost). The Constitution of the United States explicitly denies any religious test as a requirement for public office (Article Six) but was silent as originally written as to the application of the same standard to voting.

For decades, Jews were prevented from voting not by law but by electoral practice. Polls were established in some jurisdictions, including New York City, on Friday evenings after the Sabbath had begun, or on Saturdays, under the guise of making it easier for workers to vote. The practice continued after voter registration took hold, with Saturday being the day of registration. In areas where a substantial Jewish turnout was beneficial to a candidate, the practice was changed to accommodate Jewish voters. Vote manipulation by changing the day of election was commonplace throughout the young republic.

These Historic Elections Were Tainted by Fraud and Voter Irregularities
The debate over ratification of the Constitution and its implementation led to factions which became political parties. Library of Congress

7. Political parties led to the manipulation of voters and outright voter fraud

America’s founders did not envision the development of partisan political parties in the United States, and the Constitution was not designed to accommodate a party system. As originally written the offices of President and Vice-President were to be filled by the two leading candidates in an election, who were likely to hold opposing views on several issues. The debate over ratification led to the development of groups, one of which supported a powerful federal government, the other to the bulk of power remaining with the states.

The emergence of political parties during the second administration of George Washington led to changes in the electoral system throughout the country. The party in power in local elections dictated how the elections were to be run, how long the polls were to be open, who could vote when they showed up at the polls, the design of ballots once they came into use, and how the ballots were counted. Beginning with the election of John Adams party members altered the results of voters at the polls in a variety of ways, which by the middle of the 19th century had became a science.

These Historic Elections Were Tainted by Fraud and Voter Irregularities
The Founders did not consider the emergence of political parties when framing the checks and balances of the federal government. Wikimedia

8. The emergence of parties deviated from the separation of powers in the Constitution

The checks and balances between the three branches of government defined by the Constitution (legislative, executive, and judicial) were threatened by the development of political parties, when one party achieved control of two of the branches. The Whig Party, which developed in the early 19th century, was the first American political party to firmly ally itself with what was at the time big business and commercial finance. As such it used its alliance to control voting in the large cities and the growing industrial centers.

The Whigs enacted laws which protected American industry through tariffs and trade restrictions, in return for cooperation from the protected in the form of voter support. In the days when ballots were openly displayed rather than cast in secret, employees were often threatened with the loss of their jobs if they failed to vote as their employer directed. Often employees were not released to vote at all, as political appointees manipulated the polling hours. In return, government contracts were awarded to co-operative businesses. Political parties also moved to control the media of the day – the newspapers and magazines.

These Historic Elections Were Tainted by Fraud and Voter Irregularities
Andrew Jackson readily won the popular vote in 1824, but was denied office by the House of Representatives. Library of Congress

9. The “Corrupt Bargain” of 1824 saw the President elected by Congress

In the presidential election in 1824 the American people gave 41.4% of the vote to Andrew Jackson. The closest candidate to Jackson’s total was John Quincy Adams, who held about 31%. The other candidates for president were Henry Clay and William Crawford, neither of whom managed to reach 15%. With none of the candidates reaching the required number of electoral votes the election was thrown to the United States House of Representatives. Interestingly, all four candidates were from the Democratic-Republican Party, and John C. Calhoun won the office of Vice-President before a new president was elected.

In the House, Henry Clay, who was not eligible for the special election, gave his support to John Quincy Adams, after party leaders agreed that he was the better candidate for the highest office. Clay was rewarded with the office of Secretary of State by President Adams, who was selected in the House election on February 9, 1825, annulling the votes cast by the people for Andrew Jackson. With the Democratic-Republicans in control of the House the decision to make John Quincy Adams was made by party leaders, rather than the democratic process.

These Historic Elections Were Tainted by Fraud and Voter Irregularities
Tammany Hall became a symbol of government corruption and voter manipulation in the 19th century. Wikimedia

10. The emergence of political machines in the United States

In 1789 a New York City furniture dealer founded a secret society he named the Society of Saint Tammany. One of its earliest leaders was Aaron Burr. The society was divided into thirteen tribes across New York, each led by a sachem, and its members were mostly working class. They opposed what was seen as the elitist policies espoused by Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists. The sachems were the forerunners of what became ward bosses. The society took hold by offering shelter and work for immigrants which began to arrive in New York in large numbers in the 1820s.

New York City officials were for the most part appointed by the state government in Albany, which used Tammany as a means of distributing political largesse until the late 1830s. By 1850 New York City had a city council of 20 alderman, supported by 20 assistant aldermen, and in 1851 Tammany members took control of both. They became known in the city as the 40 Thieves. Control of voting in New York was firmly in the hands of Tammany Hall, as it came to be known, whose members decided who was elected as well as appointed to nearly all government jobs in the city. Tammany allied itself with the new Republican party in power in Albany.

These Historic Elections Were Tainted by Fraud and Voter Irregularities
Tammany Boss Richard Croker depicted as an octopus, with its tentacles grasping offices of government. Wikimedia

11. The rise of Tammany Hall and the Republican Party

Tammany Hall and the Republican Party became thoroughly entwined in the late 1850s, and in 1857 the Republican dominated state government recreated the government of New York City. Positions in the city government became appointed by Albany. Metropolitan police, fire, and health boards were created, their members appointed by the governor. A city Board of Supervisors was also created. Tammany members began to shift their support to Democrats within the city and gradually power within New York politics was drawn away from the Republicans.

Tammany controlled virtually all elements of the electoral process in New York City by the time of the Civil War, and by 1868 it gained control of the state government in Albany. Among its many weapons was the fraudulent conduct of elections, under the control of its ward bosses, including repeated voting, shifting voters between wards, fraudulent naturalization papers for immigrants which allowed them to vote, the destruction of opposition ballots, and simply changing vote counts. By 1868, New York was controlled by Tammany Hall and its head sachem, a man known as Boss Tweed.

These Historic Elections Were Tainted by Fraud and Voter Irregularities
The Tammany model appeared in political machines in cities and counties across the United States. Wikimedia

12. Tammany Hall was the model for machines in other cities

By the end of the Civil War, with the nation’s attention focused on Reconstruction, major cities in the north came under the domination of political machines which ignored voter’s rights. Throughout the Gilded Age, political machines grew in the north and in the rebuilding cities and counties in the south. They all worked for the most part on the Tammany model, enriching politicians and machine members through graft at the expense of the taxpayers. The machines even influenced the federal government through a civil service system based on political patronage.

The machines controlled not only the voters within their districts but the voting process, working hand-in-hand with the political party with which they were allied to establish polling places, print ballots, count ballots, and establish who could and could not vote. Their activities included presidential elections. The results of elections were often preordained by machine politics. In some cases, ward heelers – so called because they brought the voters to heel – were told in advance how many votes would be needed, and they ensured that the required number was met.

These Historic Elections Were Tainted by Fraud and Voter Irregularities
Fraudulent elections were the norm in the Kansas Territory during the pre-Civil War period. Wikimedia

13. Bleeding Kansas was largely the result of voter manipulation

From 1854 to 1861 the territory of Kansas was torn with sectional strife over the issue of whether it was to be admitted to the Union as a slave state or a free state. During the period both abolitionists from the North and slavery supporters from the South violated the process of popular sovereignty – meaning the issue was to be decided by the people of Kansas – by participating in fraudulent elections and voter fraud. Non-residents of the territory were exhorted to cross the borders and participate in Kansas voting, an act acknowledged and winked at by two Presidents, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan.

Voters from Missouri (slave) crossed to help ensure Kansas became a slave state. Voters from the north did the same in the hope of achieving the opposite. In 1855 a congressional delegation investigating voter fraud in Kansas reported more illegal votes had been cast than legal, by a wide margin. The fraudulent elections were soon displaced in the national attention by the open violence which raged in Kansas. Among the violence was voter intimidation practiced by both sides. Virtually every instance of voting during the seven-year period known as Bleeding Kansas contained elements of fraud, voter manipulation, and illegal voting.

These Historic Elections Were Tainted by Fraud and Voter Irregularities
Reports of fraud in the election of 1876 were common even before the ballots were collected. Wikimedia

14. The fraudulent Presidential election of 1876

Only once in American history (as of this writing) has a candidate for president achieved an outright majority of the popular vote and failed to win the office. In 1876 Samuel J. Tilden, a Democrat, achieved 50.9% of the popular vote. His Republican opponent, Rutherford B. Hayes, won 47.9%. Yet in an election still closely studied for its many instances of outright fraud, Hayes became the 19th President of the United States. Neither candidate initially had sufficient votes to win the electoral college, Tilden had 184 (needing 185) and Hayes had 165. Twenty electoral votes were disputed.

According to the Constitution the election should have been decided by a contingent election in the House, as had the election of 1824. Congress instead decided to resolve the issue of the contested electoral votes, most of which were claimed by both sides in the election. The issue centered on four states; South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana, all of which were still subject to Reconstruction, and Oregon, a state in which Hayes had clearly won the popular vote. As Congress opened its investigation, Tilden needed but one of the twenty disputed votes to win the presidency.

These Historic Elections Were Tainted by Fraud and Voter Irregularities
The election of 1876 featured the highest percentage of voter turnout in American history. Wikimedia

15. The election of 1876 saw the highest percentage of eligible voter turnout in American history

Besides being known for its controversial outcome, the election of 1876 featured the highest voter turnout in American history, with just over 80% of voters casting ballots. Or did it? One of the discoveries by those investigating the votes in the disputed states was that based on the number of ballots cast in South Carolina, 101% of voters showed up at the polls, an obvious problem. Another problem was that the political parties printed the ballots to be used by their voters, and Democrats in South Carolina ensured that a picture of Abraham Lincoln – the symbol of the Republican Party – appeared on their ballots, hoping to fool illiterate voters.

Undisputed electoral votes were obtained by dubious means as well, in the newly accepted state of Colorado. Colorado had been admitted into the Union in August and had not had the time to install the machinery of a presidential election, according to its governor, an appointed Republican. Colorado’s state legislature selected its electors, all three of whom were Republicans, and they awarded the states electoral votes to the Republican candidate, Hayes. It was to date the last time presidential electors were selected without the input of a popular vote.

These Historic Elections Were Tainted by Fraud and Voter Irregularities
The United States celebrated its Centennial just months before the contentious and divisive election of 1876. Wikimedia

16. The Election Commission of 1877

The four contested states each decided that despite the results of the popular vote, there was evidence of vote manipulation, particularly in the southern states, sufficient to award all of the disputed electoral votes to Hayes. The Democrats disagreed fiercely, particularly in the House of Representatives, where they held a majority. The threat of filibustering the official counting of the votes and delaying the inauguration of the president presented a constitutional crisis, as the term of the sitting president, Ulysses Grant, expired as mandated by the Constitution.

The Election commission was comprised of five members each from the House, Senate and Supreme Court. There were 8 Republicans and 7 Democrats. Each of the disputed electoral votes were examined and voted upon by the commission, which voted 8-7 in every case, along party lines, to award the votes to Hayes. It found each of them to be legitimate, despite evidence Tilden had carried the states in at least two (South Carolina and Louisiana). The results of the Election Commission did little to quell the anger of the Democrats over the fraudulent selection of Hayes, and filibuster still loomed.

These Historic Elections Were Tainted by Fraud and Voter Irregularities
Joseph Philo Bradley was one of many politicians who were awarded for their support of Hayes. Wikimedia

17. Hayes was finally elected through backroom deals in Congress

As the date for Hayes’s inauguration loomed, leaders of both parties caucused in Washington, arranging a deal through which the Democrats would accept Hayes as president. The deal was never documented or voted upon by Congress. It was agreed that the incoming administration would remove the federal troops still in the South and end Reconstruction, in return for the Democrats in the House dropping their resistance to counting the electoral ballots and certifying the election of Rutherford B. Hayes. They also agreed to allow the Commission to state that Hayes had carried South Carolina by 889 votes.

The deal thus struck led to the Democrats seizing power in the southern states, the establishment of Jim Crow laws in the former Confederacy, and a solidly Democratic south for decades. Not until 1964 would a Republican candidate for president carry the state of South Carolina. Rutherford B. Hayes was identified as “His Fraudulency” in the Democratic press for the remainder of his single term. In the end the election was decided in the House, but through backroom deals rather than the contingent election ordained by the Founders when they created the Constitution.

These Historic Elections Were Tainted by Fraud and Voter Irregularities
Following the election of Hayes, the Jim Crow era, with its “separate but equal” policies, emerged in the South. Wikimedia

18. Voter suppression in the Jim Crow South

The election of 1876 ushered in the era of Jim Crow in the states of the former Confederacy. The principle of “separate but equal” took hold in the South, was initially upheld in the courts, and Southern Democrats installed a grip on elected power in the region which lasted for ninety years. Democrat controlled legislatures and statehouses passed laws which severely restricted voting rights. In Louisiana by the end of the century, less than one half of one percent of black adults in the state were allowed to vote, due to poll taxes, literacy tests, and other devices which disenfranchised them.

The poll taxes restricted the right to vote among poor whites as well. Attempts to remove the restrictions through action at the federal level in the halls of congress were blocked by the solid Democratic voting group from across the south. In some southern states the Jim Crow laws were grandfathered, meaning that some who had voted during Reconstruction lost the right to vote they had previously exercised (though by no means all, in some states they were allowed to vote). The laws remained in effect through the early 1960s and were finally overturned through the Civil Rights Act of 1965, pushed through Congress by President Johnson.

These Historic Elections Were Tainted by Fraud and Voter Irregularities
Voter suppression and ignoring black votes allowed segregation to remain for decades. Wikimedia

19. Vote counting has been problematic throughout American history

In elections throughout the United States, counting votes was historically a problem. In small communities where voting was done openly and by voice, the count was a matter of public knowledge. Altering the count of the voters who arrived at the polls and spoke their vote was a virtual impossibility as long as those watching knew how to count. Paper ballots made the system less reliable, as they were collected in various locations and either counted there, or sent to another location for tabulation. Ballot boxes were “lost” or the votes within were easily modified by addition or subtraction.

In some elections, decisions were made by those responsible to simply discard ballots, under various excuses such as claiming they were improperly filled out, not signed, or were not the official ballot designated for use in the election. In nearly all locations until early in the 20th century, election officials were appointed by the political party in power at the time of the election, often the local sheriff. In larger cities and some states, election boards under various names were responsible for certifying the results of the public’s voting. Simply ignoring the correct count was not unheard of, at all levels of the electoral process.

These Historic Elections Were Tainted by Fraud and Voter Irregularities
As President Rutherford B. Hayes dispensed patronage jobs with gusto duing his single term. White House

20. A congressional committee investigated the election of 1876

Following the debacle which ultimately led to Rutherford B. Hayes entering the White House, Congress established a special committee, chaired by a Democrat and consisting of 11 members. The purpose of the committee was to investigate the many allegations of fraud and vote manipulation which marked the election. The committee rapidly degenerated into partisan bickering, but despite allegations from both sides, it could not formally establish that either candidate had been personally involved in any wrongdoing. Meanwhile Hayes awarded several of his supporters in the dispute with federal offices, including that of Secretary of State and a seat on the Supreme Court (Justice Stanley Matthews).

The committee confirmed that of the counties and cities nationwide reporting results in the election, Tilden won over 57%, yet it also found, with the commission which had preceded it, that Hayes had been the winner and would have won if their had not been the level of voter intimidation and fraud which it admitted had occurred. The dispute did not end there, and it remains the most questionable election in American history on the national level. Despite the widespread fraud, vote manipulation, voter turnouts which exceed 100% in some areas, and other indications of corruption, little was done to establish reform in American elections during the Hayes Administration. He chose not to run for a second term.

These Historic Elections Were Tainted by Fraud and Voter Irregularities
Lionel Sackville-West (right) was tricked into writing a letter claiming Cleveland was the choice of the British government. Wikimedia

21. The Murchison letter and the introduction of foreign influence in American elections

During the election of 1888, a contest between incumbent Democrat Grover Cleveland and Republican challenger Benjamin Harrison, a letter appeared in newspapers nationwide from the British ambassador, Lionel Sackville-West, addressed to Charles F. Murchison. It clearly stated the British government preferred Cleveland be elected over Harrison, as he was more likely to ease trade restrictions between the two countries and with Canada. The letter appeared two weeks before election day, and had the effect of turning the Irish-American vote in several major cities against Cleveland. Then it was revealed that the letter had been solicited by a Republican operative.

The operative, George Osgoodby, had written to the Ambassador, identified himself as Murchison, and claimed to be an expatriate Englishman living in California. He asked the Ambassador for advice on which way to vote so as to best benefit Great Britain. Once he had the reply in hand he distributed it to the newspapers. After losing the election, Cleveland had the ambassador recalled in one of the last acts of his first administration. In interviews before his dismissal, Sackville-West defended his expression of his views, saying it was in the best interests of “Her Majesty” for him to address domestic politics in the land where he represented her government.

These Historic Elections Were Tainted by Fraud and Voter Irregularities
Fraudulent voting was supported by the Republican National Committee in Indiana in 1888. WIkimedia

22. Votes were bought in Indiana in the election of 1888

During the election of 1888 Republican candidate Benjamin Harrison was in jeopardy of losing the state of Indiana, his own home state and one critical to his campaign for office. The Treasurer of the Republican Party, W. W. Dudley, distributed a circular throughout the state in which he directed local operatives to, “Divide the floaters into blocks of five” and keep them under the supervision of a “trusted man with necessary funds” (floaters were voters known to sell their votes to either party). At the same time his candidate, Harrison, was campaigning in Indiana on the promise of an honest and open election.

The circular was discovered by a Cleveland supporter, and delivered to Democratic newspapers. When it was published Dudley, a former US Marshal (who had arrested several Democrats on charges of vote buying a decade earlier) filed suits for libel against all publishers. He also announced that the document was a forgery perpetrated by the Democrats and the Cleveland campaign. Harrison carried Indiana in the election, one which featured widespread voter fraud, vote buying, and illegal voting. Cleveland used his defeat to lead the charge to change the way Americans voted across the nation.

These Historic Elections Were Tainted by Fraud and Voter Irregularities
Grover Cleveland was re-elected to the presidency in 1892, the first election to feature the widespread use of secret ballots. White House

23. The implementation of the secret ballot, known as the Australian ballot.

During the election of 1888 the Commonwealth of Massachusetts used, for the first time, a method of voting known as the Australian ballot (the Jim Crow city of Louisville, Kentucky used it too). After his defeat, Grover Cleveland studied the use of the ballot and in 1889 he began to argue for its adoption throughout the United States, as a means of preventing debacles such as had occurred in 1876 and 1888. By the end of that year nine states, including Indiana, adopted the Australian ballot as the means of casting votes in their jurisdictions. Cleveland continued to build support for the nationwide use of the secret ballot.

In 1892 Cleveland ran for president a third time, and carried 23 states to Harrison’s 16 (a third candidate carried five states). Of the 44 states which made up the Union at the time, 39 used the Australian ballot Cleveland and others convinced the American electoral system needed reforming had pushed for. Among the states which used the secret ballot carried by Cleveland was Indiana, stolen from him four years earlier. Part of the reason for Cleveland’s win, however, was the solidly Democratic Jim Crow South, where so many likely Republican votes were suppressed by the laws designed to keep blacks from voting.

These Historic Elections Were Tainted by Fraud and Voter Irregularities
A young Lyndon Johnson shaking hands with FDR in 1937. Governor Allred of Texas stands between them. FDR Presidential Library

24. The legacy of George Parr and Landslide Lyndon

George Parr was the kingpin of a political machine which dominated Duval County, Texas, and a large part of neighboring Jim Wells County, in the early to mid-20th century. In 1932 he was convicted of income tax evasion. After serving less than a year in prison, he waited over a decade before soliciting a presidential pardon from Harry Truman. To overcome opposition, he enlisted the help of young Texas congressman Lyndon Johnson. Johnson in turn sought the assistance of prominent Dallas lawyer Tom Clark when the latter became Truman’s Attorney General in 1945. Parr was pardoned in 1946.

When Johnson ran in a Democratic senate primary election in 1948, a runoff with fellow Democrat Coke Stevenson, the initial returns showed the latter had won. Johnson had previously asked Parr and others of his cohorts to delay the returns from Duval and Jim Wells until it was known how many votes would be needed to overcome Stevenson’s lead. When the returns from Parr’s machine did come in, they were just sufficient to give Johnson the edge. Luis Salas, an election judge in Jim Wells County later admitted (1977) that under Parr’s direction he had personally created 202 fraudulent ballots to give Johnson the victory, which led to LBJ eventually becoming President of the United States, forever known as “landslide Lyndon”.

These Historic Elections Were Tainted by Fraud and Voter Irregularities
In private letters and his Farewell Address, Washington warned repeatedly of the perils of political parties to the American government and system. Wikimedia

25. The American party system created the means of developing fraudulent elections

The framers of the Constitution did not desire the development of political parties in the United States, believing that they had contributed to the corruption in the British government which had led in part to the American Revolution. The debate over ratification of the Constitution, and how it was to be interpreted led to the development of parties during the second administration of George Washington, which he viewed with dismay. Believing them to be the natural enemy of representative government, Washington took steps to warn his countrymen of their dangers, and in so doing predicted America’s political future.

In 1796, as he was preparing to leave office Washington wrote what he called the spirit of party, “serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against the other, foments occasionally riot and insurrection”. Washington believed and argued that the American government should function without partisan party politics, and doubted that it could function well with the divisions they caused. He remains the only President of the United States to have not been a member of a political party.

 

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Of Plymouth Plantation 1620 – 1647, by William Bradford”. Samuel Eliot Morison, 1952

“Voting in Early America”. Ed Crews, Colonial Williamsburg Journal. Spring, 2007. Online

“Swilling the Planters With Bumbo: When Booze Bought Elections”. Lisa Bramen, Smithsonian.com. October 20, 2010. Online

“Election Procedures and Practices in Colonial New York”. Nicholas Varga, New York History Journal. July, 1960. Online

“A History of the Constitution of Massachusetts”. Samuel Eliot Morison. 1917

“Religious Tests”. Essay, The Heritage Guide to the Constitution. Heritage.org. Online

“Formation of Political Parties”. Creating the United States, Library of Congress. Online

“What Can the Collapse of the Whig Party Tell Us About Today’s Politics?” Corey Brooks, Smithsonian.com. April 12, 2016

“The Most Fractured Election”. Fredric D. Schwarz, American Heritage Magazine. February/March, 2000

“The Corrupting of New York City”. Peter Baida, American Heritage Magazine. December, 1986

“The Story of Tammany Part I: How it was Made a Political Power”. Rufus Home, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. April, 1872

“The Story if Tammany Part II: How It Grew to Political Supremacy”. Rufus Home, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. May, 1872

“The Great Principle of Self-Government: Popular Sovereignty and Bleeding Kansas”. Nicole Etcheson, Kansas History. Spring-Summer, 2004

“Fraud of the Century: Rutherford B. Hayes, Samuel Tilden And the Stolen Election of 1876”. Roy Morris Jr. 2004

“First Governor, First Lady: John and Eliza Routt of Colorado”. Joyce B. Lohse. 2002

“Counting the Votes: South Carolina’s Stolen Election of 1876”. Ronald F. King, Journal of Interdisciplinary History. Autumn, 2001

“Centennial Crisis: The Disputed Election of 1876”. Justice William H. Rehnquist. 2004

“How not to count votes”. John Nagle, Columbia Law Review. 2004

“Electoral Count of 1877: Proceedings of the Electoral Commission and the Two Houses of Congress, etc”. U. S. Electoral Commission. 1877

“The fake letter historians believe tipped a presidential election”. Robert Mitchell, The Washington Post. June 21, 2018

“The Vote That Failed”. S. J. Ackerman, Smithsonian Magazine. November, 1998

“Investigative Classics: The Legacy of ‘Landslide Lyndon’ 1948”. Editors, Real Clear Investigations. November 11, 2018. Online

“Political Parties”. Article, George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Online

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