The DCA staff was overjoyed to see the announcement that Philip Lampi and Lois Gibbs are among the 2013 recipients of honorary degrees. Both Phil and Lois are amazing people who are hugely deserving of this honor, and they are near and dear to all of us at DCA.
Researcher Philip J. Lampi and project director John B. Hench of the American Antiquarian Society
As the New Nation Votes elections portal states, Philip J. Lampi has been collecting election returns for the past 45 years. His dedication and expertise in the area of Early American Politics has aided many contemporary scholars in their research at the Society. In the past, this body of election data was thought to be impossible to collect because of the vast and unwieldy nature of the unindexed newspapers and poor record keeping in this early period. He has received several grants over the years to assist him in his collecting. Under the current NEH grant, project staff and consultants at the American Antiquarian Society, DCA, and elsewhere are working to digitize a good portion of the tens of thousands of typed and handwritten tabulations and raw source materials that Lampi has accumulated as part of his life’s work. The project website will be updated frequently to monitor progress. The available election returns are fully searchable by such key index points as year, geographical constituency, office, names of candidates, and party labels.
Lois Gibbs is an environmental activist who formed the Love Canal Homeowners Association after discovering that her entire neighborhood of Love Canal, Niagara Falls, New York, had been built on a toxic waste dump which also included dioxin. Against strong opposition by local, state and federal government agencies and Occidental Petroleum, the organization succeeded and President Carter issued an Emergency Declaration in October 1980 to get 833 families evacuated and Love Canal cleaned up. Lois Gibbs and the association were instrumental in the establishment of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or Superfund. Gibbs founded the Citizens’ Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste, eventually Center for Health, Environment and Justice in 1980 to support and assist community groups and is its executive director. She has published about Love Canal and their efforts to get it cleaned up and a TV movie was made in called ‘Lois Gibbs: the Love Canal Story.’ Lois’ papers, as well as those of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice are held by the DCA. A new finding aid for the collection will be released in the next few weeks.
As we near the end of one of the saddest side effect of our beloved democracy — the every-four-years cycle of Americans thinking the worst of one another — I found myself with the need to reassure myself about human nature.
This I Believe was a radio program that Edward R Murrow hosted from 1951 to 1955, in which both famous and everyday people recorded short essays about their personal belief systems. We have many audio recordings from This I Believe in the TDL, and I found myself listening to them. So here are the living philosophies of some thoughtful men and women from the 1950s, presented because at least for today, they helped my life be richer, fuller, happier.
(You can also view all of the interviews in our new, beta digital library which gives you the option of reading the transcript on its own or watching it scroll with the audio. For example, this is the current digital library recording of Mrs. Philip W Pillsbury, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America‘s statement of faith in God. Here is Mrs. Philip W Pillsbury in our beta digital library. Play around, see what you can see! This site is beta, of course, so not everything is going to work.)
Here are a few interviews that stood out for me, presented in the non-beta, stable digital library.
If I could sum up what I believe in a single sentence, I think it would this: I believe in the future. […] I believe in the youth of our nation. For three decades, I have devoted all I can of time, effort, and money to young people’s groups and youth organizations. I believe that they are our brightest hope and promise for the future of America. I therefore feel that I should dedicate myself to their training with unstinting devotion.
One can find among all people and all religions the same love of truth and of freedom which leads towards peace. I, therefore, believe that through mutual understanding and fellowship will come universal brotherhood. I believe in removing the mental barriers between peoples and bringing them close to each other’s heart. Common fear and mistrust only come from ignorance, and the gulf can be bridged only by knowledge. I believe greater knowledge can create new bonds of trust and friendship among all peoples.
Gaganvihari Lallubhai Mehta
We must therefore cultivate a sense of proportion about men and affairs.
This sense of proportion would teach us a certain degree of self-restraint, moderation, and even a spirit of resignation in respect of things which cannot change and which must be endured. We must not presume that whatever little we might have achieved, it could all have been the result of our own efforts. I’m all the time conscious of the fact that what little I know is insignificant compared to what I do not know. I am aware that we can, if we will, learn something from everyone, and that we should be somewhat modest in trying to teach and preach. We should be less strict in judging others and less lenient in judging ourselves.
Contemplation of the great human achievements through the ages is helpful to me in moments of despair and doubt. Human meanness and folly then seem less important. Humanity has but a short history of civilized life, and the hope for greater wisdom must resign itself to a fairly distant future. Gone are the somewhat Utopian hopes of my youth, the belief in rapid, continuous progress. Hope remains, but the timescale has widened.
Henderson Suplee, Jr.
As I think about it, I have realized that even my community activities have been motivated by a strong conviction of the part that opportunity plays in our way of life. For example, most people refer to hospitals and related social agencies as “charities.” Some time ago, I began to work for these institutions and they ceased to have, for me, the patronizing significance we associate with the term “charity.” Instead, I see them as necessary parts in the pattern of a community. Without them, a large city simply couldn’t cope with its human problems.
Through our great networks of privately supported agencies, opportunity is preserved for countless people to achieve normal and useful lives. Believing, as I do, that this preservation of opportunity is vital to our system, I not only feel a responsibility but find satisfaction in helping with such enterprises. Somehow there is ample reward from the sense of better balance in my personal life and a sense of belonging to my community.
In our daily lives, we must earnestly try to replace the distrust and suspicion that are everywhere with trust and mutual confidence. We must remember that the hostilities and aggressions that flare so readily result from our tempo and our way of life, and we must try to meet them with understanding and constructive action.
As I work in my office in the tallest building in New York, I feel that the architects of Manhattan have a lesson to teach to all men in all nations: We can and should expand skywards and not sideways. War and political domination are born of sideways expansion. Class strife, racketeering, and corruption are also born of sideways expansion. With the aid of modern science and technology, individuals and nations, by the proper development of their faculties and resources, can achieve a well being with the sky as the limit. I never cease admiring Switzerland and Denmark, countries which have managed to achieve not only a high standard of living, but a high standard of culture, in spite of material limitations.
In face of wars and rumors of wars, of the atomic bomb and Communism, I remain a moderate optimist. Without trying to prophesize that a third World War is out of the question, I believe that mankind has hopes for world peace—if not in the immediate future, then probably within a matter of decades. I watched the rise of the military clique in Japan and of the Nazis in Germany in the 30s. I derive some comfort from the fact that the Japanese militaries and the Nazis only succeeded in unleashing war after they have suppressed freedom at home. This fact points out to me that in the promotion of human freedom, we have a sure road to peace. As a diplomat, this I believe.
Again I believe in the youth of our land, whose fearless courage is both stimulating and inspiring. I believe that they are a true reflection of the principles and teachings of America’s great heritage: the free public school. Because I believe that these young people have a right to expect to take their place in this complex world, free from all fear, I have dedicated myself to fight for the protection of this inalienable right, that I can and shall find real happiness in that service. I believe that in order to do this, one can never be too busy to be kind. Extending a warm hand of fellowship from an understanding heart to those who share the passage of this orbit with us.
I believe in people. I don’t know why, but I like to be with and to watch people.
It was my privilege to attend SHEAR (Society for the Historians of the Early American Republic) last month in Philadelphia. I gave a short presentation on the New Nation Votes project in conjunction with two papers that have made good use of our data.
The first was from David Houpt, a graduate student at the Graduate Center at City University New York. His paper, “Critical Masses: Celebratory Politics and Political Mobilization in the Congressional Election of 1794” discussed the rather surprising win of a Republican candidate in, what until then, had been the Federalist stronghold of Philadelphia. His paper made use of these election results, with special detail on the ward level results.
The other paper was from Daniel Peart. Entitled “An ‘Era of No Feelings’? Rethinking the Periodization of Early U.S. Politics”, it made use of a variety of elections throughout the Era of Good Feelings (1815 – 1824), measuring voter turnout in all of the existing states and refuting the notion that voter turnout declined as the Republican party gained a stronghold and Federalist competition declined, instead showing that the areas with the highest turnout were the areas with the least amount of Federalist competition. Daniel recently completed his PhD at University College London and will start this month as a lecturer at Queen Mary, University of London. He was inspired to pursue this idea when he heard a presentation at the 14th Annual Conference of The Association of British American 19th Century Historians given by Phil and the previous coordinator, Krista Ferrante.
I added a bit of context about the site and showed off one particularly interesting election – the 1824 North Carolina Presidential Election which contravenes the long-held notion that Andrew Jackson was the clear winner of the 1824 election.
Overall, it was a great opportunity to connect with the scholars who are making use of this project and to get some valuable feedback as well. One result: a new feature on the home page that notes what the most recently updated data is.
So far, the New Nation Votes project has added name_id’s to 23,869 candidates. This is the tip of the iceberg, as we have 17,685 candidates who do not yet have id’s and some 20,000 pages of elections to enter yet. But, we can find some interesting information from what we have.
- John is by far the most common name. We have 3446 different candidates with the first name John.
- William is the second – also by a long way. There are 2234 different candidates with the first name of William. And if your first initial is W, odds are your first name is William – 88.90% of all the candidates with the first initial W are named William.
- Combined, nearly a quarter of all the candidates have the first name John or William.
- J is by far the most common first initial. Aside from all the John’s, James comes in third place (1570), then we have Jacob (487), Jonathan (196), Joshua (135) and Jesse (105). Nearly a third of all the candidates have a first name that begins with J – more than 3 times as many as any other letter.
- The most common last initials, in order, are S, B, M and H. While no set of initials that doesn’t begin with J has more than 250 candidates, there are 654 JH’s, 728 JB’s, 758 JM’s (most notably, James Madison) and a whopping 817 different candidates with the initials JS.
- There no candidates with the initial of X, first or last, at least so far.
- As could be expected, the lowest totals of last initials are Q, U and Z. With the first initials, it is Q, U, Y and, curiously, K. There are only 25 candidates so far with the first initial of K and there isn’t a single Kevin. It turns out Kevin, while a popular name now, didn’t really arrive in the States from Ireland until the early 20th Century.
- While only 45 candidates have a first name that starts with V (15 of them being Valentine), there are almost 300 candidates with last names that start with V. And while New York only accounts for 6% of all the elections, it accounts for nearly 40% of the candidates with the last name of V. This is because of the Dutch settlements in New York – most of the V names in New York begin with Van, including 9 different members of the Van Rensselaer family.
- The Top 10 first names of candidates so far: John, William, James, Thomas (which accounts for 86% of all the names that begin with T), Robert, Henry, Jacob, David, Benjamin and Daniel.
- And lastly – what do the names Abraham, Francis and Elisha / Elijah all have in common? Well, while none of them are particularly prevalent in the States today, there are more instances so far in our candidate database of each of those names than there are of the name Michael. And Michael only beats Moses by one and Ebenezer by 3. Names were different back in 1787-1825.
In looking at an old election today in Alabama (this election for State Representative in Dallas County in 1820), I was trying to decide whether or not the listed polling places were towns or just polling places. Selma was easy. If you’ve never heard of Selma, Alabama then you desperately need to brush up on your 20th Century American History. But then I got to Cahawba. In looking for some more information, I went to everybody’s favorite dubious source: Wikipedia. It’s terrible for objective information, but for basic knowledge on towns in the United States, it’s got more than enough information; it had this lovely start that fascinated me: “Cahaba, also spelled Cahawba, was the first permanent state capital of Alabama from 1820 to 1825. It is now a ghost town and state historic site.”
Wow, I thought. A ghost town. Completely empty of modern day inhabitants. Yet, it once was a thriving town. It was even the capital for several years right after Alabama became a state. But then, during Reconstruction, the county seat moved to Selma and the businesses and people followed and by the the turn of the century there was very little left. You can visit it today – it’s only a few miles down the river from Selma. But look at it on satellite pictures and all you see are dirt roads and trees. Just the outline of a town.
It’s not the only election where we have results from an Alabama ghost town. Look here, and you will find results from Clairborne, in Monroe County. In 1820, it was by far the biggest town in the county and it eventually grew to a peak of 5000 people but which now contains just one building and three 19th century cemeteries.
Then there is Blakely. It had a fort during the Civil War (it is right where the Tensaw River flows into Mobile Bay) and today is a state park. But that park used to be a town – possibly the biggest town in Baldwin County in 1824, judging from the Presidential Election Returns.
Just like those towns in Massachusetts that are now under the Quabbin, these were once towns that thrived and there are no people left there to remember. But we have the election records – we know that those people did live, that they lived and they voted.
Casual viewers (as opposed to researchers) come to New Nation Votes looking for election information about a variety of people. For the most part they look for two types of people – either Presidential candidates in their earlier elections (such as James Madison, whose numerous electoral results can be found here) or family members while doing genealogical research. But sometimes, you can come upon something you weren’t expecting.
What you can see here are the results for the district of the Tennessee House of Representatives that consisted of Carroll, Henderson, Humphreys, Madison and Perry Counties in 1823. That might not seem like much until you look at the winning candidate and see the name David Crockett. Yes, this is the self-same man who would later serve in the U.S. House of Representatives and would die in the Alamo in March of 1836. Before people become legends, they sometimes serve in the state legislature.
In the years covered by the New Nation Votes project (1787-1825), democracy was thriving. Huge percentages of eligible voters took part in the process (far more than scholars used to think, information we now have thanks to Philip Lampi). Some of the elections were much different than we are used to now (in Maryland, for instance, prior to 1838, voters did not directly elect their State Senators; instead they would vote for electors – two for each county and one each for Baltimore and Annapolis, who would then elect the State Senate – for an example of a State Senate Electors election look here and for an example of the corresponding State Senate election look here). Voters would go to the polls several times a year because elections weren’t in conjunction and congressional elections, state elections and local elections were all held at different times.
That might seem odd to many people, but not to us here in Massachusetts. We’ve voted no less than five times in the last year. There was the primary for the special U.S. Senate election on December 8, 2009. Then there was the January 19 special election in which Scott Brown was elected to Ted Kennedy’s old seat. Next up were town elections on April 10. Then there were the statewide primaries held on September 14. Finally came the biannual congressional elections on November 2, which, in Massachusetts also included the election for Governor. So there we have it. We’ve gone out and voted 5 times in the last year.
By the way, you might ask, when people are asked to vote this many times, how many people actually do? Well, I can answer that question definitively for my own town: Arlington.
December 8, 2009 – 10,481 out of 29,802 registered voters (35.16%)
January 19, 2010 – 20,314 out of 30,010 registered voters (67.69%)
April 10, 2010 – 6,068 out of 29,703 registered voters (26.13%)
September 14, 2010 – 5,086 out of 29,421 registered voters (17.29%)
November 2, 2010 – 20,305 out of 29,434 registered voters (68.98%)
Of course, as you can probably tell, I live in a town where people come out and vote. Though our nearly 69% turnout this year falls way short of the 2008 Presidential election (in which 84.48% of registered voters voted), it is still 15% higher than the state turnout rate and 14% higher than the national turnout rate.