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Thursday, March 6, 2014 04:50 pm

Votes by the barrel

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In the 19th century, votes were bought not by money but by whiskey. A keg would be set up outside each polling place on election day, and the more generous a candidates was with the ladle the better he was likely to do.

Not everyone approved. Paul Angle in Here I Have Lived recalled a pioneer’s tale about the general election at Springfield in 1822:

 

Three men named Kinny, Par­kerson and Edwards, had a long bench ranged along the Court House, on which they set their liquors. The polls were held in the interior. We all got plenty to drink [and] a gen­eral frolic occurred . . . . The great evil was, that every candidate had to fill his portmanteau with whiskey, and go around and see and treat every voter and his wife and family with the poisonous stuff, or stand a chance of being defeated.

 

A history of the Old Stonington Colony posted by Sally Andrews Neely on the Christian County GenWeb site, includes this story about three candidates for political office who encountered a voter by the name of Elijah Palmer.

 

 Each one passed the time of day, and … began soliciting him for a vote, stating each office they wished to run for, and uncle Elijah was rather slow in his talk. He says to them, "Where is your bottle?" No sooner than he had said it, each man pulled out of his pocket a pint bottle of whiskey and offered it to Uncle Elijah, and he replied in his long and slow drawn out words, "That is all I want to know of you. I would not vote for one of you." They discovered they had pulled the bottle on the wrong man this time.

 

I must thank Christopher Fowler for reminding us that the old world carries off this sort of thing with rather more flair. The site is the ‘The Intrepid Fox’ pub in London’s Wardour Street. It was named after Charles James Fox, prominent British Whig statesman from the late 1700s, remembered in this country if at all for supporting the American rebels against George III. Fox was famous as a drinking man when drinking was less a vice than a pastime.

 

There was a mural in the pub depicting his mistress, who won him votes by downing a yard of ale and smashing it in the fireplace, before giving every man a drink for a vote. 

 

Ah, Democracy.

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