As the election nears, we will witness a barrage of photos of the candidates wallowing amongst the throngs of the unwashed masses. They will hug and smile citizens that they would otherwise probably not speak to in a restaurant. They will shake hands with men and women that might not socialize in their rarefied circles.
For a few weeks, they will be us, and we will think that we are them. They will bring themselves down from Olympus, disguise themselves as peasants, and seek out Baucis and Philemon to wine and dine beside.
But what started this trend? Why did some of these go away?
Liquoring up the electorate is a common to American history as elections themselves. In fact, America owes its very Puritanical start to alcohol–or the lack thereof. The original charter of the Mayflower colonists had them landing in “northern Virginia” which, at the time, was the Long Island area. There were casks of beer, enough for a gallon a day for every man, woman, and child, aboard and yet they still ran out. Fear spread amongst the colonists and they stopped their voyage early, settling in Plymouth. In 1755, George Washington ran for a seat in Virginia’s House of Burgesses. He ignored the fact that alcohol was ingrained in Virginia society (it was used as medicine, trade, and in social circles), and his actions cost him the election. By 1758, when another seat opened, George Washington the Statesman was born–he handed out everything from beer to rum punch, brandy to hard cider. And guess what? He won.
Some elections are most known because of alcohol. The most notable is the “Hard Cider”
election campaign of 1840. William Henry Harrison was derided as one so uncouth that he drank “hard cider.” The Harrison campaign quickly adopted this, and foisted upon his opponent, Martin Van Buren, the title of dandy who was so out of touch with the common man that he couldn’t stand the taste of the drink they drank. (A side note, there was a man by the name of E.C. Booz, a ceramics maker and distiller from Philadelphia who made log cabin mugs and handed them out during the campaign filled with hard cider. Yes, he existed. No, the word “booze” didn’t enter our lexicon because of him. In fact, the word had been around years earlier).So, what happened to boozing up the electorate? One word: Prohibition.
Since the 1840s, saloons and polling places were often the same place. The ability to liquor up the voters to ply them for votes was rampant up to the 1920s. Prohibition ended this practice; two states (Kentucky and South Carolina) ban the sales of alcohol on election day today. Alaska and Massachusetts ban alcohol sales on election day, but local governments can provide exemptions. Sadly, we won’t be able to meander up to the polls on November 6th, find the party with the best booze, and vote. Maybe we should. More people might come out and participate.
American politicians weren’t the first, nor will they be the last, to utilize kisses for votes. The Romans, an incredibly affectionate people, were known to exchange kisses for votes. As the women of Georgian England began to push for a larger role in society, women like Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire were said to trade kisses for votes–she for Charles James Fox. It was said that the kisses were given to the very young and the very old. Records on American politicians are sketchy at best, but in an 1888 article in The Cosmopolitan by Frank G. Carpenter, we find one of the first presidential candidates kissing babies. Carpenter writes about a meeting between a “poor bareheaded woman and her little baby” who wanted to meet President Andrew Jackson. Though Jackson had already been elected and was on his “victory tour” he is still recorded as the first President to kiss a baby…. Well, almost.
The woman handed the dirty-faced infant to Old Hickory. Jackson took it and held it up before him.
“Ah! There is a fine specimen of American childhood. I think, madam, your boy will make a fine man some day.”
Then, with a quick gesture, he put the dirty face of the infant close to the face of Secretary [of War] Eaton, saying quickly and soberly, “Eaton, kiss him?”
You can read more at Mother Jones on the role of kissing in elections.
There was a time when American’s loved their war heroes. Until the Korean War, we’ve had a war every generation from the French/Indian War (1754) through World War II. One reason for this is that war was a chance for boys to prove their manhood. Once they’d proven themselves as leaders on the battle field, American’s were ready to accept them as leaders in government. Just look at some of the President’s that proved themselves:
- George Washington (French/Indian War general, Revolutionary War general)
- Andrew Jackson (Hero of the Battle of New Orleans)
- William Henry Harrison (victor at the Battle of Tippecanoe)
- Zachary Taylor (Career soldier, War of 1812, Black Hawk War, Second Seminole War, and Mexican-American War)
- Franklin Pierce (Colonel in the Mexican-American War)
- U.S. Grant (Civil War general/Hero, career soldier)
- Rutherford B. Hayes (Civil War)
- James Garfield (Civil War)
- Benjamin Harrison (Civil War)
- Theodore Roosevelt (Spanish-American War/Hero of San Juan Hill)
- Dwight D. Eisenhower (Supreme Allied Commander, World War II; career soldier)
Even John F. Kennedy had a mystique surrounding him and war–PT 109 anyone? However, we’ve lost our love of war heroes. John McCain tried to run as a Vietnam War soldier and a “maverick” but American wanted nothing to do with him. Vietnam is the very reason for this issue. Americans tired of war after the long quagmire in South East Asia. They also tired of politicians tied to war fearing their past might influence their future. With war now being conducted from small rooms where pilots remotely operate drone attacks on terrorists, or by elite SEAL teams who will forever remain in the shadows, the odds of America seeing another war hero as president are about as good as our government operating in the black again.