Elections Past

Writings from 1860 to the present on campaigns, candidates, and presidential elections, with contributions by James Russell Lowell, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., P.J. O'Rourke, and others.

Sunny Side Up? (May 2004)
By Jonathan Chait
Is it true that the more optimistic candidate usually wins?

How Jefferson Counted Himself In (March 2004)
By Bruce Ackerman and David Fontana.
Something was funny about the Georgia ballot. Did Thomas Jefferson act properly in making himself President in 1801?

No Apparent Motive (November 2002)
By P. J. O'Rourke
A chilling characteristic of politicians is that they're not in it for the money

Running Scared (January 1997)
By Anthony King
Painfully often the legislation our politicians pass is designed less to solve problems than to protect the politicians from defeat in our neverending election campaigns. They are, in short, too frightened of us to govern.

Deadlock: What Happens If Nobody Wins (October 1980)
By Laurence H. Tribe and Thomas M. Rollins
In October 1980, Laurence H. Tribe and Thomas M. Rollins considered the possibility of a presidential election "that fails to elect."

Political Morality and the First Family (November 1976)
By Claiborne Lee Bell
"The reform that is needed is obvious: The President's spouse, as well as the President, must be elected by the people..."

Is the Vice Presidency Necessary? (May 1974)
By Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
No, argues historian Schlesinger. It is like the human appendix, a vestigial organ on the body politic. John Nance Garner called the office a lot of things, some of them not as polite as "a spare tire on the automobile of government."

The Party's Over (March 1972)
By David S. Broder
"The months leading up to an American presidential election are always a testy time. If times are even testier than usual, it is undoubtedly because the government itself is divided, with a Republican finishing a first term in the White House and the Democrats in control of Capitol Hill..."

Reports: Washington (April 1968)
By Elizabeth Drew
"Mr. Johnson will run against beards, draft-card burners, criminals, and rioters, and perhaps Eartha Kitt. If the great unwashed disrupt the Chicago convention, so much the better for him, for the President will capitalize on the anti-dissent dissent."

The 1964 Election (October 1964)
By Edward Weeks
"In the election this fall ... we stand for the election of President Lyndon B. Johnson." In a rare political endorsement, Atlantic editor Edward Weeks threw the magazine's support behind Lyndon Johnson—and had some harsh words for Senator Goldwater.

Notes on the Conventions (September 1936)
By Raoul de Roussy de Sales
French author Raoul de Roussy de Sales offered an outsider's perspective on America's national political conventions and highlighted an opinion common among critics of the day, that the conventions had degenerated from serious politics to mere entertainment. He imagined French readers puzzling over his account of the conventions with the "impression that I had somehow managed to attend simultaneously such varied types of gatherings as a music-hall show, a revival meeting, a six-day bicycle race, a picnic, and a world fair."

Catholic and Patriot (May 1927)
By Alfred E. Smith
"I join with fellow Americans of all creeds in a fervent prayer that never again in this land will any public servant be challenged because of the faith in which he has tried to walk humbly with his God." In 1927, Alfred E. Smith, New York's governor and the first Roman Catholic to run for president, argued against the charge that a Catholic could not, in good conscience, fulfill his duties to his country. Though he lost the election the following year to Herbert Hoover, his candidacy helped pave the way for John F. Kennedy thirty-two years later.

Meditations on Votes for Women (October 1914)
By Samuel McChord Crothers
"Heretofore this has been a man's world arranged for his convenience. Now Woman has appeared, open-eyed and armed, and all things are to be changed. Religion, the State, the Family, are to be reorganized according to a strictly feministic plan. If the ultimatum is not at once accepted we may look for that dreadful catastrophe, a sex war." In 1914, as the women's suffrage amendment languished in Congress, Samuel McChord Crothers, a popular essayist and a Harvard Square-based Unitarian minister, made the case for equal suffrage.

Election Superstitions and Fallacies (October 1912)
By Edward Stanwood
"Prior to the reelection of General Grant in 1872, there was a superstition prevalent that no man possessed of a middle name could be elected President a second time. The notion was based upon the fact that every President so endowed, up to that time, had, for one reason or another, failed to be reelected: John Quincy Adams ... William Henry Harrison, and James Knox Polk. Even since Grant, who may be said to have been exempt from all rules, the tradition has held good."

Presidential Nominations (April 1884)
By Oliver T. Morton
"In the United States...the strongest party never dares put forward any of its strongest men, because every one of these, from the mere fact that he has been long in the public eye, has made himself objectionable to some portion or other of the party."

The Election in November (October 1860)
By James Russell Lowell
"In a society like ours, where every man may transmute his private thought into history and destiny by dropping it into the ballot-box, a peculiar responsibility rests upon the individual." Shortly before the 1860 presidential election The Atlantic's editor, James Russell Lowell, came out in support of Abraham Lincoln, whom he commended as a "statesman" and a powerful voice against the spread of slavery. He predicted, accurately, that the election would prove to be "a turning-point in our history."