1860/1912 Redux? from Michael Nighan

1860/1912 Redux? from Michael Nighan

Lincoln Tops Civil War Monument In Washington Square Park. Rochester NY Nov 1st 2004. – RocPic.Com –

From various writers, we’ve closely covered the election campaign, including a look back at the 1964 Republican convention at the Cow Palace. (more at end)

Now, Talker subscriber Michael Nighan offers an illuminating look back at the elections of 1860 and 1912, both of which bear striking comparisons with 2016.

Readers may recognize Michael from his letters to the City, including a recent one on Bernie Sanders and foreign policy.

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1860/1912 Redux?


This marker, between Mill and State streets at the Inner Loop, marks the spot where Abraham Lincoln stopped on Feb. 18, 1861, to give a speech while en route by train to his inauguration in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Meaghan McDermott, D&C)

The national government is in a state of near meltdown.  One of the country’s major political parties meets in convention to select its presidential candidate.   Ballot follows ballot with no candidate winning the necessary number of delegates.  As the convention deadlocks and then fragments. Splinter groups organize their own conventions, nominate candidates, and loudly proclaim themselves to represent the “real” party. With the party torn asunder, the candidate of the other major party, while garnering only a plurality of the popular vote, easily wins the White House based on electoral votes.

Such was the case with the Democratic Party in 1860.  But will this also be a description of the Republican Party in 2016?  Certainly should Donald Trump fail to gain the GOP nomination, his creation of a third party with himself at its head, becomes a distinct possibility, making the victory of the Democratic candidate all-but-inevitable.

Now let’s fast-forward to 1912 and see that this time it’s the Republicans who are being torn apart, the result of a power struggle between supporters of the “establishment” candidate and incumbent president, William Howard Taft, and those of the progressive spokesman, and ex-president, Theodore Roosevelt.

'Insane Man Shoots Roosevelt' Headline for Milwaukee Sentinel. October 15, 1912

‘Insane Man Shoots Roosevelt’ Headline for Milwaukee Sentinel. October 15, 1912 During the campaign, Roosevelt was shot while giving a speech in Milwaukee. Famously, Roosevelt continued and finished the speech.

Denied the GOP nomination following a bitter floor fight over the seating of contested delegates, Roosevelt bolts his party and runs as a third party “Bull Moose” candidate.  With the Republican Party neutralized, and indeed neutered, Woodrow Wilson and the Democrats sweep into the White House.

Previous denials by Sanders notwithstanding, it doesn’t take much imagination to envision a similar situation at this year’s Democratic convention where Clinton cinches the nomination and the Sanders’ forces stalk out of the hall and begin to cobble together their own third party.

Now put those scenarios together and we have another not-impossible 1860 redux in which FOUR  candidates, one each from the major parties and two third party candidates with a large degree of factional support, are all vying for the presidency.   Unlike 1860 however, a four-way race in 2016 is likely to result in no candidate achieving the magical 270 electoral votes with the election then being decided by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

And you thought that the Florida ballot problems in the 2000 election caused a mess?


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About The Author


Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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