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Great Stories of the Great Plains: Casting a ticket in the 1878 election

The standards that made for a good election in 1878 are a good deal different than we consider a fair election today. "Comparatively very little of intoxicating liquors appeared to have been imbibed by anyone," wrote Edward Foster, the editor of ...

The standards that made for a good election in 1878 are a good deal different than we consider a fair election today.

"Comparatively very little of intoxicating liquors appeared to have been imbibed by anyone," wrote Edward Foster, the editor of The Jamestown Alert. "Not a quarrel, not a fight."

There were not a lot of voters in Jamestown in November 1878. About 80 people met the qualification of being 21 or older and a man. Sobriety and a forgiving nature were evidently optional.

Citizens in a territory, such as those here in Jamestown, Dakota Territory, didn't have the privilege of voting for the president.

In 1878, that was a very close race with Republican Rutherford B. Hayes edging Democrat Samuel J. Tilden by a one-vote margin in the Electoral College. Tilden actually picked up about a 250,000 more votes than Hayes at the polls.

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In the Dakota Territory, the highest office on the ballot was for delegate to Congress. This was a non-voting position, but whoever was elected served as an advocate for the territory in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Democrat Bartlett Tripp carried Jamestown with 44 votes compared to 33 for Republican Granville Bennett.

When the votes from the rest of the territory were tallied, Bennett was declared the winner. During this era, the southern part of Dakota Territory, what is now South Dakota, had a much larger population than the north and commonly swayed most elections.

The voting process was a lot different at that time.

Voters brought pre-printed "tickets" they would then place in the ballot box at the polls.

The ticket concept for voting is said to accommodate illiterate voters and those not able to read English. If you wanted to vote Republican or Democrat, you got a ticket from one of the party leaders and went to the polls and deposited it in the box.

In some instances, the parties used different colored tickets so they could keep an eye on the voting, although I couldn't find a reference to color-coded ballots being used in Jamestown in 1878.

The party leaders were active that day getting tickets to the voters.

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"Our people were as busy as beavers at a broken dam working for their favorites," Foster wrote.

The Jamestown Alert had another reason to be happy with the 1878 election. It seems the Alert was the only "print shop" in Jamestown and had a corner on cranking out those tickets.

"(I'm) joyful to relate, we have no occasion to dun (a collection action) any for payment for printing election tickets," Foster wrote. "Taking it all in all, it was the fairest, squarest, jolliest, friendliest, and at the same time one of the busiest elections for the amount of voters that it has been our lot to witness."

Hopefully everyone had a jolly Election Day here in Jamestown 138 years later.

Keith Norman can be reached at Keith@KeithNormanBooks.com

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