From Henry Clay Versus James Polk to Donald Trump Versus Hillary Clinton: Has Much Changed?

When I was a little boy in Richmond, Indiana, my parents decided to go to the drive-in to see the new Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift movie Raintree County. There must have been a kids movie before it, parents all counting on children being asleep in the backseat by the time the main feature started–this had to have been during the summer of 1958 and I was six years old.

Anyhow, instead of sleeping, I was entranced by the movie, and vividly remember the discovery of the lost little boy at the end–and the tree that everyone missed.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I read the Ross Lockridge novel the movie is based on, and only then that I realized that the fictional setting of the movie was just west of Richmond. I loved the book, and have returned to it often. This morning, I was reminded of the description in it of election day, 1844. I want to share it in anticipation of tomorrow, both in terms of how much has changed–and how much hasn’t:

A lot of men went around swatting people on the back and laughing fiercely. T. D. put a paper in the ballot box. Things got louder as the night came on. Bonfires burned on the Court House Square. The family had a big feed in the wagon, and after that Johnny slipped off into the crowd with his brother Ezekiel, who was two years older  and a lot bigger. They watched some men hitting each other and yelling things about God, Polk, and Clay over in front of the Saloon. A man was knocked down and had his coat torn off. A woman came up shrieking and grabbed at the man lying on the sidewalk, so that Johnny didn’t see how he could get up if he wanted to. Zeke disappeared for a while, and when he turned up again, he was grinning all over his face and said he had just beaten up on a goddern kid that admitted he was a Democrat. Zeke showed his knuckles all skinned and bruised.

3 thoughts on “From Henry Clay Versus James Polk to Donald Trump Versus Hillary Clinton: Has Much Changed?

  1. Having a birthday in the first week of November gives one a head start on political interest without even knowing why ! My first memory about elections was on my fifth birthday which was smack on top of a BIG election. (Presidential). We didn’t have annual birthday parties during the great depression. My mother had invited a few friends of hers who had children near my age over. I remember her urging them to go vote, offering to care for their children while they went to the polls. The issue for them was whether it was moral and ethical for them to go vote without their husbands present! Mother insisted that not only was it moral and ethical but it was very important. I really don’t think it helped Alf Landon a bit in that 1936 Roosevelt landslide!

    My paternal grandfather became a lawyer by reading law. He didn’t go through a higner education program. Amboy, Indiana–with it’s 500+ population did not have enough legal work for him to do to support his family very well. In the late ’20s his daughter married a man with a substantial income and they were able to buy a home/office combination in Kokomo where my grandfather was able to have a second chance at a legal practice when he was in his late 50s. To his dismay, his first business offers in the larger community had to do with the legal work connected with bankruptcies following the stock market crash. He felt terrible about what was happening. 1932 brought Franklin Roosevelt and the new deal about which my family didn’t have fully positive feelings. Grandad, however, had a lot of new work. and positive work doing the legal necessities for the New Deal agricultural programs and other economic support programs. Grandad and Grandmother became Democrats which they remained for the rest of their lives. During that period my folks realized and were motivated to vote so that their votes with Uncle Bert and Aunt Jean’s would cancel out Grandad and Grandmother’s and Uncle Fred and Aunt Tiny’s.

    In 1948 the election was on Tues. Nov 2 and my 17th birthday was on Wednesday. I had been given a pre-graduation present from my Uncle Bert of the Dale Carnegie Speech Course based on “How to Win Friends and Influence People” which he taught every Tues. night for 3 months in the Lincoln Hotel in downtown Indianapolis.. I was the youngest student in this adult course and sort of a mascot for the older students. We had our usual Denver Sandwiches at the counter at 10:30 p.m. while Uncle Bert waited to see if he had been re-elected to the Indiana State Legislature. He didn’t find out the results until the next morning. He lost!! So did Thomas Dewey!! Mother was so shocked about Truman winning that she forgot that it was my birthday until Nov. 4th.

    Somewhere along the way I figured out that my birthday would occur on a Presidential Election Day every 28 years. Even though I’ve studied a lot of math I’m not sure why that is so. There are 7 days in a week and 4 weeks in a month (approx.} but that doesn’t take any account of leap days.
    So far my birthday/pres.election days have been Roosevelt/Landon in 1936, Johnson/Goldwater in 1964,(on H St. watching on the Parson’s TV) and Clinton in 1992. The next one will be Nov. 3, 2020, if I make it.


  2. Chris, I’m SURE you will make it to 2020! Last night I saw a wonderful interview with a woman who’s 101, does the NY Times Crossword puzzle every morning before coffee (!), and who is absolutely delighted to vote for a woman today — wearing Suffragette White! I hope when YOU are 101, you are able to share with great-great-grandchildren your memories of the 1930s & 1940s elections! xoxo Janet


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