Annual Report FY 2004 - Research at Cornell

03. Richard F. Bensel, Government

The American Ballot Box in the Mid-Nineteenth Century (Cambridge University Press, 2004). Bensel describes what it was like for Americans to vote in the middle of the nineteenth century. When men approached the polling place, they were met by agents of the major political parties who treated them to whisky, gave them petty bribes, and urged them to be loyal to their ethnic and religious communities. As reported in the eyewitness accounts of ordinary voters, the polls were almost always crowded and noisy—and often violent. Unlike modern elections, however, the polling place was also thoroughly endowed with symbolic meaning for individuals who otherwise would not have had the least interest in politics or who knew very little about national or local political affairs and what an election meant. This made the polls exciting and encouraged men to vote at far higher rates than they do today. The study provides a unique window into how American democratic culture has changed since the nineteenth century.

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