Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Consequential Elections

Our poll this week came from an article in a recent US News and World Report and so to go with the poll, I’m posting the information from the article here so you can do some research before weighing in the poll. The five elections that we’ve pulled are from a ten part series the magazine did on consequential elections (we choose the ones that ran in the paper copy for the most part barring that we didn’t use two Lincoln elections):

The stakes in this year's presidential campaign are high. But that's nothing new. There have been many other pivotal presidential elections in our history, some that set an entirely new course for the United States and a few that were crucial to the very survival of the republic. To put the current campaign in perspective, U.S. News White House Correspondent Kenneth T. Walsh, author of four books on the presidency, examines the 10 most consequential elections in American history—the races that produced the biggest change and had the most lasting impact.

Now check out each of these elections:

Without George Washington, the survival of the United States might have been impossible. He had, after all, served as the top general and inspirational leader in the Revolutionary War, and he was the most esteemed presence among the Founders as they put together the Constitution.

Thomas Jefferson called his election "the Revolution of 1800" because it marked the first time that power in America passed from one party to another…."The election confirmed the emergence of a two-party system in American politics, a development that must have seemed ironic to some Federalists and Democratic-Republicans," writes historian Thomas Connelly, "because most of them had believed with George Washington that the appearance of parties would do more harm than good….”

...hope for conciliation was a futile one. With the national government finally in antislavery hands, the South proceeded to secede. By the time Lincoln took the oath of office, in fact, a Confederate government under Jefferson Davis was already in place. It represented the breakaway states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas. The Confederacy was joined later by Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Tennessee.

Eventually, the economy would again stall and Roosevelt's opponents would slow his programs. He would be accused of overreaching and betraying the American values of self-reliance and free market capitalism. But the election of 1932 had changed America forever.

Reagan proved to be the antidote. He urged Americans to believe in themselves again and declared that the United States was a "shining city on a hill" whose best days were still ahead. Many people thought that he was too extreme and simplistic, but opposition to the status quo ran so deep that the electorate decided to give the former movie star a chance in the White House. He defeated Carter in a landslide, winning 44 million votes, or 50.7 percent, and 489 electoral votes to Carter's 35.5 million votes, or 41 percent, and only 44 electoral votes. It marked a historic departure from the path that Franklin Roosevelt set toward ever-bigger government and shattered FDR's political coalition that had dominated American politics for most of the previous half-century.

So take the information from this series and add it to your own as you choose what you think was the most historically important election!

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