Getting elected in 18th-century Virginia

If you’re nostalgic for the democratic process from the early days of the republic, you might want to reconsider:

Sometimes crowds of inebriated voters and onlookers created such a disturbance at the polling place that it was impossible for the sheriff to conduct the election. A candidate who was present at the courthouse on Election Day could try to calm his supporters so that the voting could proceed. . . .

Because so many voters expected to be treated to liquor and food, candidates sometimes had to spend substantial sums of money to run for public office, making it difficult for those of modest means to win the election. The favorite beverage was rum punch. Cookies and ginger cake were also frequently provided. Some candidates offered picnics with barbecues. . . . If [voters] believed they were not being treated well, by either the sheriff conducting the election or the candidates, they could be surly and disruptive. . . .

Even George Washington had to satisfy the expectations of the voters. During a July election in Frederick County in 1758, his agent supplied 160 gallons of alcohol to 391 voters.

That is from Richard Labunski’s James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights.

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