Thursday, July 17, 2008

Politics: 'twas ever thus

Some of the customs and attitudes of the times also operated to the advantage of the gentry in elections. The practice of treating the voters excluded a poor man from candidacy for the simple reason that he could not afford to buy meat and drink for the voters in the large quantities that were expected. Samuel Overton of Hanover County estimated that his expenses for two elections amounted to £75.25. George Washington spent about £25 on each of two elections, over £39 on another, and approximately £50 on a fourth. These were large amounts for that day—several times more than enough to buy the house and land of the voter who barely met the minimum franchise requirements. The custom of giving expensive treats also implied that candidates were wealthy and that they lived with the open-handed, lavish generosity of gentlemen. If a poor man scraped up enough money to stand an election and attempted to treat the voters like a gentleman, his performance was more likely to excite ridicule or pity than respect.

—from American Revolutionaries in the Making by Charles S. Sydnor
Not much has changed, it seems.

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