In 1839, one vote mattered.
But that's not even close to the record. In 1839, Democrat Marcus Morton won the governorship by a smaller margin -- one vote. One single vote. It's a record that has stood and probably will stand for a while.
On Feb. 12, 1840, Worcester Democrats gathered at Brinley Hall to celebrate the great victory. Isaac Davis presided and George Bancroft was one of the speakers.
One account noted that "Marcus Morton became Governor by the action of one honest Whig on the returning board, namely: Charles Allen of Worcester.''
Not only that, but two years later, when a three-way split sent the gubernatorial election decision into the Massachusetts House, Marcus Morton won again -- by one vote.
Both elections caused controversy and soul searching, particularly in Worcester.
Whigs from Worcester had held the governorship for decades and probably assumed they had a lock on the corner office. Starting in 1825, when Levi Lincoln of Worcester won the first of nine straight elections for governor, the party known first as National Republicans and later as Whigs held the Massachusetts governorship for 30 years straight, except for the victories of Marcus Morton in 1840 and 1842.
The Whigs favored big business, banks and internal improvements like canals and railroads. Marcus Morton and the Democrats wanted to end child labor and cut the working day from 12 to 10 hours. Those were popular stands with some, but the Whigs year after year got out the vote with great efficiency.
Whig Gov. Edward Everett probably would have won re-election in 1839 had it not been for the perennial liquor question. In 1839, amidst an intense campaign against the saloon, the prohibitionist wing of his party passed a "Spirit Law'' that banned the retail sale of liquor in any amount smaller than 15 gallons.
The Democrats saw it as directed against the mostly Irish immigrants with their "shebeens.'' The result was the biggest voter turnout in Massachusetts history.
At that time, a winning candidate for governor had to get more than 50 percent of the vote, otherwise the election would be decided by the Legislature. Gov. Everett fell short by a few hundred votes, and then a series of recounts were held to determine whether Judge Morton had amassed the magic number.
Since the total number of votes cast was 102,066, he had to get at least 51,034. That was the precise number he got, amid harsh rumors of ballot fraud and laments from Whig newspapers like Worcester's Massachusetts Spy that financial disaster was imminent with the Democrats in power.
The Spy was further agitated by the victory of State Rep. Daniel Denny, a Democrat from Leicester, who also won by a single vote. Worse, 'HE VOTED FOR HIMSELF'' according to the Spy. How it knew that was not explained.
Gov. Morton lost a bid for re-election in fall 1840, but didn't give up. He lost in 1841, then ran again in 1842, amid an unusual turmoil in Massachusetts politics. Three candidates -- Morton, John Davis of Worcester, and S.E. Sewell -- split the vote three ways, no one getting 50 percent of the total. So the election went to the Legislature. The House gave Mr. Morton 174 votes, one more than required, to 165 for Mr. Davis.
The Whigs hoped to block Mr. Morton in the Senate, but deals were made and he emerged the governor-elect.
Again, The Spy was not happy:
"Well, Marcus Morton is the Supreme Executive Magistrate of Massachusetts. He was elected by the Senate yesterday. In 1840 he held the office of Governor by a majority of one vote, and that majority was obtained by the use of illegal votes. He now holds it by an even more disreputable (i.e.) by a choice by the Senate constituted as it is by a majority of his party, obtained by the grossest treachery and violation of public confidence, of which there is any record, since the days of Benedict Arnold.''
Well, you can't please everybody. And, despite the Whig fears of calamity, the sky did not fall. Gov. Morton enacted some reforms, but not all he had hoped for. After he finished his term, he went to the Senate and was later appointed collector of the Port of Boston. Late in his career he became an Abolitionist.
Those other Democrats went on to distinguished careers.
George Bancroft, born in Worcester, was chosen by President Polk to be secretary of the Navy. He founded the Naval Academy at Annapolis, had a distinguished career in public service and was one of the country's pre-eminent historians.
Isaac Davis ran for governor of Massachusetts, lost, but later was three times elected mayor of Worcester. He built the Elm Street mansion that is now the Worcester Club.
Something to think about. Massachusetts' modern Democratic Party began with a single-vote margin.
Albert B. Southwick's column appears regularly in the Telegram & Gazette.
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|Publication:||Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)|
|Date:||Nov 13, 2014|
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