Tuesday, November 2, 2010

1864 Election Night - Notre Dame Style!

Tonight, November 2, 2010, is a mid-term election night, and (hopefully) readers of this blog will have voted today and many may be watching the returns tonight. You think today's politics are tough?! Wait until you read how the votes at Notre Dame almost ruined election night for the Speaker of the House in 1864!

Read part of the story below and read the entire tale in Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory (The History Press, 2010), available in just a few weeks!

In the midterm elections of 1862 – a tough proposition for the party in power – South Bend, Indiana's representative, Republican Schuyler Colfax, had faced stiff competition from Democrat “Dirty Dave” Turpie and won the election by a slim margin of less than 300 votes. In 1864, even as the powerful Speaker of the House, Colfax faced another difficult election at home. The voting public’s anxiety over wartime inflation and a burgeoning fifth column of Copperheads in Indiana compelled Colfax to write Lincoln, “the odds are heavy against us in Indiana.” Colfax would again face Turpie, who was still stinging from his close defeat in 1862 which the Democrats attributed to “fraud and trickery.” So motivated was Turpie to “lay Schuyler Colfax upon the shelf” that he turned down his party’s nomination as lieutenant governor.

On the eve of the election, the generally politically astute Notre Dame president, Fr. Sorin, wrote a friend that Colfax was devoted to him and that he (Sorin) sometimes availed myself of this good will. Fr. Sorin boasted of the power he had, writing that Colfax knew he had at his disposal from sixty to seventy-five votes at Notre Dame each election, either for him or against him. Colfax, who had always counted on those votes from Notre Dame, needed them in 1864. To that end, he visited Fr. Sorin to express his anxiety over the political landscape and reminded the good father of the draft exemptions and other political favors the Republican Party had secured for him.

Fr. Sorin understood Colfax’s not-so-subtle intimations and called a meeting of the priests and brothers that lasted for several hours and resulted in a resolution which was calculated to have the best result: that is, that no other ticket than the Republican or Union ticket shall be voted by the members of the Holy Cross congregation. Unfortunately, the person responsible for passing on this important information to the other members of the Notre Dame community failed to carry out this critical assignment, and the result was that - as Fr. Sorin reported to his superior – “three-fourths…voted against [Colfax]." (!)

Why did the priests and brothers vote against Colfax?
Did Colfax win?
How did Colfax retaliate against Notre Dame?
How did a thousand Haily Mary's (and a famous general's wife!) save the day?
Did Fr. Sorin (and Schuyler Colfax) learn a lesson?

Find out by reading Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory (The History Press, 2010), available November 24!

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