Drinks With Dead People

Raise a glass to history.

The Electoral College

Have a drink with: The Electoral College
Neither elected, nor a college. Discuss.

Ask them about: Any December plans?

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Most people hadn’t though much of the Electoral College before the contested Bush-Gore election in 2000, and many assumed that up to that point in American history it had mostly been a smooth, rubber-stamp affair. In truth, before 2000, seventeen elections ended in Presidents elected without a majority of the popular vote, and some scholars have figured out that minor vote shifts – a matter of 75,000 votes or fewer – could have changed the result in half of the elections for which data is available. (see detail here and here)*

So what did the founders mean when they set up this odd institution to elect the President? The Electoral College emerged from the Constitutional Convention of 1787, during which the founders were justifiably pissed off at having to spend their entire summer indoors in Philadelphia.

After long weeks of gridlock and argument over the structure of the Congress for our not-yet-unwrapped nation, there was no break in the fighting between small states and large. The Virginia Plan based the structure of Congress on state population, while the New Jersey Plan insisted each state have equal representation in the legislature. The Connecticut Plan won the day with the suggestion that one house be based on population and the other on equal allocation across states.

Then someone broke the news that they had to figure out how to elect the President, and it was late August by this point. Everyone could agree on one thing: we don’t want to repeat THAT whole mess again, plus we are running out of states after which to name proposals. Can we make the president thing easier? Yes.

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Election Day

Have a drink with: The American Voter
On Tuesdays we wear white.

Ask her about: Her “citizen’s right, guaranteed to me and all United States citizens.”*

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In case you need some historical comfort for your Election Day habits:

Compulsively clicking “refresh” on FiveThirtyEight? We get it. P.T. Barnum got it, too, which is why he offered a daily “Presidential Test Vote” at his American Museum (open to women as well as men!) and fed results to the daily papers:

Women as well as Men vote at BARNUM’S MUSEUM All this week. Now is the time, Ladies, to show your preference. The vote will be taken, and the curiosities and entertainments of the museum increased in proportion.”

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(While at the Museum, you could conveniently escape your polling anxiety with “Two LIVING ANACONDAS, a LIVING SKELETON, the DWARF LADY, a MODEL of the MALAKOFF, &c.”)

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Halloween Mischief

Have a drink with: Halloween hooligans
Trick or treat, smell my feet…

Ask them about: Mayhem, outhouses, peanut scramble.

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It was 1933, and Charles J. Dalthorp had had it. Writing in the Journal of Education in 1937, the superintendent of schools in Aberdeen, South Dakota, bemoaned the Halloween holiday and its attendant juvenile warfare. Describing the aftermath of the day he calls “Hell-o-e’en” (get it?), he writes that the police in Aberdeen are, plainly: “out-generaled, out-manoeuvred, and finally view the results of battle in large property losses, a complaining citizenry, and a smug but triumphant army of boys who have outguessed the law enforcement agencies.”

Surely he’s overreacting, right? This must be the sort of pearl-clutching exaggeration one expects from days gone by. What adorable mischief did the little scamps get up to?

[I]n 1932, the grand and glorious Hallowe’en brought general property damage in excess of five thousand dollars, and left the streets and avenues in the city strewn with 135 truckloads of junk and refuse.

Um.

All of this occurred in a town with a population of less than 18,000 people.

Suffice it to say helicopter parenting was not a thing in the 1930’s.
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David Bushnell

Have a drink with: David Bushnell
Damn the torpedoes.

Ask him about: The one that got away

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Folks in Warrenton, Georgia were understandably sad when Doctor David Bush passed away in 1826. Single and in his eighties at the time of his death, the old man was a local institution: in more than thirty years in town Bush had practiced medicine, been active in local politics and even set up an area school. Folks knew the local doctor was quiet, civic-minded and accomplished.

So his secret identity may have come as a bit of a surprise.
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Surly Puritan Judges

Have a drink with: New Haven Puritans
Judge swung his fist down, plunk plunk

Ask them about: Anything but Quakers.

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It’s election season, which means we are faced with ample opportunity to confront our worst tendencies and unresolved problems as a society, along with the inevitable call to harken back to a better, simpler, more moral time in American history.

Just so we’re clear, though, that time was not the 17th century.

Consider The Case of the Piglet’s Paternity, a fascinating collection of thirty-three cases heard before the Puritan courts of the 17th century New Haven Colony and superbly edited by Connecticut superior court judge Jon Blue. We can learn a few things from this book:

  1. Do not let a few instances of good justice wallpaper over a majority approach that marginalizes citizens and preserves a fear-based status quo.
  2. Don’t serve sailors booze by the quart.

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The Republican Congressional Cook Book

Have a drink with: Your Friendly Postwar Congressional Republicans
Reducing sauces AND the national debt…

Ask them about: Recipes for your Labor Day cookout

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In 1962, then-Congressman Gerald Ford lent his name to The Republican Congressional Cook Book, a collection of recipes and peppy political axe-grinding given to constituents.

“It is our hope that as you read this Cookbook and use its recipes,” the book begins, “you will enjoy cooking, which is one of the few things not yet regulated by the Federal government.” Ha!

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William Randolph Hearst

Have a drink with: William Randolph Hearst
“…an especially dangerous specimen of the class.”

Ask him: How’d you like Citizen Kane?

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Kentucky’s William Goebel, who has the unfortunate distinction of being America’s only governor to be assassinated in office, was shot by an unknown gunman in January 1900 during the recount of his own contested election. The author and satirist Ambrose Bierce tactlessly commented in the New York Evening Journal:

The bullet that pierced Goebel’s breast
Can not be found in all the West;
Good reason, it is speeding here
To stretch McKinley on his bier.

Bierce was at the time a columnist for William Randolph Hearst’s Examiner, and neither was his employer was any fan of President McKinley’s; one of the Hearst papers famously ran an anonymous column in 1901 urging that “If bad institutions and bad men can be got rid of only by killing, then the killing must be done.”

Suffice it to say that when the anarchist Leon Czolgosz shot President William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York in September 1901, folks remembered what they’d read in the paper.

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Frigorific!

Have a drink of: Nice Cold 17th Century Beer
Less filling; tastes great.

Ask your friends: to buy you a round.

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In 1662 Charles II gave his charter to the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge (the “Royal Society,” for short). A hybrid of a gentleman’s club, an entrepreneurial incubator, a maker faire and a science journal, the Royal Society was prolifically dedicated to the idea – famously explained by Adam Savage – that the only difference between screwing around and science is writing it down.

In their own justifiably proud words: “We published Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica, and Benjamin Franklin’s kite experiment demonstrating the electrical nature of lightning. We backed James Cook’s journey to Tahiti, reaching Australia and New Zealand, to track the Transit of Venus. We published the first report in English of inoculation against disease, approved Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine, documented the eruption of Krakatoa and published Chadwick’s detection of the neutron that would lead to the unleashing of the atom.”

And let’s not forget: they made sure 17th century England could have cold beer in summertime.

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Delia Bacon

Have a drink with: Delia Bacon
“…very wise in the doctrine of consequences.”

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Ask her about: fair and balanced journalism

Once upon a time, two crazies went head-to-head in a public challenge. It was a deeply partisan fight marked by high emotions and questionable discretion, and in the end the loudmouthed, cowardly male nut job won in a maddeningly close vote by going after his intelligent but awkward female opponent with sexism and misdirection.

This was 1847, by the way.  Have we learned nothing?

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New Jersey Justice

Have a drink in: New Jersey
Jug handles and justice.

Ask: what exit?

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No one would blame you for reading the news lately and deciding that 2016 was the year that somehow squeaked past quality control at the Time & Space Assembly Plant, having been created from spare parts by drunken intern howler monkeys.

Even though reasoned voices assure us that things in fact aren’t that bad, that doesn’t mean any of us are exactly sleeping better in the short term. But once again our 19th century friends at the New York Ledger arrive to the rescue, with some brass-tacks advice on where exactly America can find an example of solemn, principled order:

New Jersey.

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