■ Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter
Think you know all about voting? Are you sure about that? I bet you don’t. Rumors and myths abound in a sea of misinformation about American history and, none more prolific and misinforming than the “one vote” cause of either winning or losing elections.
It goes way back. For instance, I’m sure you’ve heard that one vote gave us English instead of German as our national language. That’s not true. Here’s how that got started and somewhere down the line, became skewed into an untruth. Actually, in 1776, a request was made by some Virginia Germans to have certain laws issued in German as well as English. The proposal was presented and the only measure rejected was to adjourn. Rumor has it that the measure failed by one vote. Not at all what you may have thought.
Also in 1776 when Continental Congress’ President John Hancock set forth the question to declare us independent as a new nation, Delaware delegate Caesar Rodney, suffering from a severe facial cancer, rode horseback through a rainstorm to Independence Hall in Philadelphia to cast the deciding vote in favor of the declaration. Without his vote our independence might have been delayed for a long time, or maybe might not even have happened. One vote!
Presidential elections are often close races
During the early years of our new nation, presidential elections were often neck and neck. Such was the case in 1800. Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr were tied in the Electoral College. After 36 ballots in the House of Representatives, the deciding vote elected Thomas Jefferson to be our third president. It is well known that Aaron Burr was later charged with treason.
In 1820 James Monroe, the author of the Monroe Doctrine that protects the Western Hemisphere from foreign invasions, lost re-election by one vote.
During the election of 1824, one member from New York changed his vote, bringing about the election of John Quincy Adams (son of our second president). All four candidates failed to receive a majority in the Electoral College. Andrew Jackson received a majority of the popular vote and actually a majority of the Electoral College vote, but not the required number to win based on the amount needed at that time.
The election of 1876 Samuel Tilden required one more vote in the Electoral College to become president of the United States. He won the popular vote by some 250,000 votes. But again, that stubborn Electoral College denied him their majority. A 15-member electoral commission, by an 8 to 7 vote, threw the election and gave the presidency to Rutherford B. Hayes. One vote.
Barely 12 years later, history was made again when the first black presidential candidate, thanks to the Kentucky delegation, was presented at the Republican National Convention in Chicago. However, abolitionist Frederick Douglass was defeated by Benjamin Harrison, who went on to become president in 1888. One vote!
Probably more discussed since 1960, one vote per precinct in Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, and Texas gave John F. Kennedy the presidency. Richard Nixon would have to wait his turn until 1968.
One vote in 1968, in any three states, denied Hubert Humphrey the presidency. Humphrey had been Lyndon Johnson’s vice president. Humphrey would not have lived out a first term. Most likely Robert F. Kennedy, the martyred president’s younger brother, might well have defeated Nixon. Unfortunately he was assassinated in Los Angeles while celebrating his victory in the California primary that year.
The highly contested 2000 presidential election between Vice President Al Gore and George W. Bush, the former president’s son, would have gone to the vice president except for one dissenting vote in each Florida precinct. George W. Bush won the Electoral College by one vote.
One vote critical in admitting states to the union
In 1850 the great state of California was admitted to the Union by one vote. In 1859 one vote was the margin of admission of Oregon to the Union.
Steward’s Folly, better known as the Alaskan Purchase for $7.2 million from Russia in 1867, was ratified as an American State in 1958 by one vote in the Senate.
In 1889, one vote permitted Washington to become a state. Rolling right along in 1890, Washington’s neighbor, Idaho, also made it into the Union by one vote.
By one vote the State of Tennessee, in 1920 was the last state to ratify that right, now historically the 20th Amendment.
One vote prevents women’s suffrage
In 1872 the issue of women’s suffrage became more than an issue. It became a cause that would not give women the right to vote until 1920. The Territory of North Dakota legislature denied women the suffrage they deserved by one vote. The territory had great foresight, but not enough votes.
The issue of a woman’s right to vote made headlines again in 1911 when one vote per precinct tipped the scales to grant suffrage in California.
The House of Representatives, by one vote in 1918, passed a resolution to amend the Constitution to state that sex should not be a barrier to voting. The following year, by one vote, the United States Senate followed suit.
Treaties, wars, impeachment and the draft
The Indian Removal Act, which uprooted Native Americans from their home and sent them to arid reservations, passed through Congress by one vote. The same thing happened in 1835 when, on Dec. 29, the ratification of a treaty with the Cherokees moved them west of the Mississippi River.
The United States Senate, by one vote, sent President Polk’s Declaration of War against Mexico to him for signature which, as we know, resulted in the bloodbath at The Alamo in San Antonio.
As a result of our victory in the Spanish/American War in 1899, one vote authorized the United States to absorb the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico as American territories. Today only Guam and Puerto Rico remain under the American flag. As a result of the Philippines’ participation with our side against the Empire of Japan, the United States granted the Philippines autonomy on July 4, 1946.
Impeachment of an American president has occurred only twice in the history of our Republic. The first, President Andrew Johnson, who was Lincoln’s vice president, failed to convict by one vote. Senator Lewis of Missouri arose from his sickbed and was brought into the chamber to cast the decisive vote that kept Johnson in office. Most historians believe that a grave miscarriage of justice was avoided. One vote!
The Selective Service Act (The Draft) was extended from one year to two and one-half years by one vote in 1941, four months before the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, which plunged us into a war already raging in Europe.
Did you know that we had one vote less than needed to pass the 27th Amendment in 2006, which would have banned burning of the United States Flag. One vote!
And in 2009, one vote defeated President Obama’s Universal Health Care Bill in the United State Senate.
The right to vote has been a struggle from the beginning of our journey. In some states only land-owners had the vote. Religion also played havoc with the right to vote.
So, when you look into the mirror and say, “I don’t have time to vote. My vote isn’t worth much anyway,” remember some of the greatest changes and decisions ever made were the result of one vote.
If we want to keep our country free–VOTE! Just sayin’.