Herald Librarian Mary Braswell provides a few minutes of presidential and election history for Albany Golden K Kiwanis members at their meeting Wednesday. On a more serious note, Braswell said only about 42 percent of Americans vote in a given election.
ALBANY, Ga. -- Members of the Albany Golden K Kiwanis club got an interesting and often humorous lesson in presidential and election history when Mary Braswell spoke at their Wednesday morning meeting.
"I'm not here to educate you," Braswell said. "I'm not here to stump for a candidate. Mostly I'm here to entertain you."
Braswell, librarian and columnist at The Albany Herald, began with some curiosities concerning electoral versus popular voting outcomes in past presidential elections.
"In 1884 Grover Cleveland won against James Blaine with a 37-electoral-vote margin but a margin of just 7/10 of 1 percent in the popular vote," Braswell said. "Four years later, in 1888, Cleveland was defeated by Benjamin Harrison -- again by 37 electoral votes, but actually winning the popular vote by a margin of 8/10 of 1 percent. So you see, your vote really can make a difference."
According to Braswell, it would be another 112 years -- in the 2000 contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore -- that a president would again be elected without a majority of the popular vote.
Braswell said that every state but Louisiana and (just recently) California allows for a write-in candidate, and the biggest write-in win in national history was that of Sen. Strom Thurmond in 1954. In fact, it remains the only time a U.S. Senate seat was won by write-in ballot.
"(Thurmond) was, without a doubt, a racist and a segregationist," Braswell said. "A lot of his views were objectionable to members of his own party, which had selected someone else to be their candidate. Thurmond won with 63 percent of the vote."
According to Braswell, presidential elections of a century or two ago could be just as nasty as they are today -- without a hope for checking facts. Thomas Jefferson actually hired someone to write insults about his opponent, John Adams.
"It wasn't necessary to do an in-depth history," Braswell said. "They just made things up."
Braswell said it was once considered "tacky" for candidates to actually visit cities to "stump" or campaign for votes. When Abraham Lincoln's presidential opponent, Stephen Douglas, tried to visit his mother in New York for more than a month, Lincoln issued a "lost child" bulletin on the 5 foot, 4 inch Douglas.
Grover Cleveland was the only president who had ever been a hangman. He was also the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms.
Dwight Eisenhower was the only president to serve in both world wars.
James Buchanan quietly and consistently bought slaves in Washington and set them free in Pennsylvania.
"He didn't make a big thing about it," Braswell said. "Very few people knew about it."
James Garfield could write in Greek with one hand and Latin with the other -- at the same time.
Abraham Lincoln was the first president to be photographed at his inauguration. In the background appears John Wilkes Booth, who would assassinate him at Ford's Theatre.
William Howard Taft, a 326-pound president, would finally replace the White House bath tub after becoming stuck in the old one more than once.
On a more serious note, Braswell told the membership she could look at the faces in this room and know that most in attendance exercised their rights to vote. According to Braswell, only about 42 percent of American citizens vote during presidential elections.
"That would be like having a committee of 100, sending 58 of them home and saying 'we'll make all the decisions for the rest of you,'" she said.