Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Negative campaign in the US presidential election of 1800

Jill Lepore's review of Edward J. Larson's A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America’s First Presidential Campaign is full of fascinating stuff. While you will have to read the review for a flavor of "smear tactics [and] skulduggery" employed in that election by both sides, I want to highlight a curious passion of a lone individual:

... [In] one of the strangest and most heroic tales in the annals of American historical research, a man named Phil Lampi decided to devote his life to compiling [the election returns from that era]. He began this work in 1960, when he was still in high school. Living in a home for boys, he wanted, most of all, to be left alone, so he settled on a hobby that nobody else would be interested in. He went to the library and, using old newspapers, started making tally sheets of every election in American history. His system was flawless. It occupied endless hours. Completeness became his obsession. For decades, at times supporting himself by working as a night watchman, Lampi made lists of election returns on notepads. He drove all over the country, scouring the archives by day, sleeping in his car by night. He eventually transcribed the returns of some sixty thousand elections. Since 2004, the American Antiquarian Society, in Worcester, Massachusetts, has been digitizing Lampi’s collection; soon “A New Nation Votes: American Election Returns, 1787-1825” will be available online.