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Nineteenth-Century Election-Day Prints

Voting for a candidate on Election Day a hundred years ago was no private matter. Although printed lists had superseded the earlier practice of verbal voting in practically all of the thirty-one states, proceedings at the polls were still informal and uninhibited. There were few state regulations, no voting booths, no numbered ballots, and no ban on electioneering at the polling place. Ballots, usually of a distinctive color, were furnished by political organizations and distributed by party workers. Each voter, vigilantly watched by his party captain, presented his ballot to the moderator in full view of those present, and how he voted was no secret.

The print called "County Election" portrays a typical scene in Missouri during the 1850's. Drawn after a painting done in 1851 by George Caleb Bingham, it is one of four showing different campaign phases as he saw them, probably during his own campaign and election to the Missouri State legislature in 1848. The first two, "Canvassing for a Vote" and "County Election," were done in 1851; "Stump Speaking" and "The Verdict of the People," were done in 1854. Prints of all except the last were published and examples are still in existence. "County Election" was engraved by John Sartain in 1854 and published by Goupil et Cie, Paris. It measures 22,1/8inches by 30,1/8 inches and is hand-colored. It may also be found in black and white.

The original painting of "Canvassing for a Vote" is now lost but prints of it, drawn by Regnier and published by Goupil in 1853, still exists. "Stump Speaking" was drawn by Gautier, originally published by Goupil and later by Fishel, Afler and Schwartz, New York. It is the same size as the engraving of "County Election." "The Verdict of The People" was to have been published as a lithograph about 1870 but the stone on which it was drawn unfortunately was broken.

The artist who put the story of early political campaigns on canvas, George Caleb 13ingham, was born in Virginia in 1811 and was taken by his family to Missouri when he was eight. There he spent the rest of his life save for a few years in Philadelphia and Europe where he studied art. He died in Kansas City in 1879 after a successful career of over forty years as a painter of genre subjects and portraits. He evidently took a keen interest in public affairs and the life about him. This is apparent especially in his genre paintings, which include, besides those already mentioned from which prints were made, "The Jolly Flatboatmen," published 1848 "In a Quandary," published 1852, and "The Emigration of Daniel Boone with His Family," published in 1852.

During his lifetime, his chief income was from his portraits. He is best appreciated today for his genre paintings, possibly because they were done during the years of his best work, from 1837 to 1856. In these paintings, both his skill as a portrait painter and his interest in humanity are strikingly exemplified.

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