The strength of the great political parties that have divided the suffrages of the country almost since the union of the States under the Constitution has usually been pretty evenly balanced in Norwich. Elections have been sharply contested, and party feeling has frequently run high. Up to the formation of the Republican Party (1854 or 1855) a majority of the voters in town generally ranged themselves with the political disciples of Jefferson and Jackson, though on several occasions, notably in the Harrison campaign of 1840, their ascendancy was successfully contested by the Whigs. In the state election of 1854, the Democrats lost the hold upon the town which they had maintained with few interruptions for almost a quarter of a century. During the years that have succeeded, they have never, at any state or general election, succeeded in rallying a majority to the support of their candidates for office.
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Inasmuch as the history of a town, in the larger forms of governmental action, unites and blends with that of the State and nation, we give a brief survey of the changes of political opinion in Norwich, as shown by the votes of the freemen at successive elections.
During the presidency of John Adams the old Federal and Republican parties took their definite shape. At this time, and until the second term of Jefferson’s administration the political bias of the town was decidedly Federal. As presidential electors were chosen by the legislature until 1828, there was no popular vote for president in Vermont prior to the election of that year. Isaac Tichenor was the Federal candidate for governor from 1797 to 1810, and the records show that he received the support of the town for that office at nine out of the thirteen elections included in that period. In 1803 Jonathan Robinson, the Republican nominee, led Tickenor by a large majority in Norwich, but in the next two years fell slightly behind. In 1807 and 1808 the Republicans were again ahead, giving Israel Smith a majority which he, however, lost again in 1809, in the town as he did also in the State, the embargo, Jefferson‘s pet measure for preventing war with Britain and France, proving very unpopular in New England.
Israel Smith was the first governor elected by the Republicans after party lines were strictly drawn in Vermont. In 1810, Republican ascendency was well established in both town and State, Jonas Galusha being chosen governor in that year and holding the executive chair continuously till 1820, except the years 1813 and 1814, when Martin Chittenden, Federalist, defeated him in the legislature, there being no choice by the people. The Norwich Republicans, however, with whom the war was popular, encouraged by Lieutenant Governor Brigham and other leading townsmen, kept their ranks unbroken while the State reverted to Federalism. The statement of the vote for governor in Norwich during these three years of war with England is as follows:
- 1812 Jonas Galusha, Republican, 182; Martin Chittenden, Federalist, 100; Scattering, 9.
- 1813 Galusha, 165; Chittenden, 103; Scattering, 5.
- 1814 Galusha, 165; Chittenden, 108; Scattering, 9.
The steadfastness of the party vote on both sides at these elections shows the earnestness of politics at this time and proves that every ballot was counted. By like majorities, Pierce Burton, Republican, was chosen representative to the general assembly in 1812 and 1813, and Doctor Israel Newton in 1814, over Reuben Hatch, Federalist. Pierce Burton first represented the town in 1802 and again in 1805, 1809, 1810, and 1811, thus marking the growing preference for the Jeffersonian politics in the town.
After the close of the war, in 1815, there was a lull in party strife for ten or twelve years, resulting in the gradual disintegration of the old Federal and Republican parties and the bringing in of the so called “era of good feeling” in politics (1820-1828). The volume of the popular vote which had reached an aggregate of over 35,000 in the State in 1814, but fell to 16,000 at the election of 1818 and to less than 12,000 in 1826, attests that partisan politics were now at a very low ebb in Vermont, and notes the subsidence of that party rage which culminated during the last year of the war.
During this period of harmony the town was represented in the legislature by Don J. Brigham, second son of Governor Brigham (1815-1820), by Aaron Loveland (1820-1824), and by Thomas Emerson (1824-1828). At the September election of 1823, Judge Loveland received all the votes but one cast for town representative, the total vote for governor being only sixty-one at the same election. That year probably witnessed the low water mark of political excitement during the first half century of Vermont history. In 1827 and 1828 there was a memorable contest between Thomas Emerson and Judge Loveland for the legislature, resulting in the choice of Mr. Emerson by a small majority each year, in 1828, by twenty-three votes out of a total of 369, a much larger number than had been cast at any previous election, and never exceeded afterwards except by a small excess in the presidential elections of 1840 and 1844.
A departure in national politics marked the accession of Andrew Jackson to the presidency in 1828 and in the years immediately following the Whig and Democratic parties were evolved out of some-what diverse materials, and new affiliations of the voting masses took place. From 1830 to 1835, Anti-Masonry continued to be a disturbing element in the political cauldron, Vermont electing an Anti-Mason (William A. Palmer) to the gubernatorial chair in the years 1831 to 1835, and giving her solitary electoral vote to the Anti-Masonic candidate for president in 1832, William Wirt of Maryland. Anti-Masonry, however, never gained a firm foothold in Norwich. It reached the zenith of its popularity about the year 1833, when Palmer, Anti-Mason, received a plurality of five votes over Ezra Meech, Democrat, for governor. Even in that year, Captain Alden Partridge was chosen representative by 131 votes to ninety-five for Judge Loveland and seven scattering, and was re-elected in 1834, 1837, and 1839, in the latter year defeating Thomas Hazen, Whig, who had represented the town the year before after a close canvass against Doctor Ira Davis, Democrat. Captain Partridge was also the candidate of the Democratic party for Congress in 1830, 1834, 1836, and 1838, in the latter two years, when but two tickets were in the field, beating his Whig competitor, Honorable Horace Everett.
As early as 1834 the Democratic phalanx appears well organized and drilled in Norwich, and during the next twenty years it marched steadily on, with the prestige of almost uninterrupted success. This period (1833-1854) may be fitly called the period of Democratic ascendency in town. Of these twenty years the Democrats elected the representative in fourteen, the Whigs in but five, with no choice in one year. Of the five presidential elections occurring in the same time, the only decided success of the Whigs was that of 1840, when the tidal wave that carried General Harrison to the highest office in the land, and revolutionized the political control of a dozen States, engulfed the Norwich Democrats and gave the Whig electors a majority of sixty-one in a total poll of 382 votes. At every election but one (1840) for a score of years, the Democrats of Norwich gave their candidate for Congress, and in every year but three (1840, 1847, and 1851) their State ticket, a majority of votes in town, or a plurality after the advent of the Free Soil party.
It must not be inferred, however, that the opposition to the Democracy was idle or indifferent in those years. Nearly every election was contested with desperate energy. Often the result was almost a drawn battle, decided by a narrow margin of less than a dozen votes. In twelve out of twenty consecutive years, the successful candidate for town representative was chosen on a slender majority of from six to sixteen votes in an aggregate of 300 to 350 ballots cast. In 1842 Doctor Ira Davis, Democrat, was elected by eleven majority and in the following year re-elected by the same number, on the third ballot. In 1845 and 1846 Doctor Converse, Whig was successful, in the former year after six balloting, and in the latter year by the fifth balloting, by six majority. In 1847 William Loveland, Whig, had eight majority on the seventh ballot, and in 1848 there was no choice after twelve balloting. In 1851 Samuel Goddard, Whig, received eight majority on the fourth ballot, and in 1852 Lewis S. Partridge, Democrat, thirteen majority on the second ballot, and Mr. Partridge was re-elected the next year by seven majority in a total poll of 343 votes.
Meanwhile a new political organization based upon opposition to the extension of slavery was rapidly coming into notice. The anti-slavery sentiment early took firm root in Norwich. Beginning with the birth of the “Liberty Party” in 1840, when one vote was cast by Deacon Sylvester Morris for James G. Birney (who received but 319 in the State and some seven thousand in the whole country), the party gained in numbers from year to year, and drew to itself some of the best material of both the old parties. As early as the year 1845 its voters easily held the balance of power between Whigs and Democrats, an advantage they were not slow to use to advance their party interests. They polled thirty-nine votes that year for William R. Slafter, for governor, and three years later gave Morrill J. Walker ninety-five votes for town representative. Their support was courted by both the old parties, chiefly by putting in nomination men who sympathized with their distinctive opinions. By their help Doctor Shubael Converse, a Whig of anti-slavery proclivities, was sent to the legislature in 1845 and 1846. But in 1849-50 the State witnessed a general coalition of Free Soilers and Democrats, and Horatio Needham, Free Democrat, received a majority of eighty-three in Norwich over Carlos Cooledge, Whig, who was made governor by the legislature, for want of an election by the popular vote.
The question of slavery extension had now become the absorbing question of the hour, in which all the old political differences were speedily sunk and forgotten. A general break-up of existing parties was at hand and a recombination of their elements into new forms. Before 1856 the Whig party had disappeared forever in Vermont, and in the presidential election of that year Norwich gave its suffrage in a proportion of more than two to one to the candidates of the young and vigorous Republican organization of the country. Such was the answer of the town and State to the imperious demand of the American Slavocracy, that slavery be made national and freedom sectional, through inhuman Fugitive Slave Laws, repeal of the time-honored Missouri Compromise, and Border-Ruffianism in Kansas. With the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, this new party took the helm of administration and a new chapter was opened in the political history of the country, the record of whose pages is not yet complete. This record, familiar to the memory of living men and pregnant with events of mighty import to the American people and to the human race, it will be the task of the future historian to trace.
Votes for President — 1828 to 1900
- John Quincy Adams, Nat. Republican 172
- Andrew Jackson, Democrat 35
- William Wirt, Anti-Mason 42
- Henry Clay, Nat. Republican 73
- Andrew Jackson, Democrat 43
- Martin Van Buren, Democrat 137
- William H. Harrison, Whig 93
- William H. Harrison, Whig 221
- Martin Van Buren, Democrat 160
- James G. Birney, Liberty 1
- Henry Clay, Whig 164
- James K. Polk, Democrat 163
- James G. Birney, Liberty 12
- Lewis Cass, Democrat 125
- Zachary Taylor, Whig 112
- Charles Francis Adams,- Free Soil 96
- Franklin Pierce, Democrat 129
- Winfield Scott, Whig 119
- John P. Hale, Free Soil 65
- John C. Fremont, Republican 222
- James Buchanan, Democrat 109
- Abraham Lincoln, Republican 210
- John C. Breckenridge, Democrat 92
- Stephen A. Douglass, Democrat 7
- Abraham Lincoln, Republican 216
- George B. McClellan, Democrat 150
- Ulysses S. Grant, Republican 228
- Horatio Seymour, Democrat 109
- Ulysses S. Grant, Republican 191
- Horace Greeley, Democrat 30
- Charles O’Connor, Democrat 32
- Rutherford B. Hayes, Republican 194
- Samuel J. Tilden, Democrat 157
- James A. Garfield, Republican 235
- Winfield S. Hancock, Democrat 116
- Neal Dow, Prohibition 1
- James G. Blaine, Republican 183
- Grover Cleveland, Democrat 116
- John P. St. John, Prohibition 15
- Benjamin Harrison, Republican 154
- Grover Cleveland, Democrat 75
- William McKinley, Republican 194
- William J. Bryan, Democrat 40
- William McKinley, Republican 162
- William J. Bryan, Democrat 60