Election Day

On November 4, 1884, Democrat Grover Cleveland defeated Republican James G. Blaine ending a particularly acrimonious campaign. The outcome of the presidential race was determined by the electoral vote of New York, which Cleveland won with a plurality of just 1,047 votes. Former Senator and Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz was among those reform-minded Republicans who crossed party lines—swing votes can make the difference on election day—to support Cleveland, the first Democrat to occupy the White House after the Civil War.

President Grover Cleveland, half-length portrait, facing right. C.M. Bell, c1888. Prints & Photographs Division

In an effort to address the problem of voter fraud in presidential elections, Congress passed legislation in 1845 requiring the simultaneous selection of presidential electors in each state. Prior to the enactment of this law, states selected presidential electors on different dates. The new law stipulated that presidential electors be selected on the “Tuesday next after the first Monday in the month of November of the year in which they are to be appointed.” The 1848 election was the first presidential election in which Americans in every state voted on the same day.

In 1872, legislation was passed that moved election day for the House of Representatives to the same Tuesday in November. The act was amended to include Senate elections after the Seventeenth Amendment was enacted.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, three-quarter length portrait, standing, facing slightly left, hand on back of chair. Fabian Bachrach, c1952. Prints & Photographs Division

Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected president on November 4, 1952. A popular World War II general who ran on the slogan “I Like Ike,” Eisenhower easily defeated Democrat Adlai Stevenson.

As early as the 1930s, Americans were already yearning for the excitement of election days past. “Politics played a big part in the life of this town years ago,” Thomaston, Connecticut, First Selectman E. R. Kaiser observed in 1938:

Campaigns were hot, and there was always a big celebration afterwards. Used to have torchlight parades, and the whole town would turn out, either to watch ’em or to march…Each man wore a blue cape and carried a lantern on his shoulder. There were two bands in town, those days, Grilley’s band and the Clock Shop band, and they’d both turn out.

[E. R. Kaiser]. Francis Donovan, interviewer; Thomaston, Conn., December 15, 1938. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940. Manuscript Division

Election Day!. E. W. Gustin, artist, c1909. Prints & Photographs Division

The timeline One Hundred Years Toward Suffrage provides an overview of the women’s suffrage movement. Learn more about this movement by visiting the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection, consisting of books, pamphlets, and other artifacts documenting the suffrage campaign.

Three Suffragists Casting Votes in New York City(?). ca. 1917. National Photo Company Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

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