Idaho partisan politics in October 1864, in the midst of the long and bloody Civil War, were as lively as they have been in any election year since, and were certainly different. Idaho City’s Boise News, published from September 1863 until October 1864, describes that long-ago election vividly.
“The Two Meetings — Last Saturday evening the two political parties had a grand turnout in this city, the speakers’ stands being only about 200 yards apart. The Union party had a torchlight procession numbering in the neighborhood of 500 torches, besides fireworks, cannon, etc. but it was no use — Democracy’s name was legion.” In 1864, Democrats in Idaho outnumbered Republicans — the Union party — by a wide margin. (Not until 1872 would Republicans win an election in Boise City.)
On Oct. 15, 1864, the Boise News wrote, “Election Day — Monday came and went as all other days come and go in the ceaseless round of ages and whirl of time bringing nothing unusual in its train save the election, and that was conducted as peaceably and quietly as was possible under the circumstances. Much noise was necessarily permitted to escape from lips whose heads and stomachs were overcharged with whiskey, but all in ‘great good humor.’ Hundreds of men whom we had never suspected of being politicians suddenly developed themselves as such and were to be seen from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof, with bundles of tickets in all manner of disjointed exclamations — ‘here’s your regular Independent miners ticket.’ ‘here’s your regular Democratic ticket.’ ‘here’s your regular Union ticket’ etc., etc., conspiring to create such a Babel of confused noises as is seldom heard anywhere outside of Pandemonium.
“Others cried ‘hurrah for Jeff Davis and three cheers for Abe Lincoln’ with the same breath, not caring a sixpence who won but delighted with the election and free whiskey, and earnestly praying that it might continue the year round. At six o’clock the polls were closed, and Paston’s band which had been engaged by the Union party for several days was employed by the Democracy, and struck up ‘Dixie’ from the portico of the Occidental Hotel, eliciting shouts of applause to such a degree that the board of election were unable to proceed with the canvassing of the votes, accordingly they were requested to retire, which they did to the Democratic stand in front of White’s Exchange, where speaking and music were kept up alternately to a late hour in the night, and as one orator expressed it, much ‘enthusiasm’ was manifest ‘rolling through the hearts of the people.
“Jollifications — The Democracy advertise a series of jollification meetings, to commence this evening in this city — tomorrow evening in Placerville, Monday evening at Pioneer and Tuesday evening at Centerville. If not a glorious one, they have certainly won a great victory and are entitled to jollify.
“The Duty of a Patriot — It is the duty of every lover and supporter of republican institutions to abide the result of every fairly conducted election without a murmur. In the event of a partisan success it is manly and noble to bear the honor with meekness and not excessively exult over the misfortunes of a defeated opponent. It is equally honorable in the defeated party to bow with humble submission to the will of the majority.”
These idealistic words, printed in that same edition of Idaho City’s Boise News on Saturday, Oct. 15, 1864, are as timely in 2016 as they were back then. The Boise News was the predecessor of the Idaho World, which began publication just two weeks later, on Oct. 29, 1864.
Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.