Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Ides of March

Thanks to William Shakespeare, this day is well-known to many. Most English Literature students are familiar with the phrase, "Beware the Ides of March." It comes from Shakespeare's play, Julius Caesar. A soothsayer warned the Roman Emperor that something ominous had appeared on the horizon and this day would reveal it.

Well -- actually, Shakespeare's account was rooted in reality. Julius Caesar was actually warned by a Roman mystic that a period of darkness was in his future that would last until the Ides of March. Caesar dismissed this prophecy as faulty and continued his normal activities. In fact, according to some sources, Caesar actually passed by this soothsayer as he was walking to a meeting of the Roman Senate on March 15, 44 BC. Supposedly, Caesar remarked that the Ides had come. The soothsayer replied, "But not gone."

Turns out -- it was a fateful day for Julius Caesar. He walked into an ambush that day at the Theater of Pompey (temporary home of the Roman Senate). He actually was in attendance to let the Senate know that he was planning to postpone their meeting. After taking his seat on the Emperor's Throne, he was attacked and fatally stabbed some 23 times. Wow! Beware indeed!

And--today is a pivotal day in the election cycle in the Presidential Primaries in the US. Hopefully, none of the candidates received an Ides of March message! This has been an interesting primary season, to say the least. I have heard many folks express their anxiety about the races this year. Some have lamented that this may be the most controversial election in our history.

It will have to be incredibly controversial to win that designation! We have had some pretty interesting elections in our history as a nation. We have not had our leader stabbed by a host of Senators like ancient Rome--but we have had some doozies of elections.

For example, in 1824 John Quincy Adams was elected President of the US. However, Andrew Jackson won 99 Electoral votes and over 41% of the popular vote. Adams only won 31% of the popular vote and just 84 Electoral votes. There were four candidates who ran that year--and all from the Democratic-Republican Party. Because Jackson did not win enough of a majority of the vote, the House of Representatives had to elect the President. Henry Clay was the fourth candidate in the race and did not earn enough votes to be on the ballot in the House. However, he was the Speaker of the House and he hated Andrew Jackson!

So, what happened? Henry Clay led the charge against Andrew Jackson and convinced enough state delegations to vote for Adams. Finally, after all the deliberations, John Quincy Adams was named President, marking the only time in our history that the candidate who garnered the most votes in the Electoral College was not elected president! And--Adams promptly named Henry Clay his new Secretary of State! Talk about controversial!

Or, what about the election of 1860? Abraham Lincoln won the nomination to run for President of the US and nine states in the South refused to allow his name of the ballots! Or, what about the election of 1876 between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden? Tilden easily won the popular vote, but voter fraud in the Electoral College threw the election into the House of Representatives. Oregon turned in two ballots because of the infighting of their political parties. Finally, Tilden's supporters agreed to let Hayes become President if he would end Reconstruction in the South--even though he did not have the votes to win. He agreed and served one term as President.

Or, what about the election of 1872 when Horace Greeley tried to unseat President Grant? Greeley received 2.8 million votes which qualified him for 86 Electoral votes. Then, he died before the Electoral College met to cast their votes. This was unprecedented in US history. His Electors agreed to split their votes among other candidates. However, three of the Electors refused to change their ballots and all cast their votes for Horace Greeley. This was the only time in history that Electors cast their votes for a dead candidate!

So, this election cycle feels like it is out of control to some folks. It has been characterized by some low blows and crazy antics. I am not particularly enjoying it. After all, this is the race for President! However, I am encouraged by the fact that our nation has faced challenging elections in the past. Hopefully, we will find our way through this one!