90 Miles From Tyranny : 7 of the Most Epic Midterm Elections in American History

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

7 of the Most Epic Midterm Elections in American History

President Donald Trump isn’t on the ballot, but will face the biggest electoral test of his presidency so far during Tuesday’s midterm election—one that may well end in repudiation or vindication.

History is not on any president’s side in a midterm election. Since 1862, the president’s party on average loses 32 House seats and more than two Senate seats in a midterm.

And in the 47 midterms since 1826, the president’s party lost seats in 41 of them.

Several scenarios could play out.

The opposition party could gain what President Barack Obama called a “shellacking” when Republicans won 63 House seats in 2010. It could be a rare victory for the president’s party—which occurred only three times in the past 100 years: 1934, 1998, and 2002.

Another likelihood is somewhere in between, such as in 1962 and 1990, when the president’s party suffered only modest losses.

Here’s a look at the shellackings, triumphs, and could’ve-been-worse midterm outcomes that helps put the 2018 contests into perspective.

1. 1826 and the First Blue Wave

The public had a bad taste in its mouth from the deadlocked 1824 presidential election. Because no candidate had a majority of electoral votes, the election went to the House of Representatives.

House Speaker Henry Clay threw his support behind John Quincy Adams in his victory over Andrew Jackson. Jackson and his supporters called it a “corrupt bargain” when Adams named Clay his secretary of state.

New factions were born, replacing the old Federalist and Democratic-Republican parties. Adams, son of the nation’s second president, represented the National Republicans; Jackson supporters called themselves Democrats.

Jackson’s political forces targeted House members who voted for Adams in the House showdown but whose constituents voted for Jackson—making 1826 a referendum on 1824.

In 1826, Democrats won 113-100 majority in the House and also took a majority in the Senate, which at the time was not directly elected.

2. Republicans’ First Victory in 1858

President James Buchanan’s Democratic Party was divided over the issue of slavery, even as Buchanan backed the new state of Kansas having a pro-slavery constitution.

This made room for the infant, anti-slavery Republican Party to win a plurality in the House of Representatives—enough to take control.

The American Party and the Whigs had nearly collapsed, but still managed to elect some members in 1858. Although Republicans were four seats shy of a majority, they formed a governing coalition.

This would be the last midterm congressional election before the Civil War. One famous Republican lost that year.

Though U.S. senators were not directly elected at the time, Senate candidates campaigned and state legislative races served as proxy Senate elections.

This was the year when a former one-term House member, Republican Abraham Lincoln, gained national prominence for his failed Senate bid against the incumbent Democrat, Stephen Douglas.

The race gained national attention largely because Douglas was widely presumed to be the Democrats’ next presidential nominee, and he was.

Lincoln and Douglas would face one another in a 1860 rematch for the presidency, with a different result.

3. The 1874 Democratic Comeback

After the Civil War, the Democratic Party was identified as the party of the vanquished Confederacy, making it largely a regional party in the South.

To rub it in, Republicans conducted what came to be called the “bloody shirt campaign,” reminding voters that maybe not every Democrat was a rebel but every rebel was a Democrat.

Nearly a decade after the end of the war, this blot began to fade as Democratic congressional candidates won even in...
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