Show of hands – who knows who William Wirt was? Hmm – looks like some of you didn’t do your homework. Wirt was born in 1777 in Maryland. That was before my time and way out of our neck of the woods, and you are probably thinking that he has nothing to do with anything, and I have (finally) snapped my twigs, and am rambling in the wilderness, right?
The most important thing Wirt did was handle the office of Attorney General of the U. S. in such a fine way that it became an important and well-regarded office. But what you need to know for present purposes is that in 1832 he was chosen to be the Anti-Masonic Party candidate for president. I am not sure why, since he had been a Mason himself and never spoke out against them himself. His running mate was named Amos Ellmaker, but that will not be on the quiz. The Anti-Masonic Party was definitely a one issue party, but it got some attention here and there and became the first third party to win a state in the national election. That state was Vermont. (It may be of interest to you that the first Grand Master of Masons in Vermont was Milton’s Noah Smith. Smith had his ups and downs; he died a pauper, but eventually the state organization of Masons put a monument over his unmarked grave up in the Village Cemetery, where you can still find it in the oldest section near the road).
That is all an illustration of Vermont’s quirky political ways. We think we know how things are going to go – but there is always a possibility someone will throw a wrench in the works. When I was young, Republicans always took Vermont, as they had been doing for a hundred years. I’m not sure we even knew there were two parties. Dad tells a story about one of our smaller towns where the votes were being counted, one at a time, and a ballot for Democratic candidates turned up. The board of civil authority agreed that was kind of strange, but they set it aside and went on totaling up the ballots. Presently they came upon a second Democratic ballot. “Huh,” said the town clerk. “The son of a gun must have voted twice!” They probably threw away both ballots as obviously fraudulent!
In another vein, he says that back in the day when the office of postmaster was a political appointment, the holder of the office in each town changed parties when the national administration did. He told me that in Johnson (and no doubt other small towns) they were hard put to find a suitable Democrat in the years Democrats had the top hand in Washington! I wonder if it was because there were no Democrats or whether no one wanted to admit to being one.
All that changed when I was in high school and Phil Hoff won the governor’s office. That was in 1963. I remember we used to listen to the returns on the radio on election nights and someone said, “Rutland hasn’t been counted yet, and they always go Democratic, so don’t make any predictions yet.” Back then counting ballots was a painstaking hands on process; as far as I recall there were no exit polls, so we had to wait. This was the absolutely first election that there was actually a question of the Republicans losing the governors’ office, and therefore quite exciting!
The next day at school you could suddenly tell which students were Democrats. They suddenly glowed! It was like when the 2004 Red Sox took the pennant after more than 80 years – at last, there was a break in the curse. Vermont has not been the same since either 1963 or 2004. Don’t forget to vote.