As Forge goes to the printer this fall, the United States is preparing for another presidential election. How did your ancestors participate and respond when elections occurred in their lifetimes? Mrs. F.A.C. wardenburg (nee Martha Bigelow) owns a small diary kept by her ancestor Rev. Alpheus S. Bigelow, who lived in upper New York state The diary is tiny (2 3/4 x 4 1/2 inches), and was kept for the year 1852 only. Every entry was in miniscule manuscript requiring much concentration to decipher. Alpheus Bigelow was a great admirer of the statesman Daniel Webster, who, it was hoped, would run for the presidency on the Whig ticket in 1852. Alpheus (1816-1886) daily wrote down his comments and feelings of the progress of the campaign. Here are selections which reveal both the man and his times:
Clintonville, New York. Monday, 24 May 1852. Political parties, "Whigs", "Democrats", and "Free soilers" with their various subdivisions of hunkers and barnburners, fogies old and young, Silver greys and wooley heads, are brushing up their political armor and making preparations for the approaching political campaign. To one who like myself stands on neutral ground, The whole thing looks Superlatively Silly.
Wednesday, 16 June 1852.
The Whig national convention meets today in Baltimore for the purpose of nominating Candidates for the Presidency and vice-ditto for the U.S. Fillmore, Scott, and Webster are the trio from which a selection is to be made for the former.
Tuesday, 22 June 1852.
News was received last night from the Whig convention; General Scott is the nominee for the highest office in the gift of the people of this great Republic. General Pierce of New Hampshire is the Candidate of the Democratic party--next November will bring success to one, and defeat to the other--for one, I feel quite indifferent to the result.
Tuesday, 12 Oct 1852.
These are the days that try the Christian integrity of the Lord's people. Politicians are in the heat and excitement of the Presidential Campaign, party feeling runs high, and it is difficult even for good men who have been accustomed to mix in party politics to resist the temptation to sacrifice Christian principle to advance party ends. For myself, I can have nothing to do with parties. Their leaders are for the most part demagogues.
Wednesday, 27 Oct 1852.
It is said that "death loves a Shining mark", but facts however, prove that he selects his victims without reference to the condition or age. The high and the low, the rich and the poor, the noble and the ignoble fall alike pierced by the fatal arrow from his ever replenished quiver. These remarks are suggested by the intelligence recently received of the death of Daniel Webster, Secretary of State for the United States, and one of the names before the late Whig National Convention from which a candidate was selected for the office of President. He was claimed by his admirers (and the claim, I believe, was generally admitted by his political opponents) to be the greatest Statesman and the ablest diplomatist the country has ever produced It is possible that chagrin and disappointment occasioned by his defeat at the convention may have hastened his death
Monday, 1 November 1852
November has arrived and tomorrow the great question -- who shall be President? --will be decided It is reasonable to suppose that the death of Webster will increase the probabilities of General Scott's election as he was the candidate of a faction of the Whig party whose members were dissatisfied with the nomination made by the National Convention. It will without doubt be a closely contested Election.
Thursday, 4 November 1852
Election returns already received by telegraph in Burlington [VT] render it almost certain that the State of New York has gone Democratic by a large majority, and that the Pierce-King electoral ticket prevails nearly without exception.
This entry ends the political thoughts in the Reverend Alpheus Bigelow's diary for 1852. He apparently had been hopeful that webs ter would win the nomination. However Pierce, the genial lawyer from New Hampshire who had not sought the election became President Pierce had hoped to purchase Cuba from Spain, but when three of his ministers declared that they thought the U.S. should take Cuba, he was forced to denounce them
An interesting book, published about ten years ago, entitled Daniel Webster and the THE POLITICAL CAMPAIGN QF 1852 Trial of American Nationalism, by Robert Dalzell, was reported in the New York Times to be a "brilliantly argued explanation of the way the federal structure of our political system prevents men like Webster from rising to the top". Three- quarters of a century ago, with webster very much in mind, Lord Bryce speculated in the American Commonwealth on "Why Great Men Are Not Chosen Presidents." The matter may be considered somewhat pertinent to our present situation in the United States of America.
As now, the real problems of the country were not discussed in 1852. For them, it was expansionism, but above all, the issue on slavery Finally, Dalzell recreated the tragedy of webster's last years "Rejected by Northerners and Southerners, exhausted and ill, webster retreated to his beloved farm at Marshfield to die Toward the end, when friends tried to cheer him with talk of a future presidential contest, he faced reality 'I have no future on earth,' he cried out, 'my past is my future."'
It is said that the criteria of a good diary are
(l) It must show the writer in his daily environment;
(2) It must record the world and national situations; and
(3) It must revea1 the writer's philosophy
Alpheus Sidney7 Bigelow (Samuel6, Roger5, Joseph4, Joseph3, Joshua2, John1 ), through these very brief extracts, opens our minds to what the common voter thought of politics and national affairs. Alpheus wrote also about his daily life, his financial worries, his unexplained illnesses, his young family, his profound spiritual struggles, the books he read, the periodicals he subscribed to, and the great extremes of temperature in northern New York. He was a Methodist. He worked in his younger years in an iron foundry; eventually the foundry fell upon hard times, which set Alpheus free to do what he really longed to do--to become a Methodist minister.
Extracted with comments by Mrs. F.A.C. Wardenburg, Carefree, AZ. For more material on this branch of the family, look for the January issue of Forge, and a letter from Loyal Bigelow: