A look at presidential politics -- Maryland-style

November 03, 1992|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Staff Writer

An article in Tuesday's editions of The Sun incorrectly reported that Baltimore has voted for Democratic Party presidential candidates more than any subdivision in Maryland since 1864. The correct date is 1860.

Also, the article reported that Frederick Douglass was the only Marylander, other than Spiro T. Agnew, to run for vice president. Two other Marylanders ran for that office on party tickets: William Daniel ran on the National Prohibition Party ticket in 1884, and R. Sargent Shriver ran in 1972 on the Democratic ticket.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Trivia question: Citizens of Pennsylvania and which other state have participated as voters in the election of presidents since the nation's very first election?


John T. Willis, student of Maryland's political history and active Democrat (he's an aide to Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening), provides the answer:

You guessed it, Maryland.

Mr. Willis has worked his way through the archive of Maryland's electoral history ward by ward, precinct by precinct, packing box by packing box. He has looked at tally sheets prepared and filed away as long as 200 years ago by the employees of the Founding Fathers.

The result of this work is "Presidential Elections in Maryland," a book about how the Free State has voted since 1789, the year in which George Washington was first elected.

Marylanders and Pennsylvanians share their distinction, Mr. Willis points out, because their legislatures apparently trusted them to be direct participants.

People were not granted a right under the Constitution to vote personally for president, or for the members of the Electoral College. That right was conferred or withheld, as the case may be, by state legislatures. South Carolinians, for example, did not vote for president until after the Civil War.

Q.: What further distinguishes Maryland's history in presidential elections?

A.: Washington was the first president elected under the Constitution, but a Marylander, John Hanson, was actually the first president. He was chosen by the Continental Congress eight years earlier, in 1781, under the Articles of Confederation.

Spiro T. Agnew, the former governor and Baltimore County executive, served as vice president under Richard Nixon and then resigned under a plea bargain as a result of disclosures made while he was in office.

Q.: Mr. Hanson and Mr. Agnew were successful candidates. Were there any other Marylanders who ran, but didn't get elected?

A.: One other Marylander ran for vice president, two for president.

The most notable was Frederick Douglass, the former slave who ran for vice president on the Equal Rights ticket in 1872 with Victoria Clafin Woodhall of New York, the first woman to run for president.

The presidential candidates were Joshua Levering, a Baltimore merchant who was selected by the National Prohibition Party as its candidate in 1896, and William Wirt, a U.S. attorney, who headed the ticket for the Anti-Mason Party in 1832.

Mr. Wirt's effort produced a curious result: He had few friends in Maryland apparently, since he got not a single vote in this state. He was most popular in Vermont, however. He actually won the Green Mountain State.

Q.: Who, beyond scholars and a few candidates, really cares how Maryland goes in presidential elections? Aren't we pretty small fish in the electoral pond?

A.: We're not at all a small state in the electoral game.

Our 10 electoral votes makes us more important than Montana and the two Dakotas, which have a total of nine.

We are not in the top 10 states, but we're in the second tier of 10 states, and both parties would like to claim us for their candidate. With some of the recently reliable GOP strongholds in the South and West slipping toward the Democrats, Maryland's importance to both sides has grown.

Q.: Do the results of presidential elections in Maryland track the results nationally? How often have we voted with the rest of the country?

A.: We are definitely not a bellwether. We're more the maverick or independent of the crowd. Thirty-six states have been with the winner more often than Maryland.

Q.: We are regarded as a Democratic state. Have we ever failed to vote with the Democratic winner in a presidential election?

A.: Only once. In 1948, Maryland gave a majority to Thomas E. Dewey in a race affected by two third-party candidates, Sen. Strom Thurmond, of the States' Rights Party, and Henry Wallace, the Progressive.

As in this year's election, the third-party contenders had a big impact. Wallace had far more votes than the 8,293-vote difference between the major contenders.

Q.: Which are the most partisan counties?

A.: Garrett is the most Republican, having voted with the GOP in 29 of 29 elections since it became a county, Maryland's last, in 1872.

The city of Baltimore is the most Democratic subdivision, going with that party's nominee 25 of 34 times since 1864 and the start of the two-party system.

Q.: What is the most striking trend in voting for president over the last generation or so?

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