Thursday, October 23, 2008

Voting for the Rooster

I cast my vote at the courthouse last week, just in case I get stuck working on Election Day. I voted the straight ticket, so I filled in the little oval right next to the Democratic Party rooster. In virtually every other state, the Democratic emblem is the donkey, while the Republicans use the elephant. Not in Indiana. It’s the rooster and the eagle here.

The rooster as party emblem goes back to 1840, during the presidential campaign between Democrat Martin Van Buren and Whig William Henry Harrison. It was a tight race in Indiana, and both parties were calling out their best speakers to speak, or in the lingo of the time, to “crow” for their candidates. Joseph Chapman, a Democratic state representative from Greenfield, in Hancock County, was one such speaker. George Pattison, editor of the Indianapolis Constitution, sent a letter to the postmaster of Greenfield, which read in part, “Tell Chapman to Crow.”

Somehow the letter got into the hands of Whigs, who used the line to ridicule the Democrats. But the Whig effort backfired, and soon Democrats were chanting “Crow Chapman Crow. While Harrison won the election, the slogan stuck. Sometime later the Indiana Democratic Party adopted the rooster as its emblem.

After the Whig Party imploded in the 1850s, Northern Whigs and Free-Soil Democrats (those who opposed the expansion of slavery), formed the Republican Party. When Indiana Democrats urged voters to “vote for the big chick,” Republicans adopted the eagle, and the slogan, “Vote for the bird on the dollar.”

Thus, the Indiana rooster and eagle. The rooster emblem spread to other states, especially in the South, where it had more sinister legacy. The Alabama “white rooster” became a symbol of white supremacy. In the 1968 election, the Alabama ballot listed Hubert Humphrey under the Democratic donkey, but George Wallace, the segregationist candidate of the American Independent Party, had the rooster. In 1996 the Alabama Democratic Party formally adopted the donkey as its emblem due to the rooster’s racist associations.

But the Indiana rooster had no such legacy, so it remains the symbol of Indiana Democracy. Still, the reason for party emblems is mainly to aid illiterate voters. Illiteracy is much less common now than it was in the 1840s, but it still exists. For that reason I’ve argued that the donkey and elephant--universally recognized emblems--ought to be used on the Indiana ballot. It doesn’t seem likely to happen. Hoosiers are pretty stubborn.

12 comments:

Lisa said...

Scott and I dropped our mail-in ballots off yesterday. I watched Obama's speech in Indiana live online this morning -- looks like your state could be closer than anyone might have thought.

twoblueday said...

Roosters, eagles, donkeys, elephants, whatever happened to reality.

I'm gonna vote for someone.

Elizabeth said...

thanks for voting for Obama in a swing state -- those of us in bluer than blue California don't know what it feels like to really make a difference!

Charles Gramlich said...

I didn't know abuot the Indiana Rooster.

steve said...

Lisa--I hope my vote will count this year. Our son Jim voted at the courthouse last week, and Kathleen will actually vote on Election day. Even if Indiana's electors go to McCain, the fact that McCain has had to contest the state has helped Obama.

Gerry--And I didn't even mention the first Democratic emblem--a hickory pole and broom, with the slogan, "A New Broom Sweeps Clean." In spite of the "new broom," the hickory referred to Andrew "Old Hickory" Jackson.

Elizabeth--It's been a long time since Indiana was a swing state, when it was the "Mother of Vice Presidents." Of course it used to be that northern California was liberal, Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley were conservative, and Orange County was neo-Fascist. When Orange County elected a Hispanic Democratic woman to what had been the most conservative Congressional district in the nation, it was cause for celebration. You've made a big transition out there, and you still have more electoral votes than any other state.

Charles--a little bit of Hoosier uniqueness. Apparently Arkansas and Louisiana didn't adopt the rooster, as Alabama and Kentucky did.

rdl said...

Great!!

Barrie said...

Very interesting. I didn't know about the Indiana rooster and eagle.

steve said...

rdl and barrie--Thank you!

bart said...

thanks for this bit of historical background steve... although here at the other side of the ocean it's hardly relevant, it's fascinating to see how political history develops...

keep well...

Peter said...

Steve, your love for history, especially local history, makes for fascinating reading.

My stat, Virginia, is also a swing state for the first time in my life. It's odd seeing national, major-party candidates around so much. Indiana seems even tighter now than Virginia, but based on Obama's late and unexpectedly strong showing in the primary this past spring, I'm putting Indiana in his column on my office pool board. (Well, there's really no office and no pool.)

Jarrett said...

Congratulations on being a swing state, and thanks for doing your illiterate part. I didn't realise that some US states have illiteracy-proof ballots. Voting in California and Oregon I'm used to ballots in a ton of languages, but a few pictures might spice it up nicely, now that I think of it..

steve said...

Bart--Historical details may not always be relevant, but they're often a lot of fun.

Peter--On the Diane Rehm Show today, a professor from Indiana University said Obama needs to do extremely well in Marion (Inidanapolis) and Lake (Gary-Hammond)Counties, while holding down the Republican vote in Elkhart County. I think we've got a good chance. Just based on yard signs, Obama may just surprise people in Elkhart County.

Jarrett-Welcome. The illiteracy-proof ballot is mainly a holdover, but it still has some function. As far as I know, we don't have non-English ballots in Indiana, though with the growing Hispanic population, we ought to.