Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Historic Manuscripts Collection - Politics

Announcement of meeting of Republican electors of the first ward, city of Schenectady, 1828. (Pol 53)

Our collection of historic manuscripts comprises a number of categories, from broadsides to commissions to deeds to wills. One of the categories of historic manuscripts that is less often consulted is our collection of documents related to politics. Most of the documents pertain to local, regional, and New York State politics, and most date from the nineteenth century. The collection includes voter lists, election results, political ephemera, and correspondence and notes regarding politics.

The collection includes several undated notes written by E.Z. Carpenter,
including this note written about Yates (first name not given). (Pol 74)

This collection of documents amply illustrates the contentious nature of politics. The collection includes a number of undated, informal notes written by E.Z. Carpenter (1835-1917), a Glenville historian and genealogist, that are at times incendiary in tone. He refers to two local political figures, Hill and O'Dell, as "demagogues," and writes that another man, Yates, "prides himself on his own unbelief, but no one ever gave him credit for exceptional reason and all admit his shaky balance."

Carpenter is typically known as a gossipy source of information -- historian Neil Reynolds noted that Carpenter "chose to specialize in the seamy side of life" -- but the critical, satirical tone that runs through this collection is by no means confined to the content Carpenter created. An unattributed parody of New York State Governor William C. Bouck, written in a "German accent" English (Bouck was known for his heavy German accent), is entitled "Sour Krout Messitch."  The message addresses abolitionism, the enlargement of the Erie Canal, and other topics. The ersatz Bouck is agreeable to railroads "so lonk as der suddern peebles pe willing to kif us der fodes, watefer we to." Another unattributed piece, "Those Sheriff Bills," insinuates that the county sheriff's deputies "siez[e] as tramps every stranger they can catch" to enrich the sheriff himself, who received 17 cents for each vagrant housed in the jail.

List of voters in School District 10, Glenville, 1865. (Pol 57)
Other documents in the collection are less editorial in content and are more a recording of the processes of political activity, such as voter lists, election results, and the like. Other sources document local political activity outside of traditional electoral politics. A 1915 certificate admitting the Schenectady Economics Club, a local organization that hosted speakers and discussions about socialism, to the Intercollegiate Socialist Society (ISS) features the names of some of the ISS Schenectady chapter, including George Lunn and Charles Steinmetz.

A complete listing of the documents in the Historic Manuscripts Collection - Politics category can be found here. Library holdings of local government records, organizational records, clipping files, voter registration lists, scrapbooks, local histories, and other sources are available for researchers interested in local politics.

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