By John Oliver, President, Historical Society

With elections right around the corner, we will spend the month of July looking at some electioneering in Trousdale County over the years and at some local politicians who have gone on to win state office.

If the Fourth of July reminds us of anything, it is the freedom of all Americans to exercise their right to vote.

But that doesn’t mean the process has not been without some controversy!

From the very beginning, people have been known to try and affect the results of an election.

Our best example was when our neighboring Smith County had to choose a location for its county seat. The contest narrowed down to the small town of Bledsoesborough and the equally small town of Carthage.

Submitted photo
Roy Claridy of Hartsville let us copy this picture of Election Day in Hartsville back in the 1950s. That is Sadie Presley Claridy in the dress and hat with her husband, Jim Claridy, with the hat and cane. The distinguished fellow with the big grin is a youthful Al Gore, Sr.!

The final count had Carthage winning by an extremely small margin – one vote!

But the truth of the story is that the Carthage crowd spilled copious amounts of whisky on the day of the voting and helped persuade people to vote for that town over Bledsoesborough. There was money to be made selling building lots in Carthage and the town’s investors saw to it that their golden opportunity to make money wasn’t lost.

Bledsoesborough not only lost the vote for the county seat, but within a few years it had dried up and ceased to exist.

A writer in Rutherford County wrote in 1806 that, “No election was thought to be well conducted without the presence of good whiskey…”

The urge to “buy” votes by providing free drinks or promising this or that “if elected” was enough of a problem that the Carthage Courier ran a warning before the November election in 1925 that “…anyone found guilty of boodling would not be spared…”

“Boodling” was “buying votes.”

Not that Trousdale County wasn’t just as guilty.

Even I can recall election days when candidates would drive around certain communities and load up voters, promising free liquor if they would only see fit to vote for a certain candidate.

For many years, liquor stores and saloons across the state were shut down on election days by law. Too many candidates would use free alcohol to buy votes.

In one Trousdale County election for County Trustee, the winner announced after the voting that, “This is one race that I have won without spending one penny, but I hear it is being circulated that I had some whisky. The man that started this falsehood had better quit praying for the widows and orphans and pray a little more for himself!”

Election laws are pretty strict now-a-days, but I have interviewed old-timers who recalled when people would go from one district to another and try to vote using the name of a dead person. For that to work, it took an election official to look the other way.

One old gentleman told me that when he was a young man, a candidate hired him to stand at one polling place and make sure no one tried that trick. The candidate fully expected his opponent to try something fishy. Sure enough, a man showed up from another district and stood in line to vote. But a dirty look and a clenched fist – from the gentleman telling the story – made the fellow get back in his car and leave.

The promise of a well-paying county job caused many a candidate to try and swing an election.

Of course, there were other ways to win votes.

The time-honored practice of “bad mouthing” your opponent is still common today, and our election past has plenty of examples.

In another Trousdale election for the coveted job of Trustee, two men began throwing mud at each other and couldn’t stop.

One of the candidates had built a swimming pool at his home. That led his opponent to claim that he was rich and didn’t need the job. In reply the first fellow took out a large ad in The Vidette and countered, “My pool didn’t cost near as much as (my opponent’s) boat and motor. Let’s see what else he has. I am told that he has a practically new station wagon, a new pick up truck, a home remodeled and nicely furnished. This doesn’t seem like he is so poor…”

I guess if being poor made you a better candidate for the job than the other candidate, a lot of us would be running for office!