The Commonwealth of Virginia rebelled from England and created its own constitution in 1776 as an independent state. This document was written primarily by James Mason and was basically a bill of rights rather than a detailed framework of government. When Virginia joined first other colonies, under the Articles of Confederation, and then the United States, under our present Constitution, its government functioned much as it had as a colony. It had a legislature, but that body and the county courts were dominated by an elite of what one historian has called "Gentlemen Freeholders." This colonial gentry was made up of men who had a good deal of land and twenty or more slaves. Yet the right to vote was much more widely enjoyed than in England. Although governors were appointed by the imperial government before the Revolution, there were popular elections for the House of Burgesses.
Thus colonial Virginians (at least, many of the white landholding men) were used to elections, and these were several-day events that were quite public and rather intensely social. From 1776 until 1850, the government of Virginia continued to function on its original principles, and the Virginia constitution was not significantly changed. Thomas Jefferson early had called for a revision of the constitution of the commonwealth. His most extensive analysis was in “Notes on the State of Virginia,” published in the 1780s. Most historians are also familiar with a well-known letter written just a year before his death when constitutional reform was being debated.
The Old Dominion (as Virginia was often called) during the period of the elections being presented here had a governor and his counsel elected by the legislature. The legislature was bicameral, and both houses were popularly elected by the freeholders—essentially white men who held a respectable amount of land or, after the legislature changed the law in 1785, lived in town and owned a house.
In the 1820s the movement for reform grew. There were a number of demands to democratize the government, by electing the governor popularly, for example, or by building a hierarchy of republics from the local level up (Jefferson’s favorite idea). Even so, the famous collection of prominent Virginian statesmen, including ex-presidents, senators, congressmen and even the chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, made very little change in the suffrage, admitting only "householders." The governor's council was eliminated, but the number of elective offices was not expanded. The unequal system of representation in the legislature was addressed by a compromise giving more seats to the west—mostly the Shenandoah Valley—without creating a rational plan for the future.
During this period, Virginians could vote for their legislators, congressmen, and electors in the presidential elections. They voted yearly in the spring for legislators, every two years for their members of Congress, and every four years for presidential electors. At first they voted for the electors themselves, because they were not willing to say whom they might vote for. The freeholders voted at the polling place closest to their home—a polling place that was often a court house but sometimes a local store. These Virginians voted viva voce, so we have poll books in some counties for some elections to supplement the statistics taken mostly from newspapers.
- Dabney, Virginius.
Virginia: The New Dominion(1971)
- Heinemann, Ronald L., John G. Kolp, Anthony S. Parent Jr., and William G. Shade,
Old Dominion, New Commonwealth: A History of Virginia, 1607-2007(2007).
- Salmon, Emily J., and Edward D.C. Campbell, Jr., eds.
The Hornbook of Virginia history: A Ready-Reference Guide to the Old Dominion's People, Places, and Past 4th edition.(1994)
- Official State of Virginia Site
- Library of Virginia
- Virginia Historical Society
In Pennsylvania, the Quids, known first as "Constitutionalists", arose out of a split among the Republicans in local Philadelphia politics.
The various Republican splinter movements in New York [Burrites, Lewisites and Clintonians] although most had underlying economic and reform issues, they often instead rallied around a central personality. As did most Republican splinter movements in Pennsylvania with exception of the Constitutional Republicans, a movement formed to prevent proposed judicial changes to the Pennsylvania Constitution. In addition to these, there were within Congress a group of individuals who were often classified as Quids. Among this group were congressmen from Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, New Jersey and North Carolina. Mainly elected in 1804 and 1806 as Republicans, they began to question some actions and direction of their party. When reaction to the Embargo revitalized the Federalist; New York and Pennsylvania dissident Republican movements moved back into the main party. On the Congressional level, a few remained in opposition, some declined to run for re-election, and others were not re-nominated.
"The first evidence of this appeared in reports of a dinner of the 'Democratic Constitutional Republicans' held at the White Horse Tavern in Philadelphia on March 4, 1805, to celebrate Jefferson's second inauguration. A few days later the Freeman's Journal printed a proposal, dated March 14, for forming 'The Society of Constitutional Republicans.' This document recognized the sovereignity of the people, the principle of majority rule, and the right of the people, to alter and abolish their government as they saw fit. However, it described the Pennsylvania Constitution, along with the Federal Constitution, as 'the noblest invention of human wisdom, for the self-government of man' and avowed that it should be changed only when the motives and causes were 'obvious, cogent, general and conclusive.' Great political blessings were enjoyed under the Constitution, and it required no alteration. The list of the society's principles closed with an assertion of loyalty to the existing State and Federal administrations." (The Keystone in the Democratic Arch: Pennsylvania Politics, 1800-1816. Sanford W. Higginbotham. 1952. p 82-83)
"Continuing the practice of the preceding year, the Aurora referred to the Constitutional Republicans as Quids. The latter professed to find the title an honorable one. A writer on the Freeman's Journal asserted that a 'tertium quid' was a substance used in pharmacy to transform a poison into a medicine and avowed that there was a great need for such an element in politics. A third party would determine whether there would be 'liberty of despotism.'" (Higginbotham, p 91)
"The incident [the Special election of State Senator for District 1 in December of 1805] highlighted one aspect of the dilemma which faced the Pennsylvania Quids so long as they existed - how to avoid becoming a tail to the Federalist kite when the Democratic leaders would not permit them to rejoin their old party." (Higginbotham, p 105)
"With McKean ineligible for another term in 1808 and with national issues making union with the Federalists less and less palatable, the great majority of Constitutional Republicans wished to return to the Republican ranks. However, they had no desire to submit to the leadership of Leib and Duane after the many indignities they had suffered at their hands. An alliance with the country Republicans, who were also seeking to rid the party of the domination of Leib and Duane, seemed a logical and natural arrangement." (Higginbotham, p 138)
"The election of 1808 was a significant demonstration of the depth and strength of Pennsylvania Republicanism. The Federalists had been favored by many circumstances - Republican disunity over presidential candidates; the Leib-Boileau quarrel among the Democrats; Quid cooperation with them in the three preceding elections; and, most important, the economic hardships of the embargo. Yet they had lost by an overwhelming majority. Republican unity reappeared under the stimulus of a revived Federalism campaigning on national issues. Internal divisions were suppressed, and the Republicans gave undivided support to Madison and Snyder. The stresses of the campaign destroyed the Constitutional Republicans as a third party, though there were vestiges in a few counties." (Higginbotham, p 176)
"The strength and nature of this factionalism varied, but it never entirely disappeared. The first stage lasted from 1800 to 1805. Personal and local differences appeared almost immediately as the Federalists virtually abandoned politics. The struggle between Governor McKean and the country Democrats in the legislature over judicial reform and the failure of the attack on the judiciary culminated in the movement for a constitutional convention. Duane and Leib, whose arbitrary control of the party in Philadelphia had produced a violent schism, took sides against the Governor. Aided by the Federalists, the Constitutional Republicans, generally called Quids, were able to defeat the project for a convention and to re-elect McKean." (Higginbotham, p 328)
"Adapted from tertium quid, a 'third something,' the name 'Quid' was first prominently used in a political sense in Pennsylvania in 1804, and it was soon affixed to a faction of the Republican party officially calling itself the Society of Constitutional Republicans. The Pennsylvania Quids attracted Federalist support and in 1805 re-elected Governor Thomas McKean, who had been the choice of a united Republican party in 1802 but was opposed by the majority wing of the party in 1805. (fn: Sanford W. Higginbotham. The Keystone in the Democratic Arch: Pennsylvania Politics, 1800-1816, p. 69, 346.)." ("Who Were the Quids?" Noble E. Cunningham, Jr. The Mississippi Valley Historical Review. Vol. 50, No. 2 (Sep. 1963), p. 254)
"The use of 'Quid' to refer to various third-party factions which plagued the Jeffersonian Republicans must not, however, be construed to mean that all Quids were part of the same third-party movement. When John Randolph referred to the third party, he was not being accurate. There was no such thing. The Quids in Pennsylvania and in New York - the only states where they represented organized factions - were neither in league with each other nor supporters of Randolph. In both states, the Republican divisions were the products of local controversies over men, offices, and state policies, and the Quid factions had not direct connection with the schism produced in national politics by Randolph's defection." (Cunningham, p 255)
"The opponents of the Philadelphia Democrats and their rural allies were called at various times the Rising Sun Party (after a tavern where they first met in 1802), the Third Party, the Tertium Quids (Third Whats), and more often simply the Quids. The Quids hoped to tame popular politics by discrediting the radicalism that they blamed on the Philadelphia Democrats. To do so, they emphasized the nation's future greatness and the prosperity each citizen would enjoy in a vibrant economy with a peaceful representative politics committed to promoting internal economic development. Accepting, even welcoming, democracy in Pennsylvania, the Quids attempted to redefine the term. Popular politics would remain the instrument the citizens used to create the conditions that produced material independence. But democracy would only provide such indepedence of circumstances when Pensylvanians realized that their power should not be used to disrupt or hindred private energies or the use of property." (Crucible of American Democracy: The Struggle to Fuse Egalitarianism and Capitalism in Jeffersonian Pennsylvania. Andrew Shankman. University Press of Kansas. 2004. p. 96)
- The Keystone in the Democratic Arch: Pennsylvania Politics, 1800-1816. Sanford W. Higginbotham. 1952.
- Crucible of American Democracy: The Struggle to Fuse Egalitarianism and Capitalism in Jeffersonian Pennsylvania. Andrew Shankman. University Press of Kansas. 2004.