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John Schickel: Pre-Civil War era document triggers reflection as legislative session draws near


I could hear the excitement in his voice when I answered the phone.

My friend, Boone County Clerk Kenny Brown, was eager to talk. Since we are fellow history buffs, he couldn’t wait to share the news of the rediscovery of a long forgotten pre-Civil War era document – right here in Boone County.

One of his employees had just discovered a 155-year-old voter tally sheet from the 1860 presidential election – still one of the most pivotal elections in the nation’s history. It was discovered among tens of thousands of documents stored in the basement of the Boone County courthouse. Fortunately, unlike many of Kentucky’s counties, no fires or floods have damaged or destroyed our historic documents.

“You won’t believe it,” said an excited Brown.

As the nation was on the brink of civil war, Boone County residents showed up at the polls en masse, the tally sheet showed.

Tennessean John Bell of the Constitutional Union Party received 881 votes. Kentuckian John C. Breckinridge of the Southern Democratic Party received 739 votes. Illinoisan Stephen A. Douglas of the Democratic Party received 228 votes, and Kentucky born Abraham Lincoln of the Republican Party received just one vote.

Lincoln would go on to win the election by carrying 18 states – including Ohio – and winning 180 electoral votes.

Kenny said one of the unique things about the document was the fact that under each of the candidate’s name were the names of the electors. Kentucky had 12 electoral votes at the time, 10 congressional district and two senators.

The telephone conversation made me think about how political parties change over the years. We tend to make the mistake of thinking the current swings in the political climate are unprecedented and that we face larger problems than our founding fathers. Lincoln, who received only one vote in what is now a Republican stronghold, would soon be president during the time of the tragic Civil War when a record 620,000 people would be killed.

Yes, we do have problems in Kentucky with budgets and pensions but each generation has its problems. The rediscovery of this document kind of put that in perspective for me.

On Nov. 3, Boone County voted heavily Republican. Thirty years ago it voted heavily Democratic.

Who knows what political party will control it 30 years from now. Political parties are not really important. History shows us that fact.

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What is important is the values of the individuals who make these parties and the values these parties pursue – whatever their label. We would do well to remember this as the commonwealth swears in a new governor and begins a new legislative year.

Thank you Kenny Brown for helping us with this lesson. The rare document is now on display in the Boone County Clerk’s Office for anyone to see. I encourage you to stop by and take a look.

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, represents Boone County in the state legislature.


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