War. Natural disaster. Epidemic. Social upheaval. Political turmoil. Spend enough time digging through archival collections and you’ll soon realize that these things happen over and over again throughout history, often simultaneously. Archives record the joys, sorrows, and monotony of being human. Reading about this cycle of events can be depressing, but it can also give us hope that people have made it through before, and will do it again.
The same can be said about suffrage in the United States. The questions posed in our current political climate as we approach the Fall election are not new. Voter eligibility, roll purges, or manner of voting are not novel concerns as a stroll through the archives can attest. Who can vote, how you vote, where you vote — the answers to these questions have been in flux since our nation’s founding. Typically, two distinct, opposing points of view emerge as to what exactly the framers of the U.S. Constitution (and state constitution) intended. One voter’s reform can be cast as another voter’s disenfranchisement, depending on one’s political point of view.
LSU Libraries Special Collections features vast holdings regarding Louisiana’s campaigns and elections since statehood in 1812. While there are certainly gaps in representation (Hint: Would you like to donate campaign and elections materials to help us flesh out this collection area?), the collection covers a broad range of elections seen through the lens of major historical events in the state. In order to showcase these collections, LSU Libraries Special Collections has created an online guide for both casual and scholarly researchers. The focus is narrow — campaigns and elections — but includes a significant volume of materials. There are still many more politically-related collections that can be found using the library catalog.
Photographs of candidates on the campaign trail, Congressional election returns from Louisiana’s first election as a state, party tickets listing candidates from president to policy juror (including a ticket featuring Samuel Tilden in the famous election of 1876 that would result in a compromise ending Reconstruction), oral history interviewees discussing voter registration in the Civil Rights Era, voters’ guides, ephemera promoting local candidates for office — these are just a few examples of what is available for research.
When you need a break from the current conversations regarding the vote this Fall, take a step back in time and visit LSU Libraries Special Collections to help put it all in historical context. Contact us if you’d like to arrange to use any of the materials listed in the guide, or if you have an item/items that you are interested in donating to help us create a more representative collection.