Thursday, April 3, 2008

Partisan Cake

The stolen election of 2000 was only the latest in a series of controversial Presidential elections in American history. In 1800, the Presidency shifted from one political party to the other for the first time in American history, from the Federalists to the Democratic-Republicans. The vain and irascible incumbent, John Adams, came in behind Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, who were tied in the electoral vote. The election was thrown to the House of Representatives, and Jefferson emerged from the smoke-filled rooms victorious. Burr, meanwhile, blamed Alexander Hamilton for his defeat, and went on to kill him in a duel. (We often hear that today's politicians are pygmies compared with the Founders, but keep in mind that Al Gore went on to win an Oscar and a Nobel Prize, when he could have followed Burr's precedent and murdered Sandra Day O'Connor.) The election of 1800 is the subject of a fascinating book by historian John Ferling, Adams Vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800 (Oxford University Press 2004).

In 1824, John Adams' genius son, John Quincy Adams, came in second in both the popular and electoral votes, but none of the four candidates in the race (JQA, Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, and William H. Crawford) received a majority of the votes—so the election was once again thrown to the House. The Speaker of the House happened to be Henry Clay, who engineered the infamous "corrupt bargain" that made Adams President and Clay himself the Secretary of State—the presumptive "heir apparent" to the Presidency in those days. Unfortunately for Clay, the "corrupt bargain" killed his chances at ever being elected President, and he joined Aaron Burr's victim, Alexander Hamilton, on the list of greatest politicians never to become President.

The election of 1912 was also the subject of a fascinating book, James Chace's 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft & Debs—The Election That Changed the Country (Simon & Schuster 2004). In 1912, as Chace's endless subtitle indicates, there were four major candidates for President: Republican incumbent William Howard Taft, Democrat Woodrow Wilson, Bull Moose ex-Republican former President Teddy Roosevelt, and Socialist Eugene V. Debs (whose first campaign stop was in Fergus Falls, Minnesota). Roosevelt Nadered the GOP vote and handed the Presidency to Wilson.

Bachelor Samuel Tilden confessed on his deathbed that he had never slept with a woman.

In 1876, Democrat Samuel Tilden won both the electoral and the popular vote, but Republicans (grrr!!) contested the election and persuaded Congress to appoint a special electoral commission, which put Republican Rutherford B. Hayes into the White House. It was during that heated 1876 election that the folks at Buckeye Publishing Company of Minneapolis were putting together a new cookbook called Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping. The cookbook, published in 1877, has been reprinted by Applewood Books, and is available at the museum shop at the Minnesota Historical Society, where I bought a copy to add to my small collection of nineteenth-century cookbooks and housekeeping books. (The only other book in the collection so far is The American Woman's Home [1869], by Catharine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe.)

Rutherford B. Hayes, distinguished alumnus of Kenyon College. Henry Adams called him "a third-rate nonentity," and his teetotaling wife Lucy was derided as "Lemonade Lucy" for banning liquor from the White House.

Buckeye Cookery
contains several dozen recipes for cakes, including a recipe for a "Tilden Cake" and a recipe for a "Hayes Cake." This has fascinated me ever since I came across the cookbook a decade ago. Although women didn't have the vote until the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920, nineteenth-century women evidently demonstrated their support for a candidate with cakes. Not only that, nineteenth-century cakes reflected women's grasp of important campaign issues, such as bimetallism, as is evidenced by the inclusion in the cookbook of a "Hard Money Cake" and a "Silver Cake." Period cakes also reflected regional loyalties: Buckeye Cookery includes a "Phil Sheridan Cake," named after Union general Philip Sheridan, and Southern cookbooks of the period often contained recipes for "Robert E. Lee Cake."

The tradition of "election cakes" seems to go back to eighteenth century New England. Numerous nineteenth-century cookbooks include recipes for "Election Cake," or "Hartford Election Cake," a kind of fruitcake traditionally served on Election Day. It was speculated by some people that the tradition arose from a conflation of Election Day with Guy Fawkes Day, also in early November, which was often celebrated with cake. I was able to find a reference to "election cake" in the Lowell Offering in 1842, but nothing earlier so far; Buckeye Cookery claims that its recipe for election cake is a hundred years old.

What would "McCain Cake" be like? Or "Clinton Cake"? Or "Obama Cake"? Unfortunately, the tradition of partisan cake has died. As a step toward reviving it, here are the recipes for both Hayes Cake and Tilden Cake, from Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping. Both were lemon cakes; the difference is mostly in the milk.

One cup sugar, half cup butter, three eggs beaten well together, level tea-spoon soda stirred in half cup sour milk, two small cups flour; flavor with lemon, pour in small dripping-pan, bake half an hour, and cut in squares.

One cup butter, two of pulverized sugar, one of sweet milk, three of flour, half cup corn starch, four eggs, two tea-spoons baking powder, two of lemon extract.


Nikki Oldaker said...

I enjoyed your Blog - especially the part about Tilden... and the Tilden cake...I will have to try it. Nikki Oldaker, Author - Samuel Tilden the Real 19th President
P.S. FYI - that photo of Tilden is from one of the two glass negative plates I found while researching through his estate records in NY Public Library...One was so oxidized it rendered useless and the other is the clear sharp image many are using...and I used on the cover of the book.

Rob Hardy said...

I'm expecting Jim H. to show up here any time now and object to the phrase "as is evidenced by." Something tells me he won't like that.

New Poem: "Phrasebook"

My poem " Phrasebook " has been published online in Ergon: Greek/American Arts and Letters .