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October 29, 2008 > History: Confusing Elections of Washington Township

History: Confusing Elections of Washington Township

Exciting and confusing elections are not a recent invention. They form an important part of the history of Washington Township.

Washington Township was in Santa Clara County in 1853 represented by Henry C. Smith in the California state assembly. Smith presented a petition and bill to form a new county called Alameda. Section one of the Act to create the county provided that the Seat of Justice would be in Alvarado. Section 13 designated that it would be in New Haven. Alvarado and New Haven were adjacent but separate towns. Justice was supposed to come from the county seat, but was the county seat in Alvarado or New Haven? Somehow a compromise resulted in county officials meeting in Smith's store in Alvarado, discarding the name New Haven.

Politics was not a factor in the first election for county offices held in May, 1853. Any man who considered himself qualified could enter the race. So little regard was paid to proper names, some were known only by nicknames. For instance, the man referred to as "Tom Snook" turned out to be A. H. Broder, Esq., Sheriff of Alameda County. There were from three to six candidates for each position, and the election became known as the "Steeple Chase".

The election of December 30, 1854, promoted by Oakland area politicians, resulted in the removal of the county seat from Alvarado to San Leandro. Historians later wondered where all these voters came from and why election records were so hard to locate. It was evident that some of the votes were illegal. The next year it was decided that the county seat had been illegally removed and had to be returned to Alvarado, so all the county property had to be moved back to Alvarado.

John C. Fremont, the Republican candidate for president of the United States, was defeated by James Buchanan in 1856 in spite of support from Washington Township residents. The vote in Alameda County was 729 for Buchanan, 723 for Fremont and 216 for Millard Fillmore. Meetings of the Union Party (which represented people who wanted to preserve the Union) were prominent and colorful in the 1860s. Elections became more confused in 1859 by "Fusionists" who joined groups together to form three major parties: Regular Democratic, Broderick Democratic and Republican. The Republican ticket was successful everywhere in the 1861 election because they were more united.

Delegations from Alvarado, Centerville and Washington Corners (later Irvington) attended a large meeting of the Union party held at San Leandro in October 1864. The Union party was a strong supporter of President Abraham Lincoln and prominent in Alameda County for a while. The 1868 campaigns created excitement with mass meetings of both the Republican and Democratic parties in every town.

A Local Option Law was passed by the California Legislature in 1873 that granted townships the right to decide if they wanted to close their saloons. There were only 3 or 4 temperance groups and 25 or 30 saloons in Washington Township. Most voters had signed the petition for the election to close the saloons. However, when the election was held, most people voted to keep the saloons open.

Our nation celebrated its centennial in the year 1876. Nearly every town held its own celebrations with speeches, fireworks, bonfires, and dinners, but this was also a presidential election year. Marching clubs with distinctive costumes often drilled and paraded according to military regulations. The Alvarado Brass Band sometimes played for political organizations. At one meeting of the Republicans and the Blaine and Logan Club the ladies asked to take part in the proceedings and were allowed to present a United States silk flag. What a generous gesture by the men!

Politics was a featured part of life in Centerville where members of the Hayes and Wheeler Club hung a flag across Main Street. Republicans erected a flag pole - 102 feet in height - at a cost of $125 during the campaign. They relinquished their party claim during the 1880 election year when the Democrats agreed to furnish "a good American flag" for the pole. The new 17x30 foot flag was hoisted up the pole which was now named the Centerville Liberty Pole." The Republicans supported a Garfield and Arthur Club for this campaign.

The Blaine and Logan Club was "permanently organized" at Centerville in 1881. It was advertised as the "Regular Republican Ticket for Washington Township." The Club ordered 50 suits with caps, coats and leggings for their Uniformed Legion in 1884. Captain Granger led 44 men in a full dress parade.

There have been several elections with close votes. The County Superintendent of Schools was elected by one vote in 1875. At the same election the county's famous sheriff, Henry Morse, who had pursued and captured a number of notorious outlaws, was elected by 11 votes.

Throughout our history, both locally and nationally there have been incidents of confusion and concern. We've survived them all and thrived. Currently, we're in the midst of another period of excitement and uncertainty. Given the lessons of history, we know our way of life will endure and continue to flourish.

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