Two presidents? Simple. Now try eight governors

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This stalemate about electing a president of the United States is nothing. If you want a good laugh, go back to 1878, when Maine elected seven governors at once. It may have been eight. We elected two simultaneous legislatures that year, too. One met by day to enact laws, and the other met at night and repealed them. You didn't know about that? What in the world do our schoolteachers teach for history?

It was back during the Greenback hooraw and, to put it politely, our usually smart Down-East intelligence snapped and everybody went nuts. You can look it up, but for now it went about as I plan to relate:

I was in high school when I first paid attention to election irregularities. I'd already started writing things for the Brunswick Record, and one day my dad told me, "This fellow Brewster sounds like a comer. It might be smart to get in on the ground floor!"

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My dad was politically astute and didn't guess wrong, so I sent for a nomination paper and circulated it for signatures for Ralph O. Brewster of Dexter, who wanted to be the Republican candidate for governor of Maine.

Mr. Brewster was an upstart. In those happy times, one did not suddenly jump up and toss his hat in the ring. One worked his way up. When a reporter asked Mayor Cobb of Rockland if he planned to run for governor, Mayor Cobb said, "Oh, my gracious, no! It's not my turn!"

In 1924, the turn belonged to Frank Farrington, and young Mr. Brewster had no business butting in! In the primaries he got licked by the party hero, Mr. Farrington. But the count was close, and I took heart when Ralph Brewster called for a recount.

I followed the recount, and it was an interesting maneuver.

First, Mr. Brewster showed that irregularities prevailed in the small Aroostook County township of Soldier Pond, where two votes were cast for Farrington and eight for Brewster. Mr. Brewster asked that the votes be tossed out, and everybody laughed. What kind of a nut would want to toss out the results when they favored him?

But Mr. Brewster mentioned several other small towns where the same irregularities prevailed, and they'd all been in favor of Brewster, and with many a snicker the officials tossed out all the votes as he'd requested.

Then Brewster opened a sheaf of papers and he said, "I now direct your attention, gentlemen, to the situation in Ward 6 in the city of Portland." The same infractions were noted, and Ward 6 had gone almost unanimously to the fair-haired Frank Farrington. In this way, Ralph Brewster became governor of Maine, served two terms, and moved on to congressman and senator.

And as his boy on the ground floor, I was his friend as long as he lived. It was he, indeed, who told me to look up 1878 and read about how Maine elected seven governors at once and maybe eight.

After our Civil War, the Union was in financial stress. The great financial genius Salmon P. Chase had gone upstream to spawn, and a young man, Maine-born Hugh McCulloch, was trying to pull things together. He wasn't doing too bad when the Greenback Movement hit the country. A dollar bill was a greenback, and the notion prevailed that if the government would just print more money, we'd all be rich. Our troubles would vanish.

As this foolishness waned nationwide, it hit Maine, and the state went for it like a hungry trout. All at once we were having "money meetings" all over the place, and the thing became an all-consuming public issue. So many money rallies were held at the road junction by Shiloh in the town of Durham that the place was dubbed Greenback Corner.

The governor at the moment was Dr. Alonzo Garcelon, an Auburn physician who saw disaster ahead and decided not to run for reelection. Garcelon was the first Democrat to be elected a Maine governor, so lacking this wheelhorse, his party lost some steam. But what he foresaw had its effect on the opposition, too, and in the 1878 elections things came apart.

Just about everybody ran for governor, and everybody else ran for the legislature. Parties broke up, we had Fusionists of various kinds, and you couldn't tell one from the other. A governor needed a majority vote. With so many candidates, none of them won.

The law provided that Garcelon would hold over until a successor was qualified, and each candidate insisted he was the one. The mayor of Augusta, seeing confusion, announced he'd be in charge until the emergency passed and swore in temporary officers. The stonecutters in the Hallowell quarries organized a militia and barricaded highways. A justice of the peace issued a decree that named Civil War hero Gen. Joshua L. Chamberlain as military governor for the duration.

The two legislatures continued to meet, each repealing what the other had enacted, and we had our tail in a sling for fair. If I recall rightly, the proceedings in this hilarity are in the records under the title of "The Count-out."

The count-out went to the state court, and that body found for the Republican candidate, which didn't surprise anybody because the judges were previously inclined in that direction.

All of which has only historical importance now, but we Mainers can cite it to the nation at large to quiet the excitement about two presidents at once. So what? There's only two of them.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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