and the life of a county clerk
"Political Graveyard" in the New York Times, 1851-2006.
As creator of the web site by that name, I'm always interested in clues about how the phrase "political graveyard" was popularized. This evening, I tried doing a search for the phrase in the New York Times archive, and turned up some interesting stuff.
Though "political cemetery" shows up as early as 1858 (and then not again for decades), the phrase "political graveyard" did not start to appear in the Times until the 1870s.
Based on what I found, two 19th century American political figures played significant roles in making "political graveyard" a common term: Henry L. Clinton and Thomas C. Platt.
Clinton was a New York City politician who (at least according to the articles in the Times) was noted for readily changing his political stripes. In February 1872, he made a speech denouncing Tammany Hall's power in Democratic politics. So, when he became an ally of Tammany, excerpts from his old speech were quoted in New York Times articles in 1875 and 1878 (emphasis added in all quotes):
The Sachems [Tammany Hall leaders] invite the Democracy [Democratic Party] to wear the threadbare, cast-off political garments of Tweed and Sweeny: to steep themselves in dishonor; to wear the garlands of political infamy, and to enjoy the hospitable entertainment of a political graveyard.
Perhaps influenced by that speech, which must have been printed in other papers for the Times to be able to quote from it word for word three years later, an Iowa newspaper editor (quoted in the Times) used the phrase in an August 1875 campaign dispatch:
These reports are not from one or two locations alone, but are general; and while all is zeal and animation in the Republican ranks, the funeral cortege of Democracy [Democratic Party] slowly wends its way to the political graveyard of annihilation and oblivion.
Though it postdated the 1872 speech, this Iowa report was apparently the first time the phrase "political graveyard" appeared in print in the New York Times (August 18, 1875).
But after these three occurrences, there was nothing more of the term in the New York Times for more than a dozen years.
"Political graveyard" returned to the news in 1888, and there were fourteen articles using the term in the fifteen years from 1888 to 1903. Of these, one was about the British House of Lords; the rest are about American politics.
And in all but two of these, "political graveyard" is used to refer to what happens to the careers of politicians who disobey New York State Republican boss Thomas C. Platt.
The first one, in December 1888, was about Platt's irritation over his scant chances of being appointed to the Cabinet by president-elect Benjamin Harrison:
The succeeding of any other New-York man will not compensate Platt, who could not get a substitute who would as effectively fill up his political graveyard as he would himself.
A little later, in 1890, a column or editorial, titled "The Assassin Method", denounces Platt and his control of the New York Republican Party, saying:
He has two instruments with which he does his work-- the corruption fund and the political graveyard. He rules through cupidity and fear, and appeals to the meanest motives of the human soul.
The next reference, from May 1890, is an article about the Republican state committee doing Platt's bidding:
The object was to denounce Hamilton Fish, Jr., and Frederick S. Gibbs for their treachery to the party during the session of the Legislature, and to warn all who acted with them that they are marked for slaughter labeled for PLATT'S private political graveyard.
Another article, soon after, refers to the same purge in similar terms:
Mr. Platt has enlarged the area of his political graveyard, and has left marked places for Messrs. Gibbs, Fish, and the eight or ten other Republicans who stood by them.
Still another editorial in 1891 denouncing Platt:
Any Republican who sought advancement by nomination for office or by official appointment would have to discard all independence, sink his self-respect, and become wholly subsurvient to the Platt machine. If he presumed to oppose or to question the decrees of the Boss he would be consigned to the political graveyard, and only the sordid and submissive would be admitted to the rewards of party activity.
A politician named Milholland opposed Platt, in April 1894, so:
Into his political graveyard Platt proposes to put the doughty Milholland.
A piece in January 1895 chronicles a brief moment of magnaminity during Platt's earlier rise to power:
He finally abandoned his political graveyard and declared a general amnesty to all who had been at war against him.
In June 1896, Platt's propensity for revenge is cited again:
Mr. Platt keeps a political graveyard in which there are said to be many unoccupied plots.
In August 1896, apparently he had a scare:
Platt's friends took the alarm, and the "boss" himself seems to have had visions of the spooks that might troop from his political graveyard with substantial knives in their voluminous sleeves.
It wasn't until July, 1900 (for the first time since 1878), that the term "political graveyard" was used in a New York Times article about American politics unconnected to Tom Platt. It was in a quote from an unnamed Democrat critical of William Jennings Bryan:
"If we make a mistake," said an Indiana man of great experience in party conventions, "this will be but a funeral march to a political graveyard."
Many of these uses of "political graveyard" are in quotations or editorials rather than in the Times' own reportorial prose. None of the quotations are from Platt himself, but I'm guessing that he must have used the phrase frequently, given the way it stuck to him for so long.
There's a further oddity. The Times uses "political graveyard" 21 times from 1900 through 1937. Then, it disappears, with no mention for more than a dozen years. Was it out of fashion, or perhaps banned by the newspaper's style book?
Hodding Carter brought "political graveyard" back to the Times in June 1950, with a Times Magazine article about Southern politics. The term has appeared in 45 articles since 1950 -- most recently (October 1, 2006) in reference to my web site.
Buttermilk for the gamblers? From the New York Times, December 4, 1951:
I came across this while looking up information on corrupt New Jersey mayors for The Political Graveyard.
A note about presidential politics. I generally prefer to focus my time and attention on local rather than national politics. Still, the presidential race sets the tone for everything else, and I can't help but have opinions about it.
That prediction is looking pretty good right now, notwithstanding the old saw that Republicans always nominate their front-runner. McCain is fading fast, and it is inconceivable that the Republicans will nominate someone as liberal on social issues as Giuliani. Meanwhile, Obama (appealing but untested) and Clinton (heavy baggage and weak speaking skills) seem to be focused on one-upping each other.
John Edwards looks better and better. He's already been through a national campaign, and shows strong signs of having learned from the experience. He has come up with well-thought-out specifics on a number of issues, notably health care. So, I might as well say it, I'm supporting Edwards.
I'm usually pretty cautious about future elections, and a lot can change in the next year and a half. Still, George W. Bush retains enormous influence in the Republican process. A recent poll shows that GWB has 75% support in his own party: a feeble number by historical standards, but a commanding number for intraparty skirmishes. Hence, it will be impossible for next year's Republican presidential nominee to distance himself very far from the miserable failure in the White House.
We Democrats have managed to blow huge advantages in presidential elections before, but I'm guessing that won't happen this time.
Last Saturday in Otsego. My friend David John Alway (1950-2007) was a big, brilliant, awkward guy from a family of big, brilliant, awkward guys. His resemblance to the Cowardly Lion was often remarked upon.
According to one of his brothers, a personality analysis once accurately characterized Dave to be both "workaholic" and "rebel". He accommodated those two sides of himself by strict compartmentalization: during the week he was a corporate drone for Upjohn (one-time pharmaceutical giant) in Kalamazoo, Michigan; on weekends, he participated in science fiction conventions, writing, and especially music (the folkish "filk" music of that community, heavy on parodies and sf-literary references).
Long before I met Dave, I knew him through a personal zine he published, the North American Therianthropic Journal (circulation, I think, equal to the 25 members of an amateur publishing association). With desktop publishing magic available to few at the time, he hugely outdid my own pseudo-pompous Proceedings of the Institute for Obscure Studies (a takeoff on the "Institute for Advanced Studies" at Princeton), which was collated together with his and others for distribution.
The therianthropy of his title was quite serious, however. Dave's passion was for half-human mythological beasts such as centaurs and mermaids, extending even to the risqué possibilities.
He was the kind of engineer who finds delight in Legos and wooden trains and other such interesting toys. And you'd better not have been in a hurry if you asked Dave to explain something. I heard that on one long car trip, he spent many hours recounting for his fellow passengers the entire history of the federal highway system.
I was baffled by his politics. He called himself a Democrat (and even donated to the Democratic National Committee), but he was an extreme Libertarian on every issue we argued. Or perhaps he was putting me on.
When I moved to Ann Arbor from Ithaca, N.Y. on a very hot day in the summer of 1990, Dave was one of the folks who showed up to help us unload the truck, though Janice became very concerned that Dave was over-exerting his ponderous frame in the heat.
Some time in the 90s, the takeover or collapse of Upjohn left Dave with early retirement; he and one of his brothers moved several miles north of Kalamazoo to the small town of Otsego, Michigan.
Dave's house includes a long common room with a high, peaked ceiling. And this space became a venue for regular, all-day gatherings of SF-community musicians and singers. I was invited to each one, but to my regret, I never made it out to Otsego while Dave was alive.
When Dave died from a heart attack last January, one such event had already been scheduled for Saturday, March 10. The family (which is to say, Dave's siblings) decided to go ahead with the gathering "To Commemorate Dave's Love of the Arts" (as the invitation stated).
On Saturday, there were, oh, some fifty people in attendance, some from as far away as Chicago or Pittsburgh, or as close as Kalamazoo. There were several of us from Ann Arbor.
The "traditional" memorial service, starting at 1:30 pm, consisted of Dave's siblings speaking about their departed brother, the audience sitting in rows of chairs. Around 2:30 pm, food was set out, the chairs were rearranged into approximately a circle, and playing cards were distributed. I received the four of clubs.
The first suit was Hearts, and the holders of the cards were called on by the concert mistress in numerical order. Many of the guests had brought musical instruments and sometimes even their own compositions, often parodies or on science fiction themes. Others sang a capella or karaoke style, or did readings. Most of them were quite good.
Newcomers had been cautioned at the outset to respond with (at least) polite enthusiasm to each and every performer, because "those who are excellent now used to be not-so-excellent, and those who are not-so-excellent will, in time, become excellent."
When my card was called, I swallowed my misgivings, stood up, and recited Poe's "The Raven" from memory. It seemed the right thing to do under the circumstances.
Around six o'clock, when the cards had run out, many pizzas appeared, and there was a lengthy break for dinner. Afterwards, the group reconvened in the circle, the cards were redistributed, and the game began again, albeit more somberly.
Note: HTML formatted email goes to my spam folder, where I may miss it. For effective communication, please use plain text with no attachments.
The Stopped Clock
There Is No Law
The Hamtramck Star
A Later Date
Failure Is Impossible
Talking Points Memo
Freedom To Tinker
Delaware Law Office
Bag and Baggage
Alas, a Blog
No Longer the World's
The Poor Man
Yet Another Web Log
The Truth Laid Bear
The Shifted Librarian
give love:get love
No Watermelons Allowed
City of Bits
Mind Over What Matters
The Sardonic Subversive
Lies, and Statistics
Odd Things in Pitt's
Reports from Imaginary Places