Wednesday, 7 November 2012

American presidential election

This morning I attended a presidential election breakfast organised by the American consul general, Gregory Burton, in the E3 building of the Belfast Metropolitan College.
James Knox Polk
In his address the consul general explained that presidential elections in the United States of America take place on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.  Therefore the earliest possible date for an election is 2 November and the latest possible date in 8 November.
A uniform date for presidential elections was instituted by the US Congress in 1845 and the reasons for it were set out in the records of the Congressional debate on the bill in December 1844.
At that time America was largely a rural and agrarian society and farmers often needed a full day to travel by horse-drawn vehicles to the county seat to vote.  Tuesday was chosen as the election day because it did not interfere with the Christian Sabbath or with the market day, which was often on a Wednesday.  November was chosen because it avoided sowing time and harvest time and also avoided the worst of the winter weather.
Initially the bill set the national day for choosing presidential electors as 'the first Tuesday in November', in years divisible by four, such as 2012.  However it was amended to 'the first Tuesday after the first Monday'.  This prevented election day falling on the first day of November, All Saints Day, which was a holy day for Roman Catholics, and it avoided the day when most merchants did their books for the preceding month.  It was also pointed out that in some years the period between the first Tuesday in November and the first Wenesday in December, when the electors met in their state capitals to vote, would be more than 34 days, in violation of the existing electoral college law.  For these reasons they went for 'the first Tuesday after the first Monday', a date scheme already used in the state of New York.
This morning the new consul general also reminded us that the president at that time was President James Knox Polk (1795-1849), the 11th president of the United States.  The consul general then added that Polk's ancestors had emigrated from Lough Foyle and that he was one of a number of American presidents whose ancestors had emigrated from Ulster. 
I was pleased that the new consul general has an awaresness of the role of the Ulster-Scots in the making of modern America and pleased that he took the time to mention it.


  1. No mention of munster, leinster or connaught folk?

  2. In the 18th century around 250,000 people emigrated from Ulster to America. They were almost entirely Protestant and overwhelmingly Presbyterian Ulster-Scots. During that century there was very little Roman Catholic emigration. Moreover emigration from Ireland was overwhelmingly from Ulster.