Jo Daviess County Votes for President
By Scott Wolfe
Well, the time has come again—for that quadrennial circus we call a presidential election. The political parties have once more discovered the definitive cures for our nation’s ills. And the opposing candidates scramble to declare that indoor plumbing was an unattainable luxury during their poverty-plagued childhoods.
One day, while seeking refuge from sound bites and spin doctors, I became curious as to how Jo Daviess County has reacted historically to this presidential jousting. I decided to survey the voting results of twenty-two elections—from Lincoln vs. Douglas in 1860, to Franklin Roosevelt vs. Tom Dewey in 1944. Utilizing statistics gleaned from the Galena newspapers, I was able to draw a number of conclusions about the voting behavior and preferences of Jo Daviess County and its individual townships.
Jo Daviess County customarily followed the Republicans—nineteen of the twenty-two elections going to the candidates of the GOP. Overall, the party received an average of 55.8% of the county’s vote. Two townships, Elizabeth and Stockton, were carried by the Republicans in every election, 1860-1944. Five others: Council Hill, Hanover, Scales Mound, Warren, and Woodbine were strictly GOP domains except for solitary victories by Progressive third parties. In terms of voting percentages, Council Hill Township was the county’s Republican stronghold—the party receiving an average of 76% of the vote, to the Democrat’s 18.9%, a margin of 57.1%
The three successful Democratic candidates in Jo Daviess County were Grover Cleveland in 1892; Woodrow Wilson in 1912; and Franklin Roosevelt in 1932. However, on average, their party received just 39.4% of the county’s vote in the twenty-two elections surveyed. The strength of the Democratic Party was centered in the northwestern corner of the county, an area dominated by Irish and German Catholic voters, and also influenced by Democratic Dubuque to the west. Five townships were statistically Democratic: Menominee (78.4% of vote Democratic); Vinegar Hill (58.9%); Dunleith (53.4%); West Galena (49.0%); and East Galena (48.3%). Guilford Township can also be added to this cluster—for although statistically Republican by only 1.7% of the vote, this township was carried by the Democrats in twelve of the twenty-two elections.
The county’s Democratic powerhouse, Menominee Township, spurned the Republicans by an average margin of 60.5% of the vote. Even a local hero, Ulysses Grant, found Menominee inhospitable. For example, in Grant’s 1872 try for a second term, Menominee gave Democratic candidate Horace Greeley 110 votes—and President Grant, a mere 7 votes. And in East Galena, home of the President, Greeley won 53% of the vote. What a way to treat a neighbor!
Democratic Galena provided other surprises. In 1864, in the midst of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln sought his second term. Galena’s military men were off chasing glory and Confederates. But back home, Democratic candidate George McClellan was defeating Mr. Lincoln in both West Galena (55% to 45%) and East Galena (51% to 49%). Stunning figures, considering Galena’s Civil War-era reputation!!
But even though the Democratic townships of the northwest were piling up margins of victory, the county’s political war was won by the Republican margins in the eighteen townships to the south and east. These townships, with their strong Yankee and German Protestant polulations, assured the Republicans that Jo Daviess County would likely remain in their column.
If Jo Daviess County had a “representative township” in the course of this survey, it was Apple River. Its voting percentages for the respective parties most closely matched those of the county as a whole.
Two third party campaigns showed significant strength in Jo Daviess County—each earning 34% of the popular vote. In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt and his Progressive “Bull Moose” party carried seven townships. And in 1924, “Fighting Bob” LaFollette’s Progressives won five. Twelve of the county’s twenty-three townships were carried by third party candidates—but no townships more than once.
And did the county go with the winners? Jo Daviess supported seventeen of the twenty-two successful presidential candidates. Those men attaining the office without carrying the county were: Grover Cleveland (1884); Woodrow Wilson (1916); and Franklin Roosevelt (1936,1940 & 1944).
The favorite candidate of Jo Daviess County was Republican Warren Harding, who in 1920 received 79% of the vote. This particular election was the first in which women were allowed to participate. The least popular candidate was Democrat John Davis, who in 1924 received only 15% of the total vote. Poor Mr. Davis was no doubt a victim of Calvin Coolidge’s overwhelming charisma.
Jo Daviess County continued to follow the Republicans—eleven of the thirteen elections going to the candidates of the GOP. Overall, the party received an average of 59% of the total vote (3% more than during the period 1860-1944). Twelve townships were carried by Republican candidates in every election, 1948-1996. In terms of voting percentages, Woodbine Township was the Republican stronghold, the party receiving an average of 73% of the vote to the Democrats 23%—a margin of 50%. Rush, Derinda and Pleasant Valley were also GOP stalwarts, the party garnering over 70% of the ballots.
Stockton has the distinction of being the only township to be carried by the Republicans every election 1860-1996. Elizabeth Township’s string of Republican triumphs was broken only in 1964, when Lyndon Johnson received a mere five more votes than Barry Goldwater.
The two successful Democratic candidates in Jo Daviess County were Johnson in 1964, and Bill Clinton in 1996. However, their party received just 37% of the county’s vote in the thirteen elections surveyed. The strength of the Democratic Party remained centered in the northwestern corner of the county—an area dominated by Catholic voters and by nearby Democratic Dubuque, Iowa. Two townships were statistically Democratic: Dunleith (59% of the vote), and Menominee (53% of the vote). Several other townships, i.e. Rawlins, Vinegar Hill and West Galena, were statistical ties between the two major parties.
The Democratic powerhouse of the 1860-1944 survey, Menominee Township, showed a drop of 25% in its Democratic vote—and was actually carried by the GOP in nearly half of the elections 1948-1996. Dunleith Township showed a 6% rise in its Democratic voting percentage, and a 22% victory margin over the GOP.
Three “Third Party” campaigns showed significant strength in Jo Daviess County: The 1980 run by former Congressman John Anderson (11% of the county vote); and the 1992 and 1996 campaigns of Reform Party’s Ross Perot (20% and 12% respect-ively). The 1968 campaign of George Wallace received a negligible percentage of county votes. If one township was “independent-minded,” it was Vinegar Hill. Anderson received 29% of the township’s vote—and Perot actually carried the township in 1992 with 43% of the ballots cast.
And did the county go with the winners? Jo Daviess supported nine of the thirteen successful presidential candidates. Those men attaining the office without carrying the county were: Harry Truman (1948), John Kennedy (1960), Jimmy Carter (1976) and Bill Clinton (1992)—all Democrats.
The favorite candidate of Jo Daviess was Republican Dwight Eisenhower, who in 1952 garnered 76% of the vote. And the least popular candidate was Eisenhower’s opponent Adlai Stevenson, who could muster only 27% of the county’s vote in the elections of 1952 and 1956.
Finally, if Jo Daviess County had a “representative” township in the course of this survey, it was Scales Mound. Its voting percentages most closely matched the county as a whole—as did its two Democratic victories in thirteen elections. So, perhaps, as Scales Mound goes, so goes Jo Daviess.