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A profile in courage: Uncle Gum & the election of 1860

An Election Time Re-Post of the revelation of the one Adair Countian who voted for Abraham Lincoln in 1860. This story was first posted on 2010-11-01 08:10:06
It took so much more courage then. Votes were shouted out in public at the polls. Historians have long believed the man to be native son William Stewart (1830-1904). But it wasn't William Stewart. "Jim" has the indisputable Adair News account of the name of the courageous voter, revealed below, who cast the single, solitary vote for the greatest Kentuckian of all times.
The back story - I came across the two-line reference to "Uncle Gum" in the News several months ago and tucked it away with the intent of sending it pretty much as a stand-alone throwaway on election day. However, when I dug it out of my files a day or three ago, it, like a Ouija board planchette run amuck, took a life of its own, ensorcelled my hands, and drove them to type what appears below. "Jim"


By "Jim"

The Presidential campaign of 1860 was a nasty, brutal affair. The country teetered on the brink of war, emotions of the electorate ran high, and the four -- yes, four -- candidates went for broke, neither asking for nor giving quarter in their quest for the White House.

The candidates were Stephen A. Douglas, of the Northern Democratic party; John Bell, Constitutional Union party; Kentuckian John C. Breckinridge, Southern Democratic party; and Abraham Lincoln of the Republican party. The latter-named entity was the upstart political party of the North, formed in the mid 1850s after the old Whig party collapsed under the weight of the rising tensions and increasing regional divisions.


When the smoke cleared from the November election, Mr. Lincoln had won more electoral votes than his three competitors combined, but the victory came without the support of his native Kentucky, where, for the most part, he was held in venomous contempt. From Pikeville to Paducah, he received only 1,364 votes -- less than one percent of the statewide ballots. Of that paltry sum, exactly one vote came from Adair County.

But who cast the singlet? (In 1860, the franchise extended only to white, land-owning males who were 21 or older.)

Some have inferred from Judge H.C. Baker's writings that possibly the lone Adair County tally for Mr. Lincoln came from native son William Stewart (1830-1904). In his Sketches of Adair County, Judge Baker wrote of Mr. Stewart:
He served for some time as a soldier in the Union army in the Civil War, and was Secretary of Hon. James Speed while he was presiding [U.S.] Attorney General, during the administration of President Lincoln. True to his political convictions and courageous in their advocacy he was from the birth of the Republican party a consistent member of it...
However, a serendipitous discovery has shed new light on the decades-old mystery. Deeply buried on page three of the August 5, 1903 edition of the News in a piece titled "Did You Know?," a short entry indisputably sets the record straight:
In the presidential contest of 1861 (sic) there was but one vote cast in Adair County for Mr. Lincoln's electors--"Uncle" Gum Russell...
In that era, it took considerable courage to vote if one's convictions went against the political tide, as the secret ballot was yet a generation away. Rather, votes were cast verbally to the election officials -- and to whomever else might be within earshot.

James Montgomery "Uncle Gum" Russell (1809-1896) was the father of long-time Columbia merchant John Orion "J.O." Russell, long associated with the mercantile firm of Russell & Co. Another son, James M., Jr., also was a local businessman who served as Columbia's postmaster for a few years early in the 20th century. "Jim


This story was posted on 2016-10-20 06:22:02
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