1872's mayoralty election in Binghamton: a case study in Northern racism

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Date: Jan. 2015
Publisher: Afro-American Historical Association of the Niagara Frontier, Inc.
Document Type: Case study
Length: 2,749 words
Lexile Measure: 1420L

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We don't want to say anything more than is necessary about the election this week. The result was as follows: For Mayor, S. D. Phelps fusion, 1,737; Thomas Crocker(Bay Tom), Black Republican, 131; Big Jones, colored Republican, 3 votes; and Anna Shears, female Republican, (1) vote. It will be seen Mr. Phelps has a majority ... sufficient to keep to [the others] from contesting his claims. (2)

These were the results in Binghamton, New York's The Democratic Leader for the charter election held on February 13, 1872. The mosaic of candidates, one of whom could not run legally, illustrates a political backlash against the Republican/Democratic fusion nominee, Sherman D. Phelps. The latter three candidates--two black men, and one white woman--were "write ins" cast by a disgruntled and disillusioned electorate who selected protest candidates to register their sentiments against Phelps, and the contrivances that propelled his sole candidacy.

Thomas "Old Bay Tom" Crocker was a recognized character known not only for his public intoxication but also for his mettle as shown by his regional championships as a wrestler and boxer. Henry C. Jones was one of the area's leading post-war civil rights activists. Anna Shears was recognized for her often-publicized domestic disputes with her common law husband. The Leader's reportage was accurate--none of the three defeated candidates could reasonably demand a recount, or ask for federal relief under recent enactments. On February 15, the Common Council "did find and determine" that Phelps was the mayoral winner, and "subscribed" their names to the official canvassing book. (3)

This article examines Binghamton politics shortly before the election, and contends that the published polling tallies were manipulated secretly to prevent the victory of one of the other candidates. There is compelling evidence that Crocker won, and that his victory prompted politicos to engage in two election night deceits. First, the polling results were altered in Phelp's favor. Few white residents could countenance a municipal administration under Crocker, or any other black person. Second, they orchestrated a tight cover-up to prevent possible federal involvement. They understood the punitive ramifications of Congress' recent actions legitimizing rights for African Americans. The specter of federal prosecution prevented city leaders from leaking details of their acts.

Since 1870, there had been local news of Washington's active oversight of civil rights shown by the enactment of the Force Acts. Concerning the Third Force, or Ku Klux Klan, Act, Eric Foner has explained that it "... for the first time designated certain crimes committed by individuals as offences punishable under federal law. Conspiracies to deprive citizens to ... hold office ... and enjoy the equal protection of the laws could now ... be prosecuted by federal district attorneys." (4) In Binghamton in early 1872, city leaders felt compelled to solve surreptitiously a political imbroglio. Their conspiracy was an affirmation of racism, and raises critical questions on race relations in the North when the eyes of the nation were focused on Reconstruction in the South. This election mirrors the racial climate in...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A442906440