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Moment of Indiana History

The Vote Felt ‘Round The World

When a DeKalb County farmhand hurried to Kendallville on election day in 1842, he cast a vote that may have that forever changed the fates of two nations

Photo: Brenton Fletcher

A single vote nearly left uncounted may have changed the course of history.

As improbable as it seems, the vote of a single person may have determined the course of international relations. In 1842, that critical vote was cast by Henry Shoemaker, a farmhand from DeKalb County, Indiana.

Voters could not directly elect U.S. Senators until the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913. Before then, state legislatures selected each state’s two senators, so in some election years, voting for a state representative helped determine who would be appointed to the U.S. Senate.

During the 1840s, Steuben and DeKalb counties shared a representative in the General Assembly. Whoever won the 1842 legislative election would get to choose a Senator. The candidates for the joint seat were Madison Marsh of DeKalb and Enos Beall of Steuben, who each received 360 votes—a tie.

But Madison Marsh contested those results; it seemed the election officers in Smithfield Township, DeKalb County, had rejected the ballot of Henry Shoemaker. If Shoemaker’s ballot were counted, Marsh would receive the one vote he needed to make it to the State House.

Marsh had met Shoemaker while campaigning through the farm fields of DeKalb County, and Shoemaker promised to vote for Marsh. But Shoemaker did not remember his promise until the afternoon of election day, and he worked on a farm that was about twelve miles from the polling place in Kendallville. Shoemaker left his work that fall day, saddled up a horse, and rode the twelve miles to the poll, arriving in late afternoon only to find that there was no ticket containing the names he desired.

Shoemaker improvised, taking two or three tickets from the election inspector, cutting out the names he wanted from each with a pen-knife he borrowed from the inspector, and ending up with four pieces of paper. He rolled them up and wrapped three into the fourth piece; then he handed his makeshift ballot to the inspector, who accepted it and put it in the ballot box. Shoemaker lingered at the poll for about an hour afterward to make sure his vote would count.

After hearing the report of the Elections Committee, the Indiana House voted to allow Shoemaker’s vote, which in turn elected Madison Marsh to the state legislature. Marsh was a Democrat, and he helped select Edward A. Hannegan as the newest Senator from Indiana. Four years later, Hannegan, United States Senator from Indiana, supplied the vote necessary to declare war against Mexico in 1846.

A single vote can make a difference; if Henry Shoemaker hadn’t hurried to Kendallville that election day, who knows whether a war that forever changed the fates of two nations would have happened?

A Moment of Indiana History is a production of WFIU Public Radio in partnership with the Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations. Research support comes from Indiana Magazine of History published by the Indiana University Department of History.

Source Article: Harry S. New, “The Importance of a Single Vote,” Indiana Magazine of History 31, no. 2 (Mar. 1935): 104-108.

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