Engraver Doney derived this colorful scene—showing democracy in action in a small Western town—from a painting by Bingham, which includes a wide range of male types engaged in a variety of activities. Some townsmen debate issues at the far right, while one citizen nearby takes his oath and a crowd lines up behind him to cast ballots. By contrast, a drunkard at left has been lured to the polls more by the promise of alcohol than by lofty democratic ideals. Notably, black men and all women are excluded from the democratic process.
Bingham wanted County Election to be “as national as possible,” to represent the spirited political conversations and debates that could occur among average citizens anywhere in the United States. The banner proclaiming “The Will of the People The Supreme Law” exemplifies Bingham’s belief in the American political system. He even believed that popular sovereignty, despite its evident pitfalls, would check slavery’s westward expansion and eventually end slavery entirely.
Written by Timothy Clark, Class of 2012
American Art Intern, Spring 2012
political events; figures; landscapes; narrative
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