I am an assistant professor in the Department of History and Art History at George Mason University, working on digital history and the history of American religions. You can find a link to just about anything I've worked on in my CV or in the blog archives. Some of my work is described in more detail on the research page, and my syllabi are on the teaching page along with workshop materials. You can write to me at lincoln@lincolnmullen.com.

Exploring Elections for Massachusetts Governor in the Early Republic

The New Nation Votes database (NNV) offers election returns from the early American republic collected by Philip Lampi and digitized by Tufts University and the American Antiquarian Society. Several scholars writing in a 2013 issue of the Journal of the Early Republic have tackled questions such as voter turnout and measures of party competitiveness (Brooke), the resurgence of the Federalists after 1808 (Lampi), the expansion of the franchise (Ratcliffe), and families and the turnover of congressmen (Zagarri). My aim is much more preliminary: to see what kind of analysis, in particular mapping, might be done with the dataset.1 I have wanted to explore this dataset for some time, so here is a preliminary investigation into the Massachusetts gubernatorial elections up to 1824.

The first aim is to get an overview of party politics in the elections for governor. The chart below shows the percentage of votes won by the Federalist and Democratic-Republican parties from 1796 to 1824. The overall pattern in elections for governors is fairly plain. From 1797 until 1805, the Federalists had a strong hold on the office, putting Increase Sumner, Moses Gill, and Caleb Strong in the governor’s chair.2 Caleb Strong came to office (after both Sumner and Gill had died in office) with some competition in 1800, but his hold was fairly secure until 1805. That year inaugurated stiff competition for the governorship, which switched hands repeatedly until the election of 1813. The War of 1812 and the rise of younger Federalists gave the Federalists the upper hand until they lost the 1823 election, never to win the Massachusetts governorship again. Note that there are a few oddities in this chart which I have not resolved. For example, John Brooks was listed as a Federalist every year from 1816 to 1821, except 1818 to 1819; I don’t know whether that means Brooks really ran without an affiliation or whether it is an omission in the data. But this chart more or less confirms the argument of Philip Lampi (and earlier, of David Hackett Fischer).

Percentage of the vote won by the Federalist and Democratic-Republican parties in elections for Massachusetts governor, 1796--1824. Data: [A New Nation Votes](http://elections.lib.tufts.edu/).
Figure 1: Percentage of the vote won by the Federalist and Democratic-Republican parties in elections for Massachusetts governor, 1796–1824. Data: A New Nation Votes. [SVG, PNG]

The next task is to see which politicians were serious contenders for governor of Massachusetts. I’m arbitrarily defining a contender as someone who managed to win at least 10 percent of the vote in at least one election. More than one thousand people are listed in the gubernatorial election returns from 1787 to 1824, but only twenty got at least 10% of the vote, and only ten won office in their own right.3 The chart below shows the careers of those contenders. There are too many people on this chart for the colors to be much help, so I’ve labeled the lines for the more significant figures. John Hancock had a secure tenure, while Samuel Adams’s was somewhat more rocky. But note that Increase Sumner, the first Federalist governor, also won high proportions of the popular vote. Starting in 1800 and certainly by 1805, elections were contested much more heavily; the nature of gubernatorial politics changed. We can see the arcs of people’s careers. Federalist Caleb Strong won a close election in 1800 and gradually increased his margin of victory, but with the new regime of competition he was an on-again, off-again candidate until 1815. Federalist John Brooks enjoyed seven wins in a row, but his last three election were contested by William Eustis. Eustis never did defeat Brooks, but he did defeat Federalists Harrison Gray Otis in 1823 and Samuel Lathrop in 1824. Elbridge Gerry was the William Jennings Bryan of the early republic (except Gerry eventually won), running repeatedly for governor starting in 1788, but not even coming close until he won in 1810.

Contenders in elections for Massachusetts governor who won more than 10% of the vote, 1787--1824. Data: [A New Nation Votes](http://elections.lib.tufts.edu/).
Figure 2: Contenders in elections for Massachusetts governor who won more than 10% of the vote, 1787–1824. Data: A New Nation Votes. [SVG]

Next, I’ve created maps for three gubernatorial elections: 1800, 1807, and 1823. These maps are exceedingly rough-and-ready, intended for exploration rather than argument. I made them using my cartographer package. The election returns are in the NNV dataset at the level of towns, so I geocoded the names of 869 towns in Massachusetts and Maine.4 This is not ideal, but since towns tend to split rather than move the locations should be more or less correct for these exploratory maps. The county boundaries are from the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries via my USAboundaries package. The maps each include layers for the top two or three candidates. Red represents the Federalists; blue, the Democratic-Republicans. Each town is sized according to the number of votes for the candidate.5 Click on each town to get the number of votes. This way of layering the votes for each candidate is not ideal. Perhaps a better solution would be to show how many more votes each candidate won in a particular place; e.g., Strong won 142 more votes than Gerry in Brookfield.

Some general observations about the importance of space in these elections.

First, Boston was far and away the biggest city in Massachusetts, but it had little impact on the elections. In the 1800 election, Gerry got only 24 more votes than Strong in Boston, a difference of less than 1 percent of the turn out. In 1823, Otis got only 108 more votes than Eustis. Only in 1807 did Strong get significantly more votes than Sullivan (and Strong still lost the election). Even though Boston contributed more votes than any place, and though sometimes it went for Democratic-Republicans and sometimes it went for Federalists, it was not really a swing city because the two parties were usually closely tied in Boston.

Second, in the 1800 election Strong won because he won Berkshire and Hampshire Counties in Western Massachusetts. Gerry’s support in those counties was virtually non-existent. 6 Gerry, though, did much better in Maine, especially away from the coast. Strong also did well in Essex County, a Federalist center of strength.

Figure 3: Election for Massachusetts governor, 1800. Data: A New Nation Votes.

By 1807 the Democratic-Republican candidate, James Sullivan, did far better than Gerry had in the Western counties and in some Western towns he did better than Strong. Sullivan even made some inroads into Essex County and Cape Cod, though Strong made some inroads into Maine. This election was closely contested in nearly every town, and Sullivan narrowly defeated Strong by gaining votes in places that had gone heavily for Federalists in earlier elections. The change in politics from dominance by one party to heavily contested elections that we noted in the charts above also appears on this map.

Figure 4: Election for Massachusetts governor, 1807. Data: A New Nation Votes.

In 1823, Otis maintained some of the Federalist strength in western Massachusetts, though he also lost (I suspect that when Maine gained statehood in 1820, the Federalists benefited slightly from a decline of Republican votes). But Otis was defeated in most of the towns surrounding Boston.

Figure 5: Election for Massachusetts governor, 1823. Data: A New Nation Votes.

These maps show comparatively little of the split between “blue” cities and “red” country that we are accustomed to in modern electoral maps. This is hardly surprising, since mass urbanization happened much later. But what is surprising in these few maps is how close the vote was in many towns. The line between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans did not run between towns but through them. Elections were highly competitive at the state level, but that competition was also reflected in most towns.7 There is a lot more work to do, including figuring out a better way of representing votes by town, creating maps for all the Massachusetts gubernatorial elections, extending the analysis to other states and other types of elections, and taking on questions such as voter turnout and changing patterns of votes within particular towns.


If you would like to look up a particular election or candidate, use the table below.

Table 1: Top five contenders in each election for governor of Massachusetts, 1787–1824. Data: A New Nation Votes. Search by year or candidate name.

  1. See the summer 2013 issue of the Journal of the Early Republic, which includes the following articles: Caroline F. Sloat, “A New Nation Votes and the Study of American Politics, 1789-1824,” Journal of the Early Republic 33, no. 2 (2013): 183–86, doi:10.1353/jer.2013.0042; John L. Brooke, “‘King George Has Issued Too Many Pattents for Us’: Property and Democracy in Jeffersonian New York,” Journal of the Early Republic 33, no. 2 (2013): 187–217, doi:10.1353/jer.2013.0037; Donald Ratcliffe, “The Right to Vote and the Rise of Democracy, 1787-1828,” Journal of the Early Republic 33, no. 2 (2013): 219–54, doi:10.1353/jer.2013.0033; Philip J. Lampi, “The Federalist Party Resurgence, 1808-1816: Evidence from the New Nation Votes Database,” Journal of the Early Republic 33, no. 2 (2013): 255–81, doi:10.1353/jer.2013.0029; Rosemarie Zagarri, “The Family Factor: Congressmen, Turnover, and the Burden of Public Service in the Early American Republic,” Journal of the Early Republic 33, no. 2 (2013): 283–316, doi:10.1353/jer.2013.0026; Andrew W. Robertson, “Afterword: Reconceptualizing Jeffersonian Democracy,” Journal of the Early Republic 33, no. 2 (2013): 317–34, doi:10.1353/jer.2013.0023.

  2. Samuel Adams (won 1796) is listed as a Republican in NNV.

  3. Governors Levi Lincoln Sr., Moses Gill, and Marcus Morton succeeded governors who died in office but did not win office in their own right. The turnover between parties must be attributed, at least in part, to weak successors running for governor.

  4. This required an additional step to distinguish between Maine and Massachusetts, since until 1820, towns in what is today Maine were part of Massachusetts. A few populated places, such as “Number 8 and 9” in Maine could not be geocoded, but those places account for fewer than 100 votes per election.

  5. Because many more people voted in later elections, the relationship between the size of the circles and the number of votes varies from map to map.

  6. I am surprised that a Federalist did better in Western Massachusetts. Am I wrong to be surprised?

  7. Of course there are some exceptions. Chesire and Adams stand out to me: both were home to mills, and Chesire had a glass factory. Did these mill towns have a different kind of politics?

New Syllabus: Religion and Capitalism in the United States

This semester I’m teaching a new graduate seminar titled “Religion and Capitalism in the United States.” The readers of the Religion in American History blog gave me many suggestions for the readings. The syllabus is available online. Here is the class description:

The relationship between religion and capitalism has long exercised historians of the United States, and before them it concerned the people whom historians study. In this class, you will meet many people whose religion led them to interact with capitalism in incredibly diverse ways. You will meet the Puritans whose work ethic supposedly created capitalism, but who insisted on resting on the Sabbath; Moravian missionaries who made converts and money; slaves, slaveowners, and abolitionists who all claimed the Bible when reckoning with the capitalist system of slavery; a Protestant writer who insisted that Jesus was a businessman, and Catholics who believed Jesus called them to a kind of socialism; African American preachers who marketed their recorded sermons; Jews who mass-manufactured matzah and created Yiddish socialism; an industrialist who wrote The Gospel of Wealth, and laborers who created churches for the working class; nineteenth-century consumers who turned gift-giving into a ritual, and a twenty-first-century television personality who turned consumption into therapy; converts who thought religion required poverty, and Prosperity Gospelers who thought it promised wealth. You will read primary sources from American history, secondary works in both religious history and the new history of capitalism, and excerpts from theorists of religion and capitalism. Through these readings and your own research project, you are invited make sense of this perpetual historical puzzle.

Religious History and Religious Studies Syllabi from the Past Semester

Happy New Year, Religion in American History readers.

One of my favorite ways to get to know a scholar is to read her syllabi. Syllabi show how scholars put together a whole field. (And probably no text reveals personality as much as the introduction and policies on a syllabus.) Yet unfortunately teaching documents are shared less routinely than our research, so we are much more likely to know a scholar’s books and articles than her syllabi. Following the example of Paul Putz’s regular lists of new books, I intend to start a posting a roundup of syllabi for religious history and religious studies from the past semester from whoever wishes to contribute.

So here is a list of past syllabi from people who replied to my entreaties. Only a small number replied this first time, but if you would like to add your syllabus to this list, feel free to leave a link in the comments, or you can e-mail me a document and I’ll add it (lincoln@lincolnmullen.com).

N.B. The following syllabi have been added since this post was first published:

Poster: Teaching Graduate Students to Code

The graduate students in my fall 2014 class “Programming for Historians”—Sara Collini, Peter Carr Jones, Jannelle Legg, Anne Ladyem McDivitt, George D. Oberle III, and Amanda Regan—and I will present the poster below at the 2015 annual meeting of the American Historical Association. This post is a (more or less) permanent version of the poster along with supplementary materials.

Poster: Teaching Graduate Students to Code
Figure 1: Poster: Teaching Graduate Students to Code [PNG, PDF]

The projects created by the graduate students in the course, along with the code that they wrote, are available at their own websites. Below is a list of authors and project titles:

Finally, two other links may be of use. The first is the syllabus for the course. The second is the ongoing draft of Digital History Methods in R, a book that I began writing during the semester to use as course materials.

Interview with the Setup

[I was interviewed by The Setup, “a collection of nerdy interviews asking people from all walks of life what they use to get the job done.” The interview is there and below.]

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Lincoln Mullen and I’m a historian at George Mason University. I teach and write about American religious history; at the moment I’m writing a history of people who converted between religions in the nineteenth-century United States. I’m also a digital historian at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. I’m responsible for teaching a graduate course on computer programming for historians, for which I’m writing a book (still very much a rough draft) on using R for digital history.

What hardware do you use?

I have a 15" MacBook Pro with an Intel i7 processor, an SSD, and 16 GB of RAM provided by my department. I also use a ThinkPad T430 which was my main machine during graduate school. There is an unremarkable Dell external monitor on my desk. I have an iPhone 5C but I more and more dislike using a phone for anything.

I really like my Timbuk2 Command Laptop messenger; I wouldn’t change a thing about it.

And what software?

I used to play around with software much too often. Now I’ve settled down with a few organizing principles influenced by Mike Gancarz’s Linux and the Unix Philosophy: I use Unix-style tools and store my data in plain text or flat files. Everything that I write is formatted in Markdown using the Pandoc extensions. John MacFarlane’s Pandoc is peerless for converting between markup formats. I use some custom LaTeX templates with Pandoc. I use Vim, often in the terminal but usually in MacVim, for all text editing. Every project—writing, coding, you name it—is kept under version control with Git and almost always made available on GitHub. Almost every project is built by GNU Make. All of that is run through the shell, usually ZSH. My dotfiles and Vim files are available on GitHub.

I used to write in several different programming languages, but now I use R if at all possible. It took me some getting used to R and functional programming, but R really is a beautiful language for data analysis. It is made even better by the “Hadleyverse” of packages written by Hadley Wickham, such as dplyr, tidyr, and ggplot2. I use Yihui Xie’s knitr package to write and code together in R Markdown. RStudio (in Vim mode) is my only exception to the rule about using Vim for everything; it is a very nicely done IDE for R. Even better, I can use the server version of RStudio on a much more powerful machine, or for teaching a workshop, and get the same interface. If I can’t write it in R, then I use Ruby, which is also beautiful. JavaScript is not beautiful, but Mike Bostock’s D3.js is; I use it for interactive data visualizations and maps.

For managing citations I use Zotero, an excellent open-source application and web service by my colleagues at RRCHNM. My notes are written in Markdown, stored in Git, and edited in Vim, but they are turned into a wiki by Gitit.

For most websites, like my personal site or my course syllabi, I use Jekyll. Jekyll is a static site generator written in Ruby so I’m comfortable writing plugins for it; it uses Markdown (with a Pandoc plugin) so I can write in plain text and keep the site under version control. For any kind of web exhibit or other scholarly website I use Omeka (think WordPress for galleries, libraries, archives, museums, and scholars). Omeka is also created by my colleagues at RRCHNM. If I assign students to write blog posts, then I use WordPress. I’ve been really pleased with Reclaim Hosting, which provides hosting to educators and students.

The ThinkPad runs Ubuntu 14.04 LTS. Whenever I spool up a cloud or local virtual machine, it runs Ubuntu. I often use Vagrant with VirtualBox to create development environments. Homebrew is obligatory for installing development dependencies on a Mac.

I use a few Mac or web apps: iTerm 2 as a terminal emulator; OmniFocus for task management, which I could probably use better; BackBlaze for online backups; DropBox for file syncing; Caffeine to keep my monitor from going to sleep while I’m teaching; QGIS for GIS work if I really must; Transmit for FTP and Amazon S3; TextExpander for snippets; Spectacle for window management; Feedly for reading feeds.

My open-source or open-access licenses of choice are MIT for software and CC-BY for prose.

What would be your dream setup?

I have plenty of computing power and can rent more cheaply. I don’t even have much to complain about when it comes to battery power. I wish that there was a way to teach students digital methods without going through the grime of setting up a development environment.

I’ve never found an e-reader that I liked. I want a device with a large-enough screen approaching an 8.5" by 11" piece of paper that could read e-books and PDFs of journal articles, nineteenth-century books, and students papers with equal ease, preferably with an e-ink screen. Is that too much to ask?

And most of all, I’d like more and more academic work in history and the humanities to be released online (in pre-prints like arXiv, or in final versions) in open formats and hopefully under open-access licenses.

USAboundaries Package for R

The Dr. William M. Scholl Center for American History and Culture has released a set of shapefiles for historical state and county boundaries from 1629 to 2000 as part of their Atlas of Historical County Boundaries. These shapefiles are very useful for creating historical maps, so I’ve bundled them with a few convenience functions as the USAboundaries package for R. This package makes it easy to make a map for any arbitrary day in United States history.


map_1844 <- us_boundaries(as.Date("1844-03-21"))
The United States on March 21, 1844
Figure 1: The United States on March 21, 1844 [PNG]

For more, see the documentation. The package is available on CRAN.