Election predictions from the past

Election predictions — not a new thing as I was reminded last year while working with pre-Civil War records from the New Orleans Custom House.

On Election Day, the election prediction I have in mind is from the presidential election of 1860. This particular prediction is significant, as I wrote on the National Archives Text Message blog Inside the New Orleans Custom House, because it was written by Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard in July 1860. Beauregard’s predictions were wrong. (He projected the Southern Democratic candidate John C. Breckingridge to win by a slim margin.) Less than a year later,  Beauregard would become the Confederate general who fired on Fort Sumter. Therefore, the 1860 prediction represents part of a particularly fractious chapter in our nation’s history.  However, with its meticulous breakdown of states, candidates, and probabilities, it also demonstrates how detailed electoral predictions were, even without the benefit of dry erase boards and touch-screen electoral maps.

Presidential Election Prediction by J. K. Duncan and G. T. Beauregard, July 1860 (The National Archives)

You can find more documents from the New Orleans Custom House on the National Archives Flickr page or in the ARC catalog. Learn about the new digitization project underway in New Orleans to make colonial Louisiana records more accessible.

For all things presidential, check out The American Presidency Project from UC Santa Barbara, an online resource and searchable database of American presidential papers, including executive orders, proclamations, and public addresses.

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