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Juggling congressional districts isn’t new political maneuver; Hamilton voters were targets in shuffling during Civil War

Clement L. Vallandigham, below, had enough votes in Butler County to offset his rejection elsewhere


Juggling congressional districts isn’t new political maneuver;
Hamilton voters were targets in shuffling during Civil War

Compiled by Jim Blount

Ohioans are often reminded that their state is a key in national elections, and 2012 promises to continue that distinction. But next year, Buckeyes may go to the polls three times instead of the two votes usually associated with elections that determine national offices.

An unsettled situation could become more confusing within the next few weeks or months. Voters will be challenged not only to decide which candidates get their support, but also to know when they may cast their votes in 2012.

Everything -- except the general election Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012 -- is subject to change by legislative or judicial action during the remainder of 2011 or in early 2012.

Without getting into too many details -- because they could suddenly change -- here are some possible scenarios for Ohio politics in 2012:

1. Because of legal challenges, implementing revised  Ohio congressional districts could be postponed until after the 2012 general election.

2. If that happens, there may be no district congressional elections (primary and general) in 2012. Instead of casting one vote for a district congressman, Ohioans may be able to vote for 16. Candidates could run in a state-wide election. If so, the 16 receiving the most votes across the state would go to Washington in 1913 to represent Ohio in the U. S. House of Representatives.

3. If some or all legal redistricting questions are prolonged, there could be two primary elections in Ohio next year. One scenario could have Ohioans voting in a primary, probably in March,  for one U. S. Senate nominee and 99 state representatives and a third of the 33 state senators. The total membership (99 and 33) for the two houses of the Ohio General Assembly doesn’t change, but the outlines of the districts have been redrawn.

4. The second election, possibly in May or June, would be the presidential primary.

The problem started with the 2010 federal census that, as expected, reduced the Ohio delegation in the U. S. House of Representatives from 18 to 16 members. That meant not only a loss of representation, but required new districts.

Redistricting or Gerrymandering?

District realignments follow most federal censuses, even if the state’s number of house members is unchanged. The redesign is directed by the party that has the majority in Columbus. This year it is the Republicans who hold the governor’s office and control both houses of the Ohio General Assembly. In some previous district changes, it has been the Democrats who restructured Ohio districts.

Juggling congressional districts to favor the party in power is not a new political maneuver. When new districts are proposed, the party out of power calls it gerrymandering, a negative word that entered the language and U. S. political vocabulary in 1812.

Gerrymandering implies that the majority party has drawn an election district map that gives that party an unfair and undeserved advantage in future elections.

The expression involved Elbridge Gerry’s campaign for re-election as governor of Massachusetts in 1812. Opponents charged redrawn district lines unfairly favored Gerry.

Gerrymander possibly was a combination of his name and a description of a district that resembled the shape of a salamander.

Strangely, Gerry lost the 1812 gubernatorial election, but that year was elected vice president on a ticket headed by James Madison. He died Nov. 23, 1814, about halfway through his term.

One of the most notorious examples of gerrymandering in Ohio involved Butler County and was aimed specifically at counteracting Hamilton votes.

It was the 1862 election, during the Civil War, and the target was an incumbent congressman noted nationally as an outspoken critic of President Abraham Lincoln and the conduct of the Civil War. The Peace Democrat was Clement Laird Vallandigham, who owed his previous election victories to the overwhelming vote he received in the City of Hamilton. Three times Vallandigham lost in Preble and Montgomery counties, and carried only Butler County, thanks to the lopsided vote in Hamilton.

Clement Vallandigham vs. Lewis D. Campbell

In four consecutive elections, 1852-1858 -- crucial contests preceding the Civil War -- the opponents seeking the district seat in the U. S. House of Representatives were Vallandigham, a Dayton lawyer, and Lewis D. Campbell, a Hamilton lawyer.

As a candidate of the Whig Party, Campbell had lost previous congressional elections in 1840, 1842 and 1844. He wasn’t a candidate in 1846. He was favored by district voters in 1848, 1850, 1852 and 1854. Democrat Vallandigham was his unsuccessful opponent in 1852 and in 1854, losing to Campbell by 147 votes the first time and by 2,565 in the latter contest.

He tried again in 1856, and appeared to have lost to Campbell by only 17 votes. Vallandigham contested the result and eventually was declared the winner. Before the dispute was settled, Campbell had served more than a year of the two-year term. Vallandigham started his belated term May 25, 1858, just a few months before he had to run for the office again..

Vallandigham was re-elected in 1858 and 1860, beating Campbell in 1858 and Samuel Craighead in 1860.  Vallandigham’s 1858 margin was 178 in the three-county district -- thanks to a 1,064-vote surplus in Butler County with most of that surplus in Hamilton. In 1860, he won by only 113 votes in the district despite a 1,215-vote majority in Butler County. As before, his strongest support was in Hamilton.

Vallandigham district redrawn in 1862

In redistricting after the 1860 census, Republican-dominated Warren County was added to the district, joining Butler, Preble and Montgomery counties.

As anticipated, the addition of Warren County led to the election of a Republican and the removal of Vallandigham from Congress. The victor was Robert C. Schenck, then a brigadier general serving in the Union Army.

Schenck, a Dayton Republican, was re-elected in 1864, 1866 and 1868. The 1827 Miami University graduate lost the 1870 election to Lewis B. Campbell, the Hamiltonian who had previously battled Vallandigham for the office before the Civil War.

Schenck -- the beneficiary of the 1862 redistricting -- represented the district from March 4, 1863, until Jan. 5, 1871, when he resigned to become U. S. minister to Great Britain.

Vallandigham loses his immunity

Until he yielded his seat in Congress March 3, 1863, Vallandigham was a frequent and harsh critic of the war -- usually basing his opposition on constitutional arguments.

While opposing Lincoln and the conduct of the war in the House, Vallandigham's remarks were protected by congressional immunity. To ensure free discussion of controversial issues in Congress, the Constitution immunized members of Congress from liability for statements made in House or Senate for "any speech or debate."

Out of office, the Dayton lawyer was subject to the war time restrictions on freedom of speech. Back in Ohio, as a citizen, the favorite of Hamilton voters didn’t temper his criticism of the Civil War and his calls for it to end.

In May 1863 he was arrested, charged with treason and tried before a military tribunal in Cincinnati, not a civil court. That story -- and Vallandigham’s other Hamilton connections -- were covered in a series of newspaper columns by this writer. The columns -- available elsewhere on the Lane Libraries web site -- were published Sept. 11, 18 and 25, and Oct. 2 and 9, 2002.

Robert C. Schenck, above had served four terms in the u. S. House, 1843-1851, before a second four-term stint, 1863-1871.

Composition of Butler County Congressional Districts

1. Ohio statehood effective March 1, 1803. State had only one representative in the U. S. House until the start of the 13th Congress, March 4, 1813.  First federal census in Butler County conducted in 1810.

2. From 1813 to 1820, Butler County was part of the First Ohio Congressional District that included Butler, Hamilton, Preble and Warren counties.

3. From 1821 to 1830, Butler and Warren counties formed the Second District.

4. From 1831 to 1851, Butler County was in the Second District with Darke and Preble counties.

5. From 1852 to 1861, Butler County was in the Third District with Preble and Montgomery counties.

6. From 1862 to 1871, Butler County joined Montgomery, Preble and Warren counties in the Third District.

7. From 1872 to 1891, the district included Butler, Warren, Clermont and Greene counties.

8. From 1892 to 1952, a period of 60 years, Butler County was part of the Third District with Montgomery and Preble counties.

9. From 1953 to 1964, Butler and Montgomery counties formed the Third District.

10. In 1965, Butler County was placed in the 24th District with Preble and Warren counties and part of Montgomery County.

11. In 1972, the 8th District was formed with Butler, Preble and Darke counties and parts of Warren, Montgomery and Mercer counties.

12. In 1983, the 8th District was redrawn to include all of Butler, Preble, Darke, Miami, Mercer and Van Wert counties and Jackson Township in Champaign County.

13. In 1987, the 8th District included Butler, Preble, Darke, Miami, Mercer and Van Wert counties and parts of Champaign and Auglaize counties.

14. Starting with the 1992 election, the 8th district included all of Butler, Preble, Darke, Miami and Shelby counties and parts of Auglaize, Mercer and Montgomery counties. District population in 1990 was 570,901.

15. In 2002, the Ohio General Assembly placed Butler County in two congressional districts -- the 1st and the 8th. Hanover, Morgan, Reily and Ross townships were placed in the 1st District that also included western, central and parts of northern and eastern Hamilton County (Cincinnati).

The 8th District included West Chester, Liberty, Lemon, Madison, St. Clair, Milford, Fairfield, Wayne and Oxford townships in Butler County. Also in the 8th were all of Preble, Darke and Miami counties and parts of Montgomery and Mercer counties. District population in 2000 was 630,730.