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America’s History of Nasty, Tumultuous, and Strange Presidential Elections

An electoral chaos reading list.

Pocket Collections

Read when you’ve got time to spare.

Partisan rancor. Conspiracy theories. Disenfranchised voters. Foreign meddling. Contested results. Maybe it’s not exactly a comfort, but the United States has seen it all before. Dive into the history of contentious presidential elections that rival 2020 for drama and intrigue, including the “Corrupt Bargain” of 1824 (when a popular-vote loser squeaked into the White House for the first time), the 1864 election (held during the middle of the Civil War), and, yeah, the last one.

The Last Russian Leader to Mess With a US Election? Josef Stalin.

Will Moreland
Vox

Though the election of 1948 is best remembered for the Chicago Tribune newspaper’s embarrassing, incorrect “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline, its forgotten story is of Henry Wallace, a liberal dreamer who became the Kremlin’s unwitting pawn.

BONUS READ: How We Used to Vote

Jill Lepore
The New Yorker

Voting in America, it’s fair to say, used to be different. The founders didn’t anticipate that voting would be done in secret. And, in the middle decades of the nineteenth century, eighty-nine Americans were killed at the polls during Election Day riots.