A 'Good' Voter...Or Not
A story about the 1858 election for U.S. Representative in Kentucky's 4th District...William Clayton Anderson of Lancaster was elected to the 36th Congress as an Opposition Party candidate, serving from 1859 to 1861. His opponent was attorney James Stone Chrisman of Monticello, who had served in the 33rd Congress, from 1853 to 1855. Chrisman contested the vote totals from the 4th Congressional District by claiming that illegal votes were cast. Clinton County, being in that district, was one of the counties contested. So, depositions were taken before Circuit Judge William Vann on November 8th and 9th at the courthouse in Albany. In the end, Chrisman's contest failed, but during the depositions, several voters were challenged in Clinton County, and none more than P.H. Clark, who was challenged because, in the words of Chrisman, 'he is not a free white man; that he is of mixed blood, being at least one-fourth African blood.'
Clark was thought by some to be black. Others considered him a Mulatto, a person of mixed white and black ancestry. He apparently came to Clinton County about 18 months prior to the election and resided in the Piney Woods community, and he apparently left the county just after the election. No one who testified knew where he came from and no one who testified knew where he went after the election. Clark's case was definitely one of racial identity at the polls during that August election in 1858. His parentage and genealogy were unknown. No one knew anything about this man. But, when he showed up at the Piney Woods Precinct to vote in the August 1858 Clinton County Kentucky General Election, without knowing anything at all about Clark's background, the men at the polls were compelled to fall back on his physical appearance as a guide to his race. Several of the men who testified went into great detail describing Clark's physical appearance; his kinky hair, lips, nose, skin color. One even testified that Clark was known as 'Mr. Dick's Negro,' in reference to where he lived. There were some, apparently, who did not mind Clark's physical appearance. As you will see, one man testified that Clark came to eat at his house one morning, with several 'white men.' No one seemed to mind, except Guthrie's wife who suggested that 'next time Clark should eat in the kitchen.' If members of the white community were more or less in agreement that Clark was black, it is surprising that he was allowed to vote. The acting sheriff at the Piney Woods precinct on election day described Clark as being black. The democratic judge at the precinct said his skin was 'too dark to be a good voter,' that me must be Mexican or something else other than European descent. But, the Oppositionist judge insisted Clark was a legal voter. After several minutes of discussion, the precinct sheriff ruled Clark was an eligible voter and he was allowed to vote. Personally, I can't help but think that Clark was Mulatto. If he had been African-American, I don't think he would have shown up to vote, knowing he would not be allowed to.
The deposition of J. A. Morrison
Are you or not acquainted with P. H. Clark? Answer. I know him, as an officer; I had him in custody not long since.
Is or not his vote recorded on the poll-book of district number two of this county for W. C. Anderson, for Congress, at the late election? Answer. I see it so recorded on said poll-book.
Describe him fully, his color, etc. Answer. He is very dark; his nose is flat, his lips are rather thick, his hair is kinky, and he has the actions and speech of a negro. I had him in custody two days, and examined him closely.
From your knowledge of him, do you believe him to be tinctured with African blood? If so, how much? Answer. I think he is tinctured with African blood; and have frequently said that I believe he is at least half African.
Is he or not more than one-fourth African? Answer. I think he is.
Where is the said P. H. Clark at this time? Answer. I know not; it is reported, and generally believed, that he has left this county.
Has or not P. H. Clark the appearance of a mulatto? Answer. I suppose he has, slightly; he is rather too dark for a bright mulatto.
The deposition of John Guthrie
Are you acquainted with P. H. Clark, who voted at district No. 2 in this county, at the late election? Answer. I was acquainted with him when he resided in this county, he having left since the late election.
Describe said Clark, his appearance, color, etc. Answer. He was dark, or rather brown. I think his hair was kinky, his lips thick, and his nose flat.
From your knowledge of the man, do you or not believe him to be tinctured with African blood; if so, to what extent? Answer. I believe him to be tinctured with African blood to the extent of one-fourth or more.
Question by Anderson's attorney. Do you know anything about the parentage of P. H. Clark? Answer. I do not.
When you say his hair is kinky, do you or not mean that his hair is curly, more so than is usual? Answer. I do mean that his hair is more curly than is a white man's hair.
The Deposition of Mark Marlow
Question by Chrisman. Are you or not acquainted with one P. H. Clark, who voted for W. C. Anderson for Congress in district No. 2 in this county, at the late election? Answer. I was acquainted with him some fourteen or fifteen months. He lived about a mile from my house.
Please describe the said Clark, his appearance, color, etc. Answer. He had very much the appearance of a negro. His hair, instead of being only curly, was kinky—more so than any white person; his nose was flat, and his lips thick. Both his nose and lips were more like a negro's than a white person. His actions and speech were also more like a negro's than a white person's.
From your acquaintance with the man, do you or not believe him to be tinctured with African blood; if so, state to what degree? Answer. I believe he is tinctured with African blood, and to the extent of one-half at least, if not more.
After a controversy was raised in reference to the vote of said Clark, did or not he leave for parts unknown? Answer. He has left the neighborhood in which he formerly resided, and has gone I know not where.
Was he or not known and reputed in the neighborhood in which he lived as a negro Answer. When he was spoken of by the neighbors he was generally called Mr. Dick's negro, as he resided on the land of Rufus K. Dick.
By Anderson's attorney. Do you know anything about the parentage of P. H. Clark? Answer. Nothing at all.
How long had he resided in district No. 2 previous to the election? Answer. I suppose something near fourteen months. He came there about the 1st of June, 1858.
The Deposition of R. A. Burchett
Question by Chrisman. Are you or not acquainted with one P. H. Clark who voted in district No. 2, of this county, and for W. C. Anderson for Congress in the late August election? Answer. I am acquainted with the P. H. Clark who voted as stated in your question.
Were you or not sheriff of the late election in district No. 2, of this county? Answer I was.
When said Clark presented himself at the polls, and asked to vote, did or not one of the judges of said election object, to his voting? If so, what were his reasons for so objecting, and to what political party does the said judge belong? Answer. When said Clark presented himself to vote, Martin B. Owens, one of the judges at said election, did object to his voting, saying that his skin was too dark for him to be a good voter; that he must be of Mexican or some other descent than European; but Miles H. Davis, the other judge, insisted that he was a legal voter; and after parleying about it for some time, some one remarked that when the judges "differed' the sheriff was to decide. Then the said Owens remarked that he would let him pass; and thus he was permitted to vote.
Please give a description of said Clark, his appearance, color, etc. Answer. His skin was very much the same complexion as that of a negro; his hair was nearly as kinky as any negro's; his nose was tolerably flat; his lips were tolerably thick; his speech and actions were like those of a negro.
Has or not P. H. Clark blue eyes? Answer. I think not.
The Deposition of Abijah Guthrie
Are you or not acquainted with one P. H. Clark who voted in district No. 2, in this county, at the late election, and for W. C. Anderson for Congress? Answer. I am.
Has he or not frequently visited your house? Answer. He has been there many times.
Did or not your lady in your presence refuse to let him eat at the table where white people generally ate? Answer. Clark did come and eat at my house with some white men one morning, and my wife came to me complaining that that negro was eating with the white men, and said that next time she would send him to the kitchen.
Please describe said Clark, his color, etc. Answer. He was about the color of a dark mulatto; his hair was coarse and rough, pretty much like a negro's wool; his actions and speech were like those of a negro.
The deposition of P. H. Smith
Did you or not tell William J. Dabney that you would not have wanted the vote of as dark a man as Clark; and that if Anderson was elected only by Clark's vote he ought not to accept the seat, or what did you say? Answer. I might have said that I would not want as dark a man's vote as Clark was. I don't recollect that I said Anderson ought not to accept if elected by his vote only.
The Deposition of Montgomery Howard
By Chrisman's attorney. Did or not a certain negro or mulatto, by the name of P. H. Clark, vote for William C. Anderson for Congress, in the Piney Woods precinct, No. 2, at the last August election? Answer. I don't know Clark to be a negro or mulatto; but I see the name of P. H. Clark recorded on the poll-book for the said precinct No. 2, at the late August election, as voting for W. C. Anderson for Congress. I knew a fellow at and before the said election in that precinct by that name. He had the appearance of being mixed blooded. From his looks, I would not like to let him eat at my table or sleep in my beds with white folks.
Did or not his cross appear to be between the white race and the African negro race? Answer. From his general appearance, I consider him a mixture of the white race with the black.
By same. Was he or not a fellow that made his appearance in this county from parts, unknown, and whose parentage and genealogy were unknown in this country; and has he or not since voting left here for parts unknown? Answer. I don't know where he came from when he came into our precinct about eighteen months ago. I know nothing, nor have I heard anything, about his parentage, or race, or relationship; he has left, or at least I have not seen or heard of him since the election.
Were there or not some friends of the said W. C. Anderson trying to get the said mulatto to vote: and were they or not notified that he was mixed blooded, and therefore not entitled to vote, and warned not to vote him? Answer. I told Valentine Brown and Hiram Hyden, who were friends of Anderson, and, as I thought, trying to vote him, that if I was in their place that I would not vote him, giving as my reason, in substance, that he was mixed blooded.
Chrisman's contest of the election failed. After his first term in Congress, Anderson chose not to seek re-election; and was elected instead as a Unionist to the Kentucky House of Representatives. Sadly, he died on December 23, 1861 while on the house floor during a session of the state legislature in Frankfort, three days shy of his 35th birthday. During the Civil War, Chrisman served as a representative from Kentucky to the First and Second Confederate Congresses. After the war, he served as a Kentucky State Representative and then later, resumed his law practice in Monticello, where he died in 1881.
After the Civil War, the Constitution was changed to make sure black men had the right to vote. For twelve years after the Civil War, soldiers of the Union Army helped make sure that Blacks would get to vote in the South. When the soldiers left, though, Whites in the South invented many ways to keep Blacks from voting. They succeeded for almost one hundred years. Blacks were finally allowed to vote in 1965, following the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Clark was not the only vote questioned in that 1858 election in Clinton County. So were several others. You can read about it in several places, including...
* Source: Miscellaneous Documents of the U.S. House of Representatives (1859-1860)