Political Memorabilia Acquired by National Museum of American History

Objects Range From the 1841 Dorr Rebellion to the Woman Suffrage Movement

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has acquired more than two dozen historical artifacts from the Daniel Schofield Collection related to 19th- and 20th-century political movements, from Rhode Island’s Dorr Rebellion of 1841 to the woman suffrage movement. The objects, acquired at auction in October through Eldred’s Auction Gallery, include political ribbons, ballots, broadsides and posters. Other pivotal moments reflected in the newly acquired materials include events during the Reconstruction era and California politics of the 1870s.

Schofield was a well-known New England collector of political memorabilia and a trusted authority on the material culture of the Dorr Rebellion and other New England political events.

The Dorr Rebellion of 1841 centered on voting rights and pitted supporters of a “People’s Constitution” against defenders of Rhode Island’s established state constitution, which sharply limited voting rights to property holders. The rebellion epitomized the difficult struggle over who had the right to vote during the period between the adoption of the Constitution and the Civil War. Dorr-related objects in the collection include campaign ribbons that carry the slogan “I Am an American Citizen; I am for a Constitution and Equal Rights; The People are the Sovereign Power,” two Dorr-related “People’s Ticket” ballots to vote for a new constitution in Rhode Island and a broadside of Gov. Thomas Wilson Dorr’s declaration of martial law.

“The museum had been seeking for items related to the Dorr Rebellion for many years,” said Political History Curator Barbara Clark Smith. “It was a key event that dramatically represents the struggle for—and opposition to—white manhood suffrage in the early 19th century. The issue of requiring white men to own property in order to qualify to vote roiled state politics through much of the nation in that era.”

Other acquisitions from the Schofield collection include three objects related to President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment: a ticket to the U.S. Senate Impeachment of the President and two bust photos of Johnson, one with “Traitor” written on his forehead. Also among the artifacts joining the museum’s political history collections are a rare ballot for the election of a former slave to the Georgia legislature in 1870, a California ballot expressing anti-Chinese sentiment in the 1870s and a “New Hampshire Republican” poster from the 1890 U.S. House of Representatives election.

The women’s suffrage movement is represented through a New York ballot from the election of 1884, when Belva A. Lockwood ran for U.S. President as the “National Equal Rights Party” candidate, and through ephemera including anti-woman’s suffrage pamphlets from the early 1900s and a Rhode Island woman’s suffrage poster from 1920.

“These acquisitions reflect the museum’s commitment to continue building a broad collection of materials relating to political life and participation in the U.S. to show to the public and to historical researchers,” Smith said.

Comprising approximately 100,000 objects, the museum’s political history collection is the largest of its kind, containing artifacts dating as far back as the inauguration of President George Washington and includes objects related to significant moments in America’s political history, presidential history and political campaigning, as well as objects illustrating civil rights, women’s suffrage and reform movements, and the history of the White House and first ladies. The collection includes some of most noteworthy national treasures, such as the small portable desk on which Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and the top hat Abraham Lincoln wore the night he was assassinated.

Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. It helps people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. The museum is located on Constitution Avenue N.W., between 12th and 14th Streets, and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For more information, visit https://americanhistory.si.edu. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.

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Melinda Machado
Valeska Hilbig