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The Cover
November 4, 1998

The County Election

JAMA. 1998;280(17):1466. doi:10.1001/jama.280.17.1466

When American genre painter George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879) painted the American political scene at mid-19th century, he worked from experience. Always enamored of politics, in 1846 Bingham was back home in Missouri, fresh from four years in Washington, DC, where he had been painting portraits of political notables, including Daniel Webster. He ran for the state legislature on the Whig ticket and won, by three votes, then lost when his opponent, E. D. Sappington, contested the election. Referred to the heavily Democratic House, the election was decided in Sappington's favor. But Bingham had his revenge and doubly sweet it was. Two years later he ran again, solely because Sappington was also running, and won by a majority of 26 votes. The incident was also probably the genesis for a group of paintings known collectively as "The Election Series." Classified today in the category of American genre, they are actually powerful statements of Bingham's passionate political beliefs: It is the will of the people, not that of the legislature, that is the supreme law of the American people.

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