Treating and Bumbo

“Shortly before the election of representatives to the first Congress of the United States [James Madison] wrote from Philadelphia to George Washington: “I am pressed much in several quarters to try the effect of presence on the district into which I fall, for electing a Representative and am apprehensive that an omission of that expedient, may eventually expose me to blame. At the same time I have an extreme distaste to steps having an electioneering appearance, altho’ they should lead to an appointment in which I am disposed to serve the public ; and am very dubious moreover whether any step which might seem to denote a solicitude on my part would not be as likely to operate against as in favor of my pretensions.”  –Charles Sydnor, Gentlemen Freeholders, p. 44

Glossary of Early Campaigns

  • Bumbo –alcoholic drink, usually made with rum
  • Canvassing –soliciting votes or campaigning
  • Freeholders — propertied men in colonial Virginia eligible to vote
  • House of Burgesses –colonial assembly in Virginia
  • Joining Interests –18th-century candidates who attempted to combine their supporters together in a kind of coalition
  • Republicanism –the revolutionary era ideology of representative government organized around the idea that democratic leaders should be selected on the basis of their character, civic virtue and disinterestedness for the purpose of serving the public good
  • Standing for office –Common phrase to describe a candidacy in the age of republicanism; as opposed to more modern notions of “running for office”
  • Treating –showing “respect” for voters on Election Day in colonial Virginia by hosting free parties with food and alcohol

Timeline of Campaign Finance

  • Treating (1776-1827)
  • Macing (1828-1867)
  • Fat-frying (1868-1906)
  • Modern fund-raising (1907-1955)
  • Post-modern fund-raising (1956-present)

Featured Image


June 2020 cartoon by Lisa Benson

Fun Fact

  • During a 1758 contest for the House of Burgesses, George Washington provided about 160 gallons of liquor to 391 voters or nearly a quart and a half per voter

Further Reading