When citizens in the early American republic went to vote for their representatives to Congress, their procedures for voting varied from state to state. One constant, however, was the fact that there was no requirement for the states or for the towns and counties that actually administered the elections to deposit their election returns in any central repository. Election returns from the first several decades of politics in the United States, if they are available at all, were widely scattered across courthouses, historical societies, and newspapers. (See Philip Lampi’s essay on “Electing Members of Congress in the Early Republic.”) The result is that those election returns have not been available as a dataset to be analyzed or mapped. Although there are many resources for studying the history of Congress in later periods, including the maps and data from the Electing the House of Representatives, 1840–1926 project created by the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond, there is no comparable resource for Congress during the First Party System.
Yet the First Party System was absolutely vital to establishing the patterns of American elections and American democracy. It was an era characterized by active participation in and increasing turnout for elections. (See Andrew Roberton’s essay on “Democracy and the Importance of Voter Turnout.”) It was an era of experimentation in republican politics, and those experiments helped shape the course of American democracy. (See Rosemarie Zagarri’s blog post titled “What Did Democracy Look Like? Voting in Early America.”) In order for elections to Congress during the First Party System to be mapped in a systematic way, it was necessary to gather the scattered election returns and then transform them into a dataset. Creating that dataset and maps is the aim of the Mapping Early American Elections (MEAE) project.