The Transylvania Times -

Electoral College Vote Count Recalled – Brevard, NC

 

Last updated 1/6/2021 at 4:06pm

Thomas Chapman shakes hands with President John F. Kennedy. (Courtesy photo)

With the Joint Session of Congress assembling on Wednesday of this week, Brevard local Thomas Chapman recalled his time as a U.S. Senate page when he carried the Electoral College votes for the 1960 presidential election.

This year's ballot count marked 60 years to the day Chapman delivered the box for the official vote count for the closely contested presidential election between President John F. Kennedy (then Democratic U.S. senator), who defeated Richard Nixon (then vice president to Dwight Eisenhower).

After the recent General Election on Nov. 3, members of the Electoral College met on Monday, Dec. 14, to cast their ballots for president-elect Joseph Biden, who collected 306 electoral votes to President Trump's 232.

These ballots were to be formally counted during the Joint Session of Congress on Wednesday, Jan. 6, over which Vice President Mike Pence presided, which was the final step before Inauguration on Jan. 20.

However, in the wake of what could arguably be described as the country's most controversial election, the Joint Session of Congress also included, as of Wednesday morning, objectors from both the House and the Senate, with a reported number of 13 republican senators who said they side with U.S. Republican Sen. Josh Hawley (from Missouri) in announcing that they would object to the states' electoral votes, as well as, according to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, "over 100 members of the House Representatives," who said they would do the same, based on allegations of election official fraud.

As of Tuesday, 25 Republican senators were reported to have said they will oppose the efforts to object to the votes, including most members of the Senate GOP leadership.

At the updating of this story on Wednesday morning, which goes to press on Wednesday afternoon – the day of the session - the outcome of the proclaimed objects and debate remained unknown.

"I think people have learned more about the Electoral College in the last six months than any of them ever wanted to know," said Chapman, adding that, originally, the Electoral College was a part of a compromise that allowed the 13 colonies to come together as states while retaining the institution of slavery.

"The Southern states were very concerned that they were going to be overrun by the Northern states in terms of power and wealth, so that was one of the compromises that they made to sort of equalize power between the colonies," Chapman said.

Described by his sister Catherine as a "wealth of information regarding the way the Electoral College works and what life was like on Capitol Hill," Chapman said he had always "had a passion for politics" from growing up around his grandmother, Eunice Reynolds Jameson.

"My grandmother was decades ahead of her time," Chapman said.

Jameson was the first elected female Registrar in Okmulgee County, Okla., with connections to Robert S. Kerr and Mike Monroney, two Democratic Senators from Oklahoma, to whom she later wrote to help in getting Chapman enrolled in the Page program. One of the reasons his family got a television set, Chapman said, was to watch the 1952 political conventions.

"Politics was always a topic of discussion in my grandmother's household, and whenever my father, who was in the Navy, was deployed, we would frequently go to my grandparents until he got back on land," Chapman said. "We spent a good time in my younger years back an forth at their house and I remember, as a child, sitting at her kitchen table stuffing envelopes for a political campaign."

Chapman's father, Cdr. George Thomas Chapman, enlisted in the Navy as a Seaman in 1939, and came up through the ranks during a career of more than three decades. His mother, Mary Lee Reynolds Chapman, was a teacher, and, also because of the military upbringing, they were a traveling family.

Later when they were stationed in Washington, his family visited Capitol Hill, where Chapman saw the Pages at work, and decided to make that a goal.

He was told it was a goal that may be out of reach, but he called his grandmother and asked if she could help. She called in favors from friends in politics, asking them to write letters on his behalf. "Toward the end, Sen. Kerr's administrative assistant called my grandmother and said, 'Call off the dogs; we get the point,'" Chapman said.

Chapman was appointed as the youngest page, he said, adding that, to be a page at that time, one must have completed the 8th grade, and be 14 years old, but he was 13.

Because of his military family upbringing, he said he was more mature than many kids his age.

"Proper decorum served me well while I was there," he said.

Beginning in 1829, the U.S. Senate Page Program consists of high school-aged students who perform tasks such as delivery of correspondence and legislative material within the Congressional complex.

Chapman was appointed in April 1958 and worked as a page until June 1962.

After being appointed, he was told he couldn't work on the floor until the summer, so he went in every Saturday morning and worked from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. in either Sen. Kerr's or Sen. Monroney's office. Some of his tasks included filing, opening the mail, as well as learning how to use the autopen, a signing machine used by politicians who had to sign many letters a day. Chapman described it as a desk-sized machine, and the job of operating it was one "no one wanted" because of its assembly-line routine.

He was eventually allowed to work the floor, and the floor pages were there to run messages, or retrieve senators, from the "cloakroom," the informal rest and meeting rooms.

Pages were summoned at the snap of the fingers, signaling for the Page at the front of the line to perform tasks, which is what Chapman said he did in his first few months there.

The Page program is year round. Whenever the Senate is in session, there are Pages, Chapman said.

He lived in Hillcrest Heights, Maryland, about 30 minutes from Capitol Hill.

"My mother would drive me to the end of the trolley line right at the D.C./ Maryland border, and then I would take the street car to Capitol Hill and the Library of Congress for school," he said.

The Capitol Page School was on the top floor of the Library of Congress, where he attended school from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., and then walk to the Capitol building to work. The pages only worked when the Senate was in session, so in 1960 during the recess he began working on Lyndon Johnson's pres-idential campaign, attending the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, Calif.

After the Convention, Chapman continued to work on the JFK/LBJ campaign, including the Whistle-Stop Tour through the South in which Johnson would speak from the back of a special campaign train at chosen cities between Washington and New Orleans.

It was because of his work on Johnson's campaigns that Chapman was chosen to carry the Electoral College votes on Jan. 6 1961.

"The tradition at that point was that the Electoral College Ballots would come in to the Secretary of the Senate, where everything would be organized, and then, they would put the votes for the President in one ornate box, the votes for the Vice President in the other. The Majority Leader would appoint one Page to carry the presidential ballots, and the Minority Leader would appoint one Page to carry the Vice Presidential ballots. That's what you see in that picture (top photo): Don Wilson was one of the senior Republican Senate Pages, who was on the left, and me on the right," Chapman said. "There is a procession of the Senators from the Senate Chamber over to the House Chamber for a Joint Session of Congress, where the ballot boxes are opened and the ballots counted. That's what's going to happen on Jan. 6 this year."

In the picture, Sergeant-of-Arms Joseph Duke walks behind Don and Thomas, and behind Joseph Duke, though he can't be seen, is then-Vice President Richard Nixon leading the procession.

Chapman worked his way up to an aide to the Senate's Secretary to the Majority, Robert Baker, an advisor to Lyndon B. Johnson.

From Pickens, S.C., Baker's job as the Senate's Secretary to the Majority was to know where the senators were and how they would be expected to vote, Chapman said.

"I used to help them with things like phone calls, because we had private numbers of all of the Senators. If there was a vote coming up, or a quorum call, we would have to call and get them to the floor in time to do that," he said.

Chapman's other duties included typing, acting as a receptionist for the office, and keeping a handwritten database of voting patterns.

"One the main tasks of my job when I was working in his office was, every day, I would take the Congressional Record, which is the verbatim record of everything that was said or done on the Senate floor, and any time there was a quorum call, or a vote, I would cut that part out and rubber cement it into a diary so that there was a chronological record of every quorum call, which showed who came and who didn't, and every vote, and how every one voted," Chapman said.

Bobby Baker was a very effective politician, Chapman said, which is why he thinks Johnson kept him close, being that Baker remembered every detail about a person, which was very useful in trying to persuade people.

Johnson, Chapman said, was brilliant, with his motto being, "Come, let us reason together."

"By that he meant, 'let's sit down fact-to-face until you agree with me," Chapman joked.

Johnson, who many called "The Leader," was famous for invading people's personal space and getting nose-to-nose with people, Chapman said, and most effective at passing legislation.

"When you sat down with him, you knew what he wanted, and he would sit there until he could get you to do what he wanted," Chapman said, "but you always walked away with something that you wanted.

After Chapman left the Page program, Baker came under investigation for allegations of bribery and arranging sexual favors in exchange for Congressional votes and government contracts, and Baker resigned as Secretary to the Majority in 1963. For Chapman, it was this dark side of politics that was disturbing.

"As I saw things happening, there were things that I did not like in politics," Chapman said, "such as the way sometimes influence was used. We would call it 'dark money' issues now, but that's not a new thing. It was always there. That bothered me."

Chapman finished his term, deciding that politics wasn't what he wanted to do with his life. He did, however, attend the 1964 Democratic National Convention as a Sergeant-of-Arms of the Canal Zone Delegation, where he got to see "The Leader" again.

"It's funny because I had grown a little hair while I was at college, and the last thing Lyndon Johnson said to me face-to-face was, 'Tom you need to get a hair cut,'" Chapman said, though, he added, there are pictures of Johnson later in life with longer hair.

After the Page Program, Chapman studied English at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., where he worked as director of News and Public Affairs for WUVA, the college radio station. He later taught high school during the first year of integration in the country in which he taught, which he called "a fascinating time."

He later got his master's degree in English writing, with a minor in psychology at Hollins University in Roanoke, Va., and had a career of almost three decades in the administration of mental health, mental retardation and substance abuse treatment programs.

Chapman and his wife moved to Brevard in 2013 when they retired.

Chapman's time in the Page program gave him first-hand experience provided him knowledge about how government, and specifically government in the Senate, worked.

Thomas Chapman

"It was an education in politics one can't get any other way," he said, "because you are right there in the thick of it, as an observer and a participant."

 
 

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