The timing of Election Day seems completely arbitrary in modern society, but if we look back more than 200 years, it all makes perfect sense. November voting was instituted to align with when the electoral college would meet, according to federal laws passed in the early 1790s, during the presidency of George Washington.
And besides the legal timing, early November just made seasonal sense. The harvest would have been concluded, an important consideration in a society with many farmers. And the most severe winter weather would not have arrived.
And voting on Tuesday also made sense, as it meant people living some distance from the polling places would not be traveling to vote on the sabbath.
In the earliest decades of the 19th century, the date to vote would be set by the various states, and Americans might cast ballots for president on different days. When the telegraph came along, it seemed sensible to pass a federal law designating one national Election Day.
In our time, elections on Tuesday can seem quaint or even outmoded, and many states have instituted early voting procedures designed to make it easier for people to participate. But the traditional Election Day remains the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
More detail: Why Do We Vote On a Tuesday In November?
Illustration: Election Day in New York City, 1856/courtesy New York Public Library Digital Collections
Connect on Facebook: AboutHistory1800s
Follow on Twitter: @History1800s