With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

How Was History Made in the 2012 Election?

As 2012 draws rapidly to a close and with eyes of political observers already turning to 2014 and 2016, it’s important to note the history that was made in this past year’s elections.

So what historical firsts were made in 2012?

Well, for starters, obviously Barack Obama was re-elected as president. That makes him the first African American to ever be re-elected president, the first Democratic president to be re-elected since Bill Clinton in 1996, and is part of the longest stretch of unbroken two-term presidents since Jefferson-Madison-Monroe (and, unlike the three Virginians, the past three two-term presidents have been from different political parties).

Mitt Romney, too, made history. Formally nominated at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida at the end of August, he was the first Mormon to be a major party presidential nominee. Had he won the election, he would have been the first Mormon to hold the nation’s highest office.

What about the congressional elections? The upcoming 113th Congress will have a record number of women serving as representatives or senators -- 81 representatives (or somewhat over 18 percent) and 20 senators (exactly 20 percent, obviously). The election of these women will not only change the face of Congress next year, but it will also leave its mark upon our society. Never before have so many different women from so many different backgrounds held elected national office.

Among those elected to the U.S. Senate are Democrats Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, all of whom will become the first female senators to represent their respective states.

New Hampshire made national history through its election of an all-female congressional delegation. In the House elections, former Representative Carol Shea-Porter -- who was the state’s first woman to be elected to Congress in 2006 -- and Ann McLane Kuster defeated Republicans Frank Guinta and Charlie Bass, respectively. Shea-Porter and McLane Custer will join senators Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen. New Hampshire also elected its second female governor, Maggie Hassan (its first female governor was Shaheen, elected in 1996; she is also the first woman in U.S. history to be elected both a governor and senator).

These new congresswomen bring diversity to United States Congress not only in their sex but also in their own personal backgrounds.

Tammy Baldwin, the senator-elect from Wisconsin, will make history by being the first openly LGBT senator of any gender from any state. Hawaii’s Hirono will be the first Asian American woman to serve in the Senate and is -- along with Georgia Representative Henry C. “Hank” Johnson Jr. -- one of only two Buddhists to have ever served in Congress. Indeed, they will be among the handful of non-Judeo-Christian representatives and senators, along with Muslims Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Andre Carson of Indiana, and atheist senator Bernie Sanders (himself the first and to date only socialist in the U.S. Senate). The House, meanwhile, will be joined by war veterans Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), who is also her state’s first Asian American to be elected to Congress. Gabbard, meanwhile, will be the first Hindu member of Congress.

What about the other banner years for history-making in the House and Senate? Shortly after abolishing the two-hundred-plus year old institution of slavery through the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865, Hiram Revels became the first African American to be seated in the Senate in February 1870. One hundred and forty-two years later, the United States has reelected its first black president.

Within the one hundred years since the first congresswoman, Jeannette Rankin, was elected to Congress in 1917, 276 women have followed in her footsteps, securing leadership posts in both chambers of Congress. This number will reach an all-time high in both chambers next year.

The makeup of Congress has indeed changed throughout the years. It has become more diverse. Along with the integration of women, the changing nature of Congress reflects the fact that its doors have been opened to leaders of different races, ethnicities, religious affiliations, and sexual preferences.