Steve Chapman

But Americans rarely resort to violence, unless you count vandalizing yard signs. Our campaigns eventually end, and when they do, a few people cry foul or demand recounts. But the vast majority accepts the result and gets back to other business.

It happened in 2008, even though many people thought Barack Obama was constitutionally ineligible for his alleged Kenyan birth. It happened in 2000, when Democrats thought George W. Bush, who lost the popular vote, had stolen Florida with the connivance of the Supreme Court.

It's happened through war and depression, with the notable exception of 1860, when Abraham Lincoln's victory moved Southern states to violent revolt. Half of America may detest the winner of a presidential election -- but they accept him as the winner.

The first time we saw a peaceful transfer of power from one party to another was in 1800, when the winner was Thomas Jefferson. His Federalist opponents portrayed him as an atheist and a radical who would bring horrific consequences: "Murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of distress, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes."

Because of a bizarre deadlock in the Electoral College, the election ended up in the House of Representatives, which went through 36 votes before Jefferson finally prevailed. Defeated President John Adams did not contest the outcome. He left office angry, but he left.

When the votes are counted after Tuesday's election, the winner will be gracious and the loser will be conciliatory. After a year and a half of fierce ideological and partisan disputation that sometimes seemed certain to tear us asunder, Americans will accept the outcome, happily or not.

An ordinary event? Yes, and all the more extraordinary for that.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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