A History of Political Consulting in America
We will never know the precise identity of America's first political consultant. We do know that the first elections in American history, those for the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1619, were generally uncontested. We do know that throughout the colonies, for many years after those first elections, it was widely believed to be a sign of weakness for a candidate to openly campaign for votes. Indeed, there were few seriously contested elections in the colonies from 1619 through the mid-1700s. 1
Likely unpaid, perhaps America's first political consultant was that unnamed individual who suggested to a colonial candidate that he would speak to the editor of The Boston News-Letter, the first colonial newspaper, which began publication in 1704, to ensure favorable coverage of the candidate. Or perhaps it was that unnamed individual who, disgusted with the treatment his candidate was receiving in one or more of the 22 newspapers that were publishing in the colonies by 1745, suggested that his candidate might use handbills, broadsides, and pamphlets distributed on street corners to supplement the colonial press's coverage of the campaign. 2
Perhaps it was the individual who in 1758 suggested to a candidate for the Virginia Colonial Assembly that he purchase refreshments for the voters. That candidate bought 160 gallons of beverages for his constituency at a cost of 39 pounds; he won his election. His name was George Washington. 3 Regardless of who the first political consultants were, no doubt the precursors of modern political consulting can be traced back to the colonial period, well before the American Revolution.