Ever wonder what politicians were actually hitting when they HIT THE HUSTINGS or what they were taking to when they TAKE TO THE HUSTINGS? Is there no end to what one (a.k.a. me) doesn’t know? Guess not! (<)<2006 “The effort will kick off this week with Bush, the vice president, their spouses, and aids hitting the hustings to talk up the economy, push for support for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and decry Democratic opponents as defeatists.”—U.S. News & World Report,” 18 September, page 20>
In the following, Facts on File provides a short and sweet explanation, Merriam-Webster gives a longer and more detailed discussion, the Oxford English Dictionary provides some definitions, dates, and quotes, and Random House and others provide the modern definition, which for some reason the OED neglects.
Facts on File Encyclopedia of Words and Phrase Origins
TAKE TO THE HUSTINGS: A politician who takes to the hustings takes his campaign to the voters. Hustings were 18th-century platforms upon which candidates for Parliament made campaign speeches, named for a similar raised platform called the hustings where officials sat at the Court of Hustings, the supreme court of the city of London. The Court of Hustings, which met at the Guildhall [[consisting of the Lord Mayor, Recorder, and Sheriffs (or Aldermen)]], took its name from the English husting, for ‘a council or court of law,’ husting deriving from the Old Norse hust-thing (from the Old Norse hus,’ royal house,’ and thing, ‘council’), a royal council, as opposed to a general assembly.
The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories
For most people, the hustings—whatever they may be—are where babies are kissed, the flesh is pressed, and media events are staged. What are these hustings that U.S. presidential candidates must be on for two or more years in order to claim residency at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?
Originally hustings were assemblies. In fact, our modern word husting derives from the Old English husting, which in turn comes from the Old Norse husthing, a compound literally meaning ‘house assembly.’ A husting was a council held by a leader, such as a king or earl, and attended by his immediate followers. The practice of a husting acting as a judicial body dates back to Anglo-Saxon times in England. It may well have originated as a means of settling disputes between Danish and English merchants. By Norman times hustings referred to a court that assembled regularly for the settling of various kinds of civil suits. The court of hustings also served as a court of record. With greatly reduced powers, the court of hustings still exists in the City of London, where it is irregularly convened and presided over by the lord mayor and the aldermen.
In London the court was traditionally convened in the Guildhall. In time the platform upon which the lord mayor and the aldermen were seated also became to be known as the hustings. By the eighteenth century the court also had come to serve as a site for the nomination of members of Parliament, the nomination taking the form of a speech delivered from another platform specially constructed for the occasion. By custom the new nominees addressed their electors from the same platform. (The whole arrangement was done away with by the Ballot Act of 1872.)
In due course the platform came to be used for all manner of political speechifying, and hustings likewise came to mean any platform from which a political speech was delivered. In a natural semantic development, hustings came to refer on both sides of the Atlantic to the campaign process itself. In the U.S. especially, hustings has come to be used of the places, elevated or otherwise, along the campaign trail at which candidates make their pitch for public office.
Coincidentally, the political folklore of the U.S. has provided politicians with an alternative to going out ‘on the hustings.’ Politicians from rural areas, or merely those with pretension to log-cabin origins, can go ‘on the stump,’ recalling those mythic days when politicians from the backwoods used tree stumps as speaker’s platforms. And stump in this context has developed the verb use, ‘to go about making political speeches or supporting a cause.’
Oxford English Dictionary
1) HUSTING [before 1030]: An assembly for deliberative purposes, especially one summoned by a king or other leader; a council. rare (in general sense). Obsolete except Historical.
2) HUSTING plural HUSTINGS: A court held in the Guildhall of London by the Lord Mayor,
a) [circa 1100] Singular HUSTING Obsolete except Historical.
b) [circa 1462] plural HUSTINGS in same sense as the singular.
3) HUSTINGS : The upper end of the Guildhall, where this Court was held; the platform on which the Mayor and Aldermen took their seats.<1494 “ “The HUSTYNGES of London holden for Comen Plees before the Maire and Aldermen.”—‘Act 11 of Henry VII, c. 21, §2>
<1707 “The highest and most ancient Court, is that called the HUSTINGS . . . which doth preserve the Laws, Rights, Franchises, and Customs of the City.”—‘The Present State of Great Britain’ by J. Chamberlayne, III. xi. page 355>
4) HUSTINGS : The temporary platform from which, previous to the Ballot Act of 1872, the nomination of candidates for Parliament was made, and on which these stood while addressing the electors. Hence, contextually, the proceedings at a parliamentary election.<1682 “The Common-Hall met . . . where the Lord Mayor and Aldermen being come down to the HUSTINGS, etc.”—‘London Gazette,’ No. 1738/3>
__________________________<1719 “What tricks on the HUSTINGS fanatics would play.”—‘Wit and Mirth or Pills to Purge Melancholy’ (1872) by D’Urfey, II. page 242>
<1774 “I stood on the HUSTINGS . . . less like a candidate, than an unconcerned spectator of a publick proceeding.”—‘Speech on Electors in Bristol in Works’ by Burke, III. page 14>
<1796 “In the market place stands the HUSTINGS.”—in ‘Letters’ (1895) by Coleridge, page 164>
<1850 “The Church question was the leading one ON THE HUSTINGS.”—‘The History of England During the Thirty Years' Peace,’ by H. Martineau, II. V. ii. page 231>
It is notable that the OED does not include the additional modern definitions provided by most dictionaries:
Random House Unabridged Dictionary, American Heritage Dictionary, Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary
HUSTINGS: 1) Any place [[platform, village square, hall, town . . . ]] from which political campaign speeches are made; the figurative place of political speechmaking <“a candidate out on the hustings [[or on the stump]] in the farm belt”>. 2) The activities involved in political campaigning; an act or process of electioneering; the political campaign trail. <“a veteran of the hustings”> __________________________
Ken G – September 17, 2006<1893 “If we are to build up a science of economics we must do so with our eye on, but with our minds and voices away from, the market place and the HUSTINGS.”—‘Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science,’ Vol. 4, July, page 37>
<1925 “Millerand’s activities began to be manifested ON THE HUSTINGS rather than in the cabinet. He made a much discussed speech at Evreux in October, 1923 [[where he]] outlined a pretty complete political program . . .”—‘Political Science Quarterly,’ Vol. 40, No. 4, December, page 557>
<1932 “In New Orleans curly-headed, loose-jawed, incredible Senator Huey Pierce ("Kingfish") Long champed impatiently to TAKE TO THE HUSTING and raise his strident voice.”—‘Time Magazine,’ 3 October>
<1947 “Majority Leader Halleck: Mr. President, I don't want to be put on the spot here. You must realize there is a growing resistance to these programs. I've been out ON THE HUSTINGS and I know.”—‘Time Magazine,’ 13 October>
<1958 “Four years ago Multimillionaire W. Averell Harriman HIT THE HUSTINGS after two decades of public service, squeaked in as Governor by 11,125 votes.”— ‘Time Magazine,’ 6 October>
<1964 “Her temper and her use of Nehru's magical name sometimes get her into trouble. ON THE HUSTINGS during by-election campaigns last summer, she threw temper tantrums when critical crowds heckled her, threatened on one occasion to report the "barbarians" to Daddy. ‘Time Magazine, 1 May>
<1979 “Meanwhile, Vice President Walter Mondale, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, Defense Secretary Harold Brown and other Cabinet members will TAKE TO THE HUSTINGS across the country to promote the pact.”— ‘Time Magazine,’ 21 May>
<1987 “Over the coming weeks, the President [[Reagan]] will be out ON THE HUSTINGS preaching for his favorite reforms -- a line-item veto, a balanced-budget amendment and two-year budget cycles -- all of which are going nowhere in Congress.”— ‘Time Magazine,’ 29 June>
<2005 “Shi'ite and Kurdish politicians will HIT THE HUSTINGS in a bid to get their supporters to turn out in October to vote "yes" on the document. ‘Time Magazine,’ 8 September>