The Indispensable Man

It may not be the popular or politically correct thing to believe, but I hold fast to the opinion that our founding fathers, men like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and the rest are among the greatest men who have ever lived. Our nation would be blessed to have even one such great men at its founding. The fact that we had so many great men must surely attest that America is under the protection of divine providence. Of these great men, George Washington stands head and shoulders above the rest. For his contribution to the cause of liberty, leading the fight for American independence, and then not making himself a king or president for life, Washington is surely one of the greatest men who have ever lived.

It is no easy task to write a biography of Washington. For too many people, Washington seems to be too distant a marble statue of implacable virtue that normal people cannot relate to. The man, with his very real flaws, disappears behind the image. More recently, there is a tendency, among the ignorant woke, to dismiss Washington as merely a slaveholder, never mind the fact that Washington grew up in a time in which slavery was accepted and uncontroversial, that he came to have misgivings about the institution of slavery, and he, almost alone among his contemporary planter class, actually made a real effort to prepare his slaves for the freedom he believed they would gain when slavery, being obsolete, would die out. A candid assessment of Washington’s life and works runs the risk of seeming to be a hagiography, and yet to focus too much on his flaws, does the man an injustice.

James Thomas Flexner’s Washington: The Indispensible Man tries to thread the needle of writing a biography of Washington that makes him be a paragon of virtue while not dwelling overmuch on his flaws. In this effort, Flexner is mostly successful doing a passable job of relating Washington’s life and accomplishments and establishing that Washington was, indeed, the indispensable man without whom the American colonies could not have gained their independence. If you want to know about Washington’s life and accomplishments, this is a good book to read.

I cannot help, however, but feel a little disappointed when I finished Washinton: The Indispensable Man. It is a good work but there are some flaws. For one thing, there are no maps. This might be a fatal flaw in the sections dealing with Washington’s military career in the French and Indian War, and particularly in the Revolutionary War. How is the reader expected to follow the movements of the Continental and British armies without any maps? How can we understand the course of the battles? If I were not already familiar with the battles of the War of Independence, I would have been lost.

The lack of maps is somewhat frustrating, but I had a more serious problem with this book, it is too short, or too long. The problem is that Washington: The Indispensable Man is not the right length for what Flexner is trying to do. It is too long for a mere summary, but not long enough to get to know Washington. The author seems to hint at things but then moves on without going any deeper. I learned about Washington’s deeds, but I did not feel that I got to know Washington the man. I do not feel I got to know any of the people Washington interacted with, his friends, mentors, officers, subordinates. Flexner mentions names, tells a little about what they did and how Washington acted, and then moves on. I don’t get to know how Washington really felt about people he shared his life with.

Part of the problem is that Washington: The Indispensable Man is a condensation of James Thomas Flexner’s earlier four-volume biography of Washington. Flexner asserts in the preface that the text in this book is almost entirely new and not a series of patched together extracts, and while I have no reason to doubt his word, the book does indeed read as if he took out selections from his longer work. It summarizes but leaves tantalizing hints that there is more.

As I said, I can recommend this book to anyone wanting to know more about Washington, but I fear that the reader is going to end the book unsatisfied. It is a good book to begin to learn about Washington, but not to end one’s study of the great man.

 

Rhyming History

Mark Twain is supposed to have said that history does not repeat but it rhymes. Whether or not Twain actually said it, the meaning of this expression is that while historical events do not repeat themselves precisely, there are certain patterns to history. People are people, whatever the differences in geography or culture, and people tend to react to similar events in similar ways. With this in mind, I would like to consider certain historical events with which the current political situation is starting to rhyme in some ominous ways.

The first rhyme begins on January 30, 1933, when German President Paul von Hindenburg reluctantly appointed Nazi leader Adolf Hitler as Chancellor. Hindenburg did not like Hitler very much. Hindenberg was an aristocratic Junker of the old Prussian mode and a monarchist and he despised Hitler as a demagogue and a plebian rabble-rouser. The Nazis, while short a majority, had become the largest party in the Reichstag and it was impossible to form a governing coalition without them. Hitler’s price for such a coalition was to be named Chancellor. Hindenberg had done a creditable job as a Field Marshall in charge of the German military in World War I, but by 1933 he was old, he was 85, tired, and perhaps a bit senile. He succumbed to the pressure to make Hitler Chancellor, against his better judgment.

Hitler was not yet a dictator, though. The Nazis held only three cabinet posts and there were new elections for the Reichstag coming up in March. Most observers felt that Hitler could be contained. Then, on  February 27, a fire broke out at the Reichstag building. A Dutch Communist named Marinus van der Lubbe was found on the scene and arrested. While many then and since have suspected the Nazis of starting the fire themselves, the historical consensus is that van der Lubbe was indeed the arsonist. Nevertheless, the Nazis were swift to take advantage of the incident, citing the fire as evidence of a widespread Communist conspiracy to overthrow the Weimar Republic and institute a Soviet regime.

Is history repeating itself, or rhyming?

The Nazi press spread stories of an imminent Communist takeover inciting panic among the German population and the following day  President von Hindenburg signed the Reichstag Fire Decree, giving Hitler emergency powers, suspending the civil rights of the German People, including freedom of speech and the press and the right to peaceably assemble. The Communist Party was banned and those Communists not already in custody are rounded up and arrested. A month later, on March 24, the Enabling Act was passed, giving the Chancellor the power to rule by decree. Hitler was now a dictator and only President Hindenberg’s prestige and control of the German army stood in the way of absolute power for Hitler. This last barrier was removed when Hindenberg died on August 2, 1934. Hitler combined the offices of president and chancellor and assumed the title of Fuhrer and Reichskanzler.

Does all of this begin to sound familiar? Substitute Democrats for Nazi, Conservative for Communist, and Capitol riot for Reichstag fire and I could easily be talking about the current political situation. There is no Hitler to be found anywhere, thank God, and no one is actually talking about establishing a dictatorship, yet, but it is clear that the Democrats are using last week’s riot at the capitol to justifying attacking our most basic civil rights, with the aid of their Big Tech allies. Conservatives are already being purged from social media platforms, and who can tell what the coming Democratic Congress will enact. Prominent Progressives are openly talking about the need to “reprogram” Trump supporters, people are losing their jobs for backing the wrong side, and Democrats are talking about the need to rein in media “misinformation”.

I have long opposed comparing any politician or political party to Hitler or the Nazis. No one in mainstream American politics, I have said is anything at all like some of the worst people in human history. I might have to revise that position. If the Democrats are going to make use of the Nazi playbook, line by line, then I am going to start calling them what they have revealed themselves to be, Nazis or Fascists.

Meanwhile, if history continues to rhyme in this fashion, I am afraid we are in for some very dark times.

 

Why I Don’t Vote for the Libertarian Party

Some time ago, perhaps twenty-five years ago, I happened to be listening to some late-night radio talk show. The host was sort of a conservative Rush Limbaugh clone, so popular on talk radio at the time and he was interviewing a Libertarian candidate for some position. At one point during the interview, the host pointed out that while Libertarian ideas about small, limited government were popular with many Americans their position on legalizing drugs was not. The Libertarians might, he said, get more votes and actually win elections. The Libertarian explained in detail how legalizing drugs was consistent with the general Liberation philosophy on minimalist government and dropping the drug legalization plank from their platform would be inconsistent with that minimalist philosophy. The host replied that he understood their reasoning and even agreed with it, but that many Americans did not, therefore as long as the Libertarians insisted on advocating drug legalization, the appeal of the Libertarian Partry would be somewhat limited. That might be, the Libertarian said, but they weren’t going to compromise their principles.

That is one of the reasons I don’t vote for the Libertarian Party enough though I agree with most of what they have to say. To put it simply, what good is all their fine principles if they cannot get elected to enact them? If The Libertarians will not adapt their message to win over a majority of the voters, they cannot be elected into a position to make any of their ideas into reality. Even if a Libertarian does manage to be elected into some position such as a legislator, he will be ineffective at getting anything done if he will not compromise and form some sort of coalition with non-Libertarians.  So, what good is the Libertarian Party?

The problem with the Libertarians is that they know perfectly well that they have no chance of actually winning any elections and therefore have no reason to make the sort of compromises and concessions that the major parties have to make to win elections. The Libertarians are free to prize ideological purity over electability. They can propose policy ideas that are completely logical and consistent with their philosophy but that are not necessarily related to actual experience. They can imagine life in a small government utopia without worrying too much about how to bring it about, how it might actually work, or whether that is what people actually want. Because the Libertarians, and really any minor party in our political system, don’t have any reason to adapt their message to make themselves more electable, they don’t bother and end up making themselves even less electable over time.

This leads to the other reason I don’t vote for the Libertarian Party. They cannot win. No third party has any chance in our first past the post, winner takes all elections. Proportional voting and runoffs are uncommon in the United States and usually the candidate with the most votes, even if he does not get a majority. This makes any vote for a third-party candidate a wasted vote, and often effectively a vote for the candidate the voter is ideologically opposed to. Consider this example. Suppose there are three candidates running for Congress, a Democrat, a Republican, and a Libertarian. Now suppose around 3% of the more conservative voters decide that the Republican is just not conservative enough for them. She supports various big government programs that small-government conservatives oppose. On election night the results are 49% for the Democrat, 48% for the Republican, and 3% for the Libertarian. The Democrat wins the election and goes on to Congress where he supports even bigger government than the Republican candidate would have. Those voters who stuck to their principles and voted for the Libertarian ended up, in effect, voting for the big-government candidate. A similar scenario might have progressives deciding that the Democratic Party is too capitalist and voting for the Green Party, only to see the even more capitalist Republican winning.

The point of this discussion is that what is very likely the most important election of our lifetimes is rapidly approaching. I know they say that about every election, but it is really true this time. Donald Trump, for all of his faults, has been a monumental, history-changing president. His wrecking ball approach to governance has helped to demolish stale orthodoxies and shaken the grip of a stagnant elite.  Trump has taken US policy in a new direction and has helped to resolve issues that have been stalemated for decades. He needs to have another term to complete his work. Meanwhile, the Democrats have moved so far to the left that they are openly embracing socialism. This new Democratic party is not the party of FDR or JFK anymore. The contemporary Democratic Party derives its ideology more from Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin than from Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, the founders of the Democratic Party they now despise as racists and slave owners. It is increasingly evident that the Democrats despise America and all the institutions that make America great and free. They cannot be allowed to wield power until the moderates are back in control of their party.

This means that those of us who still love our country and wish to be free do not have the luxury of standing on ideological purity. Casting a protest vote for a third party or abstaining from voting altogether is the same as voting for the Democrat’s extreme socialist agenda. It is better to vote for an imperfect Republican like Donald Trump than waste your vote on a Libertarian and see Joe Biden and his puppetmasters in office.

The Election of 1892

The election of 1892 was a repeat of the election of 1888 with the same candidates and same issues, but with a different result. Neither Benjamin Harrison nor Grover Cleveland was especially popular with their respective party leaders. Benjamin Harrison was widely perceived to be cold and unfriendly. He was a reserved man who didn’t seem to have much of a personality. Grover Cleveland, on the other hand, had rather too much personality for the Democratic party leaders, with his stubborn tendency to go his own way regardless of the party leaders wanted or what happened to be popular with the people.

The Republicans held their convention first in Minneapolis from June 7 to 10. President Benjamin Harrison had not really wanted to run for a second term. His health was failing and his wife was suffering from tuberculosis. Besides, the economy had gone into recession and the Republicans had been beaten badly in the 1890 Congressional elections and Harrison was not seen as a particularly successful president. However, Harrison did not want his Secretary of State James G. Blaine to be nominated, so he reluctantly decided to run for reelection. Vice-President Levi Morton was dropped from the ticket, because of his association with Blaine and the Republicans nominated Whitelaw Reid in his place. Whitelaw Reid was a newspaper editor from Ohio who had written a history of Ohio in the Civil War. He had served as Minister to France from 1889 to 1892. The Republicans adopted a platform supporting protective tariffs and the gold standard.

The Democrats held their convention in Chicago from June 21-23. There was a lot of opposition to Grover Cleveland by delegates from the South and West over his continuing support for remaining on the gold standard and from Tammany Hall. Nevertheless, Cleveland narrowly won the nomination on the first ballot. For Vice-president, the Democrats selected Adlai Stevenson I from Illinois. Adlai Stevenson had served as a Congressman from Illinois from 1875-1877 and 1879-1881. He went on to become Assistant Postmaster General from 1885-1889. Stevenson’s free silver views did not mesh with Clevland’s support of the gold standard, but he was nominated to balance the ticket. The Democrat’s platform condemned Republican protectionism, particularly the recently passed McKinley tariffs.

It was not a very exciting race. Neither major party candidate actively campaigned for office. Benjamin Harrison did not even run a traditional front porch campaign, being more concerned about the health of his wife than whether he would win reelection,. She died just two weeks before the election and both candidates ceased campaigning altogether. For excitement, you had to go to the third parties. Since many people in the West and South felt that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans represented their interests, 1892 was a good year for minor parties

First, there was the People’s Party or Populist Party, The Populist Party was the successor to the Greenback Party and the Farmer’s Alliance. The Populist Party represented the interests of the farmers of the South and West and were opposed to the corporate interests which they viewed as dominating the politics of the nation. The Populists wanted soft money, or an inflationary monetary system either by coining silver along with gold or by the government printing fiat currency or greenbacks. The Populists also favored federal regulation of railroad rates and a progressive income tax. The Populists tried to forge an alliance between farmers and urban workers but were not entirely successful. In any case, the Populists met in Omaha Nebraska and nominated James B. Weaver, a Congressman from Iowa from 1879-1881, and from 1885-1889 for President along with James G. Field, the former Attorney General of Virginia for Vice-President.

The Prohibition Party obviously supported the prohibition of alcohol, but they also had a progressive platform rather similar to the Populists. In fact, some believed the Populists and the Prohibitionists should merge to form a united progressive party. This plan never came close to materializing, and the Prohibition Party met in Cincinnati to nominate John Bidwell, a former representative from California for president and William Jennings Demorest for vice-president.

There was also the Socialist Labor Party who nominated Simon Wing for president and Charles Matchett for vice-president. The Socialist Labor Party was only on the ballot in five states, but they deserve to be mentioned because this was the first time an explicitly socialist party was on the ballot in the United States.

The main issues of the campaign were, as I said, tariffs and the money question. Populists and many Democrats wanted the nation to adopt a soft money or inflationary monetary policy. It might seem strange to us that many people actually wanted inflation. We are living in an inflationary period in which prices are expected to keep rising. The decades after the Civil War were a period of deflation or decreasing prices in the United States. The American economy was growing very rapidly but because the nation was on the gold standard, the amount of money was limited. If inflation can be described as too much money chasing too few goods, the post Civil War deflation was too little money chasing too many goods. For us, deflation might seem to be a good thing, but in fact, it is not. Excessive deflation can be just as devastating as excessive inflation. For consumers and creditors, deflation can be a good thing, but for producers and debtors, decreasing prices can be a problem, particularly for farmers.

In a way, American farmers had become victims of their own success. American farmers had become enormously productive, flooding the world with their products, causing food prices to plummet, while the supplies they needed remained relatively expensive. The farmers, caught in the middle, hoped that inflationary soft money would get them better prices for their crops. Urban workers, on the other hand, did not like the idea of spending more their meager wages on food, so the hoped-for worker-farmer alliance never materialized because of their differing interests.

Tariffs and labor unrest were the other major issue of the election of 1892. The Republican argument that high protective tariffs led to high wages for industrial workers was undercut when Henry Clay Frick, Chairman of the Carnegie Steel Company, abruptly cut wages for the steelworkers at Homestead, Pennsylvania. The workers did not appreciate this and went on strike. The Pinkertons and the State Militia were called in and there was a pitched battle between strikers and strikebreakers. It seemed to many that high tariffs simply increased the profits of the protected industries while raising prices for consumers. Meanwhile, such violent confrontations did not help President Harrison’s chances of reelection.

The Homestead Strike

On Election Day, Grover Cleveland won easily with respectable margins in the popular vote and the Electoral College. Cleveland won 5,556,918 (46%) popular votes to Benjamin Harrison’s 5,176,108 (43%). James Weaver of the Populist Party got 1,041,028 (8.5%) popular votes. In the Electoral College, Cleveland won with 277 electoral votes, sweeping the South and Midwest and winning his home state of New York, as well as New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, along with California. Harrison got just 145 electoral votes in the North and West. Weaver carried five states, North Dakota, Kansas, Colorado, Idaho, and Nevada, winning 22 electoral votes.

The Election of 1892

Grover Cleveland won another term making him the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms. This second term was marred by the Panic of 1893 and continuing labor unrest. The dissatisfaction that led to the creation of the Populist Party would only grow until it led to the Progressive Era of the early twentieth century.

The Election of 1888

The election of 1888 was all about tariffs. There were other issues, to be sure, and the usual amount of mudslinging, but it was mostly about tariffs. Tariffs may not seem to be an issue to get especially excited about, but in those days before the income tax, tariffs were the major source of revenue for the federal government. Moreover, many people believe that high tariffs were essential to protect American industry for foreign, particularly British, competition. President Grover Cleveland had come out in favor of lower tariffs in his message to Congress in December 1887, arguing that the high tariff was an excessive and unjust level of taxation that hurt consumers. Some of the president’s advisors had fretted that his stand on lowering the tariff would hurt his chance of reelection, But Cleveland simply replied, “What is the use of being elected or re-elected unless you stand for something?”

The Democrats held their national convention in St. Louis, Missouri from June 5-7. Grover Cleveland was nominated for a second term by acclamation, the first Democratic president nominated to run for a second term since Martin Van Buren back in 1840. Since President Cleveland’s Vice-President, Thomas A. Hendricks had died on November 25, 1885, the Democrats needed to select a new Vice-Presidential nominee. They picked Allen G. Thurman from Ohio after only one ballot. Allen G Thurman had had a long and distinguished career in politics, serving in the House of Representatives from 1845 to 1847 and was the Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court from 1854 to 1856. Thurman was a Senator from Ohio from 1869 to 1881 and was on the commission to resolve the contentious election of 1876. Thurman was also known for opposing land grants to railroad companies and was said to have left the Senate as poor as when he had entered it.

The Republicans met in Chicago from June 19-25. James G Blaine was the front runner, but he withdrew, deciding that he was too controversial to defeat Grover Cleveland. Instead, the Republicans nominate Benjamin Harrison from Indiana on the seventh ballot. Benjamin Harrison was the grandson of President William Henry Harrison. He had fought in the Civil War helping to raise a regiment and rising to the rank of brevet brigadier general. After the war Harrison worked as a lawyer and became involved in Indiana politics, serving as a senator from 1881 to 1887. The Republicans went on to nominate Levi P. Morton from New York for the Vice-Presidency. Levi P. Morton had served in the House of Representatives from1879 to 1881, as Minister to France from 1881 to 1885 and the Governor of New York from 1895 to 1896. As the American Minister to France, Levi Morton had officially accepted the gift of the Statue of Liberty and had placed the first rivet in the statue.

 

The Greenback Party had faded away, but there were some minor party candidates. There was the Prohibition Party nominated Brigadier General Clinton B. Fisk for president and John A. Brooks for Vice-President and ended up getting 249,819 (2.2%) votes.

 

The Union Labor Party nominated Alson Streeter and Charles E. Cunningham and got just 146,602 (1.31%) votes.

 

The campaign was mostly about the tariff question with Cleveland and the Democrats supporting lower tariffs and Harrison and the Republicans in favor of higher protective tariffs. It wouldn’t have been an American election, however, if there weren’t at least some personal attacks. The Republicans accused Cleveland of abusing his young wife, Frances Folsom who he had married in the White House in 1886. She denied the story, assuring everyone that Grover was a kind and considerate husband. The Democrats retaliated by accusing Benjamin Harrison of being anti-Catholic, anti-labor, and wanting increased immigration from China to force wages down. The Republicans accused Cleveland of being pro-British and wanting to adopt the British system of free trade to assist British manufacturers at the expense of American industry.

The Murchison Letter was an election dirty trick worth mentioning. “Murchison” was a California Republican named Charles Osgoodby who wrote a letter to the British Minister to the United States, Sir Lionel Sackville-West. In this letter, he pretended to be a former British citizen named Charles F. Murchison, who wanted to know which candidate would be better for his old homeland. Sackville-West was imprudent enough to reply that, in his opinion, Cleveland would be the better candidate for British interests. The Republicans gleefully published “Murchison’s” correspondence with Sir Sackville-West, probably costing Cleveland the Irish vote and the state of New York. Sir Sackville-West ended up getting fired for his interference in American politics.

The Murchison Letter

It was a close election, but in the end, the Republicans turned out to be better organized and better funded than the Democrats. Cleveland won the popular vote with 5,534,488 votes (48.6%) to Harrison’s 5,443,892 votes (47.8%), but Harrison won in the electoral college with 233 votes to Cleveland’s 186. As the election of 1884, the results were regional with the Republicans sweeping the North and the Democrat winning the South, along with Massachusetts. Only two states switched sides from 1884, New York and Indiana. If Cleveland had won those two states he would have been reelected.

The Election of 1888

So, Grover Cleveland left the White House in March 1889, but he would be back.

The Best President You’ve Never Heard Of

I doubt if many Americans could name even one American president from the nineteenth century, except for Abraham Lincoln. Thomas Jefferson was the first president of the nineteenth century, but he is better known for being the writer of the Declaration of Independence and in these days of educational malpractice for owning slaves. Andrew Jackson might also be remembered, if only because he appears on the twenty-dollar bill. Grover Cleveland still has his moment of fame for being the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms. I doubt many Americans would even recognize names like John Tyler, Franklin Pierce, Chester A. Arthur, Benjamin Harrison.

This historical ignorance may be forgivable when you consider that the presidency did not play so prominent a role in the nation’s affairs as it has in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. These were the days in which the president was simply the chief executive rather than the elected monarch he is today. Presidents simply didn’t do as much as they do nowadays. Still, the nineteenth-century presidents were not simply do-nothing presidents. Some of these presidents accomplished a great deal during their terms in office. A few of these presidents could be counted among the worst, including the worst president ever. Others could be counted among the best American presidents. James K. Polk was one of these. He was the best president you have never heard of.

James K. Polk

So who was James K. Polk? That was the question many people were asking when the Democrats nominated Polk as their candidate in 1844. Polk was a dark horse who had seemingly come out of nowhere to secure the nomination as a compromise candidate after the convention was deadlocked between the supporters of Lewis Cass and Martin van Buren. Polk was not really that unknown, however. He actually had been active in national politics for some time being of Andrew Jackson, gaining the nickname “Young Hickory”, a reference to Jackson’s “Old Hickory.

Andrew Jackson

James Knox Polk was born on November 2, 1795, in Pineville, North Carolina. Growing up, James Polk adopted his mother’s stern Presbyterianism, becoming a hard, disciplined worker and a teetotaler his entire life. The Polk family moved to Tennesee in 1806 and it was in that state that Polk met his wife, Sarah Childress who he married in1824.

Sarah Childress Polk

He also began his political career as a Democrat who supported his fellow Tennesseean Andrew Jackson in the election of 1824. The two men developed a close friendship and Jackson supported Polk’s political career throughout his life.  Polk served as Representative from Tennessee from 1825 until 1839, becoming the chairman of the influential House Ways and Means Committee from 1833 to 1835 and Speaker of the House from 1835 to 1839. He went on to serve as Governor of Tennessee from 1839 to 1841. Polk was not, then a complete unknown, yet he did not have the resume that a potential president was expected to have. Previous presidents had served as Vice-President, Secretary of State,  Many presidents have since previously served as governors but so far no other Speaker of the House has become president. Polk went on to win the election of 1844, running against the much better known Whig candidate, Senator Henry Clay. It was a hard-fought and bitter election, but Polk won by a narrow margin, campaigning on a platform of manifest destiny and national expansion.

As president, James K. Polk accomplished more in his single term than many presidents have in two terms. He was a tireless worker, overseeing the operations of the federal government himself, relying only on his wife and nephew to assist him. James K Polk had four goals as president; reestablish the independent treasury system established by Jackson and Van Buren and ended by the Whigs, reduce the tariffs, settle the border of the Oregon Territory, and resolve the border dispute with Mexico. Polk accomplished all four of these goals by the end of his term, presiding over a successful war with Mexico and expanding the boundaries of the United States across the continent from sea to sea.

The first two items on Polk’s agenda were policies long supported by the Democratic Party. The Whigs, representing the interests of north-eastern industrialists had enacted high tariffs to protect the emerging American industry from foreign competition. The Democrats, which tended to be strongest in the agricultural South and West favored lower tariffs to discourage foreign retaliatory tariffs against American agricultural exports. Accordingly, President Polk had his Treasury Secretary, Robert J. Walker, draft a lower and more consistent set of tariff rates which narrowly passed Congress.

The Democrats also opposed any creation of the sort of central bank that the Whigs supported. Polk had assisted his mentor, Andrew Jackson in killing the Second Bank of the United States, and as president, Polk reestablished the Independent Treasury system that Jackson and Martin Van Buren had favored. In Polk’s system, the U. S. Treasury Department kept the public acted as a sort of central bank, keeping the federal revenues in its own facilities and managing the money supply. Polk’s Independent Treasury system lasted, with modifications until the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913.

President Polk’s foreign policy was less partisan than his domestic policies. A policy of national expansion was popular throughout the United States and both parties backed the doctrine that it was the manifest destiny of the United States to spread from sea to sea. At the time of Polk’s accession to the presidency, the borders of the United States with Great Britain in the Pacific Northwest and Mexico in the southwest were not clearly defined. President Polk promised to resolve the disputes with both nations, by war if necessary.

The Oregon Territory in the Northwest extended north to the line of latitude 54º40′. Both the United States and Great Britain claimed the territory, but since it was originally sparsely settled, except by the Indians who didn’t count, neither side had pressed its claim and the territory was jointly administered since the Treaty of 1818. As the territory was settled, this arrangement became untenable and it became obvious that the conflicting claims would have to be settled. Polk and the Democrats had campaigned on the slogan “54º40′ or fight!”, arguing that the entire Oregon Territory should go to the United States. If Britain was unwilling to cede its claim to the territory, then America should go to war. In fact, Polk had no intention of going to war with Britain. Relations with Mexico were rapidly deteriorating, making war increasingly likely, and Polk did not wish to fight two wars at the same time. For their part, the British did not want a war with the United States, and the two nations quickly agreed to divide the territory along the existing border between the United States and Canada at the 49th parallel in the Oregon Treaty.

54 40 or fight! Or not

President Polk would perhaps have preferred to resolve the disputes with Mexico over the boundaries of Texas and the Southwest with diplomacy offered to buy California and New Mexico, but the Mexicans, already humiliated by the annexation of Texas, were in no mood for negotiations. The ensuing Mexican War was Polk’s most controversial legacy and has been widely seen, then and since as an unwarranted act of aggression by the United States and attempt to expand slave territories. Whether or not Polk’s actions in provoking that was a subject for another post, but it cannot be denied that Polk proved to be a capable commander in chief appointing excellent commanding generals like Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott and prosecuting a successful war. In the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, America gained the Southwest, including the present-day states of California, Arizona, and New Mexico, bringing the United States of America to its present continental boundaries, except for the strip of land bought from Mexico in the Gadsden Purchase.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

President Polk declined to run for reelection in 1848. He had promised to serve only one term and he had accomplished everything he had intended as president. James Polk died on June 15 at the age of 53, just three months after he had left the White House. The cause of death is generally given as cholera, but Polk had been exhausted from his tireless work as president, and the true cause of death was overwork.

A president who kept all his promises and accomplished all his goals we could use a president like James K Polk again. He doesn’t deserve to be one of the forgotten presidents.

 

The Election of 1884

The election of 1884 was a vicious contest between James G Blaine, a man known for his personal integrity, but suspected of corruption in his public life and Grover Cleveland, a man known to be an honest public servant but with a somewhat scandalous private life. There were serious issues, of course. Tariffs were always a point of contention in nineteenth-century American politics and the country had been in a recession since 1882. Still, it was the contrast between the two candidates that everyone really cared about.

The Republicans met for their national convention in Chicago from June 3-6. President Chester A. Arthur would have liked to run for a full term. He was popular enough, but in the end, he decided not to run for re-election because of concerns about his health. General William T. Sherman was considered to be a potential candidate, but he absolutely refused to run, vowing to refuse to serve if elected. Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln was also approached as a potential presidential or vice-presidential candidate, but he wasn’t interested. In the end, the Republicans nominated James G. Blaine from Maine.

Although James G. Blaine had been born in Pennsylvania on January 31, 1830, his public like was spent in his wife’s home state of Maine. There he had owned a newspaper and become involved in politics, first as a Whig and then a Republican. Blaine had served in Maine’s legislature from 1858-1862, moving on to the U. S. House of Representatives where he served from 1863-1876, becoming the Speaker of the House from 1869-1875. Blaine had served in the Senate from 1876-1881. There, he had opposed President Hayes’s policy of ending Reconstruction in the South. Blaine had been a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 1880 but questions about the suspicious circumstances surrounding his sale of bonds to the Union Pacific Railroad derailed his candidacy and James Garfield was nominated instead. President Garfield made Blaine his Secretary of State, but Blaine resigned after Garfield’s assassination. The Republicans went on to nominate John A. Logan from Illinois as his running mate. Logan had been a capable general during the Civil War and had served as Senator from Illinois from 1871-1877 and 1879-1886.

Blaine was popular among the Republicans, and he seemed to have a good chance of winning, but questions about financial improprieties still hounded him, especially after some letters were uncovered to Boston railway attorney Warren Fisher, one of which ended the command to “burn this letter”. The Democrats had a field day, chanting, “Burn this letter” at rallies and “Blaine, Blaine, the continental liar from the state of Maine.”

For their part, the Democrats met in Chicago from July 8-11. Grover Cleveland from New York was the obvious candidate. Cleveland had served as Sheriff of Erie County from 1871 to 1873, Mayor of Buffalo in 1882 and Governor of New York from 1883 to 1885. Throughout his political career, Grover Cleveland had earned a reputation as an honest and fearless reformer, fighting corruption and willing to take on entrenched interest in the name of a better, more honest government. The New York Party bosses from Tammany Hall hated Cleveland, but that was a recommendation for his reform-minded supporters. Grover Cleveland easily won the Democratic nomination for president, along with Thomas A. Hendricks from Indiana for Vice-President. Hendricks had served in the House of Representatives from 1851-1855, in the Senate from 1863-1969, and as governor of Indiana from 1873-1877. He was known to be an honest man and a strong orator, who had opposed Reconstruction.

Because Cleveland had a public reputation for honesty, as opposed to Blaine’s alleged corruption, several prominent Republicans came out in support of Cleveland. These defectors came to be known as “mugwumps“, a name derived from an Algonquin word for chief. Although the name was given in derision, the Mugwumps adopted it with pride as champions of reform and honest government. Grover Cleveland’s reputation was stained by the revelation that he had fathered a child by Maria Halpin while a lawyer in Buffalo. When this scandal broke, Cleveland took the unusual step of instructing his campaign workers to tell the truth. He admitted to having a relationship with Halpin and while he was certain the child in question was his, he had paid child support as a public duty. This ex[planation may have appeased his own supporters, but the Republicans took to chanting, “Ma, Ma where’s my Pa?” at campaign events.

There were some third party candidates, including Benjamin F. Butler former Governor of Massachusettes for the Greenback Party and John St. John former governor of Kansas for the Prohibition Party.

The Election of 1884 was a close race and either candidate might have won, particularly whoever won the state of New York. The New York native Grover Cleveland might have seemed to be the obvious favorite, but James Blaine was also well-liked in New York, particularly by the Irish Catholics, since his mother had been Catholic and he was known to be anti-British. Then Blaine managed to destroy his chances twice in a single day. On October 29, Blaine made an appearance in New York City at which a speaker, a Presbyterian minister, made a remark about the Democrats being the party of “Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion“, alienating thousands of Irish Catholics. If that wasn’t bad enough, Blain attended a fundraiser that evening along with some of the richest men in the country. There wasn’t anything particularly wrong about that, except that the optics, as they say nowadays, of hobnobbing with the rich and famous in the middle of an economic recession didn’t look good.

Ma Ma where’s my Pa?
Gone to the White House ha ha ha.

 

In the end, Grover Cleveland won a narrow victory. Cleveland won 4,914,482 (48.9%) popular votes to Blaine.s 4,856,905 (48.3%). John St. John got 150,890 votes and Benjamin F. Butler won 134,294 votes. In the Electoral College Cleveland got 219 electoral votes, sweeping the South and winning Indian, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut in the North. Blaine had 182 electoral votes winning the West and the rest of the North. Cleveland’s won New York by fewer than 1200 votes, and if not for Black Wednesday, October 29, Blaine would likely have won New York’s 36 electoral votes and won the election. As it was, the Democrats could finally respond to the Republicans’ taunts with, “Gone to the White House ha, ha, ha”.

 

 

 

 

The Election of 1884

The Election of 1880

The election of 1880 was not one of the more exciting elections. That was, perhaps, just as well since the election of 1876 had generated enough excitement to last several election cycles. Neither candidate was particularly memorable and the party platforms of the two major parties were almost indistinguishable.

The Republicans met in Chicago, from June 2-8, for what turned out to be the longest political convention in the party’s history. Because President Hayes had decided against running for re-election, the Republican Party was divided between Stalwarts, supporters of Ulysses S. Grant, who had decided to try for a third term as president, and Half-Breeds, who supported civil service reform and opposed the spoils system and the political machines that dominated both parties. These Half-Breeds, so called because the Stalwarts considered them to be only half Republican, supported the candidacy of James G. Blaine, the former Senator from Maine. Some other Republicans supported John Sherman, a former Senator from Ohio, Secretary of the Treasury under President Hayes and the brother of General William T. Sherman. None of these candidates could win a majority of the delegates, so the balloting went on and on until people began to support a relative unknown, James A. Garfield. Blaine decided to throw his support to his friend Garfield and Garfield finally won the nomination on the thirty sixth ballot.

James A. Garfield was a Congressman from Ohio at the time of his nomination. He was, in fact, the only member of the House of Representatives to be elected president while still serving as a Representative. As a youth, Garfield had worked on a canal boat, earning him the campaign nickname, “Boatman Jim”. Garfield was smart and ambitious and began to consider a career in politics but when the Civil War broke out he fought on the side of the Union rising to the rank of Major General. Garfield was elected to Congress in 1862, where he served from 1863 to 1880. Garfield was probably one of the more intellectual candidates for president in the nation’s history, being the only president who proved a theorem in mathematics. He was also able to simultaneously write in Latin with his right hand and Greek with his left hand. Not very practical, perhaps, but still a neat trick.

Garfield’s running mate was Chester A. Arthur. Chester A. Arthur was almost a symbol of everything that was wrong about American politics of the time. Arthur was a machine politician, rising up through the New York Republican Party, taking various civil service/political patronage jobs such as Customs Inspector of New York from 1871-1878. He was a good friend of Roscoe Conkling, the Senator from New York who controlled the patronage in the state. Arthur was a creature of the spoils system that men like Garfield were trying to eliminate.  Chester A. Arthur did serve in the Union army as quartermaster, an important job, but again as a political appointee, and he made sure he was no where near any fighting.

The Democrats held their convention in Cincinnati from June 22-24. There was many Democrats who wanted Samuel Tilden to run again, but he didn’t really want to go through the stress and trouble of another presidential run. Instead, the Democrats nominated a Civil War hero, General Winfield Scott Hancock.

Winfield Scott Hancock had served his country in the Army from 1844, fighting in the Mexican War and the Civil War, rising to the rank of Major General. Hancock had fought heroically at the Battle of Gettysburg, taking command of the left wing of the Army of the Potomac on the first day of the battle. He played a critical role in stopping the Confederate assault on the second day and was wounded on the third day. Hancock had little political experience, but the Democrats believed that nominating a war hero who was known to have opposed secession before the war would insulate them from the usual Republican post-war charges of being the party of treason and secession.

Hancock’s running mate was William Hayden English, a conservative Democrat from Indiana. English had held several posts in the Indiana state government and served as Congressman from 1853-1861. During his terms in the House of Representatives, English was a voice of moderation, trying to prevent the country from breaking apart between North and South. After the election of Lincoln, English urged the Southern states not to secede. As a pro-Union Democrat, English would, like Hancock, deflect charges that the Democrats were the party of rebellion.

There was a third party running in this election, the Greenback Party. The Greenback Party was a populist party which, as the name might indicate, believed that print paper money, or greenbacks, not backed by gold or silver. The federal government had first begun to print greenbacks backed by federal bonds during the Civil War. Thus policy caused the first protracted period of inflation in the United States since the time of the Revolutionary War. This inflationary outcome was precisely what the Greenback Party wanted, since it would result in farmers receiving higher prices for their produce and debts to decrease in real value. The Greenback Party was also in favor of such radical proposals as an eight-hour workday and suffrage for women.

The Greenback Party met in Chicago from June 9-11, and nominated James B. Weaver from Iowa for president. Weaver had begun his political career as a Republican but had grown disenchanted with the party and switched over to the newly formed Greenback Party in 1876 and had served in the House of Representatives as a Greenback from 1879-1881. His running mate was the Texan, Barzillai J. Chambers

The two main parties were largely in agreement on the main issues of the day. Both the Republicans and the Democrats supported hard money, or money backed by gold. Tariffs were the major point of contention between the two parties, and even there there disagreements were mostly on minor details. In this time before the income tax, tariffs were the major source of revenue for the federal government. The Republicans wanted high tariffs to protect American manufacturers. The Democrats wanted lower, but still high, tariffs solely for revenue.

Immigration was another issue in which the parties were in agreement, in particular immigration from China. Everyone wanted to limit Chinese immigration because it was believed that the Chinese workers’ willingness to work for extremely low wages would depress wages for workers generally. No doubt prejudice against people who came from a very different cultural background also played a role. As far as I can tell, no one proposed building a wall along the Pacific coast and making China pay for it, though.

The election turned out to be a close one with James A. Garfield getting 4,446,158 (48.27%) popular votes against Winfield Scott Hancock’s 4,444,260 ( 48.25%) popular votes. James B. Weaver got only 308,649 (3.35%) votes. The Electoral College was somewhat more lopsided. Garfield swept the North and Oregon in the West gaining 214 electoral votes while Hancock won in the South, California and Nevada winning 144 electoral votes. There were some reports of irregularities, as in the election of 1876, but Garfield’s victory was decisive enough that it didn’t matter.

The Election of 1880

Garfield didn’t live to serve a full term as president. Garfield was shot by Charles Guiteau on July 2, 1881, just three months after his inauguration. Garfield managed to linger until September 29 before finally dying. Reform minded people throughout the nation were dismayed at the prospect of the machine politician and Conkling crony Chester A. Arthur succeeding to the presidency. They need not have worried though. As soon as he took the oath of office, President Arthur underwent a complete metamorphosis in morals and politics. He turned against the spoils system and fully supported civil service reform, signing the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act in 1883. He wouldn’t even give his old pal Roscoe Conkling the time of day. Arthur turned out to be a decent president, considering that no one ever really wanted him to get the job.

The Election of 1876

The election of 1876 was one of those elections like the election of 1824 in which the loser of the election became the president. Unlike such previous disputed elections, such as the elections in 1824 and 1800, the problem in 1876 was not that no candidate achieved a majority there were only two candidates, or that there was some quirk in the electoral process. The problem with the election of 1876 was a combination of outright fraud and confusion in counting the ballots in the three remaining states of the former Confederacy that were still occupied by federal forces; South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana.

The year 1876 was the centennial of the United States. The year began with great celebration for the one hundred years that the nation had been independent. The feelings of most people were optimistic and cheerful about the future. America had, to be sure, fought a terrible Civil War only a decade before, and the South was still rebuilding. Still,the country was prosperous and at peace, and was rapidly settling the West.

The campaign season began well. President Ulysses S. Grant had wanted to run for a third term but between the two term tradition and the series of scandals that had marred his administration, there was little enthusiasm for Grant. In fact the most important issue of the election was reforming the civil service and ending corruption in government. Therefore, both parties wanted reforming candidates untouched by any unsavory associations. This ruled out Congressman James G. Blaine, a Republican from Maine who had had some apparently unethical dealings with the Union Pacific Railroad. Instead, the Republicans nominated Rutherford B Hayes, the reforming Governor of Ohio. The Democrats nominated Samuel J. Tilden from New York. He had prosecuted Boss Tweed when he served as District Attorney and as Governor, he had fought the Canal Ring.

Rutherford B. Hayes
Rutherford B. Hayes

The candidates were both honest men and there wasn’t much difference in the two party platforms, so naturally, to keep things interesting, both sides attacked each other ferociously, making this election one of the nastiest elections in history. The Democrats were delighted to point out the corruption in the Grant administration and in the Reconstruction governments in the South. The Republicans accused the Democrats of being traitors who had supported the Confederacy during the war. The real fun though, did not begin until after the election.

Samuel J. Tilden
Samuel J. Tilden

When the votes were counted, Tilden won the popular vote over Hayes by 4,300,000 to 4,000,000. The electoral vote was what counted, though, and here things were less certain. To win in the electoral college required 185 votes. Tilden received 184 votes, mostly in the south but including New York and Indiana, while Hayes got 165 votes in the north and west. There was a problem with four states; Oregon, South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana.

index

Oregon was relatively simple. Hayes had won the popular vote there, but one of the electors was a postmaster and the constitution does not permit federal office holders to be electors. The Democratic governor of Oregon selected a Democrat to replace him. The Republicans announced that Hayes had won Oregon’s three electoral votes, while the Democrats insisted that the correct count was one for Tilden and two for Hayes.

The Southern states were more difficult. To say that the elections were marked by fraud would be a tremendous understatement. There was marked voter intimidation. The Democrats tried to keep as many Blacks from voting as they could, while the Republicans tried to make sure the Blacks could vote as many times as they wanted. There was bribery, ballot box stuffing, and outright fraud. It will probably never be certain who actually won in South Carolina, Florida and Louisiana but Louisiana and Florida sent in two sets of returns while Florida managed to come up with three.

Congress had the responsibility of deciding which returns accurately reflected the votes in the disputed states. It was an act that would be sure to create controversy no matter what they decided. As it happened the House of Representatives was controlled by the Democrats, while the Republicans had the majority in the Senate. The two houses fought bitterly but finally agreed to establish an Electoral Commission composed of five Senators, five Representatives, and five Supreme Court justices. Eight of these men were Republicans and seven were Democrats, and somehow all of their votes ended up being 8 to 7 in favor of Hayes, making Rutherford Hayes the next president.

Naturally, the Democrats were not at all happy with this result, especially in the south. They accepted the decision of the commission without any serious trouble though. Tilden urged acceptance of the decision and many southern Democrats came to believe that Hayes was a president they could work with. Democratic leaders met with their Republican counterparts, even while the commission was working and agreed to accept whatever the decision of the commission might be in exchange for the next president agreeing to remove the remaining federal troops out of the South. The compromise of 1877 preserved the Union and ended what could have been a very messy political crisis. It also ended the Reconstruction Era and helped to heal the divisions caused by the Civil War. Unfortunately it also meant abandoning the cause of civil rights for the freed slaves. Southern Democrats swiftly took control of the southern state governments and disenfranchised the Blacks as soon as they could. They would have to wait almost another century to get there rights.

Rutherford B. Hayes turned out to be a decent president who pushed for civil service reform. He wasn’t able to do very much because of the circumstances of his election and decided not to run again in 1880.

 

The Election of 1872

As it happened, electing a man with no political experience to the presidency might not have been a very good idea, even if the man was Ulysses S. Grant, one of the best generals in American history. Grant’s presidency was not the disaster it has often been made out to be. The Grant administration had some solid accomplishments to its credit. Grant consistently upheld the civil rights of the freed Blacks in the South and used federal troops to crush the Ku Klux Klan. Grant sought, not very successfully. to ensure that the Native Americans were treated with some degree of justice. I suspect that the poor reputation as a general and president that Grant has had for most of the twentieth century was the result of Southern historians, the same ones who concocted the Lost Cause mythology, blackening Grant’s reputation as revenge for his defeating their idol Robert E. Lee and standing up for the rights of the former slaves. Recently, Grant’s military reputation has been rehabilitated by military historians who now see him as a masterful strategist and I hope that political historians will follow suit.

That being said, no one is likely to list Ulysses S. Grant as one of the top ten Presidents of the United States. The problem was that Grant turned out to be a remarkably poor judge of character, at least in the civilian sphere. Grant himself was honest, but many of the men he appointed to office were not. Because this was the time before civil service reform when the Spoils System was still in operation meaning that almost every government post was a political appointee. If an incoming president appointed corrupt men, it didn’t take very long for the whole government to become thoroughly corrupt, which is what happened in Grant’s first term.

Despite several scandals, Grant was still personally popular and there was no question that the Republican Party would nominate him for a second term. A number of the more liberal Republicans were sufficiently disgusted with the corruption in the federal government and dissatisfied with Grant’s Reconstruction policies to separate themselves from the Republican Party to form the Liberal Republican Party. This new party, which included such prominent Republicans as Ambassador to Britain to Charles Francis Adams, Supreme Court Justice Salmon P. Chase, and  Senator Carl Schurz from Missouri held its convention in Cincinnati from May 1-3. There they nominated Horace Greeley, the founder and editor of the New York Tribune for the presidency.

Greeley was an unexpected and somewhat unusual choice for the nomination. He was not really a politician, only having served a brief term in Congress back in 1848-1849. He had been one of the founders of the Republican Party and may have given the party its name. He was chiefly a newspaper man however and was used to speaking his mind on every subject. People often say that they want a candidate you says what he really thinks, but they are lying. What people say is that they want a candidate who says what they want to hear and Greeley was not that man He simply didn’t know when to keep quiet or carefully parse his words as an experienced politician learns to do. This openness would not help him during the campaign.

The Liberal Republicans went on to nominate Benjamin G. Brown, the liberal Governor of Missouri. Like Greeley, Brown had been one of the founders of the Republican Party and had served as a Senator from Missouri from 1963-1867 and then Governor from 1871-1873. Brown had served in the Union Army from 1861-1863 before being appointed Senator to fill a vacancy left by the departure of his pro-confederate predecessor. The Liberal Republicans adopted a platform which attacked the corruption of the Grant administration, supported civil service reform and ending Reconstruction and the military occupation of the South. They had some problems with the important issue of protective tariffs, but they made some vague statement about it being up to the people to decide.

The Republicans met in Philadelphia from June 5-6. They nominated Grant  for reelection by acclamation on the first ballot. Grant’s nomination was seconded by William Henry Grey, the first African-American to address an American political convention. Vice-President Colfax was dropped from the ticket because of his suspected involvement with the Credit Mobilier scandal and the convention nominated Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts in his place. Senator Wilson had long been an anti-slavery activist and was a founder of the Free Soil Party, the predecessor to the Republican Party, which he also helped found. Wilson had served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate, before going on to serve in the U.S. Senate from 1855-1873. As the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs from 1861-1973, Wilson had played an important role in the Union’s war efforts. The Republicans went on to adopt a platform praising Republican achievements since 1861. The Republican platform made some mention of civil service reform and tariffs, without too many details on either subject, and favored the protection of the civil rights of all citizens in every part of the country.

The Democrats met in Baltimore from July 9-10, and promptly nominated the Liberal Republican ticket and platform. At only six hours, the Democratic National Convention of 1872 was the shortest political convention in American, and possibly world, history. It might seem strange that the Democrats did not nominate candidates who were actually Democrats, Horace Greeley had been an especially fierce critic of the Democrats, but they wanted to see Grant out of office and believed that nominated their own candidates would only have split the anti-Grant vote, allowing him to win. It didn’t turn out to be an especially good plan.

The campaign was a nasty one, as usual. Grant was assailed as an ignorant, corrupt drunkard. Grant remained silent, preferring not to actively campaign, but his supporters had plenty of ammunition to use against Greeley. During his long career as editor of the New York Tribune, Greeley had endorsed any number of fringe causes; socialism, utopian communes, vegetarianism  etc, and the Republicans had a field day making fun of his eccentricities. It probably wouldn’t have mattered even if the Democrats had nominated someone more, well, normal. Grant was popular enough among regular Republicans, bankers and industrialists, Civil War veterans, and Blacks, that he would have probably beaten any Democrat.

In the end, Grant won in a landslide with 3,598,235 (55.6%) popular votes against Greeley’s 2,834,761 (43.8%). The electoral vote was even more lopsided. Grant won all but six states gaining 286 electoral votes. Greeley won just Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Missouri, and Texas, for a total of 66 electoral votes. Arkansas and Louisiana had voted for Grant but the electoral votes were rejected due to irregularities arising from Reconstruction and so weren’t counted.

The Election of 1872

 

Horace Greeley took his defeat hard. He became ill and died just three weeks after the election, before the Electoral College met to cast the official ballots. This created the unprecedented situation in which a presidential candidate had died before the election was formally concluded. The Democratic electors resolved the issue by simply casting their votes for four other candidates. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if the victor of the popular election had ever died before the Electoral College met.