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 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