Great Leaders and National Issues of 1896/Chapter 1

Great Leaders and National Issues of 1896
by various authors
Chapter 1

Famous Presidential Campaigns of the Past edit

The Origin of the “Caucus” edit

The presidential nominating convention is a modern institution. In the early days of the Republic a very different method was pursued in order to place the candidates for the highest office in the land before the people.

In the first place, as to the origin of the “caucus.” In the early part of the eighteenth century a number of caulkers connected with the shipping business in the North End of Boston held a meeting for consultation. That meeting was the germ of the political caucuses which have formed so prominent a feature of our government ever since its organization.

The Constitution of our country was framed and signed in the month of September, 1787, by the convention sitting in Philadelphia, and then sent to the various Legislatures for their action. It could not become binding until ratified by nine States. On the 2d of July, 1788, Congress was notified that the necessary nine States had approved, and on the 13th of the following September a day was appointed for the choice of electors for President. The day selected was the first Wednesday of January, 1789. The date for the beginning of proceedings under the new Constitution was postponed to the first Wednesday in March, which happened to fall on the 4th. In that way the 4th of March became fixed as the date of the inauguration of each President, except when the date is on Sunday, when it becomes the 5th.

Congress met at that time in the city of New York. It was not until the 1st of April that a quorum for business appeared in the House of Representatives, and the Senate was organized on the 6th of that month. The electors who were to choose the President were selected by the various State Legislatures, each elector being entitled to cast two votes. The rule was that the candidate receiving the highest number became President, while the next highest vote elected the Vice-President. The objection to this method was that the two might belong to different political parties, which very condition of things came about at the election of the second President, when John Adams was chosen to the highest office and Thomas Jefferson to the second. The former was a Federalist, while Jefferson was a Republican, or, as he would have been called later, a Democrat. Had Adams died while in office, the policy of his administration would have been changed.

There could be no doubt as to the first choice. While Washington lived and was willing thus to serve his country, what other name could be considered? So, when the electoral vote was counted on the 6th of April, 1789, every vote of the ten States which took part in the election was cast for him. He received 69 (all); John Adams, 34; John Jay, 9; R. H. Harrison, 6; John Rutledge, 6; John Hancock, 4; George Clinton, 3; Samuel Huntingdon, 2; John Milton, 2; James Armstrong, Benjamin Lincoln, and Edward Telfair 1 each.

The Election of 1792 edit

At the next election, in 1792, the result was: Washington, 132 (all) votes; John Adams, 77; George Clinton, 50; Thomas Jefferson, 4; Aaron Burr, 1; vacancies, 3. It would have been the same at the third election had the illustrious Father of his Country consented to be a candidate; but he was growing feeble, and had already sacrificed so much for his country, that his yearning for the quiet, restful life at Mount Vernon could not be denied him. So he retired, and, less than three years later, passed from earth.

The First Stormy Election edit

What may be looked upon as the first stormy election of a President took place in 1800. When the electoral votes came to be counted, they were found to be distributed as follows: Thomas Jefferson, 73; Aaron Burr, 73; John Adams, 65; Charles C. Pinckney, 64; John Jay, 1. Jefferson and Burr being tied, the election was thrown into the House of Representatives, where the contest became a memorable one. The House met on the 11th of February, 1801, to decide the question. On the first ballot, Jefferson had eight States and Burr six, while Maryland and Vermont were equally divided. Here was another tie.

Meanwhile, one of the most terrific snow-storms ever known swept over Washington. Mr. Nicholson of Maryland was seriously ill in bed, and yet, if he did not vote, his State would be given to Burr, who would be elected President. Nicholson showed that he had the “courage of his convictions” by allowing himself to be bundled up and carried through the blizzard to one of the committee rooms, where his wife stayed by his side day and night. On each ballot the box was brought to his bedside, and he did not miss one. The House remained in continuous session until thirty-five ballots had been cast without any change.

It was clear by that time that Burr could not be elected, for the columns of Jefferson were as immovable as a stone wall. The break, when it came, must be in the ranks of Burr. On the thirty-sixth ballot, the Federalists of Maryland, Delaware and South Carolina voted blank, and the Federalist of Vermont stayed away. This gave the friends of Jefferson their opportunity and, fortunately for the country, Thomas Jefferson was elected instead of the miscreant Burr.

The Constitution Amended edit

As a result of this noted contest, the Constitution was so amended that each elector voted for a President and a Vice-President, instead of for two candidates for President. It was a needed improvement, since it insured that both should belong to the same political party.

During the first term of Washington, the country was divided into two powerful political parties. Men who, like Washington, Hamilton, Adams and others, believed in a strong central government, with only such political power as was absolutely necessary distributed among the various States, were Federalists. Those who insisted upon the greatest possible power for the States, yielding nothing to Congress beyond what was distinctly specified in the Constitution, were Republicans, of whom Thomas Jefferson was the foremost leader. Other points of difference developed as the years passed, but the main distinction was as given. After the election of John Adams, the Federalist party gradually dwindled, and in the war of 1812 its unpatriotic course fatally weakened the organization.

The Country Divided in Parties edit

The Republican party took the name of Democratic-Republican, which is its official title to-day. During Monroe's administration, when almost the last vestige of the Federalists vanished, their opponents gradually acquired the name of Democrats, by which they are now known. After a time, the Federalists were succeeded by the Whigs, who held well together until the quarrel over the admission of Kansas and the question of slavery split the party into fragments. From these, including Know Nothings, Abolitionists, Free Soilers and Northern Democrats, was builded, in 1856, the present Republican party, whose foundation stone was opposition to the extension of slavery. Many minor parties have sprung into ephemeral life from time to time, but the Democrats and Republicans will undoubtedly be the two great political organizations for many years to come, as they have been for so many years past.

Improvement of the Method of Nominating Presidential Candidates edit

It will be noted that the old-fashioned method of nominating presidential candidates was clumsy and frequently unfair. Candidates sometimes announced themselves for offices within the gift of the people, but if that practice had continued to modern times, the number of candidates thus appealing for the suffrages of their fellow-citizens might have threatened to equal the number of voters themselves. The more common plan was for the party leaders to hold private or informal caucuses. The next method was for the legislative caucus to name the man. The unfairness of this system was that it shut out from representation those whose districts had none of the opposite political party in the legislature. To adjust the matter, the caucus rule was so modified as to admit delegates specially sent up from the districts that were not represented in the Legislature. This, it will be seen, was an important step in the direction of the present system, which makes a nominating convention to consist of delegates from every part of a State, chosen for the sole purpose of making nominations.

The perfected method appeared in New Jersey as early as 1812; in Pennsylvania in 1817, and in New York in 1825. There was no clearly defined plan followed in making the presidential nominations for 1824, and four years later the legislative caucus system was almost universally followed. After that, the system which had been applied in various States was applied to national matters.

The First Presidential Convention edit

In the year 1826, William Morgan, a worthless character, living in Batavia, New York, attempted to expose the secrets of the order of Free Masons, of which he had become a member. While he was engaged in printing his book, he disappeared and was never afterward seen. The Masons were accused of making way with him, and a wave of opposition swept over the country which closed many lodges and seemed for a time to threaten the extinction of the order. An anti-Masonic party was formed and became strong enough to carry the election in several States. Not only that, but in September, 1831, the anti-Masons held a National nominating convention in Baltimore and put forward William Wirt, former Attorney-General of the United States, as their nominee for the Presidency, with Amos Ellmaker, candidate for the Vice-Presidency. The ticket received seven electoral votes. The noteworthy fact about this almost forgotten matter is that the convention was the first presidential one held in this country.

Convention in Baltimore in 1832 edit

The system was now fairly launched, for in December of the same year the National Republicans met in convention in Baltimore and nominated Henry Clay, and in May, 1832, Martin Van Buren was nominated by a Democratic convention. He was renominated at the same place and in the same manner in 1835, but the Whigs did not imitate their opponents. In 1840, however, the system was adopted by both parties, and has been followed ever since.

Our whole country seethes with excitement from the hour when the first candidate is hinted at until his nomination is made, followed by his election or defeat a few months later. Some persons see a grave peril in this periodic convulsion, which shakes the United States like an earthquake, but it seems after all to be a sort of political thunder-storm which purifies the air and clarifies the ideas that otherwise would become sodden or morbid. It is essentially American, and our people's universal love of fair play leads them to accept the verdict at the polls with philosophy and good nature.

Exciting Scenes edit

And yet there have been many exciting scenes at the nominating conventions of the past, as there doubtless will be in many that are yet to come. Coming down to later times, how often has it proved that the most astute politicians were all at sea in their calculations. The proverbial “dark horse” has become a potent factor whom it is not safe to forget in making up political probabilities.

The Presidential Campaign of 1820 edit

Probably the most tranquil presidential campaign of the nineteenth century was that of 1820, when James Monroe was elected for the second time. He was virtually the only candidate before the country for the exalted office. When the electoral college met, the astounding fact was revealed that he had every vote—the first time such a thing had occurred since Washington's election.

But there was one elector who had the courage to do that which was never done before and has never been done since: he voted contrary to his instructions and in opposition to the ticket on which he was elected. Blumer, of New Hampshire, explained that, as he viewed it, no President had the right to share the honor of a unanimous election with Washington, and, though an ardent friend of Monroe, he deliberately cast his one vote for Adams, in order to preserve Washington's honor distinct. His motive was appreciated, and Blumer was applauded for the act, Monroe himself being pleased with it.

“Old Hickory” edit

It is hardly necessary to repeat that this incident has not been duplicated since that day. Andrew Jackson, “Old Hickory,” was probably the most popular man in the country when the time came for naming the successor of Monroe. It may sound strange, but it is a fact that when the project of running him for the Presidency was first mentioned to Jackson, he was displeased. It had never entered his head to covet that exalted office.

“Don't think of it,” he said; “I haven't the first qualification; I am a rough, plain man, fitted perhaps to lead soldiers and fight the enemies of our country, but as for the Presidency, the idea is too absurd to be held.”

But what American cannot be convinced that he is pre-eminently fitted for the office? It did not take long for the ambition to be kindled in the breast of the doughty hero. His friends flattered him into the conviction that he was the man of all others to assume the duties and the “bee” buzzed as loudly in Jackson's bonnet as it ever has in that of any of his successors.

Andrew Jackson's Popularity edit

It cannot be denied that “Old Hickory” was a great man, and though he was deficient in education, lacking in statesmanship and obstinate to the last degree, he was the possessor of those rugged virtues which invariably command respect. He was honest, clean in his private life, a staunch friend, an unrelenting enemy and an intense patriot—one who was ready to risk his life at any hour for his country. In addition, he never knew the meaning of personal fear. No braver person ever lived. When the sheriff in a court-room was afraid to attempt to arrest a notorious desperado, Jackson leaped over the chairs, seized the ruffian by the throat, hurled him to the floor and cowed him into submission. When a piece of treachery was discovered on a Kentucky race course, Jackson faced a mob of a thousand infuriated men, ruled off the dishonest official and carried his point. He challenged the most noted duellist of the southwest, because he dared to cast a slur upon Jackson's wife. It mattered not that the scoundrel had never failed to kill his man, and that all of Jackson's friends warned him that it was certain death to meet the dead-shot. At the exchange of shots, Jackson was frightfully wounded, but he stood as rigid as iron, and sent a bullet through the body of his enemy, whom he did not let know he was himself wounded until the other had breathed his last.

Above all, had not “Old Hickory” won the battle of New Orleans, the most brilliant victory of the war of 1812? Did not he and his unerring riflemen from the backwoods of Tennessee and Kentucky spread consternation, death and defeat among the red-coated veterans of Waterloo? No wonder that the anniversary of that glorious battle is still celebrated in every part of the country, and no wonder, too, that the American people demanded that the hero of all these achievements should be rewarded with the highest office in the gift of his countrymen.

Jackson Nominated edit

Jackson, having “placed himself in the hands of his friends,” threw himself into the struggle with all the unquenchable ardor of his nature. On July 22, 1822, the Legislature of Tennessee was first in the field by placing him in nomination. On the 22d of February, 1824, a Federalist convention at Harrisburg, Pa., nominated him, and on the 4th of March following a Republican convention did the same. It would seem that he was now fairly before the country, but the regular Democratic nominee, that is, the one named by the congressional caucus, was William H. Crawford, of Georgia. The remaining candidates were John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay, and all of them belonged to the Republican party, which had retained the Presidency since 1800. Adams and Clay were what was termed loose constructionists, while Jackson and Crawford were strict constructionists.

“Old Hickory” Defeated edit

The canvass was a somewhat jumbled one in which each candidate had his ardent partisans and supporters. The contest was carried out with vigor and the usual abuse, personalities and vituperation until the polls were closed. Then when the returns came to be made up it was found that Jackson had received 99 electoral votes, Adams 84, Crawford 41 and Clay 37. “Old Hickory” was well ahead, but his strength was not sufficient to make him President, even though on the popular vote he led Adams by more than 50,000. Consequently the election went to the House of Representatives, where the supporters of Clay combined with those of Adams and made him President. Thus came the singular result that the man who had the largest popular and electoral vote was defeated.

It was a keen disappointment to Jackson and his friends. The great Senator Benton, of Missouri, one of the warmest supporters of “Old Hickory,” angrily declared that the House was deliberately defying the will of the people by placing a minority candidate in the chair. The Senator's position, however, was untenable, and so it was that John Quincy Adams became the sixth President of our country.

Jackson's Triumph edit

But the triumph of “Old Hickory” was only postponed. His defeat was looked upon by the majority of men as a deliberate piece of trickery, and they “lay low” for the next opportunity to square matters. No fear of a second chance being presented to their opponents. Jackson was launched into the canvass of 1828 like a cyclone, and when the returns were made up he had 178 electoral votes to 83 for Adams—a vote which lifted him safely over the edge of a plurality and seated him firmly in the White House.

It is not our province to treat of the administration of Andrew Jackson, for that belongs to history, but the hold which that remarkable man maintained upon the affections of the people was emphasized when, in 1832, he was re-elected by an electoral vote of 219 to 49 for Clay, 11 for Floyd, and 7 for Wirt. Despite the popular prejudice against a third term, there is little doubt that Jackson would have been successful had he chosen again to be a candidate. He proved his strength by selecting his successor, Martin Van Buren.

The “Log-cabin and Hard-cider” Campaign of 1840 edit

The next notable presidential battle was the “log-cabin and hard-cider” campaign of 1840, the like of which was never before seen in this country. General William Henry Harrison had been defeated by Van Buren in 1836, but on the 4th of December, 1839, the national Whig Convention, which met at Harrisburg to decide the claims of rival candidates, placed Harrison in nomination, while the Democrats again nominated Van Buren.

General Harrison lived at North Bend, Ohio, in a house which consisted of a log-cabin, built many years before by a pioneer, and was afterwards covered with clapboards. The visitors to the house praised the republican simplicity of the old soldier, the hero of Tippecanoe, and the principal campaign biography said that his table, instead of being supplied with costly wines, was furnished with an abundance of the best cider.

“Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” edit

The canvass had hardly opened, when the Baltimore Republican slurred General Harrison by remarking that, if some one would pension him with a few hundred dollars and give him a barrel of hard cider, he would sit down in his log-cabin and be content for the rest of his life. That sneer furnished the key-note of the campaign. Hard cider became almost the sole beverage of the Whigs throughout the country. In every city, town and village, and at the cross-roads, were erected log-cabins, while the amount of hard cider drank would have floated the American Navy. The nights were rent with the shouts of “Tippecanoe and Tyler too,” and scores of campaign songs were sung by tens of thousands of exultant, even if not always musical voices. We recall that one of the most popular songs began:

“Oh where, tell me where, was the log-cabin made?
'Twas made by the boys that wield the plough and the spade.”

There was no end to the songs, which were set to the most popular airs and sung over and over again. You would hear them in the middle of the night on some distant mountain-top, where the twinkling camp-fire showed that a party of Whigs were drinking hard cider and whooping it up for Harrison; some singer with a strong, pleasing voice would start one of the songs from the platform, at the close of the orator's appeal, and hardly had his lips parted, when the thousands of Whigs, old and young, and including wives and daughters, would join in the words, while the enthusiasm quickly grew to a white heat. The horsemen riding home late at night awoke the echoes among the woods and hills with their musical praises of “Old Tippecanoe.” The story is told that in one of the backwoods districts of Ohio, after the preacher had announced the hymn, the leader of the singing, a staid old deacon, struck in with a Harrison campaign song, in which the whole congregation, after the first moment's shock, heartily joined, while the aghast preacher had all he could do to restrain himself from "coming in on the chorus." There was some truth in the declaration of a disgusted Democrat that, from the opening of the canvass, the whole Whig population of the United States went upon a colossal spree on hard cider, which continued without intermission until Harrison was installed in the White House.

And what did November tell? The electoral vote cast for Martin Van Buren, 60; for General Harrison, 234. No wonder that the supply of hard cider was almost exhausted within the next three days.

Peculiar Feature of the Harrison Campaign edit

As we have noted, the method of nominating presidential candidates by means of popular conventions was fully established in 1840, and has continued uninterruptedly ever since. One peculiar feature marked the Harrison campaign of 1840. The convention which nominated Martin Van Buren met in Baltimore in May of that year. On the same day, the young Whigs of the country held a mass meeting in Baltimore, at which fully twenty thousand persons were present. They came from every part of the Union, Massachusetts sending fully a thousand. When the adjournment took place, it was to meet again in Washington at the inauguration of Harrison. The railway was then coming into general use, and this greatly favored the meeting of mass conventions.

“Rough and Ready” edit

The Democrats swung back to power in 1844, when James K. Polk defeated Henry Clay, nominated for the third time. During his administration occurred the war with Mexico, of which General Zachary Taylor was the popular hero. His bluff manner won for him the title of “Rough and Ready.” He was a patriot, well informed and well educated, though he took so little interest in politics that he had not cast a vote for forty years. He had no special yearning for an election to the Presidency, but what man can refuse the honor when it comes to him? He chose an able Cabinet, and would have made an excellent record but for his untimely death during the second year of his term. His nomination and election were attended by no very noteworthy features.

Democratic Convention in Baltimore, 1852 edit

When the time came for other presidential nominations, the Democratic convention met in Baltimore, June 12, 1852. The most prominent candidates were James Buchanan, Stephen A. Douglas, Lewis Cass, and William L. Marcy. Ballot after ballot was taken without any one of these men developing sufficient strength to bring success. On the thirty-sixth ballot, the Virginia delegation presented the name of Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire. Many members of the convention had never heard of him, and the public at large were no better informed, but on the forty-ninth ballot he received 282 votes to 11 for all the others.

“Old Fuss and Feathers” edit

Pierce's opponent was General Winfield Scott, the commander-in-chief of the Mexican war, and under whom Pierce served. Scott was not popular either in the North or South. He was a martinet, overbearing in his manner and with no power to make friends. It seemed presumptuous to him for any one to think of opposing his nomination or election to the Presidency. During the campaign, the war with Mexico was fought over again, times without number, and every incident of the old soldier's life was lauded to the skies, until it seemed that no greater hero or military genius had ever lived.

But November told an astounding story. The only States carried by Scott were Massachusetts, Vermont, Kentucky and Tennessee, with their 42 electoral votes; while all the rest, comprehending 254 votes, went to Pierce. If “Old Fuss and Feathers” ever met his Waterloo, it was when he confronted one of his brigadier-generals at the polls.

A Tragic Period edit

The presidential campaigns, which hitherto had been fought out philosophically and with abundance of humor and absurd incident, now approach the tragic period. The baleful shadow of slavery, which had hovered over the political sky, broadened and deepened until the light of the sun, moon and stars was blotted out. That cloud, at first no bigger than a man's hand, now darkened the heavens with its awful pall, through which flashed the red lightning tongues of civil war. Fremont, the first Republican candidate, had shown so much strength in 1856, that the South was startled. Her people had held the reins of government for many years, but they now saw that a sentiment was growing so fast against the aggressiveness of slavery that it was likely at any time to turn the scales against them. The Southern leaders loved slavery more than the Union; they believed the North was making unconstitutional invasions of their rights; they were sure that if they stayed in the Union, their pet institution would be destroyed; therefore they prepared to withdraw upon the first election of a candidate on the platform of opposition to the extension of slavery.

That candidate was Abraham Lincoln of Illinois. Jefferson Davis saw that the only possible method of defeating him was by a fusing of all the elements of the opposition, and he urged such fusion. But, as was said of slavery, it split everything with which it had to do. It split most of the churches, and now, before splitting the country, split the Democratic party into three factions or wings.

The Democratic Party Divided edit

The Democratic convention assembled in Charleston in April, 1860. They had hardly come together when they began quarreling over the slavery question. Among the members were some so violent that they favored the reopening of the slave trade. The North had refused to obey the Dred Scott decision of 1857, and, instead of surrendering fugitive slaves, helped to conceal or help them on their way to Canada. Until the Northerners would retrace their steps and allow the slave-owner to take his “property” wherever he chose within the United States, without losing ownership, these extremists insisted upon seceding from the Union.

Stephen A. Douglas edit

But there were others in the convention that were less radical, that still loved the Union and were willing to make concessions and accept compromises. The inevitable consequence was another split. Stephen A. Douglas was the choice of these men. He was the champion of popular or squatter sovereignty—which means that he favored leaving the question of slavery to be settled by the residents of each Territory for themselves. This did not suit the extremists, who, determined to prevent the nomination of Douglas, withdrew from the convention. Those who remained, after balloting for a while without result, adjourned on the 3d of May to Baltimore, where, on the 18th of June, they placed Douglas in nomination, with Herschel V. Johnson, of Georgia, as the candidate for Vice-President.

The platform of this party was the declaration that the people of each Territory should control slavery in that Territory, but they were willing to abide by the decision of the Supreme Court.

John C. Breckinridge edit

The seceding delegates adjourned to Richmond and thence to Baltimore, where, on the 28th of June, they nominated John C. Breckinridge, of Kentucky, and Joseph Lane, of Oregon. Their platform declared it the right and duty of Congress to protect slavery in the Territories whenever the owner chose to take his slaves thither.

The Constitutional Unionists edit

The American party, or, as they were called, the Constitutional Unionists, had already met in Baltimore, where they nominated John Bell, of Tennessee, and Edward Everett, of Massachusetts. They favored the “Constitution, the Union and the enforcement of the laws.” This was vague and hazy, and the party might well be termed the milk and water one, for it sought to do that which was now impossible—drop the question of slavery from politics. It may be said that the accursed thing had become the sole question before the country, and rivers of blood would be required to extinguish the flames that were already kindling.

Who that took part in those lurid days can ever forget them? The country heaved and swayed as if with an earthquake. The most passionate appeals were made to voters, but it may be said that not one person in a thousand really believed that a terrible civil war was at hand. It was thouoht that the flurry would soon blow over, and even Jefferson Davis, after the Southern Confederacy was organized, declared that he would be able to hold all the blood that would be spilled in the hollow of his hand.

Woful Misunderstandings edit

The two sections wofully misunderstood each other. The North boasted that if the South dared raise its arm against the Union, the Seventh Regiment, of New York, or, indeed, any similar organization, would march from the Potomac to the Rio Grande and subdue the rebels. Secretary Seward thought the trouble would be over in ninety days, and commerce, manufactures and trade kept right on, until the thunder of Sumter's cannon echoed through the land and the people awoke.

The hideous blunder of the South was their belief that they had so many friends in the North that they would not permit the national government to make war upon the secessionists in the effort to bring them back into the Union. If war should be waged nevertheless, they were sure that thousands of Northerners would hasten to enlist on their side. It was a woful blunder we repeat, for while the North was ready to go to the utmost length that honor would permit, its love for the Union transcended everything else, and, as her sons proved, they were ready to fight to the death to maintain it.

The Result of the Election of 1860 edit

Since the election of 1860 was unprecedented, it is well to recall the figures. On the popular vote Abraham Lincoln received 1,866,352 votes; Stephen A. Douglas, 1,375,157; John C. Breckinridge, 845,763; and John Bell, 589,581. The electoral votes in the same order were 180, 12, 72 and 39.

All know what followed. There were four years of fearful civil war, and then the Union was restored, purified of slavery, and stronger, firmer and more enduring than ever before. In the furnace-blast she had gone through the pangs of transformation, and who can doubt that the Union is destined to last as long as the starry firmament itself?

Ulysses S. Grant and Horatio Seymour edit

The American nation dearly loves a military idol, and General Grant was the idol of the North. He was the great military genius developed by the civil war, and he had accomplished that which others had tried in vain to do: he had conquered General Lee, and compelled the surrender of the armed hosts of the Rebellion. So nothing was more natural than that he should be put forward as the candidate for the Presidency when the term of Andrew Johnson drew to a close.

It is not to be imagined that so sagacious a politician as Horatio Seymour believed there was an earthly possibility of his success when he entered the race against General Grant. If he held such a hope, it was most startlingly dissipated in 1868, when he carried but eight States, while twenty-six voted for Grant.

Unique Campaign of 1872 edit

The presidential campaign of 1872 was unique in its way. There is something grotesque in the thought of Horace Greeley becoming the Democratic candidate in opposition to Grant, the Republican nominee. No one had delivered more telling blows against the Democracy than the vigorous and talented editor of the Tribune. He had fought them mercilessly for more than a generation and none was his equal. Naturally an element of dissatisfaction grew up under Grant as his term went on, and the malcontents coalesced under the name of Liberal Republicans, made Greeley their candidate, and he was afterwards “endorsed” by the regulars. The dose was too bitter for thousands to swallow, and on election day they “went a-fishing,” with the result that Grant carried 31 States, while only 6 supported Greeley. The pathetic element was not lacking, for the gifted and honest man succumbed to the humiliation and was in his grave when the electoral vote was counted.

The Most Critical Period in the History of Our Country edit

Perhaps few will believe what is unquestionably the fact, that the most critical period in the history of our country was not in the Revolution, nor yet in the civil war, but in the autumn of 1876, or more properly, the opening weeks of 1877. The peril was an appalling one, and the most thoughtful patriots trembled for the safety of their beloved land.

There was nothing specially noteworthy in the political campaign of 1876. The Democratic candidate was Samuel J. Tilden, of New York, one of the ablest men in the Democratic party, and against whose character nothing could be said. His opponent was General Rutherford B. Hayes, of Ohio, who had made a creditable record in the war. Both had served their States as governors, and both were men of unquestioned ability. The campaign was not extraordinarily exciting and was marked by no more than the usual violence of expression. When the vote came to be counted, however, it was found that, outside of several disputed States, each candidate had received about the same number of electoral votes.

Charge of Fraud edit

Naturally each party charged the other with fraud. In Louisiana the returning board gave the Republican ticket a majority of several thousand by throwing out the returns from several parishes, on the ground of intimidation of voters. The Democrats insisted that these returns should be counted, and had that been done, Tilden would have carried the State.

In South Carolina there were two bodies claiming to be the legal Legislature. One gave a plurality to the Republican and the other to the Democratic ticket. The same state of affairs prevailed in Florida, where each claimed a slight majority. Another complication resulted in Oregon, where one of the Republican electors was declared ineligible, because he held the office of postmaster when appointed elector. The critical delicacy of the situation will be understood when it is remembered that if the Republicans secured every point claimed they would have only 185 electoral votes to 184 of the Democrats.

The counter-charges of fraud were repeated with increasing bitterness, and many partisans began talking loudly of seating their candidate by force of arms. Had a collision taken place, it would have been not a war of the North against the South, but of neighbor against neighbor, and heaven only knows what the end would have been.

More Trouble edit

As if no element of trouble was to be lacking, the Senate was Republican and the House Democratic. The law requires that the electoral vote shall be counted at a joint session of the two Houses, and since double sets of returns were sure to come from four States, the dispute would never end.

The situation was unparalleled. The peril was of the gravest nature. Some plan must be devised or civil war and anarchy were certain. Thoughtful men were alarmed and began to discuss a way out of the danger. Finally Congress passed the bill creating an electoral commission, to whom all questions in dispute were to be referred, and to whose decision each party would submit.

A Way Out of the Danger edit

This tribunal consisted of five senators, appointed by the Vice-President (three Republicans and two Democrats), five Representatives, appointed by the Speaker (three Democrats and two Republicans), and five Judges of the Supreme Court (three Republicans and two Democrats). The expectation was that Judge David Davis would act as one of the members of the Commission. He was appointed such member, and the body could not have been divided more evenly, for it had seven Democrats, seven Republicans and one Independent in the person of Judge Davis. He was elected United States Senator, however, and Judge Bradley, of New Jersey, took his place on the Commission. Thus constituted, eight Republicans to seven Democrats, every disputed question was decided by that vote in favor of the Republicans, and consequently Rutherford B. Hayes became the nineteenth President of the United States.

The Republican National Convention of 1880, in Chicago edit

Probably no “unwritten law” has so tenacious a hold upon the American people as the one which forbids a President to hold his office more than two terms. Undoubtedly it is the same feeling which caused Blumer, of New Hampshire, to vote for John Quincy Adams, in order to prevent the unanimous election of Monroe. The only determined effort to break this tradition was made in June, 1880, at the Republican national convention in Chicago, when the imperial Roscoe Conkling led the movement to renominate Grant. He nominated him in a powerful speech, and for thirty-six ballots Grant received a support varying from 302 to 313, but it was impossible to rally enough strength to bring the nomination to the foremost Union leader. On the thirty-sixth ballot a rush to Garfield gave him a majority, and his nomination was made unanimous.

The Most Peculiar Political Campaign of Later Years edit

The political campaion which followed (1884) was the most peculiar of those of later years. The brilliant, able and magnetic James G. Blaine of Maine was nominated on the fourth ballot, in June, 1884, for the Presidency, his opponent being Grover Cleveland, whose prodigious majority when elected Governor of New York, attracted national attention and led to his nomination for the Presidency.

It was said of Von Moltke, the great Prussian general, that he knew how to be silent, and consequently wise, in eight languages. Henry Clay would have been President had he refrained from writing a certain letter. The same is probably true of General Hancock but for his off-hand declaration that the “tariff is a local issue,” and it is conceded that Blaine would have been successful in 1884, but for an injudicious expression made, not by himself, but by one of his friends.

“Rum, Romanism and Rebellion” edit

At the height of the political campaign a “ministers' meeting” was called by the Republican party managers in New York city, at which the Rev. Samuel D. Burchard made a speech. Aiming to give a neat alliterative turn to a sentence, he referred to the Democratic party as that of “Rum, Romanism and Rebellion.” At the moment he uttered the words Mr. Blaine's attention was drawn away and he did not notice the expression, or, as he afterward stated, he would have reproved it. But it was caught up by the “Plumed Knight's” opponents and the press made the utmost use of it. The injury done by the unhappy expression could not be recalled. It alienated just enough Roman Catholic votes to swing the State of New York over to Cleveland. There were 1,100,000 votes cast. Had 524 of those who voted for Cleveland voted for Blaine, he would have been chosen President, whereas the electoral vote by which he was defeated was 219 to 182, because by a plurality of 1,047 the vote of the Empire State was added to the Democratic column.

But the background of all this comedy has been tragedy, for where one is successful, others must drink of the bitterness of defeat. At the last moment, the “dark horse” has bounded ahead of all competitors and carried off the prize, and not always has human nature been equal to the task of accepting disappointment with philosophy and good grace.

Henry Clay was filled with wrath, for there was justice in his claim that when the success of his party was certain, some one else was nominated, while when failure was almost inevitable, he was chosen as the victim. Webster yearned with pathetic longing for the Presidency and died disappointed. He scornfully refused the nomination for the Vice-Presidency under Harrison, and again under Taylor, when, had he accepted either, he would have become President, since Harrison and Taylor died in office. Seward gracefully bowed to defeat by Lincoln, whom he profoundly admired and became the mainstay of his administration. Blaine was equally Chivalrous until the crowning disaster of 1892, when walking in the shadow of death, his proud spirit rebelled. John Sherman, convinced that he had been betrayed in the house of his friends, does not hesitate to declare the fact, in scorching sentences, years after his overthrow. After all, presidential candidates are like the majority of mankind.