The Election of 1880


The return of prosperity made republican success in 1880 a probability, and each faction undertook to control the nomination. The stalwarts were determined to avoid a man like Hayes, the reformer. They had among themselves no one half so likely to be chosen as Grant, whom some of the leaders began to urge for a third term more than a year before the convention met. Under him the good old days would undoubtedly return, and a politician might call his soul his own. Grant was then leisurely traveling around the world, received with distinction in three continents, and the Americans saw in this a reflection of national honor which heightened their esteem for the hero. The movement to nominate him was skillfully managed by Conkling, General Logan, and J. Don. Cameron. Grant himself was pleased at the prospect of another term, and timed his arrival in America with reference to the plans of his friends. He landed at San Francisco, September 20,1879, when most active preparations were being made for the coming nominations. After the splendid reception which a grateful people tendered him, he made a trip to Mexico and the countries south of it, procedure both dignified and prudent.

His opponents were not able to unite on one man. The reformers looked to Edmunds, of Vermont. John Sherman had strong support in the West and Blaine had a following among those Eastern men who did not favor Grant, while other candidates had small followings. Blaine was the ablest of them all, but he was objectionable to the reformers because he was suspected of participation in the scandals under Grant, and his breach with Conkling was an additional embarrassment. However they all opposed Grant bitterly, and were prepared to give up much to keep out of power the men who sought his election.

The first test of their strength in the convention (Chicago, June 2,1880) came when Conkling moved to apply the unit rule to state delegations. To adopt it would give the large states to Grant and as it came out, that would have meant his nomination. The motion
was lost; and on the first ballot Conkling's man got only 304 votes and after that no more than 313 of the 379 necessary to a nomination. Ballot after ballot showed little change, until on the thirty-sixth James A. Garfield, of Ohio, was nominated by a union of the
Sherman and Blaine forces. In the interest of harmony Conkling was allowed to name the candidate for vice-president. He declared for Chester A. Arthur, whom Hayes removed from the New York customhouse when he decided to reform it. One who knew him well exclaimed, when he heard later of Arthur's elevation: "'Chet' Arthur President of the United States ! Good God !" The nomination was bad in itself, but the third term movement was defeated, and that was the main point. Garfield was respected as an able and high-minded man, and the people were disposed to forgive the unfit vice-president on the ground that it was necessary to conciliate the stalwarts.

The democrats were at sea. Tilden was not available because of a certain suspicion that he did not quite clear his name from suspicion in connection with the former election, because he had avowed opposition of Kelly, the leader of Tammany, and because he had recently experienced a physical collapse which rendered it improbable that he could fulfill the duties of president if elected. Several smaller men were spoken of but none seemed so promising as General W. S. Hancock, a brave and handsome soldier, but as inexperienced in politics as Grant before 1868. He was nominated with W. H. English, of Indiana, for vice-president. The green backers nominated James B. Weaver, of Iowa, and the prohibitionists Neal Dow, of Maine.

The campaign was full of personalities. Garfield was charged with participation in the Credit Mobilier scandal but showed that the charge was unjust. Other moral obliquities were alleged against one candidate or the other. The democrats were arraigned for their policy of intimidation in the South. Probably the prosperity of the country was the most important argument on either side. It made for the republicans, who had 214 electoral votes to 155 for their opponents. A plurality of less than 10,000 in the popular vote showed that the election was really very close. The republicans also carried the house of representatives, where they had 150 members to 131 democrats and 12 green backers. In the senate they had 37, the democrats a like number, and the balance was held by two independents, Davis, of Illinois, and Mahone, of Virginia.

In the election of 1880 Hayes took no part. He was out of step with his party, and awaited retirement with a quiet dignity which brought him much sympathy. His successor would have a better party following, but it was pleasant to reflect that he would not abandon the reforms for which Hayes steadily contended. The administration just closing was, in fact, an important period in which politics shifted from an old to a new basis. It marked the end of reconstruction and the beginning of an era in which the people showed a determination to control their own rulers, to eliminate abuse, and to make democracy a greater reality. Had he been a more practical statesman the break with the past could not have been so sharp, and the keynote of the future would not have been so clearly sounded.

President Hayes gained much from the admirable bearing of his wife, who illustrated the highest qualities of American womanhood. Grant's free and easy ways introduced into the White House something of the atmosphere of the camp. Mrs. Hayes's sense of purity and simple comfort made it as clean as a New England manse. She considered it her home rather than an official residence. The politicians in Washington were aghast when she decided not to serve wine at the president's table. Secretary Evarts refused to attend, and the usual diplomatic dinners were suspended. The Temperance Women of America showed their admiration by
placing her portrait in the executive mansion, and fair public opinion admired the manner in which she asserted her position in her own family.


Website: The History
Article Name: The Election of 1880
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: A Short History of the United States by John Spencer Bassett, Ph.D. The Macmillan Company 1913
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