The Election of 1884


The election year of 1884 found the republicans divided. Arthur's success as president gave him a claim, and persons who disliked some of the party tendencies favored him as a safe and respectable man without special defects. A larger portion of the party supported Blaine. He was always a strong leader, and the retirement of Conkling gave him an opportunity to unite the New York republicans in his support. He did it through the aid of Platt, who remarked with unexpected coyness that it was now Blaine's turn. There was, also a group of reformers who supported Edmunds, of Vermont. Besides these, Logan, Sherman, and Hawley were "favorite sons" respectively of Illinois, Ohio, and Connecticut, each with a small following. The convention assembled at Chicago, June 3, 1884; and the air was tense with feeling in behalf of Blaine. It was evident that other candidates would have to fight hard for victory. On the first ballot he led with 334 1/2 votes to 278 for Arthur, 93 for Edmunds, and 112 1/3 scattering. On the second, Blaine gained, chiefly at the expense of the reformers ; on the third he continued the progress, and on the fourth he was nominated. John A. Logan was made the candidate for the vice-presidency. The result was received harmoniously by all the factions, except the reformers, who, however, were not strong enough to make serious trouble at Chicago. Their supporters were less pacific, and took steps to oppose the nominee at the polls.

The eyes of the democrats were drawn, in the meantime, to a figure which had recently appeared above their horizon. Grover Cleveland, elected mayor of Buffalo in 1881, and governor of New York by a plurality of 192,000 in 1882, seemed their most promising man. On the other hand, he was not popular with his party. He was new to the service, downright in his honesty, impartial, opposed to ordinary methods of party organizations, and too blunt to be liked by the politicians. Tammany, the most important organization within the party in New York, had strong intuitions against him. With some difficulty its leader, John Kelly, was brought to favor his. nomination, but he lived to regret it. Cleveland's best card was the° probability that he could carry New York. The democratic tide showed recession in some elections in 1883, but it was likely that it would persist to a degree sufficient to decide the result nationally in 1884. It was also in Cleveland's favor that the independent republicans would largely favor him against Blaine. He was nominated on the second ballot, and Thomas A. Hendricks, of Indiana, was named for vice-president.

The campaign soon brought Blaine's record to the front. His name was associated with some of the irregular transactions of Grant's time, but he was not shown to be guilty. He was less lucky in regard to the "Mulligan Letters." In 1869 he sold to friends in Maine some bonds of the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad Company. It was a mushroom concern, and purchasers ordinarily got with their bonds equal amounts of preferred stock, common stock, and land bonds, four dollars in securities for each dollar of cash paid. In this case Blaine retained the land bonds himself. After a time the company fell into difficulties, the Maine purchasers began to repent their bargain, and Blaine feared lest the retention of the land bonds should become known and damage him politically. He exerted himself to the utmost and raised money enough to refund the purchase money, taking all the securities on his own hands. If these should fail, he would lose nearly all the property he had; and the market for them was bad. But he sold a large part of them to the Union Pacific and other railroad companies at prices considerably above the market.

When this was known people asked why should the Union Pacific, a company continually affected by legislation, pay Speaker Blaine more than Fort Smith stock was worth. So much was said that Blaine in April, 1876,when he was a candidate for the presidential nomination, demanded an investigation. The house appointed a committee which sat late in May. Before it came James Mulligan, a former clerk of the Boston business firm from whom Blaine got the stock, a firm with whom he had much correspondence. Mulligan told the committee he had some letters from Blaine to the Boston house, and was directed to produce them next day. This filled Elaine with dismay. He sought Mulligan at his hotel and saw the letters in the presence of a third party, finally getting permission to have them over night on the promise he would return them next day. In the morning he refused to give them up, claiming Mulligan had them wrongfully; nor would he submit them to the committee. News of this got abroad, and his opponents, democrats and republicans, presented it in as bad light as possible. Blaine could not stand the pressure, and resolved to meet the charge in a most dramatic manner. He appeared in the house as an injured man whose private affairs were pried into by democratic opponents, some of whom were Southerners. He denounced the trick they played on him, declared he had a right to withhold the letters, but announced he would read them of his own will to show how little wrongdoing was in them. Interlarded with his own comment, and with a wonderful personal mastery of the audience, the letters were made to appear harmless. He finished the scene with a master stroke of acting. He knew a cablegram in his favor had been received by the democratic chairman of the investigating committee. It had not been announced; and Blaine finished his speech by boldly walking down the aisle to the seat of the chairman and charging him with suppressing important evidence in behalf of the defendant. The chairman had no defense, quailed visibly, and the audience broke into an uproar of applause.

The enthusiasm of congress was transmitted to the press by the reporters, who were carried off their feet by the speech of Blaine, and the republicans throughout the country were satisfied. But Time brought reflection, and in the cold type of the Congressional Record the letters seemed to have something which was not explained. They probably prevented Blaine's nomination in 1876 and in 1880. The campaign of 1884 was hardly opened before these letters were brought out, and September 15 the papers contained other letters from Blaine to the same correspondent, not hitherto made public. Curtis, editor of Harper's Weekly, declared that they corroborated the first installment. As a whole, the Mulligan letters placed a blot on the name of a great man, which the defense uttered has not removed.

The campaign was noted for personalities. The republicans, writhing under the charges against their candidate, attacked the private reputation of Cleveland, charging him with grave sexual irregularities. The charge had some apparent foundation in his early life, but it was widely exaggerated and the offense was long since atoned for. An investigation showed how unfairly it was presented, and before this and before the frank attitude of Cleveland himself the matter was overlooked.

The reformers in the republican party were bitterly opposed to Blaine. At Chicago they supported Edmunds, giving him 93 votes on the first ballot and 41 on the last. Among them were Senator Hoar, W. W. Phelps, Andrew D. White, and two young men, Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge. As politicians they would not jeopardize their careers by repudiating the nomination, but there were other reformers unembarrassed with political expectations. Soon after the convention adjourned an address was issued by a committee of which George William Curtis was chairman, calling on independents to vote for Cleveland. It received vigorous response in many parts of the union. The public was impressed when it saw such men as Henry Ward Beecher, Carl Schurz, James Freeman Clarke, George William Curtis, and William Everett turning to the democratic party. The editor of the New York Sun, who had a keen dislike for reformers, dubbed them "Mugwumps," a word hitherto of doubtful meaning, probably of Indian origin. They had the support of several important newspapers and literary men.

As the canvass proceeded it was evident that New York would decide the battle. The state was filled with speakers, processions of various kinds addressed the candidates, and feeling was exceedingly warm. A small incident at the end of the campaign probably had much influence on the result. One of the addresses to Blaine was made by Rev. S. D. Burchard, a New York minister and a warm Blame supporter. He assured the candidate that he and his friends would not vote for the party of "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion." Blaine in reply did not notice the thrust at the Catholics, and the democratic press loudly charged him with insulting that important portion of the voters. He tried to explain, but it was too late. The vote proved so close that this might have been the turning point.

When the count was made it was seen that Cleveland had 219 electoral votes. They came from the Solid South, Delaware, Indiana, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York. Blaine had the rest, 182 electoral votes. In the popular vote the democratic plurality was only 23,000. In New York Cleveland had the lead by only 1149 votes. With such a narrow margin the issue in the state might have been determined by Dr. Burchard's remark, the opposition of the mugwumps, the hostility of the prohibitionists, or some slumbering Conkling defection. The Nation said: "The real force which defeated Blaine was Blaine himself. He had created during his twenty years of public life a public distrust too deep to be overcome by even the most formidable combination of political wiles, money, and treachery ever organized in this country."


Website: The History
Article Name: The Election of 1884
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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