CHAPTER VII. THE POLITICS OF THE EARLY EIGHTIES
The Hayes administration was scarcely half over when the politicians began to look forward to the election of 1880. At the outset of his term, Hayes had advocated a single term for the executive and there was no widespread movement among the politicians to influence him to change his attitude. His enemies, indeed, had already turned to General Grant. There had been a third-term boom for the General during his second administration and he had indicated that he was not formidably opposed to further continuance in office. Suddenly, however, the anti-third-term feeling had risen to impressive proportions, whereupon the House of Representatives had adopted a resolution which characterized any departure from the two-term precedent as "unwise, unpatriotic, and fraught with peril to our free institutions." As the resolution passed by an overwhelming vote - 233-18 - nothing further was heard of a third-term boom.
The Hayes administration put a different complexion on the matter. The wheel-horses of the party were not enthusiastic over the President or his policies, and in their extremity they looked to Grant. The New York State Republican Convention, under control of Roscoe Conkling and his forces, instructed delegates to support the General as a candidate for the nomination and endeavored to forestall opposition to a third term. It declared that the objection to a third presidential term applied only to a third consecutive term and hence was inapplicable to the re-election of Grant. Grant, meanwhile, presented a spectacle that was at once humorous and pathetic. He had not expected, on leaving the presidency, to return to power again, had dropped consideration of the political future and had given himself up to the enjoyment of foreign travel. The royal reception accorded him wherever he went suggested to his political supporters that they utilize his popularity. It was foreseen that when he returned to America he would receive a tremendous ovation, on the wave of which he might be carried into office. He was flooded with advice and entreaties that he act in accordance with this plan. His family was eager to return to the position of social eminence which they had occupied, and pressure from them was incessant. At first he did nothing either to aid or to hinder the boom, then gave way to the pressure and at last became extremely anxious to obtain the coveted prize.
If the politicians did, in truth, desire a relaxation from the patronage standards of the Hayes regime, they did not make that the ostensible purpose of their campaign. They argued that the times demanded a strong man; that foreign travel had greatly broadened the General and given him a knowledge of other forms of government; that he had been great as a commander of armies, greater as a President, and that as a citizen of the Republic he "shone with a luster that challenged the admiration of the world." Behind him were Conkling and Platt, with the New York state organization under their control, Don Cameron who held Pennsylvania in his hand, General Logan, strong in Illinois, and lesser leaders who wielded much power in smaller states. Many business men were ready to lend their aid; the powerful Methodist Church, to which he belonged, was favorable to him; and, of course, his popularity as a military leader was unbounded. His return to the United States while the enthusiasm was at its height was the signal for an unprecedented ovation. The opponents of a third term painted in high colors the danger of a revival of the scandals of Grant's days in the presidential chair, formed "No Third Term" leagues, called an "Anti-Third-Term" convention and decried the danger of continuing a military man in civil office. The Nation scoffed at the educational effect of foreign travel on a man who was fifty-seven years of age and could understand the language in only one of the countries in which he travelled. A large fraction of the Republican press, in fact, was in opposition. "Anything to beat Grant" and "No third term" were their war-cries. Nor was there any lack of Republican candidates to oppose the Grant movement and to give promise of a lively nominating convention. Blaine's popularity was as widespread as ever. Those who feared the nomination of either Grant or Blaine favored Senator George F. Edmunds of Vermont or Secretary Sherman. Both of these men were of statesmanlike proportions, but Edmunds was never widely popular and Sherman was lacking in the arts of the politician - "the human icicle," T.C. Platt called him.
The Republican nominating convention of 1880 met in Chicago in a building described as "one of the most splendid barns" ever built. This convention is unusually worthy of study because it involved most of the elements which entered into American politics in the early eighties. It was long memorable as making a record for that form of enthusiasm which bursts into demonstrations. "Great applause," "loud laughter," "cheers" and "hisses long and furious" dot the newspaper accounts of its deliberations. The members "acted like so many Bedlamites," one of the delegates said. On one day the opening prayer was so unexpectedly short that there was applause and laughter. The keen contest for the nomination resulted in galleries packed with supporters of the several candidates, who cheered furiously as their favorite delegates appeared. As the galleries came down nearly to the level of the floor, the spectators were almost as much members of the convention as the delegates themselves. It was under such conditions, then, that the convention proceeded to the serious business of adopting principles and choosing a leader.