CHAPTER VIII. THE OVERTURN OF 1884
The election of 1880 was memorable only for the type of politics with which that contest was so inextricably involved. The party leaders were second-rate men; the platforms, except for that of the Greenback party, were as lacking in definiteness as the most timid office-seeker could desire; in brief, it was a cross-section of American professional politics at its worst. The election of 1884 was a distinct, although not a complete contrast. It was not a campaign of platforms, but like the election of 1824 it was a battle of men. Two genuine leaders, each representing a distinct type of politics, contended for an opportunity to try out a philosophy of government in the executive chair. In 1880 the conventions were the chief interest - the campaign was dull. The campaign of 1884, on the other hand, was one of the most remarkable in our history.
It will be remembered that the year 1882 had been characterized by political upheavals. In Pennsylvania the Greenbackers had demanded that currency be issued only by the central government - not by the national banks - and that measures be taken to curb monopolies; the independent Republicans had revolted against Cameron, and demanded civil service reform and the overthrow of bossism; and the Democrats had elected a governor of the reformer type, Robert E. Pattison. Massachusetts Republicans had gasped the day after the election to find that "Ben" Butler, who bore a questionable reputation as a politician, as a soldier and as a man, had been elected by a combination of Greenbackers and Democrats on a reform program. In New York the Democrats had taken advantage of a factional quarrel among their opponents to elect as governor a man who had achieved a reputation as a reformer - Grover Cleveland. That some of the states which had been Democratic in 1882, had become Republican again in 1883 illustrates the unstable character of the politics of the time.
The beginning of the convention season of 1884 gave hint of the vigorous campaign ahead. An Anti-Monopoly party nominated Benjamin F. Butler, who was also supported by the Greenbackers. The Prohibitionists presented a ticket headed by John P. St. John. The action of the Republican convention, which met at Chicago on June 3, proved to be the turning point in the campaign. President Arthur was frankly a candidate for another term, but he did not have the united support of the professional politicians and was distrusted by most of the reform element. Nor had his veto of the Chinese immigration bill and the rivers and harbors act tended to increase his popularity. Most enthusiastic, confident and vociferous were the supporters of James G. Blaine, of Maine. The independent element hoped to nominate Senator Edmunds, of Vermont, and was particularly disturbed at the character of the workers for the "Man from Maine." His campaign manager, Stephen B. Elkins, had been charged with a discreditable connection with the star-route scandals; men of the Platt type were urging that it was now Blaine's "turn"; and Powell Clayton, an Arkansas carpet-bagger of ill-repute, was the Blaine candidate for the position of temporary chairman of the convention.
Before a candidate was chosen the delegates turned to the adoption of the platform. This was of the usual type but was an advance over that of 1880 in several respects. It committed the party to a protective tariff and advocated an interstate commerce law and the extension of civil service reform.
The balloting for candidates proved that Blaine was clearly the choice of the convention. The mere mention of his name threw the delegates into storms of applause and even on the first ballot he received votes from every state in the union save five. On the fourth ballot he received an overwhelming majority and became the nominee. John A. Logan of Illinois, a prominent politician and soldier, was nominated for the Vice-Presidency - a tail to the ticket, in the opinion of the Democrats, which was designed to "Wag Invitation to the Soldier Vote." The choice of Blaine was variously received by the different factions in the convention. The Pacific coast delegates, in a special train, went from Chicago to Augusta, Maine, before starting for home, in order personally to pledge their support to the candidate. On the other hand, Theodore Roosevelt disgustedly remarked that he was going to a cattle-ranch in the West to stay he knew not how long. George William Curtis sadly declared that he had been present at the birth of the Republican party and feared that he was to be a witness of its death. Other reformers were no less disaffected.
The outspoken Republican opposition to Blaine gave infinite aid and comfort to the Democrats whose convention, coming a month later, could take advantage of the growing schism in the opposition. During the interval between the two conventions the growing sentiment in favor of the nomination of Grover Cleveland received the additional impetus of independent Republican support. The Democratic party was still an object of suspicion to them, but they were ready to run the risks of even a Democratic administration, if a leader of proved integrity should be nominated, and Cleveland seemed to them to meet the demands of the times. The first work of the convention, which met in Chicago on July 8, was the adoption of a reform platform. Characterizing the opposition party as a "reminiscence," it condemned Republican misrule, and promised reform; it proposed a revision of the tariff that would be fair to all interests, and reductions which would promote industry, do no harm to labor and raise sufficient revenue; and it briefly advocated "honest" civil service reform.