CHAPTER VIII. THE OVERTURN OF 1884
Early returns on election night indicated that the Democrats had carried the South and all the doubtful states, with the possible exception of New York. There the result was so close that some days elapsed before a final decision could be made. Excitement was intense; and business almost stopped, so absorbed were people in the returns. At length it was officially decided that Cleveland had received 1,149 more votes than Blaine and by this narrow margin the Democrats carried New York, and with it the election.
Contemporary explanations of Blaine's defeat were indicated by a transparency carried in a Democratic procession which celebrated the victory:
The World Says the Independents Did It
The Tribune Says the Stalwarts Did It
The Sun Says Burchard Did It
Blaine Says St. John Did It
Theodore Roosevelt Says It Was the Soft Soap Dinner
We Say Blaine's Character Did It
But We Don't Care What Did It
None of these explanations took into account the strength of Cleveland, but the closeness of the result made all of them important. From the vantage ground of later times, however, it could be seen that greater forces were at work. By 1884 the day had passed when political contests could be won on Civil War issues. The younger voters had no recollections of Gettysburg and felt no animosity toward the Democratic South. Moreover, Cleveland's success was the culmination of a long-continued demand for reform, which he satisfied better than Blaine.
The opening of the first Democratic administration since Buchanan's time excited great interest in every detail of Cleveland's activities and characteristics. Moreover, many who had voted for him distrusted his party and were apprehensive lest it turn out that a mistake had been made in placing such great confidence in one man. The more stiffly partisan Republicans firmly believed that Democratic success meant a triumphant South, with the "rebels" again in the saddle. Sherman declared that Cleveland's choice of southern advisors was a "reproach to the civilization of the age," and Joseph B. Foraker, speaking in an Ohio campaign, found that the people wished to hear Cleveland "flayed" and wanted plenty of "hot stuff."
The President's early acts indicated that the partisans were unduly disturbed. His inaugural address was characterized by straightforward earnestness. The exploitation of western lands by fraudulent claimants was sharply halted. The cabinet, while inexperienced, contained several able men, of whom Thomas F. Bayard, Secretary of State, William C. Whitney, Secretary of the Navy, and L.Q.C. Lamar, the Secretary of the Interior, were best known.
The first great obstacle that Cleveland faced was well portrayed by one of Nast's cartoons, in which the President, with an "Independent" club in his hand, was approaching a snarling, open-jawed tiger, which represented the office-seeking classes. The drawing was entitled "Beware! For He is Very Hungry and Very Thirsty." It was not difficult to foresee grave trouble ahead in connection with the civil service. The Democrats had been out of power for twenty-four years, the offices were full of Republicans, about 100,000 positions were at the disposal of the administration, and current political practice looked with indifference upon the use of these places as rewards for party work. Hordes of office-seekers descended upon congressmen, in order to get introductions to department chiefs; they filled the waiting rooms of cabinet officers; they besieged Cleveland. Disappointed applicants and displaced officers added to the clamor and confusion.
The President's policy, as it worked out in practice, was a compromise between his ideals and the wishes of the party leaders. He earnestly approved the Pendleton act and desired to carry out both its letter and its spirit. He removed office holders who were offensively partisan and who used their positions for political purposes. He gave the South a larger share in the activities of the government, both in the cabinet and in the diplomatic and other branches of the service. When the term of a Republican office holder expired he filled the place with a fit Democrat, if one could be found, in order to equalize the share of the two parties in the patronage. Nearly half of the diplomatic and consular appointments went to southerners, and eventually most of the Republicans were supplanted.