CHAPTER XII. DEMOCRATIC DEMORALIZATION

In view of the fact that Harrison had been successful in 1888 and that Cleveland had been the most able Democratic leader since the Civil War, it seemed natural that their parties should renominate them in 1892. Yet the men at the oars in the Republican organization were far from enthusiastic over their leader. It is probable that Harrison did not like the role of dispenser of patronage and that he indicated the fact in dealing with his party associates; at any rate, he estranged such powerful leaders as Platt, Quay and Reed by his neglect of them in disposing of appointments. The reformers were no better satisfied; much had been expected of him because his party had taken so definite a stand in 1888, and when his choice of subordinates failed to meet expectations, the scorn of the Independents found forceful vent. Among the rank and file of his party, Harrison had aroused respect but no great enthusiasm.

The friends of Blaine were still numerous and active, and they wished to see their favorite in the executive chair. Perhaps Blaine felt that there would be some impropriety in his becoming an active candidate against his chief, while remaining at his post as Secretary of State; at any rate he notified the chairman of the National Republican Committee, early in 1892, that he was not a candidate for the nomination. The demand for him, nevertheless, continued and relations between him and Harrison seem to have become strained. Senator Cullom, writing nearly twenty years afterward, related a conversation which he had had with Harrison at the time. In substance, according to the senator, the President declared that he had been doing the work of the Department of State himself for a year or more, and that Blaine had given out reports of what was being done and had taken the credit himself. Cullom's recollection seems to have been accurate, at least as far as relations between the two men were concerned, for three days before the meeting of the Republican nominating convention Blaine sent a curt note to the President resigning his office without giving any reason, and asking that his withdrawal take effect immediately. The President's reply accepting the resignation was equally cool and uninforming. If Blaine expected to take any steps to gain the nomination, the available time was far too short. That the act would be interpreted as hostile to the interests of Harrison, however, admitted of no doubt, and it therefore seems probable that Blaine had changed his mind at a late day and really hoped that the party might choose him.[1]

Despite Blaine's apparent change of purpose, it seemed necessary to renominate Harrison in order to avoid the appearance of discrediting his administration, and on the first ballot Harrison received 535 votes to Blaine's 183 and was nominated. The only approach to excitement was over the currency plank in the platform. Western delegates demanded the free coinage of silver, which the East opposed. The plank adopted declared that

    The Republican party demands the use of both gold and silver as 
    standard money, with such restrictions and under such provisions, 
    to be determined by legislation, as will secure the maintenance of 
    the parity of values of the two metals.

It was a meaningless compromise, but it seems to have satisfied both sides.

Cleveland, during the Harrison administration, had been an object of much interest and not a little speculation. After seeing President Harrison safely installed in office, he went to New York city where he engaged in the practice of law. He himself thought that he was retiring permanently and not a few enemies were quite willing that this should be the case. The eminent Democratic editor, Henry Watterson, remarked that Cleveland in New York was like a stone thrown into a river, "There is a 'plunk,' a splash, and then silence.". He was constantly invited, nevertheless, to address public assemblies, which provided ample opportunity for him to express his thoughts to the country. Moreover, the McKinley Act of 1890 and the political reversal which followed brought renewed attention to the tariff message of 1887 and to its author. In February, 1891, Cleveland was asked to address a meeting of New York business men which had been called by the Reform Club to express opposition to the free coinage of silver. The question of the increased use of silver as a circulating medium, as has been seen, was a controverted one; neither party was prepared to take a definite stand, and, indeed, division of opinion had taken place on sectional rather than partisan lines. While the subject was in this unsettled condition Cleveland received his invitation to the Reform Club, and was urged by some of his advisors not to endanger his chances of renomination by taking sides on the issue. The counsel had no more effect than similar advice had produced in 1887 when the tariff was in the same unsettled condition. Although unable to attend, Cleveland wrote a letter in which he characterized the experiment of free coinage as "dangerous and reckless." Whether right or wrong, he was definite; people who could not understand the intricacies of currency standards and the arguments of the experts understood exactly what Cleveland meant. Little doubt now existed but that the name of the ex-president would be a powerful one before the nominating convention, for he would have the populous East with him on the currency issue - unless David B. Hill should upset expectations.