CHAPTER XII. DEMOCRATIC DEMORALIZATION

Hill was an example of the shrewd politician. Like Platt, whom he resembled in many ways, he was absorbed in the machinery and organization of politics, rather than in issues and policies. Beginning in 1870, when he was but twenty-seven years of age, he had held public office almost continuously. In the state assembly, as Mayor of Elmira, as Lieutenant-Governor with Cleveland and later as Governor, he developed an unrivalled knowledge of New York as a political arena. In 1892 he was at the height of his power and the presidency seemed to be within his grasp. The methods which he used were typical of the man - the manipulation of the machinery of nomination.

The national Democratic nominating convention was called for June 21, but the New York state Democratic committee announced that the state convention for the choice of delegates would meet on February 22. So early a meeting, four months before the national convention, was unprecedented, and at once it became clear that a purpose lay behind the call. It was to procure the election of members to the state convention who would vote for Hill delegates to the nominating convention, before Cleveland's supporters could organize in opposition. Furthermore, it was expected that the action of New York would influence other states where sentiment for Cleveland was not strong. Hill's plan worked out as he had expected - at least in so far as the state convention was concerned - for delegates pledged to him were chosen. Cleveland's supporters, however, denounced the "snap convention" and a factional quarrel arose between the "snappers" and the "anti-snappers"; outside of New York it was so obvious that the snap convention was a mere political trick that the Hill cause was scarcely benefited by it. Delegates were chosen in other parts of the country who desired the nomination of Cleveland.

The convention met in Chicago on June 21 and proceeded at once to adopt a platform of principles. The silver plank was hardly distinguishable from that of the Republicans, except that it was enshrouded with a trifle more of ambiguity. The adoption of a tariff plank elicited considerable difference of opinion, but the final result was an extreme statement of Democratic belief. Instead of adopting the cautious position taken in 1884, the convention declared that the constitutional power of the federal government was limited to the collection of tariff duties for purposes of revenue only, and denounced the McKinley act as the "culminating atrocity of class legislation."

Although it was evident when the convention met, that the chances of Hill for the nomination were slight indeed, the battle was far from over. Hill was a "straight" party man, a fact which he reiterated again and again in his famous remark, "I am a Democrat." Cleveland was not strictly regular, a fact which Hill apparently intended to emphasize by constant reference to his own beliefs. The oratorical champion of the Hill delegation was Bourke Cockran, an able and appealing stump speaker. For two hours he urged that Cleveland could not carry the pivotal state, New York, and that it was folly to attempt to elect a man who was so handicapped. Eloquence, however, was of no avail. The first ballot showed that the Hill strength was practically confined to New York, and Cleveland was easily the party choice. For the vice-presidency Adlai E. Stevenson, a partisan of the old school, was chosen.

Among the smaller parties there appeared for the first time the "People's Party," later and better known as the "Populists." Their nominee was James B. Weaver, who had led the Greenbackers in 1880. Their platform emphasized the economic burdens under which the poorer classes were laboring and listed a series of extremely definite demands.

The campaign was a quiet one as both Cleveland and Harrison had been tried out before. So unenthusiastic were the usual political leaders that Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll declared that each party would like to beat the other without electing its own candidates. Although the financial issue was kept in the background, the tariff was fought out again somewhat as it had been in 1888. The New York Sun shed some asperity over the contest by calling the friends of Cleveland "the adorers of fat witted mediocrity," and the nominee himself as the "perpetual candidate" and the "stuffed prophet"; and then added a ray of humor by advocating the election of Cleveland. The adoption of the Australian ballot, before the election, in thirty-four states and territories constituted an important reform; thereafter it was impossible for "blocks of five" to march to the polls and deposit their ballots within the sight of the purchaser. The Homestead strike near Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, somewhat aided the Democrats. The Carnegie Steel Company, having reduced wages, precipitated a strike which was settled only through the use of the state militia. As the steel industry was highly protected by the tariff, it appeared that the wages of the laboring man were not so happily affected as Republican orators had been asserting.[2]