The nomination of Mr. Blaine produced an indescribable sensation throughout the length and breadth of the United States. No American statesman had ever had more ardent and intensely loyal friends than he, as none had ever had more virulent and bitter enemies. The former hailed his candidacy with intense enthusiasm; the latter began at once moving heaven and earth to compass his defeat.
Mr. Blaine had already enjoyed a remarkable career. Born in Pennsylvania of Scotch-Irish parentage, he had been by turns a teacher and an editor, having taken up in 1854 his residence in Maine. In 1858 he had entered the State Legislature, where for two years he served as Speaker. In 1862 he was sent to Congress, and at once made his mark by his readiness in debate, his quick grasp upon political principles, and his exceptional fertility in resource. He had the impetuosity of the Celt and the clear reasoning brain of the Anglo-Saxon, besides that indescribable quality which, for want of a better name, is known as magnetism. His personal charm was indeed remarkable, and it was to this as much as to his other gifts that he owed the extraordinary devotion of his followers and friends. Early in his political life he had been compared to Henry Clay, to whose career his own was to exhibit a striking parallel. At first he was better known to his associates in Congress than to the country as a whole; but when, in 1869, he was elected Speaker of the House, he rose at once to the rank of a great party leader.
But the fierce white light which beats upon a throne is no more fierce than that which beats upon a Presidential aspirant. It was turned at once upon Mr. Blaine's whole past career. Every incident and every act of his were now subjected to minute investigation by his enemies and rivals. A dozen stories grew until they filled the minds of every one about him. It was said that Mr. Blaine had pledged a number of worthless railroad bonds to the Union Pacific Railway Company in return for a loan of $64,000 which had never been repaid. It was also charged that without consideration he had received bonds of the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad. . . .
These reports obtained so widespread a currency that Mr. Blaine was forced to rise in his place and bring the matter to the attention of the House. He read a letter from the treasurer of the Union Pacific and from Colonel Thomas A. Scott, the president of that railway, denying the story of the worthless bonds. He read another letter from Morton, Bliss & Company, who were alleged to have cashed the draft for $64,000, mentioned in the story, but who now declared that no such draft had been presented to them. Mr. Blaine went on to say that he had never owned the Little Rock and Fort Smith bonds which he was said to have received without any consideration. Apparently his name was cleared.
The time for the National Republican Convention was drawing near. Many States had already instructed their delegates to support his candidacy. That he should be the subject of an investigation for corrupt transactions while his name was before the convention would be fatal to his chances; and he desired above all things to stave it off. Nevertheless, the House, which was strongly Democratic, ordered its Judiciary Committee to make such an investigation, tho in the resolution ordering it, Mr. Blaine was not specifically named. This was on May 2d; and at the first sessions of the committee the evidence was corroborative of Mr. Blaine's assertions.
On May 31st there was brought before the committee a man named James Mulligan. Mulligan had at one time been a clerk for Mr. Jacob Stanwood (the brother of Mrs. Blaine), and later a bookkeeper for Warren Fisher, Jr., a business man of Boston, who had had close relations with the management of the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad. While Mr. Mulligan was testifying, he chanced to mention very quietly that he had in his possession certain letters written by Mr. Blaine to Warren Fisher, Jr. Mr. Blaine asked a friend on the committee to move an immediate adjournment. The committee rose, to meet again the following morning. When it so met it listened to a most extraordinary story.
During the brief respite given by the adjournment of the committee, Mr. Blaine had flashed his mind over all the possibilities of the situation. He knew that Mulligan had letters, which, if made public by Mulligan himself, would be interpreted by every one in a sense extremely unfavorable to Mr. Blaine. He knew that these letters would surely be asked for by the committee so soon as it should reconvene in the morning. To prevent this and to gain time he must act at once. He therefore went to the Riggs House, where Mulligan was staying, and met Mulligan, Fisher, and one Atkins. There he first asked to see the letters which Mulligan had with him. . . .
On June 5th, Mr. Blaine rose in the House of Representatives and claimed the floor on a question of privilege. Throughout this animated and even fiery justification of his right, the crowded House had listened in breathless silence, and with a tension of feeling which could almost be felt. There was abundant sympathy with Mr. Blaine. Even his adversaries were sorry for him. He seemed like a man driven into a corner and fighting for his very life. After a brief pause, Mr. Blaine dealt a master-stroke which he had planned with consummate art, and which he now delivered with a dramatic power that was thrilling. Raising his voice and holding up a packet, he went on:
"I am not afraid to show the letters. Thank God Almighty, I am not afraid to show them! There they are. There is the very original package. And, with some sense of humiliation, with a mortification that I do not pretend to conceal, with a sense of outrage which I think any man in my position would feel, I invite the confidence of forty-four millions of my countrymen while I read those letters from this desk."
The tension was broken. The whole assembly burst out into frantic and prolonged applause. Then Mr. Blaine read the letters, one by one, with comments and explanations of his own. Having done so, he faced one of the Democratic members of the committee, Mr. Proctor Knott, and in the course of a rapid dialogue brought out the fact that Mr. Knott had received a cablegram from a Mr. Caldwell, whose knowledge of the whole affair was very intimate, and that Mr. Knott had apparently supprest it. The scene at the end of this exciting parliamentary duel baffled all description. The House went mad; and for fifteen minutes there reigned a pandemonium amid which the Speaker was helpless in his efforts to restore even a semblance of order. Mr. Blaine, for the moment, had won a brilliant triumph. He had restored and strengthened the faith of all his followers and had turned apparently inevitable disaster into victory. . . .
The famous Mulligan letters sufficed to prevent Mr. Blaine's nomination for the Presidency in 1876 and 1880, and now, in 1884, from the outset of his candidacy, were printed and scattered broadcast over the country by his political opponents. . . .
The Democratic candidate against whom Mr. Blaine had now to make his fight was a man of a wholly antithetical type. Mr. Cleveland was in no respect a brilliant man. The son of a clergyman, and early left to make his own way in the world, he had, like his rival, been a teacher, and had later taken up the practise of the law in Buffalo. There he had held some minor public offices. In 1863 he was Assistant District-Attorney for the county, and from 1870 to 1873 he had served as Sheriff. He first attracted attention outside of his own city when, in 1881, he was elected Mayor of Buffalo by a combination of Democrats and independents. In this office he instituted reforms and defeated various corrupt combinations, while his liberal use of the veto power maintained a wise economy. In 1882 he had received the Democratic nomination for the governorship of New York, and had been elected by the remarkable plurality of 192,000 votes.
Mr. Cleveland was a type of man such as had not before come to the front as a Presidential possibility. He represented the practical, everyday, usual citizen of moderate means, and no very marked ambitionsa combination of the business man and the unimportant professional person, blunt, hardheaded, brusque, and unimaginative, and with a readiness to take a hand in whatever might be going on. His education was of the simplest, his general information presumably not very large; and his interest in life was almost wholly bounded by the limits of his own locality. As a practising lawyer he was well thought of; yet his reputation had not gone much beyond the local circuit. A bachelor, he had no need of a large income. His spare time was spent with companions of his own tastes. His ideal of recreation was satisfied by a quiet game of pinochle in the back-room of a respectable beer-garden; and perhaps this circumstance in itself is sufficient to give a fair notion of his general environment. He was, indeed, emphatically a man's manhomo inter hominescareless of mere forms, blunt of speech, and somewhat primitive in his tastes.
But he had all the virile attributes of a Puritan ancestry. His will was inflexible. His force of character was extraordinary. He hated shams, believed that a thing was either right or wrong, and when he had made up his mind to any course of action, he carried it through without so much as a moment's wavering. So great was the confidence which his character inspired, that when a committee of the independent voters of Buffalo called upon him for the purpose of urging him to stand for the mayoralty, they asked him for no written pledges, but accepted his simple statement as an adequate guarantee. "Cleveland says that if elected he will do so-and-so," they told the people. And the people elected him, because they knew his word to be inviolable.
As Governor, Mr. Cleveland entered upon a wider field and one that must have seemed at first a place of limitless exactions. But his lack of imagination stood him in good stead. He bent his back to the burden and did each day's work as it came. A stranger to large responsibilities, and retaining much of the narrowness of the provincial business man, he viewed all questions as equally important, attending personally to all his correspondence, looking for himself into every item and detail of executive business, and giving hours of time each day to minutia which the merest clerk could have cared for with quite as much efficiency. This, however, was only one manifestation of the conscientiousness that showed itself far more commendably in higher matters. The rough, blunt independence of the man made him indifferent to the insidious influences that rise like a malarial mist about the possessor of high political office.
Subleties of suggestion were lost on this brusque novice, and anything more pointed than suggestion roused in him a cross-grained spirit that brooked no guidance or control. He forged ahead in his own way with a sort of bull-necked stubbornness, but with a power and energy which smoother politicians were compelled to recognize as very real. He cared nothing for popularity. He vetoed a bill requiring the street railways to reduce their fares, thereby offending thousands. He followed it up by a veto of another bill which granted public money to sectarian schools; and in consequence he estranged great masses of his Catholic supporters. He defied the Tammany leaders in the Legislature, and made still more powerful enemies. . . . In the end, his record as Governor of New York secured for him the nomination for the Presidency. Against the brilliant, subtle, and magnetic Blaine was pitted the plodding, incorruptible, courageous Cleveland.
The campaign opened immediately after the two candidates had been nominated. Those Republicans who were opposed to Mr. Blaine formed an organization at a conference held in New York on July 22d, and prepared an address which was issued on the 30th by the so-called National Committee of Republicans and independents, of which George William Curtis was the chairman, and George Walton Green the secretary. At once the movement assumed formidable proportions, and it was seen that thousands of Republicans were rallying to Cleveland, not because they had given up their party, but because they could not tolerate their party's candidate. Among them were men who had been identified with the Republican party from its earliest yearsHenry Ward Beecher, William Everett, George Ticknor Curtis, Carl Schurz, and James Freeman Clarke. These Independents received the popular name of "Mugwumps," a word which, having been first employed in a semi-political sense by the Indianapolis Sentinel in 1872, gained its popular currency through the New York Sun, which began using it on March 23, 1884. These "Mugwumps," or political purists, had been described by Mr. Blaine four years earlier in a letter to General Garfield, in which he said: "They are noisy but not numerous; pharisaical but not practical; ambitious but not wise; pretentious but not powerful." This sentence was extremely charcteristic of the man who wrote it. . . .
As the campaign proceeded, its tone became almost frantic. Those who clung loyally to Mr. Blaine did so with a passionate intensity that made them quite incapable of reasoning. The attacks on Mr. Cleveland had filled his followers with bitterest resentment. . . .
Political discussion, indeed, rapidly degenerated into personal abuse. Even the cartoonists of the different parties showed none of the humor which is usually to be found in the pictorial history of a campaign. Some of the caricatures were frightful in their malignity. . . .
Late in October it became evident that the vote of New York would decide the result of the election; and both parties concentrated upon that State their intensest energies. Mr. Cleveland as Governor had, as already described, offended the labor vote, the Roman Catholics, and Tammany Hallthree immensely powerful elements. Mr. Blaine, on the other hand, because of his Irish descent, his Catholic mother, and his profest sympathies with the cause of Ireland and the so-called Irish "patriots," was strong precisely where Cleveland was known to be most vulnerable. Yet in New York Mr. Blaine had made one venomous and implacable enemy. This was Roscoe Conkling, with whom, so far back as 1866, there had been established something like a personal feud. The two men had always been temperamentally antipathetic. Conkling was overbearing, proud of his personal appearance, and bore himself with a swagger which imprest the galleries of the House, but which was offensive even to many of his own party associates. . . .
It was Conkling who aided in preventing Blaine's nomination in 1876 and in 1880. It was Blaine, who, as Garfield's Secretary of State, urged the President to defy the New York Senator and indirectly to secure his retirement into private life. Now it was Conkling's turn again, and he meant to feed his resentment to the full. His power in New York was great, and the Republican managers could do nothing with him.
Blaine, therefore, took the stump himself and went about speaking to great crowds, and endeavoring to win them by that eloquence and charm of manner which had made him famous. He was, however, no longer the indomitable political gladiator of past years. The strain of the conflict had told on him severely. Tho he let it be known to few, he was acutely sensitive to the attacks that were made upon him so unscrupulously and often so brutally. He suffered even when he seemed externally serene. Moreover, his fellow candidate General Logan, was not at all the associate whom Mr. Blaine would personally have chosen. Logan represented the opposing or "Stalwart" faction of the Republican party, and was in sympathy with Conkling and his friends. . . .
Mr. Blaine had also well-nigh reached the point of physical exhaustion. His health was already undermined. His vitality was failing. As he was dragged about from place to place, stared at by mobs, having always to appear affable and interested while haunted by a premonition of disaster, he almost experienced physical collapse. The acuteness of his mind must like-wise have been somewhat dulled; for when, on October 29th, a few days before the election, he received at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York City a number of clergymen, he failed to notice a remark of one of them who made a brief address. This clergyman was the Rev. Dr. Samuel D. Burchard, who closed his speech with the sentence: "We are Republicans, and we do not propose to leave our party and identify ourselves with the party of Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion!"
These last words, so blazingly indiscreet when publicly addrest to a candidate who hoped to carry the pivotal State of New York by the aid of Catholic voters, were heard by Mr. Blaine, but their significance was not instantly appreciated. As he afterward told his friends in private conversation, he was at the moment preoccupied in thinking over the answer which he was to make. He therefore took no notice of Dr. Burchard's peroration, tho it must have been personally offensive to him as the son of a Catholic mother. He had, besides, himself just returned from visiting his sister, who was the Mother Superior of a convent in Indiana.
Yet it was only after the delegation had withdrawn that he fully realized the serious blunder that he had made. He took immediate steps to suppress the word "Romanism" in the reports that were to appear in friendly newspapers. But it was too late. The Horatian maxim, Volat irrevocabile verbum, was to find a striking illustration of its truth. In less than twenty-four hours every Democratic paper in the country had spread before its readers the Burchard alliteration. Every Catholic voter in the State had read it upon hand-bills, and had been told that Mr. Blaine had allowed a slur upon his own mother's faith to pass unrebuked. . . .
Still, the result seemed doubtful. Tammany Hall had not yet been won over. Its leader was John Kelly, a rough and ready politician, but an honest man, according to his lights. He had opposed Mr. Cleveland's nomination, pronouncing him no Democrat, and declaring that if elected he would prove a traitor to the party. Kelly held in his control the vote of Tammany Hall; and, as a last resort, Mr. Hendricks was summoned from Indiana to exert his influence. He made the journey of a thousand miles and conferred with Kelly until a late hour of the night. Hendricks was a party man of the straitest type, an old-time Democrat of the Middle West. He carried his point, and Kelly promised that for Hendricks's sake the Tammany vote should be cast for the party ticket.
Then came the day of the election on November 4th. Early on the following morning it was known that Cleveland had carried all the Southern States, besides New Jersey, Connecticut, and Indiana. New York was still in doubt, but it seemed to have gone Democratic. The New York Sun, which had supported the farcical Greenback candidacy of General B. F. Butler, and which was bitterly opposed to Cleveland, conceded his election. The Tribune, on the other hand, kept its flag still flying, and declared that Blaine had won. It was evident that the result depended upon a few hundred votes in the outlying counties of New York. A very ugly feeling was manifested among the Democrats. They suspected that a plot was on foot to cheat them of their rights and to repeat the discreditable history of 1876. . . .
Mobs filled the streets in the vicinity of the newspaper offices, watching intently every bulletin that was posted, and from time to time breaking out into savage cheers or groans. Violence was attempted in several cities, and bodies of men marched up and down as they had done at the outbreak of the Civil War. The excitement was most intense in the city of New York, where it was believed that Jay Gould, who controlled the Western Union Telegraph Company, was leagued with the more unscrupulous of the Republican managers to tamper with the delayed returns. An angry mob marched to the Western Union Building with shouts of "Hang Jay Gould!" Gould besought police protection; and then from some inner hiding-place he dispatched a telegram to Mr. Cleveland, conceding his election and effusively congratulating him upon it.
On the evening of the 18th of November, the official count was ended; and then the country knew that a plurality of 1,149 votes in the State of New York had given the Presidency to Mr. Cleveland. On that same night, Mr. Blaine appeared at the door of his house in Augusta, Maine, and said to a somber, sullen crowd which had assembled there: "Friends and neighbors, the national contest is over, and by the narrowest of margins we have lost."
The election of Mr. Cleveland marks an epoch in our national history, the importance of which can only now be fully understood It meant that, with the exception of the negro question, the issues springing from the Civil War had been definitely settled. It meant the beginning of a true reunion of all States and sections. It meant that the nation had turned its back upon the past, and was about to move forward with confidence and courage to a future of material prosperity, and to a greatness of which no one at that time could form an adequate conception. And it meant, altho none then surmised it, that, as a result of new conditions, there was ultimately to be effected a momentous change in the whole social and political structure of the American Republic.
1 From Peck's "Twenty Years of the Republic," (1885-1905). By permission of the publishers, Dodd, Mead & Company. Copyright, 1906.