With advances in use of the telegraph and the driving of the last spike in the Trans Continental Railroad at Promontory Summit Utah the world between the end of the Civil War and the election of 1872 grew a bit smaller.
News began traveling faster and unlike the first days of the new nation, most eligible voters did not personally know the candidates. What they did know was based upon their reputations and those reputations were much more likely to be developed by the newspapers of the day than the candidates themselves.
One such newspaper of note was the New York Tribune. Started by Horace Greely it was the dominant paper of the Whig party and later the Republicans. Its editorial opinions are credited with shaping much public opinion from about 1841 through the 1860’s.
In those days newsmen did not pretend to be “non-partisan.” Newspapers competed with each other by serving as the source of publicizing various political viewpoints. They very often had names which clearly reflected where they stood. Freedom of the press in those days meant very clearly, the freedom to use a printing press and people understood that.
In 1872 the Republican Party split again. This time a branch of the party calling itself “Liberal Republicans” met in convention in Cincinnati. There they nominated newspaper man Horace Greely as their choice for president.
The Liberal Republicans demanded strict adherence to the Reconstruction Amendments to the Constitution, advocated for an end to racial hatred, called for an end to the patronage system of government which they called “corrupt” and demanded the return of specie payment, that is, the ability of people to be able to redeem paper money at banks for metal (gold and silver), which had been suspended during the war.
Grant won the election but before the electoral votes could be counted, Greely died. It was the last election until well into the 20th century before some southern states ever voted republican again.
Henceforth the democrats pretty much controlled the south and four years later in 1876 in a bitter battle over the presidency, the Democrat Samuel Tilden came within a couple dozen electoral votes of defeating Republican Rutherford B. Hayes.
Hayes and Tilden battled over the actual outcome with bitter accusations flying back and forth. It was an early example of the kind of battle we witnessed between George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000. Eventually the two camps reached a compromise.
The Democrats would accept Hayes as president on one condition. All federal troops had to be withdrawn from the South, effectively ending Reconstruction and turning the south over to Democrat control. Tilden had won a true majority of the popular vote (more than 50%) and is the only candidate in history to have accomplished this and still not have been elected by the electors.
The demand for the withdrawal of troops, the popular vote victory of the Democrat and the willingness of the Republicans to compromise emboldened Democrats in Dixie and restored their political clout in the post war era.
Hayes abided by his campaign pledge and did not seek a second term. In 1880 the Republicans nominated Ohioan James Garfield. But not easily.
Grant had decided to seek a third term. There were four people in total whose names were placed in nomination at the convention. Garfield was not one of them. Instead he gave an inspiring speech in support of John Sherman, brother of William Tecumseh Sherman. After 35 ballots, and no nominee, Garfield suddenly appeared to the convention delegates as a suitable compromise candidate. He received the nomination on the 36th ballot (the most in GOP convention history) and won the presidency against Winfield Scott, the Democrat, later that year.
But his term of office would not last. Two hundred days later he became the second US president to be assassinated in office. He was succeeded by Chester A. Arthur.
This was the end of the line for republican presidents after Lincoln and in the next article we will discuss how the Democrats came to power in 1884 in the middle of a rise in the number of political parties which divided the nation, this time not over geography and slavery, but over issues and ideology.
Marcus Carey is a Northern Kentucky lawyer with 32 years experience. He is also a farmer, talk radio host and public speaker who loves history and politics. He is a prolific and accomplished writer whose blog, BluegrassBulletin.com is “dedicated to honest and respectful comment on the political and cultural issues of our time.” He writes a regular commentary for KyForward.