1892 Minneapolis Convention


read R. Craig Sautter Media Nation interview
(University of Massachusetts, Nieman Foundation at Harvard University and Boston Globe)

Minneapolis' First Republican National Convention©
By R. Craig Sautter

WHEN REPUBLICANS CONVENED their first national presidential convention in Minneapolis on June 7, 1892, it was the third time a major political party had gathered for such a purpose west of the Mississippi River. (In 1876, Democrats had nominated Samuel J. Tilden in St. Louis. In 1884, they returned to St. Louis to nominate Grover Cleveland.) That June day, Republican delegates and a throng of spectators assembled inside a specially designed Convention Hall housed within the mammoth Industrial Exposition Building, located at 1st Avenue S.E. and Main Street, with the objective of nominating a man who could unite a divided party and win the November election.

Normally, the choice would be obvious. With Benjamin Harrison, of Indiana, sitting in the White House as a Republican President, his re-nomination should have been a party formality. But every national convention is an opportunity for a political party to change course and redefine itself, and several state delegations and party leaders came to Minneapolis intent on dethroning Harrison. That made the 1892 assembly potentially more contentious than routine presidential re-nomination conventions.

In retrospect, a divided convention should have been no surprise, since politically the country had been in turmoil for decades. The post-Civil War United States was narrowly and bitterly divided, despite efforts to heal and unify the Nation. And it remained that way for thirty years, with every presidential election until William McKinley's second contest in 1900 determined by very small margins.

The most divisive string of federal elections began with the “Stolen Election of 1876.” Ohio's Republican Governor, Rutherford B. Hayes, was declared victor over New York Democrat Governor, Samuel Tilden, even though Tilden won the popular vote and initially led the Electoral College count. But Republicans in Washington who controlled the federal apparatus disputed the returns. A special 15-member electoral commission appointed by Congress, but ultimately weighted in Republican favor, took electoral votes away from Tilden. The commission found that “rifle clubs” had intimidated black voters in South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana, where Democrats controlled the polls. So it gave those electoral votes to the Republican. Hayes wasn't declared winner until four months after the November election was over. Angry debates in the halls of Congress continued until his March inauguration day. (Hayes detractors thereafter called him “Rutherfraud B. Hayes.”)

To try to sooth resentments, Hayes made the first presidential tour of the South. More significantly, he withdrew post-war federal Reconstruction troops who had been there since the war under what came to be called the “Compromise of 1877.” Those black citizens who were subsequently victimized by a reign of terror more likely portrayed Hayes agreement as the betrayal of 1877.

Before then, President Grant had used those troops to enforce Reconstruction laws in Southern States, temporarily disenfranchising many whites who had participated in the Rebellion while protecting new black citizens. The federal troops also fought pitched battles with the newly formed Ku Klux Klan to protect freed slaves from its outrages. Congress passed the Ku Klux Laws at Grant's urging. They were only partially successful. When northern troops finally retreated under the Hayes administration, Southern black voters were forcibly menaced and removed from the electoral rolls and civic life in those States. Segregationist Jim Crow laws were passed and open defiance of the 14th and 15th Amendments replaced Reconstruction reforms.

A “Solid Democratic South,” with no Republican opposition of any merit, became the new political status quo. White northerners didn't like it. White southerners didn't care what the Yankees thought. In 1884, this new political reality helped New York Governor Stephen Grover Cleveland win the presidential election. It was the first time the Democracy (as the Democrats then called themselves) gained the White House in 28 years. Then in 1888, Senator Benjamin Harrison won back the presidency for Republicans, beating Cleveland.

Until the election of 1884 when Cleveland pulled his upset, Republicans had been victorious in every national election since 1860. After the Civil War, the Party of Lincoln was hailed as a force for liberation and Union. But as the horrific conflict, which killed upward to a million soldiers and civilians, and the electoral power of the “bloody flag” to rally voters, receded into memory, Republican power brokers and their protectionist economic policies became allied with the emerging big industries the war had created. Perhaps it was befitting the Republicans' Whig Party roots ever dedicated to expansion of business. The party also tried to hold onto the workingman's vote.

But in the 1888 presidential election, New York City's Democratic Tammany Hall turned a previously supportive upstate New York county against the popular fellow-Democrat Cleveland. The corrupt manipulators of New York City had an old grudge to settle with the reform former Governor. Tammany's treachery cost Cleveland re-election. President Cleveland, who made only one campaign appearance, took the popular vote 5,534,488 to Senator Harrison's 5,443,892. (Harrison had restricted his campaign to front porch speeches delivered to the daily visitors at his Indianapolis home.) But President Cleveland lost the Electoral College count 168 to 233. His home State of New York, thanks to Tammany, went for Harrison 36 to 0.

Two weeks after these Republicans met in Minneapolis in 1892, Tammany again would try to block Cleveland's nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. “Who will nominate him?” Tammany bosses asked, since the New York delegation would refuse to place his name in nomination. Instead, Cleveland would be nominated by the reform Governor of New Jersey, Leon Abbett, on the way to the Democracy's 1892 nomination. (Cleveland was the first person nominated for President three times by his party. Andrew Jackson was the first to win the popular vote three times in a row. But his Democratic Party did not form until the 1832 election.)

After his 1888 election, Benjamin Harrison proved to be a solid President, popular with the people, but unpopular among many bosses of his own party. He was an accomplished orator as Senator, then President, who delivered solemn addresses with energy, logic, and eloquence. Harrison was an honest, principled man. But he was personally stiff and distant. He believed in decorum and was intolerant of inefficiency. Historian Henry Adams called him “an excellent President…a man of ability and force…the best…since Lincoln.” Editor William Allen called him “our greatest Constitutional President.” That clearly was an exaggeration since Presidents Washington and Madison had a hand in shaping that document in the first place. But the point may be that Harrison's rigidity came in defense of the law, which as a lawyer and public official he held sacrosanct as the core of the Republic.

The former Civil War general was dedicated to Civil Service reform, building a U.S. navy, and extending benefits to Civil War veterans. He believed in expanding trade as his Nation's mission overseas and promoted high tariffs to protect American industries, unless U.S. diplomats could negotiate reciprocal trade agreements. Under his leadership, Congress passed the Sherman Anti-Trust Act in 1890, which the Supreme Court subsequently minimized. It also enacted the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, which was designed to help ease a credit crunch that within a year of this convention would send the Nation into the second worst depression in U.S. history. And six States, North and South Dakota, Montana, Washington, Idaho, and Wyoming entered the Union during Harrison's term.

As a Civil War veteran who had marched to the sea with Sherman, President Harrison was still committed to seeing the mission of that war fulfilled. During his first term, he backed two important civil rights initiatives. Senator Henry W. Blair, of New Hampshire, introduced a federal school-funding bill that required Southern States to provide schools for the children of former slaves. And Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge introduced the Federal Elections Bill, called the second “Force Bill” by its Southern opponents. It again would have sent federal election supervisors to Southern cities over 20,000 to try to enforce fair elections. Harrison backed both efforts as necessary for enforcement of the 14th and 15th Amendments.

Harrison was no crusader for what today we call “civil rights.” But he was a champion of equal rights and equal enforcement of the law. When the two bills passed the House but were buried in Senate committees by Southern opponents, Harrison took much of the blame. Many blacks viewed this as a last gasp for the two Reconstruction amendments. Their defeat furthered the atmosphere of complacency soon to be codified by Plessy v. Ferguson, in which the United States Supreme Court officially sanctioned segregation as “separate but equal.”

A new terror descended upon blacks of the South, and North as well. In 1891, 127 African Americans were dragged from safety, beaten, or tortured, and then lynched. One hundred of those victims were murdered below the Mason-Dixon Line. These lynchings continued unabated for decades. The Republican Platform of 1892 refused to abandon black Americans. But as a matter of fact, the federal government had long abrogated its responsibility to protect all of its citizens. The country had moved on to other things, like becoming unimaginably wealthy and powerful by the end of its first full century.

The second great issue of the day was the Republican tariff. Protectionist policies against cheap foreign imports during the Gilded Age had created a new class of industrial millionaires and powerful corporations that controlled the economy and spread the money system to all corners of the land, along with an uneven wealth. Protectionism had insured the development and stability of American business and hence the relative wealth enjoyed by millions of citizens. Millions of dollars in extra profits accrued to the powerful owners of these industries, fueling more growth and wealth. Business leaders reciprocated with huge donations to Republican electoral efforts to keep those protections in place. (In contrast to the “free trade” Republicans of 2008, protectionist Republicans of the 1890s chanted, “No, no, no free trade” at campaign rallies.)

But the tariff pushed up prices on everyday items purchased by ordinary people. The public cried out against the “McKinley Tariff Act of 1890” that instituted the highest peacetime tariff rates ever. The Democracy called the Tariff Act “the culminating atrocity of class legislation.” The act set tariff rates at an average 48 percent above the import cost of items, way too stiff for American consumers. It also was favorable to many industries no longer needing protection. When the public rebelled during the 1890 congressional elections, the Democracy picked up 78 seats in the House of Representatives and took control. Even Congressman McKinley was turned out of Congress, only to be elected Governor of Ohio the next year.

And it didn't help President Harrison's 1892 re-election hopes that his Republican government was called the first “billion dollar Congress,” in part because of large pensions paid to Civil War veterans and their families. After his congressional loses, Harrison took to the road to try to communicate better with voters. Large crowds welcomed him in the South in 1891, when he became the second President to tour the region. He spoke in rhetorical generalities, celebrating the South's economic revival, diversification, and growing wealth since he had been there as a marauding soldier. On racial issues, although he rarely mentioned race itself, Harrison urged white Southerners to “obey the law of the land.”

Harrison was greeted with warmth and hospitality, ignored on his appeal for racial justice, and moved few votes, certainly not enough to challenge the new white Southern Democracy. That same year, Harrison also traveled by train on a transcontinental tour to the West Coast to further unify the Nation and celebrate the scope of one vast land bound together under one system of laws. He also wanted to keep Western States, already suffering from the credit crunch, in the Republican fold. Indeed, many were already in a state of political rebellion.

Harrison's supporters represented him to the Nation as a devoted family man. He was often seen in photos with his grandson in his arms. He was a dutiful public servant. But he managed to alienate Republican Party bosses with his independence and aloofness. Critics called him a “cold fish,” who was too formal and abstract. Pennsylvania Senator Matt Quay, who ran Benjamin Harrison's 1888 campaign, labeled him the “White House iceberg.”

Eastern bankers worried that he was too sympathetic to Western farmers who wanted easier credit and to pay their mounting debts in silver mined in the West. In their eyes, Harrison jeopardized the Gold Standard, at least in comparison with the Wall Street lawyer who was about to be nominated by the Democracy. Cleveland, it was rumored, was backed by the big bankers led by the House of Morgan. And Harrison had tried to limit the influence of the spoilsmen inside his party and the rapaciousness of the large business interests that guarded their precious tariffs. By fulfilling his duty, Harrison had made powerful enemies.

Speaker of the House Thomas B. Reed, of Maine, referred to Harrison's White House as an “ice box.” Invited to join the Harrison re-election team, Reed coolly replied, “I don't ride in ice carts.” When Senator Quay wanted to know about Harrison's 1892 campaign plans, the President told him that God had guided him to the presidency and would keep him there, if it were his will. Quay had come to dislike Harrison's arrogance, and his “Sunday school politics.” The powerful Pennsylvanian retorted, “Then let God re-elect you.” (Quay once remarked that Harrison had no idea “how close a number of men were compelled to approach... the penitentiary to make him President.")

So in the spring of 1892, Quay broke with Harrison, and along with New York State Republican boss, former and future Senator Thomas Platt (who later “kicked” Theodore Roosevelt “upstairs” to the vice presidency to get him out of New York politics), began organizing opposition to Harrison's re-nomination. They feared that he could not win New York if Tammany Hall returned to the National Democracy. The dissidents found plenty of support both in the party and government bureaucracy, which was filled with patronage posts and many divided loyalties. Subsequently, Harrison's government got little done.

In fact, Harrison had a more popular rival for the 1892 Republican nomination in his own cabinet. Many Republicans still worshiped James G. Blaine, of Maine, who had narrowly lost to Cleveland in 1884. Dubbed the “Plumed Knight” by his admirers, Blaine, a former three-term Speaker of the House of Representatives and U. S. Senator, had served as Secretary of State to three Presidents; the martyred James Garfield, briefly to his successor Chester A. Arthur, and Benjamin Harrison. He was the driving force for the groundbreaking Inter-American Conference that lay out a path of cooperation between the countries of North and South America. (Harrison was a “Pan-American” as well, meaning he believed in trade cooperation and reciprocity.) Blaine had all the social charms Harrison lacked. Devoted supporters still dreamed of a Blaine presidency. Quay and Platt were for anyone but Harrison.

In February 1892, Blaine issued a letter saying he was uninterested in the presidency. But he failed to praise Harrison or speak out for his re-election. As the convention approached and talk of a breech in the administration spread, tensions increased between the President and his Secretary of State, although personally they remained cordial. By this time, Blaine, quickly aging and afflicted with a “nervous condition,” often was unable to work. Harrison resented having to carry Blaine's “knapsack,” while receiving no credit for it among his critics. And Mrs. Blaine took offense that Harrison ignored personal requests for government jobs for their son Walker, and their son-in-law. Harrison was pressured with employment appeals from every corner. She was said to have vowed that Harrison would never get re-nominated.

In May, Blaine traveled to New York and met secretly with boss Platt at his headquarters in the Fifth Avenue Hotel. Platt was confident they could replace Harrison. Blaine, however, was reluctant. He still craved the nomination, but not the job. “If I am elected, I shall have to stay … in Washington during the summer months of the long term of each Congress, and that would kill me,” he reputedly said. All this added up to difficulties for Harrison's re-nomination in Minneapolis during the late spring of 1892.

Harrison himself believed if he had to “scheme” to win the nomination, he didn't deserve it. And he ordered his supporters to refrain from attacking Blaine personally. But as his enemies coalesced against him, Harrison told Louis T. Michener, chairman of the Indiana Republican Party, that, “The people who talk against my re-nomination are not able to point to any official delinquency or inadequacy.” Belatedly, as the convention neared he said to Michener that, “No Harrison has ever retreated in the presence of a foe without giving battle, so I have determined to stand and fight.”

Then three days before the opening of the Minnesota convention, Blaine resigned “immediately” from Harrison's Cabinet. The fight for the nomination was on, even as delegates had already boarded their trains headed for the Twin Cities. Extra dining cars, stocked with Champaign and delicacies, were added at Chicago for the final journey north, hopefully to pick a President. When Michener arrived in Minneapolis to take control of Harrison's convention floor operation, he reported to the White House that, “Every device of avarice, malice, and revenge is being used against us.” Meanwhile, telegrams from across the Nation poured into the hotels of the delegates in support of Harrison. He was still popular with the people.

Minneapolis and St. Paul had been trying to secure the Republican National Convention since 1886. In 1891, the great northern cities saw their opportunity. Chicago, host to five of the party's first nine national conventions, was consumed with planning the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. To seize the opportunity, a committee of Minneapolis civic leaders began meeting at the Union League, located at 9 South 6th Street, to plan a strategy to bring home the convention. William Henry Eustis, “one of the most enthusiastic agitators,” presided over the organizational meeting. An executive committee was formed and it committed to raising $50,000 to finance the convention. Democratic Mayor P. B. Winston signed on as chairman of the fund-raising campaign, which in the end collected nearly $100,000.

The executive committee included Republican U.S. Senator William D. Washburn, W. S. King, Thomas Lowry, Gilbert A. Pierce, C. W. Johnson, S. P. Snider, William McCrory, A. R. McGill, John Goodnow, Eugene Hays, H. F. Brown, S. E. Olson, E. A. Henderson, E. J. Phelps, and Eustis, all prominent men of the day. George A. Brackett was made chairman. The committee successfully reached out to peers from St. Paul, and grew to include prominent Democrats. The result was that “many business men put their devotion to their city ahead of that of their party,” it was proudly reported.

In November 1891, 50 Minneapolis/St. Paul committee members and other supporters traveled to Washington D. C. to make their case before the Republican National Committee (RNC) at the Arlington Hotel. Senator Washburn, state senator Casey and Governor W. R. Merriam set forth Minneapolis' credentials. Among other points, they emphasized that the Twin Cities were a railroad center and easily accessible to party men, and that Minneapolis hotels and street car facilities were “ample” to handle the influx of reporters, spectators, and party operatives. They also noted that 14 Northwest States west of Minnesota “might be called doubtful.” The national party was impressed. Minneapolis won the contest with 29 RNC votes to 15 for Cincinnati and 3 for New York.

Back in Minneapolis, architect W. H. Hayes began to construct a multi-tiered convention hall housed inside the giant Industrial Exposition Building. Within months, the interior of the huge structure was transformed “and brilliantly decorated” in a way that “almost defied criticism.” American flags, bunting, and banners of Republican heroes hung impressively from the upper levels. In the city's center, the Bank of Commerce Building, located at South 4th Street and 1st Avenue, was converted into convention headquarters. The 12-story New York Life Insurance Company, on the northwest corner of 2nd Avenue South and 5th Street, was turned over to the press committee and transformed into a temporary hotel. Over the next few months many temporary restaurants were opened to feed the thousands of expected visitors of the four-day event.

Finally, on June 7, 1892, the first day of the Tenth National Convention of the Republican Party, James S. Clarkson, twelfth chairman of the RNC, called the 905 delegates, an equal number of alternatives, and 11,000 cheering spectators to order. Clarkson was a Blaine booster. The Blaine forces believed they controlled the convention's apparatus, and hence that the odds were in their favor. Blaine's supporters were numerous and visible, his reputation like magic among those mounting parades and shouting his name in the streets of Minneapolis and on the convention floor.

Unlike many previous conventions of the past, the speaker's voice projected well to every seat because of the fine acoustics. Sensing tensions, the Reverend Dr. William Brush, chancellor of the University of Dakota, prayed that “may the greatest harmony be evolved from seeming antagonism and discords, and may the greatest good of the Nation be subserved.”

Congressman J. Sloat Fassett, of New York, the convention's Temporary Chairman and a Blaine organizer who had conspired with Platt before the convention, greeted the throng with praise for the host city. “It is very appropriate that a Republican National Convention should be called together in a temple erected for, and devoted to, the exhibition of the products of protected American industries and in this great beautiful city of Minneapolis at once the joy and the pride of the great Republican Northwest.” The crowd rose to its feet with applause for the Republican Tariff that set prices high for foreign goods to protect the development and profits of U.S. industry against cheap overseas labor costs, and, it was argued by Republicans, also protect high wages.

“This city, which pretty much equals in age the Republican Party, presents on every street corner, and on every hand, superb object lessons of genuine Republicanism. The smoking chimneys of the factories, the busy hum of workshops and mills speak louder and teach clearer than any words of mine could do, the wisdom of the Republican doctrine when epitomized in fact.”

Then Fassett approached the underlining tension on the convention floor, trying hard to contain discord before it broke out. “We are here as the trustees of seven millions of Republicans gathered from all the States and Territories of the Union,” he bellowed. “We are not here as warring factions, seeking supremacy by strife, under favorite leaders.” His own New York delegation was deeply divided between supporters for Harrison and Blaine.

“But we are here as members of one great party seeking to select from the shining roll of our honored great men, the type of statesman who is considered the soundest and completest embodiment of the cardinal doctrines of the Republican Party….our party is greater than any one man in the party.” Delegates knew he was praising Blaine without mentioning him. Those must have been ominous words to President Harrison's managers who hoped for an easy, first ballot re-nomination without too many recriminations. “Our party is greater than any man in the party.” The Blaine delegates and spectators burst into applause. “We all desire the success of our party….It is our right to differ today, but when the work of this convention shall have concluded, it will be our duty to unite tomorrow.”

Then Fassett sought to find common ground by citing his party's beloved founders. “The history of our party since 1856 is the history of our country….Count me over our chosen heroes, the men whom you and I are teaching our children to love, emulate, and revere, and they shall be Republicans, every one.” He was stopped once more with applause. “Lincoln,” his name elicited great excitement. “Seward,” again he was answered with clapping. “Grant.” The applause became louder. He added the names of (John) Sherman, (President) Garfield, (John) Logan, and then two names together, “Harrison and Blaine.” The mention of these latter leaders set off long, continued cheers and applause among all the delegates and spectators. “Match them,” he challenged. Amazingly, the convention's Temporary Chairman subtly had insulted the name of the sitting President of the United States by mentioning him in the same breath with Blaine.

Then he returned to safer ground. “I have not the time even to catalogue the long list of the good works taken and performed,” he said before going ahead to list party achievements anyway. “You all are familiar with the history. The irrepressible conflict undertaken and concluded; slavery abolished; public credit re-established; the Constitution and the Union restored and reconstructed; the old flag washed clean of every stain by the blood of half a million heroes; and the additional stars added to its glory; the great West thrown open to easy access and settlement; the policy of protection to American industry and American labor established, developed, and vindicated; and the markets to the world opened by the bright persuasive logic of reciprocity to the products of the American farm, as well as the American workshop, until today the nations of the earth are paying tribute to the sagacity of our legislation and diplomacy, in millions of dollars of increased annual purchases….” The New York Congressman continued his enunciation of Republican glories. “Rivers and harbors have been opened to commerce; the white hulls of our new navy are plowing the waters of every sea; peace has been maintained at home, and our honor sustained abroad.” The assembly rose to its feet in forceful agreement.

But Fassett added that the party could not win by simply reciting its past achievements, “no matter how brilliant.” He argued passionately for the issue that gave rise to his party in the first place. “Our pledges have all been kept, all save one, and I greatly mistake the temper of the Republican Party if it will ever be contented until that pledge is made good. Our manhood and our honor are pledged to continue the contest for a free and honest ballot until this vexed question is settled in the right, and our pledges are made good.” (This was a euphemism for the “race question.”)

He warned, “Be not deceived. God is not mocked. As a nation sows, so shall it also reap. That a free people should cast a free vote and have it honestly counted and returned is the dream and the determination of the Republican Party, and the despair and nightmare of the Democracy. Unless the votes of all men are safe, the vote of no man is safe….It is not the negro alone who is disfranchised, but every citizen.”

Fassett noted the political result of this continuing injustice. “We enter the presidential race handicapped by the certainty that in an Electoral College of 444 members, 156 votes are now already absolutely secured in advance to the Democratic nominee, and that because the Solid South, [is] kept permanently solid by a perpetual breach of the guarantees of the Constitution of the United States….The mission of no progressive party is ever finished in a free, growing, expansive country, so long as there is a wrong to be redressed, so long as there is a right to be enforced, so long as all the privileges of citizenship are not freely enjoyed, and until equal and exact justice is obtained in every State as well as every individual. ”

His oration was wildly cheered. But he had committed a brash breach of etiquette in raising the status of Blaine to a par of the President, before he brought the crowd to a common frenzy around the old common cause.

The next official business was announcement of the officers for the convention, including several Minnesotans: Colonel Charles W. Johnson was appointed Head Secretary, Charles F. Haney Chief Reading Clerk, Frank A. Day was assigned to the Committee on Permanent Organization, S. G. Comstock was a member of the Committee on Rules and Order of Business, R. C. Dunn was put on the Committee on Credentials, and George Thompson appointed to the Committee on Resolutions.

Then at 1:55 in the afternoon, the body adjourned until 11 a.m. the next morning, while delegates gathered and argued for their candidates or worked on committee business. At the hotels around town, debates raged and conferences were held, inducements flowed and deals were bartered. The long debates tired many but their conferences lasted into the late spring night.

Wednesday, June 8, 1892, saw a second short day of convention activity. After a brief prayer by the Right Reverend H. B. Whipple, Bishop of Minnesota, L. E. Walker, of Nebraska, presented a new gavel to Temporary Chairman Fassett. He praised his party. “Among the many masterpieces of Republican legislation, as numerous as the stars on our flag, [is] the Homestead Act of 1862…[whereby] thousands of returning soldiers acquired homes in Nebraska in 1865…as a token of our appreciations, we desire to present this gavel.” The wood came from the first original homestead near Beatrice, Nebraska, and was inlaid with silver coins to commemorate the State's twenty-fifth anniversary.

The Temporary Chairman called for reports from the various committees. Among the Honorary Vice Presidents were D. H. Dunnell, of Minnesota, and General Lew Wallace, of Indiana, author of the wildly popular novel Ben Hur. Wallace had written a campaign biography of Harrison four years earlier.

Ohio Governor William McKinley was appointed Permanent Chairman of the convention to rousing cheers. He was four years away from the presidency and his chief backer, Marcus Alonzo (Mark) Hanna, the Ohio millionaire ore, coal, and shipping magnate, already was trying to organize support for him. He supplied thousands of McKinley buttons to delegates and spectators. Platt and his collaborators were ready to turn to him or any dark horse, should Blaine's bid falter. But McKinley had accepted the personal offer of Permanent Chairman from Harrison's adviser and convention manager Louis T. Michener. Harrison, aware of the opposition to him, had commissioned Michener to do whatever he needed as long as it was “honorable” to secure the nomination. Michener dealt directly with McKinley. Still, Hanna worked tirelessly on his own for the Ohio Governor, who had enlisted in the Civil War as a private and had been mustered out as a brevet major. (He would be the last President who served in that conflict.)

The future President addressed the assembly, claiming: “Whenever there is anything to be done in this country, and by this country, and for this country, the Republican Party is called upon to do it.” The party's record was important to McKinley. He praised before all other items the “protective tariff,” pointing out its benefits to the average citizen. “We propose to raise our money to pay public expenses by taxing the products of other nations, rather than taxing the products of our own. The Democratic Party believes in direct taxation, that is taxing ourselves.” McKinley added, “A protective tariff encourages and stimulates American industries and gives the widest possibilities to American genius and American effort…

“You can study President Cleveland's utterances from the first one he made in New York, which he said he did not know anything about the tariff,” McKinley heard laughter in the hall, “until his last in Rhode Island, and you come away ignorant and uninformed about what tariff reform means,” he mocked. McKinley detailed various Democratic tariff reform failures in the House of Representatives, where the Democracy then held a two-third majority. McKinley was warmly received. He was a hard money man, admired by his party, which like his opponents, considered him courteous, cheerful, and fair. McKinley, unlike President Harrison, was almost universally liked. After he was twice elected President, then assassinated in 1901, it was said that McKinley was “the most beloved President since Lincoln.”

After McKinley stepped down from the rostrum in Minneapolis that afternoon in 1892, calls echoed throughout the hall for the aging “Fred Douglass.” The former slave, Abolitionist hero, and co-founder of the Republican Party slowly stepped to the front of the platform and bowed. But the eloquent orator who had stirred previous conventions with his cries for social justice now declined to speak. Age had slowed him as he looked back on his victories and ahead in apprehension at what was happening to blacks in the former Confederacy.

The convention then heard from General Henry H. Bingham, of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Rules Committee. He proposed accepting the rules of the House of Representatives of the Fifty-First Congress, the last Republican Congress, seated in 1888. Unlike the Democrats who still used the “two-thirds rule” from the days of President Jackson to nominate its candidate, the Republican Party nominated its presidential candidate with a simply majority. These basically were the same rules used since the party's first presidential convention in Philadelphia in 1856, where John Charles Freemont was nominated. (He lost to Democrat, James Buchanan, of Pennsylvania.)

Most committees were unprepared to report, so after turning an unread resolution presented by former Minnesota Governor John Sargent Pillsbury over to the Committee on Resolutions, the convention again adjourned at 12:50 p.m., ordered to convene at 11 a.m. the following day. Delegates were bored with the convention's pace, but found plenty to do with their committees or just plain horse-trading with fellow delegates in the hotels and establishments that Minneapolis offered, hoping to change votes. Many retired to the West Hotel, the city's largest lodge, at Hennepin Avenue and 5th Street, center for the anti-Harrison plots. There gathered “the disappointed politicians of the party,” as Wisconsin Congressman Frank Coburn called them.

As the convention entered its third day, June 9, 1892, the delegates were eager for action. But General Cogswell, of Massachusetts, was not ready to present results of the Committee on Credentials, which was bogged down with disputes, mostly in the Southern States. Many of the challenges were stirred by Platt and his operatives to take votes from Harrison. Cogswell begged that his report be delayed until that evening. But before adjourning again, two resolutions were read, one calling on Congress to fully fund the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and another to admit “every comrade of the Grand Army of the Republic not holding a ticket” to the standing room section of the hall. The first was referred to the Committee on Resolutions and the second to the Committee on Rules. Then amid cries of “No, no,” the proceedings were again adjourned, until 8 p.m. that evening.

But Chairman McKinley didn't call the body to order until 8:52 p.m. It was to be a long night. Colonel Dick Thompson, of Indiana, who had been present at every Republican National Convention since the party's formation in 1856, took the rostrum at the urging of Chauncey M. Depew, president of the New York Central Railroad. Thompson had been Navy Secretary under President Hayes. The 83-year-old Thompson delighted his audience with recollections. “Born as I was when the Constitution of the United States was but 20 years old, I was reared and educated under revolutionary influences, and from my revolutionary ancestors I learned my Republicanism.” He was greeted with cheers and calls of “Good, good.”

Thompson continued, “They taught me to believe that the first and primary duty of government of the United States was to take care of the interests of the people and to preserve all those great guarantees of the Constitution which are intended to secure to us, and to our children, the inalienable rights of self-government. One of the instrumentalities of that great right is to be preserved in the institution, under God, of the Republican Party.” He was heartily cheered before gracefully retiring. “I cannot trespass upon your patience by entering upon the discussion of political questions now.”

A fight over the delegates followed. The committee had confronted 24 contests, mostly from Southern States where the party barely existed in the “rotten boroughs” of the hostile post-war territory. After several hours of belabored debate the majority report of the Credential Committee was adopted. Platt's insurgency was dealt a blow.

Finally after midnight, the 1892 Republican Platform was presented to the convention by the Resolutions Committee chairman, former Ohio Governor, Joseph B. Foraker. “We reaffirm the American doctrine of protectionism,” he declared. “We believe that all articles which cannot be produced in the United States, except luxuries, should be admitted free of duty, and that on all imports coming into competition with the products of American labor, there should be levied duties equal to the difference between wages abroad and at home. We assert that the prices of manufactured articles of general consumption have been reduced under the operations of the Tariff Act of 1890.”

Anticipating the issue that would divide the Nation four years later, the party weighed in on the question of gold versus silver currency. In 1892, Republicans favored both. “The American people,” Foraker exclaimed, “from tradition and interest, favor bimetallism, and the Republican Party demands the use of both gold and silver as standard money…so that the purchasing and debt-paying powers of the dollar, whether of silver, gold, or paper, shall be at all times equal.”

Although former President Cleveland, then a Wall Street lawyer, had declared for gold, his party meeting two weeks later in June in Chicago, was ambiguous on the money issue. But four years later Republicans would run against their own 1892 bimetallic position, standing for gold only. Then in 1896, the Democracy would nominate William Jennings Bryan in Chicago, after he vowed that the poor and disenfranchised farmers and debt-burdened workers should not be “crucified …on a Cross of Gold” controlled by Eastern bankers. McKinley, the Republican's 1896 nominee, would run in defense of the gold standard that favored lenders. His steady hand eventually would pull the Nation from its worst depression to date.

The third plank of the 1892 Republican Party was its oldest, clothed in new language. “We demand that every citizen of the United States shall be allowed to cast one free and unrestricted ballot in all public elections, and that such ballot shall be counted and returned as cast; that such laws shall be enacted and enforced as will secure to every citizen, be he rich or poor, native or foreign born, white or black, this sovereign right, guaranteed by the Constitution….The party will never relax its efforts until the integrity of the ballot and the purity of elections shall be fully guaranteed and protected in every State.”

And the 1892 Republicans made this strong declaration: “We denounce the continued, inhumane outrages perpetrated upon American citizens for political reasons in certain Southern States of the Union.”

On foreign relations, the party declared for “a navy for the protection of our national interests and the honor of our flag; the maintenance of the most friendly relations with all foreign powers; entangling alliances with none (the nation's policy since Washington); and the protection of the rights of our fishermen.” Further, Republican doctrine as it would become practiced by the future administrations of McKinley through Taft was foreshadowed. “We reaffirm our approval of the Monroe Doctrine and believe in the achievement of the manifest destiny of the Republic in the broadest sense.” America, they meant, was to range free over world affairs as it chose. (The election of 1900, the second battle between Bryan and McKinley, was waged over whether America would become an “imperialist Nation.” That year the voters sided with business internationalism and a commercial empire over a geographically defined, constitutionally pure, Republic.)

And 100 years ago, Republicans struggled with issues familiar to today's party. “We favor the enactment of more stringent laws and regulations for the restriction of criminal, pauper, and contract immigration.” The Platform declared that the “Republican Party has always been the champion of the oppressed and recognizes the dignity of manhood, irrespective of faith, color, or nationality; it sympathizes with the home rule of Ireland, and protests against the persecution of the Jews in Russia.” The 1892 Democracy would adopt these last two positions as well.

The 1892 Republican Party Platform also proclaimed its “devotion to liberty of thought and conscience, of speech and press, and approves of all agencies and instrumentalities which contribute to the education of the children of the land, but while insisting upon the fullest measure of religious liberty, we oppose any union of Church and State.” That is still a point of contention among some Republicans of 2008.

The party also pledged to reduce the cost of postage, while extending free rural delivery service. The Platform called for a “Nicaragua Canal,” proposed hurrying self-rule in the Territories, and supported Chicago's Columbian Exposition. To placate the ever-present temperance crusaders, the Platform asserted sympathy with “all wise and legitimate efforts to lessen and prevent the evils of intemperance and promote morality.” And it solemnly “pledge[ed] anew to the veteran soldiers of the Republic a watchful care and recognition of their just claims upon a grateful people.”

Finally, the 1892 Republican Platform did what most re-nomination conventions do from the very beginning. It praised the achievements of the current administration. “We commend the able, patriotic, and thoroughly American administration of President Harrison. Under it the country has enjoyed a remarkable prosperity and the dignity and honor of the Nation, at home and abroad, have been faithfully maintained…” Praising the sitting President seemed like an after-thought.

“It is one of the best platforms I ever heard in my life,” declared Chauncey Depew, the future New York Senator and Harrison advisor, before it was unanimously adopted. At 1:27 a.m., the exhausted body adjourned and delegates staggered into the Minnesota night.

The fourth and final day of the 1892 Republican National Convention, Friday June 10, convened at 11:37 a.m. Reverend Wayland Hoyt, D.D., pastor of the First Baptist Church of Minneapolis, implored the assembly, “May intelligence and well ordered liberty; may safe and happy homes, and the universal recognition of the rights of citizenship, which our Constitution has put into the hands of free men, be studiously maintained.”

Another appeal was heard to overturn the vote upholding the majority report for the official Alabama delegation. Matt Quay of Pennsylvania withdrew his objection on behalf of the minority, to applause. The majority also was confirmed in the Utah challenge and in the Indian Territory of Alaska. The majority held in challenges involving Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Alabama again. Finally, the official list of State credentials was prepared and business could move forward. Former Governor John S. Pillsbury now officially led the Minnesota delegation.

Mr. Warner Miller, of New York, rose to speak on behalf of the Women's Republican Association of the United States. “I speak especially for the party in New York. I simply desire this convention shall recognize their work and then give them encouragement to go on in the coming campaign…” But their declaration was surprisingly mild compared with earlier demands at former conventions for the equal right to vote. Now the party's female wing simply wanted to work together.

Ellen Foster, chairman of the committee, spoke for herself. “It is no mean honor which is given to me as a representative of many thousand Republican women to stand in this magnificent presence….Gentlemen and ladies…we are here to help you. We have come to stay….We believe that moral reforms should be conducted outside of party lines, in the broad field of humanitarian, philanthropic, and Christian effort. Not everyone who cries reform is a reformer…” She spoke for nearly half an hour, ending with a question. “The Republican Party is nothing if it is not aggressive….Why should not women rally to support such a party?” She elicited great applause, and probably great relief from the men who did not want their power challenged by the militant demands of the past for equal voting rights.

Finally, it was time for nominations for President. Tensions had been building all week. If Harrison didn't win on the first ballot, Michener, who was counting potential votes very carefully and had contacted every delegate about their leanings, feared that things would become unpredictable. He had already told the White House that, “There was a time when the nomination of James G. Blaine would electrify the party. Now it would electrocute it.”

First to put a name forward was Senator Wolcott, of Colorado. “The Republicans of the West sometimes differ with the Republicans of the East as to what is wanted. (In four years his Colorado colleague, Senator Henry M. Teller, would defect from the Republicans to support Democrat William Jennings Bryan in the silver/gold dispute of 1896 against bankers of the East.) “On this occasion there is remarkable unanimity …as to who is needed, and his name is Blaine!” Part of the crowd responded with a burst of cheers. Wolcott said the only disagreement came not from the Republican States, but from the appointed office holders in the Southern States who were under President Harrison's appointed control.

Why Blaine, Wolcott asked. “He has made Republican Presidents possible; and he has enriched and guided two administrations with his sagacity and statesmanship. We are honored and respected abroad and it is because of his statecraft….there is no public measure since the days of Reconstruction which has tended to the advancement of our country with which he is not identified, and when the history of this generation of our Republic shall be written his name will stand foremost among its statesmen….Brave, true-hearted, and great, there is no true Republican who will not follow where he leads, and with loving faith and trust that a kind Providence may long spare him to a people whose grateful love he has earned and whose affectionate devotion he possesses, we pledge our unfaltering and loyal support to James G. Blaine.” His supporters leaped to their feet and passionately chanted, “Blaine! Blaine! Blaine!”

Chairman McKinley ordered, “The Secretary will proceed with the call.” Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois all passed to allow General Dick Thompson, of Indiana, to address the assembly. “I do not intend to make a speech. I propose to make a nomination for the presidency which shall strike a chord of sympathy in every true Republican heart. I propose to nominate for the presidency a man who does not seek elevation by the detraction of any other great Republican in the Republican Party.” He was halted by applause. “I do not propose, however, to eulogize his history or his life before this convention, because that will be done in words of burning and breathing eloquence, which cannot be surpassed in this or any other country in the world. (He was referring to Harrison's own power of oratory.) Therefore with these simple words of praise I nominate to this convention for the Presidency of the United States the warrior statesman, Benjamin Harrison, of Indiana.” Again, a large portion of the hall rose in support. Fans were waved and umbrellas opened. The response was “deafening.”

The Secretary continued the call. “Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts.” All passed. When he reached Michigan, a voice cried out, “What's the matter with Alger?” referring to General Russell Alger, former Governor of Michigan and future Secretary of War under President McKinley.

Then Mr. Eustis, of Minnesota, rose. “Two centuries ago when Father Hennepin first stood upon the spot where we meet, he found a beaver impaled upon a tree. It was the Indian's offering to the Spirit that dwells in the Falls of St. Anthony. Imitating the untutored mind in the presence of nature's mighty force, may we sacrifice every selfish feeling and nonpatriotic motive to that majestic power that dwells in the people. With them all sovereignty lies. We are their servants, clothed for but a few hours with trust and responsibility….

“What inspirations to patriotic action fill this hour with thought?” Eustis inquired. “Four hundred years ago, past the hour of midnight, Columbus saw a light. It grew. A continent appeared. It grew. The Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock. It grew. Freedom exiled from the Old World found a new home. It grew. The starlit flag unfurled. It grew. The Republican Party came, divinely commissioned to broaden human freedom and defend that flag. Those sitting with us today as free men, who then were slaves, the peerless luster of the flag, the number of stars in its azure blue, tell us how well the Republican Party has kept its faith.” Eustis was seconded with applause.

“Its mission is not yet ended,” he continued. “A mighty Nation, rich in all the blessings of peace, mindful of her glory and her destiny, advances with majestic step to lead the commerce, as well as the freedom, of the world.” Again applause erupted. Eustis then recounted the economic expansion of the country under the policy of protectionism and the strong economic position of the United States in world commercial competition.

“Who in this great battle is best equipped to be our leader? All honor to him whose name is a synonym for honest money (Eustis meant John Sherman), unstinted praise to a President who has upheld the flag and sustained the rights of American citizens on land and on sea; all honor to you, sir,” he gestured to Chairman McKinley, “who stood like a rock against the floodtide of free trade, and lifted the shield of protection above the wages of the worker, and the industries of the land.” Applause again answered him.

“All honor and cheers for the gallant soldier from Michigan whose brave war record the people will not suffer Democracy to tarnish. We honor and love all these none the less, because there is one other leader whom we honor and love the more.” Cries of “Blaine, Blaine,” were followed by cheers. “For more than thirty years he has toiled for the honor of the party and the glory of the Republic. In every quadrennial contest in the history of the party, his plume has been in front of the fight….In admiration of the genius of our great Secretary of State, isle answers isle, and continent responses to continent, while a commercial linking hemisphere attests to the breadth and scope of his statesmanship….“It is for thee, my country,” Eustis concluded, “that Minnesota with loyal heart and patriotic purpose extends the hand to every sister State and seconds the nomination of James G. Blaine.” Again, a portion of the convention went mad with a demonstration that lasted thirty minutes.

Mr. Mollison, of Mississippi, rose to second Blaine as well. And the roll rolled on to New York and Chauncey M. Depew. “It is the peculiarity of Republican National Conventions that each one of them has a distinct and interesting history. We are here to meet conditions and solve problems which make this gathering not only no exception to the rule, but substantially a new departure.” Depew heard the clapping of hands.

“That there should be strong convictions and their earnest expression as to preferences and policies is characteristic of the right of individual judgment, which is a fundamental principle of Republicanism….But the situation which now confronts us demands the exercise of dispassionate judgment and our best thought and experience. We cannot venture on uncertain ground and encounter obstacles placed in the pathway of success by ourselves. The Democratic Party is now divided, but the hope of possession of power once more will make it in the final battle more aggressive, determined, and unscrupulous than ever. It starts with 15 States secure without an effort, by processes which are a travesty upon popular government, and if continued long enough will paralyze institutions founded upon popular suffrage.” Depew was interrupted again. “It has to win four more States in a fair fight, States which in the vocabulary of politics are denominated doubtful,” Depew explained. “The Republican Party must appeal to the conscience and the judgment of the individual voter in every State in the Union….

“The conditions of Republican victory from 1860 to 1880 were created by Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant.” He was drowned out by ovation. Those conditions were, “that the saved Republic should be run by its saviors; the emancipation of the slaves, the Reconstruction of the States, the reception of those who had fought to destroy the Republic back into the fold, without penalties or punishments, and to an equal share with those who had fought and saved the Nation, in solemn obligations and inestimable privileges of American citizenship.” Again he paused for loud ovation. “The great names which have adorned the roll of Republican statesmen and soldiers are still potent and popular….

But Depew warned, “The campaign will not be won or lost on the bad record of James K. Polk or of Franklin Pierce or of James Buchanan; not upon the good record of Lincoln or of Grant or of Arthur, or of Hayes, or of Garfield. It will be won or lost upon the policy, foreign and domestic, the industrial measures and the administrative acts of the administration of Benjamin Harrison.” Finally, the Harrison men had reason to holler. “Whoever wins the nomination of this convention will run, upon the judgment of the people, as to whether they have been more prosperous and more happy, whether the country has been in a better condition at home, and stood more honorably abroad under these last four years of Harrison and the Republican administration, than during the preceding four years of Cleveland and Democratic government.

“Not since Thomas Jefferson,” Depew claimed, “has any administration been called upon to face and solve so many or such difficult problems as those which have been our conditions. No administration since the organization of the government has ever met difficulties better, or more to the satisfaction of the American people.” Depew, who had thrown New York's support to Harrison to break a deadlock in the 1888 convention, was halted with rousing approval. “Chili [sic] has been taught that no matter how small the antagonist, no community can with safety insult the flag or murder American sailors.” Again cheers cascaded throughout the hall. “Germany and England have been learned in Samoa that the United States has become one of the powers of the world, and no matter how mighty the adversary, at every sacrifice American honor will be maintained….

“The dollar of the country has been placed and kept on the standard of commercial nations…The tariff, tinkered with and trifled with to the serious disturbance of trade and disaster to business since the days of Washington, has been courageously embodied into a code, a code which has preserved the principle of the protection of American industries….The navy has been builded upon lines which will protect American citizens and American interests and the American flag all over the world. The public debt has been reduced. The maturing bonds have been paid off. The public credit has been maintained. The burdens of taxations have been lightened. Two hundred millions of currency have been added to the people's money without disturbance of the exchanges. Unexampled prosperity has crowned wise laws and their wise administration.

“The main question which divides us is, to whom does the credit of all this belong?” Depew asked. “Orators may stand upon this platform, more able and more eloquent than I, who will paint in more brilliant colors, but they can not put in more earnest thought the affection and admiration of Republicans for our distinguished Secretary of State.” He was answered by swelling shouts.

Depew continued. “I yield to no Republican, no matter from what State he hails, in admiration and respect for John Sherman.” He was interrupted by applause for the six-term Ohio Senator who had served as President Hayes' Secretary of Treasury and four years hence would become President McKinley's first Secretary of State. “Or for Governor McKinley, for Thomas B. Reed…” He listed others as well all the way back to the Generals of the fratricidal conflict. “But for the great good of the country and the benefit of the Republican Party, they have succeeded because of the suggestive mind, the indomitable courage, the intelligent appreciation of situations, and the grand magnanimity of Benjamin Harrison.” Great roars arose at the name of the Republican President.

“It is an undisputed fact,” Depew declared, “that during the few months when both the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Treasury (William Windom) were ill, the President personally assumed the duties of the State Department and the Treasury Department, and both with equal success.”

Depew pointed out that when President Garfield “fell before the bullet of an assassin, Mr. Blaine retired to private life. General Harrison invited him to take up that unfinished diplomatic career, where its threads had been so tragically broken.” More cheers echoed through the convention hall. Depew then laid out the situation in his home State of New York, a pivot point for the coming election canvass. Republicans had suffered “constant defeat” there in every election since Garfield's victory in 1880. “The only light which illuminates with the sun of hope the dark record of those twelve years, is the fact that in 1888 the State of New York was triumphantly carried by President Harrison….He still has all these claims, and in addition, an administration beyond criticism and rich with the elements of popularity with which to carry New York again….

“With an ancestor a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and another who saved the Northwest from savagery and gave it to civilization and empire, and who was also President of the United States, a poor and unknown lawyer of Indiana has risen by his unaided efforts to such distinction as a lawyer, orator, soldier, statesman, and President that he reflects more credit upon his ancestors than they have devolved upon him, and presents in American history the parallel of the younger Pitt.” Again Depew was halted. “By the grand record of a wise and popular administration, by the strength gained in frequent contact with the people, in wonderfully versatile and felicitous speech, by claims of a pure life in public, and in the simplicity of a typical American home, I nominate Benjamin Harrison.” Now the arena stirred to excitement once more with long and sustained cheers for both Depew and Harrison.

After Depew stepped away from the rostrum, Warner Miller, also of New York, came forward. “Gentlemen of the convention: You have no longer time to listen to the rehearsal of the history of achievements of the Republican Party. You have no longer time to listen to the records of our great statesmen. You have come now to the supreme hour of this convention. Thus far it has been a convention in which a kindly spirit has prevailed upon every side, and I have no doubt, that it is to prevail to the end, and whatever may be the outcome of this convention, it will be ratified by the whole Republican Party of this country, and by a majority of the voters of the people….but we come here feeling that the candidate that I shall second can do more for us in the great State of New York in enabling us to achieve victory in November…the idol of the people there is the idol that we have held up for twenty years, James G. Blaine.” He too was seconded with cheers and whistles from supportive delegations and spectators.

From the floor arose cries of “Roll Call.” But G. Q. Boyd, of Tennessee, put in his argument for Blaine. Then Senator Spooner, of Wisconsin, countered with an argument for Harrison, whom he called “calm, dignified, and wise.” The Senator was followed by Mr. Downey, of Wyoming, who added a new element by claiming that Blaine had been “vilified and abused by the grossest slander that was ever promulgated on the face of the earth.” He was rebuffed with cries of “No, no,” and great confusion descended upon the floor of the convention.

Mr. Sewell, of New Jersey, stood and moved that the convention vote on the candidates to resolve the debate. Then Chairman McKinley ordered the Roll of the States to begin. Alabama cast 15 votes for Harrison, 7 for William McKinley, Jr.; Arkansas delivered 15 for Harrison, 11 for McKinley; California cast 8 for Harrison, 9 for Blaine, and 1 for McKinley; Colorado, 8 for Blaine; Connecticut, 4 for Harrison, 8 for McKinley; Delaware, 4 for Harrison, 1 for Blaine, and 1 for McKinley; Florida, 8 for Harrison; Georgia, 26 for Harrison; Idaho, 6 for Blaine; Illinois, 34 for Harrison, 14 for Blaine; then Indiana cast all 30 for its favorite son, Harrison.

Iowa announced 20 for Harrison, 5 for Blaine, 1 for McKinley; Kansas, 11 Harrison, 9 McKinley; Kentucky, 22 Harrison, 2 Blaine, 1 McKinley; Louisiana, Harrison 8, Blaine 8; Maine cast all 8 for its favorite son Blaine; Maryland, 14 Harrison, 2 McKinley; Massachusetts, 18 Harrison, 1 Blaine, 11 McKinley; Michigan, Harrison 7, Blaine 2, McKinley 19; then host Minnesota called out 8 for Harrison, Blaine 9, McKinley 1; Mississippi, Harrison 13 ½, Blaine 4 ½; Missouri, Harrison 28, Blaine 4, McKinley 2; Montana, Harrison 5, Blaine 1; Nebraska, Harrison 15, McKinley 1; Nevada, Blaine 6; New Hampshire, Harrison 4, Blaine 2, Thomas B. Reed 1, and Robert Todd Lincoln, the president's son, 1; New Jersey, Harrison 18, Blaine 2; North Carolina, Harrison 17 2/3, Blaine 2 1/3, McKinley 1; North Dakota, Harrison 2, and Blaine 4.

Ohio asked for time for consultation, then cast 45 for its Governor, McKinley, while McKinley himself honorably demanded that his vote be given to Harrison; Oregon, Harrison 1, McKinley 7; Pennsylvania called for a canvass of its delegates and then went for Harrison 19, Blaine 3, McKinley 42 (Quay had seen that the younger McKinley had a better chance of stopping Harrison than the elderly Blaine); Rhode Island, Harrison 5, Blaine 1, McKinley 1, Thomas B. Reed 1; South Carolina, Harrison 13, Blaine 3, McKinley 2; South Dakota, Harrison 8; Tennessee, Harrison 17, Blaine 4, and McKinley 3.

Then Texas announced 22 for Harrison, but could not continue. Suddenly great and continued applause swept the hall. Harrison had won his majority. Boss Platt looked crestfallen. Chairman McKinley invited Elliot F. Shepard, of New York, to the rostrum. “I move that the rules be suspended and that Benjamin Harrison be nominated for President of the United States by acclamation.” His call was seconded by Mr. Clarkson, of Iowa.

But Senator Wolcott objected. “I rise to a point of order, that we are on the Call of the States and nobody has a right to make a motion while the Roll Call is in progress.” Chairman McKinley ordered the count to continue. Texas resumed, Harrison 22, Blaine 6, Thomas B. Reed 2; Vermont, Harrison 8; Virginia, Harrison 9, Blaine 13, McKinley 2; Washington, Harrison 1, Blaine 6, McKinley 1; West Virginia, Harrison 12; Wisconsin, Harrison 19, Blaine 2, McKinley 3; Wyoming, Harrison 4, and Blaine 2.

The Territories then cast their votes. Arizona, Harrison 1, Blaine 1; New Mexico, Harrison 8; Oklahoma, Harrison 2; Utah, Harrison 2; Alaska, Harrison 2; Indian Territory, Harrison 2, Blaine 1; and the District of Columbia cast the final 2 votes of the 1892 Republican National Convention for Blaine.

Secretary Johnson then read the totals. Benjamin Harrison, 535 1/6; James G. Blaine, 182 1/6; William McKinley, 182; Thomas B. Reed, 4; and Robert Todd Lincoln, who received symbolic votes in every Republican convention since the assassination of his President father, 1.

Chairman McKinley concluded, “President Harrison having received a majority of all votes cast, shall his nomination be made unanimous?” He was answered by strong applause and cries of agreement. “The nomination is unanimous,” McKinley shouted out above the turmoil. The convention then recessed until 8 p.m.

At the White House, Harrison's cabinet gathered to congratulate him at his desk. The President was surrounded by his daughter, two nieces, and thirty newsmen. Harrison told them, “I have a sincere love for all our people. I have asked of all public officers a faithful performance of their duty. I have felt great regret that I was unable to find a suitable place for every deserving friend….As I have had light and strength, I have tried to discharge my duties for the public good.”

Senator Platt later commented that Harrison's re-nomination “caused a chattering of teeth among the warm blooded Republicans of the East. Many of the New York delegates, myself included, wrapped ourselves in overcoats and earmuffs and hurried from the convention….Harrison's nomination spelled disaster.”

That evening, the convention nominated Whitelaw Reid, of New York, as vice presidential candidate. Reid was owner and publisher of the New York Tribune. Blaine was his political mentor. His nomination was meant as a slap at Harrison, who preferred to have his sitting Vice President, Levi P. Morton, also of New York, run again. Harrison feared that Reid's prolonged fight with the city's typographical union would hurt him in New York, as indeed it did.

General Horace Porter, of New York, who nominated Reid told the crowd that the famed publisher “began his career and continued his service in the broad and instructive field of American journalism. He became the legitimate and worthy successor to that great creator of modern journalism, Horace Greeley.” Greeley had not only been a founder of the Republican Party, but among those who named it. He himself had run for President in 1872, not as a Republican, but a Democrat, railing against the corruption of the Grant administration. Reid also served as U.S. Minister to France, where he had negotiated a difficult extradition treaty.

The name of Thomas B. Reed, of Maine, was also submitted, but the convention was notified that he would decline the honor. So Whitelaw Reid was nominated by acclimation.

Finally, a resolution expressing thanks to the people of Minneapolis “for the complete and superior accommodations…the unequalled and commodious hall, and the generous and adequate provision for the entertainment of visitors” and declaring that “Minneapolis as a Convention City is equal to any demands which may hereafter be made upon its generosity and capacity” was unanimously passed. And after a few other housekeeping matters, the 1892 Republican National Convention was adjourned “sine die.”

Neither candidate mounted much of campaign that year. Harrison was distressed at the fatal sickness of his wife and spent several hours a day at her bedside. She died of tuberculosis two weeks before the election. (Horace Greeley's wife had also died days before the November canvass.) Cleveland did not wish to take unseemly advantage of the situation, so he made only limited remarks. Supporters of the two men did not show the passion normally displayed by torchlight parades and large rallies. As historian Henry Adams noted, it was popularly said of the candidates that, “One of them had no friends; the other only enemies.”

Republican chances were diminished that summer when workers at the Carnegie Steel Company in Homestead, Pennsylvania, went out on strike after their wages were cut by 22 percent. Chaos broke out as plant manager Henry Clay Frick brought in scabs to replace plant workers, and the Pennsylvania National Guard enforced his decisions. The Republican argument that protectionism led to higher wages wilted in the bad publicity. Also, Cleveland made amends with Tammany Hall, so New York fell back under control of the Democracy.

One enemy of both parties was the new People's Party, or the Populists. It held its convention in Omaha, Nebraska, on July 4th. It arose out of the dire straights of Western and Southern farmers who felt strangled by the Eastern banks that gave them credit for farm equipment and seed at high rates. As farm prices tumbled in the emerging world market, farmers were unable to pay back loans. They also were squeezed by the high rates set by monopolistic railroads that hauled their crops to market.

Populists were on an angry crusade, but their platform, written by Ignatius Donnelly, a former Minnesota lieutenant governor, Congressman, novelist, and utopian, called for many reforms that eventually would become part of national life. It advocated for the popular election of U.S. Senators (who were then elected by State legislatures), a graduated (progressive) income tax, enforcement of anti-trust laws, public ownership of railroads, and inflation of the currency to help debtors, along with unlimited coinage of silver in a ratio of 16 to 1 ounces of gold. Four years hence, Bryan and the Silver Democracy adopted that plank, and the Populists endorsed him.

In 1892, the Populists nominated James B. Weaver for President and James G. Field for Vice President. Weaver had been the candidate of the radical Greenback Party back in 1880. Weaver and the Populists contended that the federal government was, “Government of Wall Street, by Wall Street, and for Wall Street.”

On November 8, 1892, Grover Cleveland reclaimed the White House with 5,556,543 votes to 5,175,582 for Harrison. The Populists attracted an impressive 1,040,886 votes, mostly from previously Republican States. That translated to a decisive Electoral College victory for Cleveland of 277 to 145. The Populists won 22 Electoral votes from Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, and Nebraska, and protest votes from North Dakota and Oregon.

Shortly after Cleveland's inauguration, the United States plunged into a prolonged and desperate economic depression, which did not end during his second term. James G. Blaine, the Plumed Knight and party's beloved 1884 nominee, died on January 27, 1893, two months before he would have been inaugurated had he been elected. He was 63 years of age. President Harrison died in 1901.


R. Craig Sautter is the author of three books on presidential conventions and teaches courses on the American presidency (among others) at DePaul University's School for New Learning in Chicago. With Sautter Communications (www.sauttercommunications.com), he writes and produces radio and TV political ads for candidates for public office.
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Copyright 2004 R. Craig Sautter. All rights reserved.