Gilded Age politics, 1876-1896

Major questions: Why did people vote for each party? To what degree did it serve the needs of the people? Does one party strike you as better than the others? Explain your reasoning.

National political alignment:
Solidly Democratic (voted D in at least 5 of these 6 elections): Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia
Leaned Democratic (voted D in 4 of the 6 elections): Connecticut
Swing states: Idaho, Indiana, Montana, NY, North Dakota, South Dakota, Washington, Wyoming (Indiana and NY are the important ones; all the others voted in only the last two elections listed)
Leaned Republican (same criteria as above): California, Colorado, Kansas, Nevada
Solidly Republican: Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin

(If you'd like to make your own maps for review, amusement, or whatever else, the tool is here.)

Given the map above, it shouldn't be a surprise that between 1876 and 1892, of the 20 major-party nominations for P/VP, 13 went to candidates from Indiana or NY. Historian Lewis Gould: "politics was a national obsession." Other historians call the period the "years of stalemate," since only the Republicans (1889-91) and Democrats (1893-1895) simultaneously controlled Congress and the Presidency. Turnout averaged 78% in presidential elections in this period, but was far from evenly distributed (see below). For comparison, it has not exceeded 65.4% since 1900 and has not exceeded 58% since 1972:

1868 78.1%
1872 71.3
1876 81.8
1880 79.4
1884 77.5
1888 79.3
1892 74.7
1896 79.3
1900 73.2



Excerpts from party platforms
(if you'd like more detail, check out the excellent American Presidency Project. Lots of trivia and interesting details at Presidential Campaigns & Elections Reference, too. There were lots of third parties in this period.)

Third party

Reform is necessary to rebuild and establish in the hearts of the whole people the Union eleven years ago happily rescued from the danger of the secession of States, but now to be saved from a corrupt centralism which, after inflicting upon ten States the rapacity of carpet-bag tyrannies, has honeycombed the offices of the Federal Government itself with incapacity, waste and fraud; infected States and municipalities with the contagion of misrule, and locked fast the prosperity of an industrious people in the paralysis of hard times....

[Compare Horace Greeley, 1872: he calls for Americans to “clasp hands across the bloody chasm” and wonders whether “the white man of this country shall have equal rights with the black men." 1874 congressional elections return 61 former Confederate officers to office; chairmen of 21 of 34 most important House committees come from former slave states. They introduce bills to amnesty all ex-Confederates. Tilden condemns the “insupportable misgovernment imposed upon the states of the South” while pledging to protect “all citizens, whatever their former condition, in every political and personal right."]

We denounce the present tariff levied upon nearly four thousand articles as a masterpiece of injustice, inequality and false pretense, which yields a dwindling and not a yearly rising revenue, has impoverished many industries to subsidize a few. It prohibits imports that might purchase the products of American labor; it has degraded American commerce from the first to an inferior rank upon the high seas; it has cut down the values of American manufactures at home and abroad; it has depleted the returns of American agriculture, an industry followed by half our people....

We denounce the policy which thus discards the liberty-loving German and tolerates the revival of the coolie-trade in Mongolian women for immoral purposes, and Mongolian men held to perform servile labor contracts, and demand such modification of the treaty with the Chinese Empire, or such legislation within constitutional limitations, as shall prevent further importation or immigration of the Mongolian race....

Reform is necessary in the civil service. Experience proves that efficient economical conduct of the government is not possible if its civil service be subject to change at every election, be a prize fought for at the ballot-box, be an approved reward of party zeal instead of posts of honor assigned for proved competency and held for fidelity in the public employ; that the dispensing of patronage should neither be a tax upon the time of our public men nor an instrument of their ambition. Here again, profession falsified in the performance attest that the party in power can work out no practical or salutary reform.

Coinage Act of 1873 drops silver dollar from list of nation’s coins, which creates tension with western soft-money factions who continually agitate for return to silver coinage, calling the “crime of ‘73." This shows sympathy with big business, as in Shays' Rebellion.

When, in the economy of Providence, this land was to be purged of human slavery, and when the strength of government of the people by the people and for the people was to be demonstrated, the Republican party came into power. Its deeds have passed into history, and we look back to them with pride....

The permanent pacification of the Southern section of the Union and the complete protection of all its citizens in the free enjoyment of all their rights, are duties to which the Republican party is sacredly pledged. The power to provide for the enforcement of the principles embodied in the recent constitutional amendments is vested by those amendments in the Congress of the United States; and we declare it to be the solemn obligation of the legislative and executive departments of the government to put into immediate and vigorous exercise all their constitutional powers for removing any just causes of discontent on the part of any class, and securing to every American citizen complete liberty and exact equality in the exercise of all civil, political, and public rights. To this end we imperatively demand a congress and a chief executive whose courage and fidelity to these duties shall not falter until these results are placed beyond dispute or recall....

The public school system of the several states is the bulwark of the American republic; and, with a view to its security and permanence, we recommend an amendment to the constitution of the United States, forbidding the application of any public funds or property for the benefit of any school or institution under sectarian control....

It is the immediate duty of congress fully to investigate the effects of the immigration and importation of Mongolians on the moral and material interests of the country. The Republican party recognizes with approval the substantial advances recently made toward the establishment of equal rights for women, by the many important amendments effected by Republican legislatures in the laws which concern the personal and property relations of wives, mothers, and widows, and by the appointment and election of women to the superintendence of education, charities, and other public trusts. The honest demands of this class of citizens for additional rights, privileges, and immunities should be treated with respectful consideration....

We charge the Democratic party with being the same in character and spirit as when it sympathized with treason; with making its control of the house of representatives the triumph and opportunity of the nation's recent foes; with reasserting and applauding in the national capitol the sentiments of unrepentant rebellion; with sending Union soldiers to the rear, and promoting Confederate soldiers to the front; with deliberately proposing to repudiate the plighted faith of the government.

Hayes’ letter of acceptance of the nomination calls for sectional reconciliation IF Southerners “sacredly observe” parts of the Constitution “that are new no less than the parts that are old.” Hayes writes Garfield in August that “our main issue must be It is not safe to allow the Rebellion to come into power.”

Disfranchisement: Repub. vote in Va. drops from 40% in 1876 to 4.1% in 1877 elections; in Miss. from 30% to 1.2%.

American National party: ours is a Christian and not a heathen nation, and the God of the Christian scriptures is the author of civil government. God requires and man needs a sabbath. The prohibition of the importation, manufacture, and sale of intoxicating drinks as a beverage, is the true policy on the temperance question. The civil equality secured to all American citizens by Articles 13th, 14th, and 15th of our amended Constitution should be preserved inviolate. To cultivate the intellect without improving the morals of men is to make mere adepts and experts; therefore, the Bible should be associated with books of science and literature in all our educational institutions. Land and other monopolies should be discountenanced. We demand for the American people the abolition of electoral colleges, and a direct vote for President and Vice-President.

(For more 1876 parties, including the Greenback, American National, and Prohibition parties, see here. You can find every third party from the period in the book as well.)


The subordination of the military to the civil power, and a general and thorough reform of the civil service. The right to a free ballot is the right preservative of all rights, and must and shall be maintained in every part of the United States. The existing administration is the representative of conspiracy only, and its claim of right to surround the ballot-boxes with troops and deputy marshals, to intimidate and obstruct the election, and the unprecedented use of the veto to maintain its corrupt and despotic powers, insult the people and imperil their institutions....

No more Chinese immigration, except for travel, education, and foreign commerce, and that even carefully guarded. Public money and public credit for public purposes solely, and public land for actual settlers. The Democratic party is the friend of labor and the laboring man, and pledges itself to protect him alike against the cormorant [a term for corrupt office-seeker, someone wanting a government job merely for the perks it offered] and the commune.

It suppressed a rebellion which had armed nearly a million of men to subvert the national authority. It reconstructed the Union of the States, with freedom instead of slavery as itscorner-stone. It transformed 4,000,000 human beings from the likeness of things to the rank of citizens. It relieved Congress from the infamous work of hunting fugitive slaves, and charged it to see that slavery does not exist. It has raised the value of our paper currency from 38 per cent to the par of gold. It has restored upon a solid basis payment in coin of all national obligations, and has given us a currency absolutely good and equal in every part of our extended country. Under its administration, railways have increased from 31,000 miles in 1860, to more than 82,000 miles in 1879. Our foreign trade increased from $700,000,000 to $1,115,000,000 in the same time, and our exports, which were $20,000,000 less than our imports in 1860, were $265,000,000 more than our imports in 1879....

The Constitution wisely forbids Congress to make any law respecting the establishment of religion, but it is idle to hope that the Nation can be protected against the influence of secret sectarianism while each State is exposed to its domination. We, therefore, recommend that the Constitution be so amended as to lay the same prohibition upon the Legislature of each State, and to forbid the appropriation of public funds to the support of sectarian schools. We affirm the belief, avowed in 1876, that the duties levied for the purpose of revenues should so discriminate as to favor American labor; that no further grants of the public domain should be made to any railway or other corporation; that slavery having perished in the States, its twin barbarity, polygamy, must die in the Territories....

The Republican party, regarding the unrestricted immigration of the Chinese as a matter of grave concernment under the exercise of both these powers, would limit and restrict that immigration by the enactment of such just, humane and reasonable laws and treaties as will produce that result....

We charge upon the Democratic party the habitual sacrifice of patriotism and justice to a supreme and insatiable lust for office and patronage; that to obtain possession of the National Government, and control of the place, they have obstructed all efforts to promote the purity and to conserve the freedom of the suffrage, and have devised fraudulent ballots and invented fraudulent certification of returns.

Greenback party (others: Prohibition, Anti-Masonic [same as American National]): That the right to make and issue money is a sovereign power to be maintained by the people for the common benefit.  The delegation of this right to corporations is a surrender of the central attribute of sovereignty, void of constitutional sanction, conferring upon a subordinate irresponsible power, and absolute dominion over industry and commerce.  All money, whether metallic or paper, should be issued and its volume controlled by the Government and not by or through banking corporations, and when so issued should be a full legal tender for all debts, public and private....

That the bonds of the United States should not be refunded, but paid as rapidly as it is practicable, according to contract.  To enable the Government to meet these obligations, legal tender currency should be substituted for the notes of the national banks, the national banking system abolished, and the unlimited coinage of silver as well as gold established by law. That labor should be so protected by national and state authority as to equalize its burdens and insure a just distribution of its results;  the eight-hour law of Congress should be enforced;  the sanitary condition of industrial establishments placed under rigid control;  the competition of contract convict labor abolished;  a bureau of labor statistics established;  factories, mines and workshops inspected;  the employment of children under fourteen years of age forbidden, and wages paid in cash.

Slavery being simply cheap labor, and cheap labor being simply slavery, the importation and presence of Chinese serfs necessarily tends to brutalize and degrade American labor....

It is the duty of Congress to regulate inter-state commerce.  All lines of communication and transportation should be brought under such legislative control as shall secure moderate, fair and uniform rates for passenger and freight traffic.

We denounce, as destructive to prosperity and dangerous to liberty, the action of the old parties in fostering and sustaining gigantic laud, railroad and money corporations and monopolies, invested with, and exercising, powers belonging to the Government, and yet not responsible to it for the manner of their use.  That the constitution, in giving Congress the power to borrow money, to declare war, to raise and support armies, to provide and maintain a navy, never intended that the men who loaned their money for an interest consideration should be preferred to the soldier and sailor who periled their lives and shed their blood on land and sea in defense of their country, and we condemn the cruel class legislation of the Republican party which, while professing great gratitude to the soldier, has most unjustly discriminated against him, and in favor of the bondholder. All property should bear its just proportion of taxation, and we demand a graduated income tax. We denounce as most dangerous the efforts everywhere manifest to restrict the right of suffrage.


The fundamental principles of the Democracy, approved by the united voice of the people, remain, and will ever remain, as the best and only security for the continuance of free government. The preservation of personal rights; the equality of all citizens before the law; the reserved rights of the States; and the supremacy of the Federal Government within the limits of the Constitution, will ever form the true basis of our liberties....The Republican party, so far as principle is concerned, is a reminiscence; in practice, it is an organization for enriching those who control its machinery....The Republican party during its legal, its stolen, and its bought tenure of power, has steadily decayed in moral character and political capacity. Its platform promises are now a list of its past failures....It professes a desire to elevate labor. It has subjected American workingmen to the competition of convict and imported contract labor....It professes to protect all American industries. It has impoverished many to subsidize a few. It professes the protection of American labor. It has depleted the returns of American agriculture, an industry followed by half of our people. It professes the equality of all men before the law. Attempting to fix the status of colored citizens, the acts of its Congress were overset by the decision of its Courts....We, therefore, denounce the abuses of the existing tariff; and, subject to the preceding limitations, we demand that Federal taxation shall be exclusively for public purposes and shall not exceed the needs of the Government economically administered....In reaffirming the declaration of the Democratic platform of 1856, that "the liberal principles embodied by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, and sanctioned in the Constitution, which make ours the land of liberty and the asylum of the oppressed of every Nation, have ever been cardinal principles in the Democratic faith," we nevertheless do not sanction the importation of foreign labor, or the admission of servile races, unfitted by habits, training, religion, or kindred, for absorption into the great body of our people, or for the citizenship which our laws confer. American civilization demands that against the immigration or importation of Mongolians to these shores our gates be closed....Instead of the Republican party's discredited scheme and false pretense of friendship for American labor, expressed by imposing taxes, we demand in behalf of the Democracy, freedom for American labor by reducing taxes, to the end that these United States may compete with unhindered powers for the primacy among nations in all the arts of peace and fruits of liberty.

Cleveland wins NY in 1884 by 1047 votes out of more than 1 million. He endorses the Jacksonian theory that “though people support the government, the Government should not support the people” (which he says while vetoing a bill providing seeds to failing farmers) and thus vetoes 400 bills in his first term alone, more than 2x total of all predecessors combined, telling congressmen trying to broaden pensions for Civil-War vets that “the race after pensions offered by this bill would not only stimulate weakness and pretended incapacity for labor, but put a further premium on dishonesty and mendacity.”

The Republican party has gained its strength by quick and faithful response to the demands of the people for the freedom and equality of all men; for a united nation, assuring the rights of all citizens; for the elevation of labor, for an honest currency; for purity in legislation, and for integrity and accountability in all departments of the government, and it accepts anew the duty of leading in the work of progress and reform....The largest diversity of industry is most productive of general prosperity, and of the comfort and independence of the people.

We, therefore, demand that the imposition of duties on foreign imports shall be made, not "for revenue only," but that in raising the requisite revenues for the government, such duties shall be so levied as to afford security to our diversified industries and protection to the rights and wages of the laborer; to the end that active and intelligent labor, as well as capital, may have its just reward, and the laboring man his full share in the national prosperity. Against the so-called economic system of the Democratic party, which would degrade our labor to the foreign standard, we enter our earnest protest....The Republican party, having its birth in a hatred of slave labor and a desire that all men may be truly free and equal, is unalterably opposed to placing our workingmen in competition with any form of servile labor, whether at home or abroad. In this spirit, we denounce the importation of contract labor, whether from Europe or Asia, as an offense against the spirit of American institutions; and we pledge ourselves to sustain the present law restricting Chinese immigration, and to provide such further legislation as is necessary to carry out its purposes....The Republican party favors a policy which shall keep us from entangling alliances with foreign nations, and which gives us the right to expect that foreign nations shall refrain from meddling in American affairs; a policy which seeks peace and trade with all powers, but especially with those of the Western Hemisphere....

Resolved, That it is the duty of Congress to enact such laws as shall promptly and effectually suppress the system of polygamy within our Territories; and divorce the political from the ecclesiastical power of the so-called Mormon church; and that the laws so enacted should be rigidly enforced by the civil authorities, if possible, and by the military, if need be.

The people of the United States, in their organized capacity, constitute a Nation and not a mere confederacy of States; the National Government is supreme within the sphere of its national duties; but the States have reserved rights which should be faithfully maintained. Each should be guarded with jealous care, so that the harmony of our system of government may be preserved and the Union kept inviolate.

The perpetuity of our institutions rests upon the maintenance of a free ballot, an honest count, and correct returns. We denounce the fraud and violence practised by the Democracy in Southern States, by which the will of a voter is defeated, as dangerous to the preservation of free institutions; and we solemnly arraign the Democratic party as being the guilty recipient of fruits of such fraud and violence. Pro-reform Republicans endorse Cleveland, saying the party must rededicate itself to "retrenchment, purity, and reform."

Prohibition Party (others: American Prohibition [same as American National], Greenback, Equal Rights, Anti-Monopoly):

The Prohibition Party, in National Convention assembled, acknowledge Almighty God as the rightful sovereign of all men, from whom the just powers of government are derived and to whose laws human enactments should conform as an absolute condition of peace, prosperity and happiness.

That the importation, manufacture, supply and sale of alcoholic beverages, created and maintained by the laws of the National and State Governments during the entire history of such laws, are everywhere shown to be the promoting cause of intemperance, with resulting crime and pauperism, making large demands upon public and private charity; imposing large and unjust taxation for the support of penal and sheltering institutions, upon thrift, industry, manufactures and commerce; endangering the public peace, desecrating the Sabbath; corrupting our politics, legislation and administration of the laws; shortening lives, impairing health and diminishing productive industry, causing education to be neglected and despised, nullifying the teachings of the Bible, the church and the school, the standards and guides of our fathers and their children in the founding and growth of our widely-extended country; and which, imperiling the perpetuity of our civil and religious liberties, are baleful fruits by which we know that these laws are contrary to God's laws and contravene our happiness. We therefore call upon our fellow-citizens to aid in the repeal of these laws and in the legal suppression of this baneful liquor traffic.

During the 24 years in which the Republican party has controlled the general Government and many of the States, no effort has been made to change this policy....

That the Democratic party has in its national deliverances of party policy arrayed itself on the side of the drink-makers and sellers by declaring against the policy of Prohibition under the false name of "sumptuary laws"; that when in power in many of the States it has refused remedial legislation, and that in Congress it has obstructed the creation of a Commission of Inquiry into the effects of this traffic, proving that it should not be entrusted with power and place.

That there can be no greater peril to the nation than the existing competition of the Republican and Democratic parties for the liquor vote. Experience shows that any party not openly opposed to the traffic will engage in this competition, will court the favor of the criminal classes, will barter the public morals, the purity of the ballot and every trust and object of good government for party success. Patriots and good citizens should therefore,immediately withdraw from all connection with these parties.

That we favor reforms in the abolition of all sinecures with useless offices and officers, and in elections by the people instead of appointments by the President; that as competency, honesty and sobriety are essential qualifications for office, we oppose removals except when absolutely necessary to secure effectiveness in vital issues; that the collection of revenues from alcoholic liquors and tobacco should be abolished, since the vices of men are not proper subjects of taxation; that revenue from customs duties should be levied for the support of the Government economically administered, and in such manner as will foster American industries and labor....That the activity and co-operation of the women of America for the promotion of temperance has in all the history of the past been a strength and encouragement which we gratefully acknowledge and record. In the later and present phase of the movement for the Prohibition of the traffic, the purity of purpose and method, the earnestness, zeal, intelligence and devotion of the mothers and daughters of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union have been eminently blessed of God. Kansas and Iowa have been given them as `sheaves' of rejoicing, and the education and arousing of the public mind, and the now prevailing demand for the Constitutional Amendment, are largely the fruit oftheir prayers and labors. Sharing in the efforts that shall bring the question of the abolition of this traffic to the polls, they shall join in the grand `Praise God, from whom all blessings flow,' when by law victory shall be achieved.

That, believing in the civil and the political equality of the sexes, and that the ballot in the hands of woman is her right for protection and would prove a powerful ally for the abolition of the liquor traffic, the execution of the law, the promotion of reform in civil affairs, the removal of corruption in public life, we enunciate the principle and relegate the practical outworking of this reform to the discretion of the Prohibition party in the several States according to the condition of public sentiment in those States.



It has adopted and consistently pursued a firm and prudent foreign policy, preserving peace with all nations while scrupulously maintaining all the rights and interests of our Government and people at home and abroad. The exclusion from our shores of Chinese laborers has been effectually secured under the provisions of a treaty, the operation of which has been postponed by the action of a Republican majority in the Senate. Honest reform in the Civil Service has been inaugurated and maintained by President Cleveland, and he has brought the public service to the highest standard of efficiency, not only by rule and precept, but by the example of his own untiring and unselfish administration of public affairs. In every branch and department of the Government under Democratic control, the rights and welfare of all the people have been guarded and defended; every public interest has been protected, and the equality of all our citizens before the law, without regard to race or section, has been steadfastly maintained....The Republican party, controlling the Senate and resisting in both Houses of Congress a reformation of unjust and unequal tax laws, which have outlasted the necessities of war and are now undermining the abundance of a long peace, deny to the people equality before the law and the fairness and the justice which are their right. Thus the cry of American labor for a better share in the rewards of industry is stifled with false pretenses, enterprise is fettered and bound down to home markets; capital is discouraged with doubt, and unequal, unjust laws can neither be properly amended nor repealed. The Democratic party will continue, with all the power confided to it, the struggle to reform these laws in accordance with the pledges of its last platform indorsed at the ballot-box by the suffrages of the people. Of all the industrious freemen of our land, an immense majority, including every tiller of the soil, gain no advantage from excessive tax laws; but the price of nearly everything they buy is increased by the favoritism of an unequal system of tax legislation. All unnecessary taxation is unjust taxation. It is repugnant to the creed of Democracy, that by such taxation the costs of the necessaries of life should be unjustifiably increased to all our people.

We reaffirm our unswerving devotion to the National Constitution and the indissoluble Union of the States; to the autonomy reserved to the States under the Constitution; to the personal rights and liberties of citizens in all the States and Territories of the Union, and especially to the supreme and sovereign right of every lawful citizen, rich or poor, native or foreign born, white or black, to cast one free ballot in public elections, and to have that ballot duly counted. We hold the free and honest popular ballot and the just and equal representation of all the people to be the foundation of our Republican government and demand effective legislation to secure the integrity and purity of elections, which are the fountains of all public authority. We charge that the present Administration and the Democratic majority in Congress owe their existence to the suppression of the ballot by a criminal nullification of the Constitution and laws of the United States. We are uncompromisingly in favor of the American system of protection; we protest against its destruction as proposed by the President and his party. They serve the interests of Europe; we will support the interests of America. We accept the issue, and confidently appeal to the people for their judgment. The protective system must be maintained. Its abandonment has always been followed by general disaster to all interests, except those of the usurer and the sheriff....We declare our hostility to the introduction into this country of foreign contract labor and of Chinese labor, alien to our civilization and constitution; and we demand the rigid enforcement of the existing laws against it, and favor such immediate legislation as will exclude such labor from our shores....The restoration of unearned railroad land grants to the public domain for the use of actual settlers, which was begun under the Administration of President Arthur, should be continued. We deny that the Democratic party has ever restored one acre to the people, but declare that by the joint action of the Republicans and Democrats in Congress about 60,000,000 acres of unearned lands originally granted for the construction of railroads have been restored to the public domain, in pursuance of the conditions inserted by the Republican party in the original grants. We charge the Democratic Administration with failure to execute the laws securing to settlers the title to their homesteads, and with using appropriations made for that purpose to harass innocent settlers with spies and prosecutions under the false pretense of exposing frauds and vindicating the law....The political power of the Mormon Church in the Territories as exercised in the past is a menace to free institutions too dangerous to be longer suffered. Therefore we pledge the Republican party to appropriate legislation asserting the sovereignty of the Nation in all Territories where the same is questioned, and in furtherance of that end to place upon the statute books legislation stringent enough to divorce the political from the ecclesiastical power, and thus stamp out the attendant wickedness of polygamy....

We denounce the hostile spirit shown by President Cleveland in his numerous vetoes of measures for pension relief, and the action of the Democratic House of Representatives in refusing even a consideration of general pension legislation. In support of the principles herewith enunciated we invite the co-operation of patriotic men of all parties, and especially of all workingmen, whose prosperity is seriously threatened by the free-trade policy of the present Administration.

Resolution Relating to Prohibition: The first concern of all good government is the virtue and sobriety of the people and the purity of their homes. The Republican party cordially sympathizes with all wise and well-directed efforts for the promotion of temperance and morality.

Disfranchisement: 1888, in black-majority states, La, Miss, SC, Harrison gets less than 30% of vote; in 60%-black SC, he gets 17.2%. Repubs propose Lodge Federal Elections Bill in 1890, which allows 100 concerned citizens in any district to call for federal monitoring of suspect congressional elections and even arbitration of victory in disputed cases. S calls it “force bill.”  Passes House 155-149 but delayed in Senate, where Dems delay tariff bill indefinitely to keep Repubs from pursuing Lodge Bill. Repubs then smashed in 1890 elections, end up down 235-88 in House (+9 Populists). Bill finally goes down to defeat after election, when Senate Dems filibuster it to death (first bill to be so defeated) and House W pro-silver Repubs work with Dems, who agree to support consideration of free silver in exchange for support. Last significant civil-rights legislation until mid-20th c. Induces S to then legally suppress black vote through poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses. In 1894 Dems push through repeal of 40 sections of KKK Act of 1871, which Cleveland signs on 85th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. One former Repub Senator: repeal will “leave the southern aristocracy again the masters of the country, as they were before their rebellion, until the people of the US again wake up”; also lower tariff, in compensation for which they propose income tax on individual/corporate incomes over $4000, which covers 10% population. In midst of 1893 panic, 1894 elections mark largest transition in American history: from 212-133 D to 244-105 R.

many third parties: Greenback, Prohibition, United Labor, American Party [same as American Prohibition/American National], Equal Rights, Industrial Reform, and Union Labor:

We oppose land monopoly in every form, demand the forfeiture of unearned grants, the limitation of land ownership, and such other legislation as will stop speculation in land and holding it unused from those whose necessities require it. We believe the earth was made for the people and not to enable an idle aristocracy to subsist through rents upon the toil of the industrious....The means of communication and transportation should be owned by the people, as is the United States postal system....The establishing of a national monetary system in the interest of the producers instead of the speculators and usurers, by which the circulating medium in necessary quantity and full legal tender should be issued directly to the people without the intervention of banks....Arbitration should take the place of strikes and other injurious methods of settling labor disputes....A graduated income tax is the most equitable system of taxation, placing the burden of government upon those who are best able to pay, instead of laying it upon the farmers and exempting millionaire bondholders and corporations. We demand a Constitutional amendment making United States Senators elective by a direct vote of the people....We demand the passage and enforcement of such legislation as will absolutely exclude the Chinese from the United States. The right to vote is inherent in citizenship, irrespective of sex, and is properly within the province of State legislation. The paramount issues to be solved in the interests of humanity are the abolition of usury, monopoly and trusts, and we denounce the Democratic and Republican parties for creating and perpetuating these monstrous evils.



We warn the people of our common country, jealous for the preservation of their free institutions, that the policy of Federal control of elections [Lodge Bill; see Republicans, 1888], to which the Republican party has committed itself, is fraught with the gravest dangers, scarcely less momentous than would result from a revolution practically establishing monarchy on the ruins of the Republic. It strikes at the North as well as at the South, and injures the colored citizen even more than the white; it means a horde of deputy marshals at every polling place, armed with Federal power; returning boards appointed and controlled by Federal authority, the outrage of the electoral rights of the people in the several States, the subjugation of the colored people to the control of the party in power, and the reviving of race antagonisms, now happily abated, of the utmost peril to the safety and happiness of all; a measure deliberately and justly described by a leading Republican Senator as "the most infamous bill that ever crossed the threshold of the Senate."...We declare it to be a fundamental principle of the Democratic party that the Federal Government has no constitutional power to impose and collect tariff duties, except for the purpose of revenue only, and we demand that the collection of such taxes shall be limited to the necessities of the Government when honestly and economically administered....This country has always been the refuge of the oppressed from every land—exiles for conscience sake—and in the spirit of the founders of our Government we condemn the oppression practised by the Russian Government upon its Lutheran and Jewish subjects, and we call upon our National Government, in the interest of justice and humanity, by all just and proper means, to use its prompt and best efforts to bring about a cessation of these cruel persecutions in the dominions of the Czar and to secure to the oppressed equal rights.

We tender our profound and earnest sympathy to those lovers of freedom who are struggling for home rule and the great cause of local self-government in Ireland. We heartily approve all legitimate efforts to prevent the United States from being used as the dumping ground for the known criminals and professional paupers of Europe; and we demand the rigid enforcement of the laws against Chinese immigration and the importation of foreign workmen under contract, to degrade American labor and lessen its wages; but we condemn and denounce any and all attempts to restrict the immigration of the industrious and worthy of foreign lands....We are in favor of the enactment by the States of laws for abolishing the notorious sweating system, for abolishing contract convict labor, and for prohibiting the employment in factories of children under 15 years of age.

We are opposed to all sumptuary laws [ie Prohibition], as an interference with the individual rights of the citizen.

We reaffirm the American doctrine of protection. We call attention to its growth abroad. We maintain that the prosperous condition of our country is largely due to the wise revenue legislation of the Republican congress. 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 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 free and honest popular ballot, the just and equal representation of all the people, as well as their just and equal protection under the laws, are the foundation of our Republican institutions, and 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.

Southern Outrages

We denounce the continued inhuman outrages perpetrated upon American citizens for political reasons in certain Southern States of the Union....

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 cause of home rule in Ireland, and protests against the persecution of the Jews in Russia. The ultimate reliance of free popular government is the intelligence of the people, and the maintenance of freedom among men. We therefore declare anew our devotion to liberty of thought and conscience, of speech and press, and approve 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 are opposed to any union of Church and State.

...We sympathize with all wise and legitimate efforts to lessen and prevent the evils of intemperance and promote morality.

Homestead strike hurts Repubs, to whom party is tied, and it damages argument that tariff protects workers, as do further troubles that fall in Idaho silver mines, Tennessee coal mines, Buffalo railyards. Repubs dodge Lodge Bill’s implications in 1892 as “no more a ‘Force Bill’ than are the Ten Commandments,” adding that the party was “in no sense committed to this bill.”

Democratic landslide: Dems end up controlling entire government, for first time since Civil War.


Populists (also Prohibition, which wins its highest vote total ever [271,0000], Socialist Labor):

The conditions which surround us best justify our cooperation; we meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political, and material ruin. Corruption dominates the ballot-box, the Legislatures, the Congress, and touches even the ermine of the bench.

The people are demoralized; most of the States have been compelled to isolate the voters at the polling places to prevent universal intimidation and bribery. The newspapers are largely subsidized or muzzled, public opinion silenced, business prostrated, homes covered with mortgages, labor impoverished, and the land concentrating in the hands of capitalists. The urban workmen are denied the right to organize for self-protection, imported pauperized labor beats down their wages, a hireling standing army, unrecognized by our laws, is established to shoot them down, and they are rapidly degenerating into European conditions. The fruits of the toil of millions are badly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few, unprecedented in the history of mankind; and the possessors of these, in turn, despise the Republic and endanger liberty. From the same prolific womb of governmental injustice we breed the two great classes—tramps and millionaires. The national power to create money is appropriated to enrich bond-holders; a vast public debt payable in legal-tender currency has been funded into gold-bearing bonds, thereby adding millions to the burdens of the people....

We have witnessed for more than a quarter of a century the struggles of the two great political parties for power and plunder, while grievous wrongs have been inflicted upon the suffering people. We charge that the controlling influences dominating both these parties have permitted the existing dreadful conditions to develop without serious effort to prevent or restrain them. Neither do they now promise us any substantial reform. They have agreed together to ignore, in the coming campaign, every issue but one. They propose to drown the outcries of a plundered people with the uproar of a sham battle over the tariff, so that capitalists, corporations, national banks, rings, trusts, watered stock, the demonetization of silver and the oppressions of the usurers may all be lost sight of. They propose to sacrifice our homes, lives, and children on the altar of mammon; to destroy the multitude in order to secure corruption funds from the millionaires....We declare, therefore—

First.—That the union of the labor forces of the United States this day consummated shall be permanent and perpetual; may its spirit enter into all hearts for the salvation of the republic and the uplifting of mankind.

Second.—Wealth belongs to him who creates it, and every dollar taken from industry without an equivalent is robbery. ''If any will not work, neither shall he eat.'' The interests of rural and civil labor are the same; their enemies are identical.

Third.—We believe that the time has come when the railroad corporations will either own the people or the people must own the railroads; and should the government enter upon the work of owning and managing all railroads, we should favor an amendment to the constitution by which all persons engaged in the government service shall be placed under a civil-service regulation of the most rigid character, so as to prevent the increase of the power of the national administration by the use of such additional government employees.

  1. RESOLVED, That we pledge our support to fair and liberal pensions to ex-Union soldiers and sailors.
  2. RESOLVED, That we condemn the fallacy of protecting American labor under the present system, which opens our ports to the pauper and criminal classes of the world and crowds out our wage-earners; and we denounce the present ineffective laws against contract labor, and demand the further restriction of undesirable emigration.
  3. RESOLVED, That we cordially sympathize with the efforts of organized workingmen to shorten the hours of labor, and demand a rigid enforcement of the existing eight-hour law on Government work, and ask that a penalty clause be added to the said law.
  4. RESOLVED, That we regard the maintenance of a large standing army of mercenaries, known as the Pinkerton system, as a menace to our liberties, and we demand its abolition. . . .
  5. RESOLVED, That we commend to the favorable consideration of the people and the reform press the legislative system known as the initiative and referendum.
  6. RESOLVED, That we favor a constitutional provision limiting the office of President and Vice-President to one term, and providing for the election of Senators of the United States by a direct vote of the people.
  7. RESOLVED, That we oppose any subsidy or national aid to any private corporation for any purpose.

(Democrats split into pro-gold and pro-silver factions. Silver Dems back Bryan.) Under its guidance and teachings the great principle of local self-government has found its best expression in the maintenance of the rights of the States and in its assertion of the necessity of confining the general government to the exercise of the powers granted by the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution of the United States guarantees to every citizen the rights of civil and religious liberty. The Democratic Party has always been the exponent of political liberty and religious freedom, and it renews its obligations and reaffirms its devotion to these fundamental principles of the Constitution....We hold that the most efficient way of protecting American labor is to prevent the importation of foreign pauper labor to compete with it in the home market, and that the value of the home market to our American farmers and artisans is greatly reduced by a vicious monetary system which depresses the prices of their products below the cost of production, and thus deprives them of the means of purchasing the products of our home manufactories; and as labor creates the wealth of the country, we demand the passage of such laws as may be necessary to protect it in all its rights....We denounce arbitrary interference by Federal authorities in local affairs as a violation of the Constitution of the United States, and a crime against free institutions, and we especially object to government by injunction as a new and highly dangerous form of oppression by which Federal Judges, in contempt of the laws of the States and rights of citizens, become at once legislators, judges and executioners.

For the first time since the civil war the American people have witnessed the calamitous consequence of full and unrestricted Democratic control of the government. It has been a record of unparalleled incapacity, dishonor and disaster....The Republican party is unreservedly for sound money. It caused the enactment of a law providing for the redemption [resumption] of specie payments in 1879. Since then every dollar has been as good as gold. We are unalterably opposed to every measure calculated to debase our currency or impair the credit of our country. We are therefore opposed to the free coinage of silver, except by international agreement with the leading commercial nations of the earth, which agreement we pledge ourselves to promote, and until such agreement can be obtained the existing gold standard must be maintained....For the protection of the equality of our American citizenship and of the wages of our workingmen, against the fatal competition of low priced labor, we demand that the immigration laws be thoroughly enforced, and so extended as to exclude from entrance to the United States those who can neither read nor write....We demand that every citizen of the United States shall be allowed to cast one free and unrestricted ballot, and that such ballot shall be counted and returned as cast.

We proclaim our unqualified condemnation of the uncivilized and preposterous [barbarous] practice well known as Iynching, and the killing of human beings suspected or charged with crime without process of law....We sympathize fully with all legitimate efforts to lessen and prevent the evils of intemperance and promote morality. The Republican party is mindful of the rights and interests of women, and believes that they should be accorded equal opportunities, equal pay for equal work, and protection to the home. We favor the admission of women to wider spheres of usefulness and welcome their co-operation in rescuing the country from Democratic and Populist mismanagement and misrule.

Deep South turnout is 34.9%, as compared with 79.3% nationally. McK’s inaugural declares “free and fair elections…are more universally enjoyed to-day than ever before,” adding that “the North and the South no longer divide on the old lines.” After white violence kills 14 in Wilmington, NC in 1898, McK endorses Washingtonesque pursuit of goals for African-Americans: “nothing in the world commands more respect than skill and industry.” By 1900, Repubs merely state that voting-rights restrictions in the South “should be condemned.”

This is considered a crucial election.

Political scientist V. O. Key Jr. identified the Democratic defeat [in 1896] as "so demoralizing and so thorough that the party could make little headway in regrouping its forces until 1916."... Offering optimism at a time of economic crisis, he broadened the party’s appeal and extended its coalition, in part by rejecting anti-Catholic prejudice while preaching national unity. As a result, "the Republican Party was no longer a shrinking and beleaguered organization composed of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants in the North and Southern blacks being systematically stripped of their right to vote."...McKinley advanced a platform for the protection of industry with high tariffs and for the defense of a gold-backed dollar against the free-trade, silver currency platform of Bryan and the Democrats. Rather than exhaust himself as Bryan did, by frantic barnstorming and lengthy speechmaking, McKinley ran a campaign that was “almost industrial in scale.”

Populists (also Silver Party, Socialist Labor, Prohibition Party splits into a "narrow" one that supports just prohibition and a "broad" one that also supports free silver. Interestingly, the Prohibition Party has run a candidate for president in every election since 1872. Earl Dodge ran as its candidate from 1984-2004, winning a total of less than 20,000 votes; they got 5000 votes in 2016 and are running a candidate in 2020):

We demand a national money, safe and sound, issued by the General Government only, without the intervention of banks of issue, to be a full legal tender for all debts, public and private; a just, equitable, and efficient means of distribution direct to the people and through the lawful disbursements of the Government. We demand the free and unrestricted coinage of silver and gold at the present ratio of 16 to 1, without waiting for the consent of foreign nations. We demand a graduated income tax to the end that aggregated wealth shall bear its just proportion of taxation, and we regard the recent decision of the Supreme Court relative to the Income Tax law as a misinterpretation of the Constitution and an invasion of the rightful powers of Congress over the subject of taxation. Transportation being a means of exchange and a public necessity, the Government should own and operate the railroads in the interest of the people and on a non-partisan basis, to the end that all may be accorded the same treatment in transportation and that the tyranny and political power now exercised by the great railroad corporations, which result in the impairment if not the destruction of the political rights and personal liberties of the citizen, may be destroyed. Such ownership is to be accomplished gradually, in a manner consistent with sound public policy. The interest of the United States in the public highways built with public moneys and the proceeds of extensive grants of land to the Pacific Railroads should never be alienated, mortgaged, or sold, but guarded and protected for the general welfare as provided by the laws organizing such railroads....We demand the election of President, Vice-President, and United States Senators by a direct vote of the people....In times of great industrial depression idle labor should be employed on public works as far as practicable. 

The tariff provides about 60% of government revenue, 1880s. Dems are generally low-tariff (call high tariff “British policy,” claiming that it prevents US businesses from competing worldwide with the British and say that revenue is “the only justification for taxing the people”; see, for instance, 1884 platform), Repubs are generally high-tariff, arguing that it protects manufacturers and prevents degradation of labor, which will otherwise be oppressed by low pay, as in Europe. Accuse Dems of “free trade” (see, for instance, 1884 platform), though some reformers defect to Dems over party's focus on this.

anti-tariff argument (excerpted from an article by economic historian Joanne Reitano):

Protection was widely considered "the mother of trusts" because it allowed domestic industries to grow free from both external competition and internal controls. Most Democrats feared that the trusts were a new "aristocracy, soulless and remorseless." For tariff reformers, protection also undermined the American Dream. As the rich were getting richer, the poor were getting poorer. Instead of sharing in the nation's prosperity, the masses of people were "sinking lower and lower in want, wretchedness, degradation and squalor." The farmer suffered from a system in which "everything they buy is taxed and everything they sell is free." Plummeting prices for agricultural goods suggested that the home market was saturated and that a world market was needed. Moreover, the small farmer was being undercut by the big farmer who then bought up his land. Dems support income tax (passed 1894) as means of redistributing wealth.

If protection was so beneficial, asked the tariff reformers, why were there so many labor strikes and farmers' protests? Thousands of strikes during the 1880s and 1890s documented workers' distress (1877: national railway strike; 1886: Haymarket; 1892: Homestead; 1894: Pullman). Long hours, low wages, dangerous machines, job insecurity and high prices characterized a ruthless economy dominated by greedy industrialists whom protection insulated from foreign competition. When the workers responded to these dehumanizing conditions by trying to organize labor unions, they were fired, blacklisted, beaten up or shot down by Pinkertons, the police and the National Guard.

(From Puck, May 1888.)


pro-tariff argument:

As explained by Ohio Congressman and future president William McKinley, "Protection keeps money, markets, and manufactures at home for the benefit of our own people." The Republicans considered it perfectly legitimate for government to provide assistance without regulation.  They suggested that by virtue of having "put their money, their brains, and their ambition at stake," entrepreneurs deserved special support from their country. Defending American business from "ruinous competition abroad" seemed natural and necessary. Indeed, they warned that without high tariff walls, America would be flooded by cheap foreign goods. Moreover, protection from abroad guaranteed free trade at home. Protection had a ripple effect throughout society.  If industries prospered, workers would have jobs.  If cheap foreign goods made by cheap foreign labor were kept out of the country, American employers would be able to make bigger profits and pay better wages. Of course, they might also raise prices, but these would be more than offset by job security and higher salaries.  At the same time, the farmers would benefit because factories would buy farm products to make their goods and factory workers would consume the farm products they needed to survive. As McKinley said, "There is no conflict of interests and should be none between the several classes of producers and the consumers in the United States." Protection was the goose that laid golden eggs for everyone.

Denying the existence of labor problems in the U.S., the protectionists insisted that America was a worker's haven characterized by high wages and good working conditions. Repubs oppose income tax as communistic and sectional, as it discriminates against rich states like NY. Indeed, they countered the tariff reformers' question by asking in return, "Why were British workers so anxious to immigrate to America if British free trade was so beneficial?" Protectionists warned workers to shield themselves from foreign competition if they ever intended to achieve the American dream. 

(From Judge, 1888.)

High tariffs remained such an article of faith for the Republican Party that as late as 1930, in the teeth of the Depression, it passed the protectionist Hawley-Smoot tariff, which Ferris Bueller's Econ teacher discusses here.