The Democratic Presidential Nomination

THE democrats have appointed their national convention upon a date three weeks later than that chosen by the republicans, with the idea of taking advantage of any mistake their adversaries may make, and of selecting a presidential candidate peculiarly fitted to contend successfully with his antagonist. Their purpose is, therefore, to leave open the question of who shall be their nominee until after the republican convention does its work, thinking that their own course may be dictated by considerations of expediency, which can be clearly apprehended only when they shall have measured the strength and weakness of the Chicago candidate. Thus, they say, if Grant should be nominated, it may be wise for them to run a military man against him, to make sure that he would not stampede the democratic soldier vote ; whereas, if Blaine, or Sherman, or some other civilian, should be selected, they could safely push aside the soldier candidates, for whom they have no particular liking, and pick out a statesman to head their ticket. This is all very well in theory, and has an appearance of shrewdness and foresight which commends it to the ordinary politician’s understanding ; but practically the plan cannot be carried out, because there is one democratic aspirant who is a candidate of his own motion, who has large influence with the party, and who does not propose to wait and see what the republicans will do, but is steadily organizing his resources to carry off the nomination at Cincinnati. I refer, of course, to Samuel J. Tilden. This remarkable man is, by all odds, the ablest political manager in the democratic party. Everybody concedes his superiority in working the mechanism of his party so as to produce the results he desires in conventions and elections. He believes himself entitled to the nomination, because he won a victory, as he thinks, for his party in 1876, and was kept out of the presidency by the failure of the party leaders in Congress effectually to assert and enforce his rights. Now the only amends the party can make is to give him another chance. Therefore, he has no hesitation in putting himself forward, because he is not asking for a favor, but simply claiming his due.

The democrats have tried hard to escape from Mr. Tilden’s candidacy ; but whichever way they may turn he confronts them with his demand for the nomination. When they selected him as their leader in 1876, he had a reputation as a reformer which he had gained in the governorship of New York. He seemed to represent the best elements in the party. A great many people of the independent-voter class looked upon him as a type of the upright, Spartan style of statesman, which is, unhappily, exceedingly rare in all parties. All the fine halo of superior purity which hung about him then vanished long since. The income tax suits and the exposure of the cipher dispatches dispelled it, and left him completely bare of the imaginary merits that had been attributed to him. He now appears in his real character of an unusually astute, practical politician and a very rich gentleman, with no use for his surplus wealth save to promote his political ambition. His personal popularity vanished with his reputation for lofty statesmanship, so that to-day he is probably the least liked of all the aspirants for the democratic nomination. In fact, there cannot be said to be any element in any State that feels the slightest disposition to hurrah at the mention of his name. And yet he so far leads all his competitors in the race that it is impossible to distinguish any one among them whom he has reason to fear as a dangerous rival.

To find the secret of what the newspapers call Mr. Tilden’s grip upon his party, we must look at the composition of the party and its situation in the approaching contest. It cannot plan a battle for the whole country, laying down a few general issues on which it differs with its rival, and placing its standard in the hand of its most popular leader. It must accept the fact that its main and only reliable strength is in the South, and must shape its course accordingly. The South is solidly upon its side, because it opposed the war, resisted emancipation, and fought all the measures for giving the blacks suffrage and citizenship. The attitude of the South has the effect of inclining the whole North strongly towards the republican party. The democrats count with certainty upon but one State in the North, and that is Indiana, and they are probably reckoning with too great confidence upon that State ; but its action in 1876, and since, seems to warrant them in claiming it. Now, they must add to the electoral vote of the solid South that of Indiana, and also that of New York, or of a group of States equal in power to New York, if they are to succeed. The closeness of recent elections in New York, the fact that it went for Tilden in 1876 and for Seymour in 1868, makes it better policy to play the game with a view to securing its big vote than to endeavor to carry three or four other States, where the chances are not as good. Therefore, the first point to be considered on the democratic programme is, Who has the best prospect of carrying New York ?

When John Kelly and the Tammany organization rebelled against Tilden’s leadership, last fall, and drew off over seventy thousand votes from the party, thus defeating Governor Robinson for reëlection and enabling Mr. Cornell to succeed by a bare plurality, it looked as if Tilden’s presidential chances were ruined. Everybody saw that if the split were continued until the meeting of the national convention he must abandon his only valid and recognized claim upon the nomination, that of ability to secure the electoral vote of New York. But Mr. Tilden was not dismayed. His plan was to fight the rebels first, and conciliate them afterwards. He showed them, at the November election, that after all their efforts he still had the masses of the party under his complete control. Then he waited for their common sense to get the better of their anger, and early in the spring he set on foot a movement towards a reconciliation. Up to this time the peace negotiations have not been successful. Mr. Kelly holds out, and intends to have a state convention of his own and send a contesting delegation to Cincinnati, but Mr. Tilden’s friends are confident that the admission of a portion of the Tammany delegates to the national convention will take the edge off Mr. Kelly’s weapons and bind him and his followers to support the ticket. They believe he will not dare fight the nominee of the convention, whatever he may say now. A democrat who should try to throw away the best chance his party has had to elect a president since 1856 would find himself in a very uncomfortable position.

Many of the democratic leaders outside New York have serious doubts of Mr. Tilden’s ability to carry that State this year, and believe that a military man like Hancock, or a semi-military man like Palmer, or a popular statesman like Randolph, or a dark horse, would have a much better chance; but they are at the same time convinced that nobody would have any chance at all if Tilden should make the refusal of the convention to nominate him a personal grievance, and should decline to give his help in the New York canvass. Herein is one of Mr. Tilden’s strong points. He is not merely an aspirant for the nomination, — he is a claimant. He demands the place as his right, and the party is afraid to repulse him. Prudent democrats say, “ Perhaps we could do better in New York with some one else, but what should we do there if Tilden should set about giving the State away; or even if he should only take his hands off the organization he has built up, and tell us to run it ourselves ? We should be ruined.”

Many efforts have been made to plan a victory without the electoral vote of New York, but no one has been able to figure out a promising result. If General Ewing had carried Ohio last year, a Western and Southern combination might have been effected, and the battle-ground of 1880 shifted from New York to Ohio, Illinois, and Wisconsin. But Ewing was beaten, and the whole West, except Indiana, where no general election was held, reaffirmed in a very positive manner its adhesion to the republican party. At the same time, the New York election, while it resulted in an apparent republican victory, showed that the democrats had cast more votes for their two gubernatorial candidates than the republicans had cast for Mr. Cornell. The abandonment of all projects for a Western campaign followed as an inevitable sequence, and New York again became the key of the position.

If by the time the Cincinnati convention meets the democratic leaders should become convinced that Mr. Tilden is not an available candidate, and their fears of his ill-will should diminish, they may succeed, by a heroic effort, in shaking him off. In that case, a number of candidates who are now in the background would come to the front. A list of possible nominees, stretched to include everybody who has been much talked about in the newspapers in connection with the presidency, would include Hancock, Randall, Field, English, Seymour, Thurman, Bayard, Hendricks, McClellan, Randolph, Palmer, Jewett, and David Davis. General Hancock would probably have the best chance, because he has no enemies among politicians, and because the motives leading to the setting aside of Tilden would be likely to incline the convention towards a military man. Besides, the South has a cordial liking for Hancock, on account of his friendly expressions and conduct while he was in command at New Orleans. His prominence as a candidate arises from the fact that he is the only democrat in high position in the army. If the democrats want a soldier conspicuously identified with the suppression of the rebellion to run against General Grant, they are limited to Hancock. His war record is as glorious as that of any corps commander, and there is a conservatism and solidity about his character which would inspire confidence among people who look with distrust upon the ordinary run of democratic politicians. His weakness as a candidate before the convention lies in the fact that his native State of Pennsylvania, of which he is nominally a resident, has in Speaker Randall a man who stands very near to Mr. Tilden, and would be likely to be the legatee of the transferable part of his effects, in case he should be forced to withdraw. Mr. Randall can secure delegates from Pennsylvania to the Cincinnati convention, and General Hancock cannot, unless Senator Wallace, who is Randall’s rival for the leadership of the Keystone democracy, should espouse his cause. A candidate who lacks the support of his own State has a poor chance in a national convention. It is possible, however, that the cordiality felt throughout the South towards Hancock may offset the lukewarmness of Pennsylvania. If nominated, he would undoubtedly prove a very formidable candidate. The republicans are more afraid of him than of any other man upon the democratic slate.

Mr. Randall’s strength, as I have said above, consists mainly of the votes which Mr. Tilden might transfer to him in the convention. His personal following would be limited to a portion of the Pennsylvania delegation and a few scattering votes from the South. He is a man of more than ordinary ability and force of character, as is shown by his vitality as a politician ; but with all the opportunities of the speaker’s chair, he has not succeeded in building up a power of his own, as Blaine did while he occupied the place. One cause for his failure in this direction is his rugged, uncompromising nature, aud another is the distrust in which Pennsylvania politicians of both parties are held in other States. For a long time it has seemed as if no good thing in the way of a statesman could come out of Pennsylvania. The politicians of that State go about in strait-jackets put upon them by the provincialism of their constituents, and often owe their places more to powerful rings and corporations than to the public favor.

Judge Stephen J. Field, whom Lincoln put upon the supreme bench because he wanted a justice versed in the land laws and old Spanish grants of the Pacific coast, is also a warm friend of Mr. Tilden, and political gossips are divided on the question of whether he or Speaker Randall is the preferred heir of Tilden’s political power. The judge has been a democrat for some years past, — how many I would not venture to say, — and his action upon the bench, in cases where political questions are involved, is in harmony with the views of his party. He was a member of the electoral commission of 1877, and was credited at the time with laying down the main line of argument on which the minority of seven members took their stand in voting to reject the returns from South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana. A Pacific coast candidate would be a novelty in a presidential contest, but it is hard to see what elements of popularity Judge Field has to draw upon to serve him in a close struggle. He is a retiring man, personally known to but few, and his sympathies have been on the side of the great California corporations rather than on that of the masses.

If the respect of both parties were the best qualification for a democratic candidate, Senator Bayard would have a good chance to obtain the Cincinnati nomination. Republicans as well as democrats admire him for his consistent course upon all public questions, his breadth of view, his freedom from narrow partisan and personal influences, and the purity and elevation of his character. The Southern democrats would prefer him to any other candidate if they thought he could be elected, and a majority of the Eastern democrats strongly incline towards him on account of his steadfast adhesion to the specie-basis side of the currency question. Doubts as to his availability are likely, however, to counterbalance the high regard felt for him as a representative of the best type of statesmen the democratic party has produced in its later days. He comes from the southern side of Mason and Dixon’s line The war has not entirely wiped out that once famous political boundary. As a senator from one of the old slave States, he is identified in the Northern mind with the South. He did not side with the rebellion, it is true, but he opposed the coercion of the seceded States in a speech made in 1861, which has just been resurrected, much to the detriment of his candidacy. If nominated, he would be fought by the republicans as a Southern man, personifying the Bourbonism of that section, and a mass of material would be raked up from his senatorial record to prove that he still sustains the state-rights heresy which cost the country four years of civil war, and has never given in his adhesion to the doctrine of full national supremacy. His nomination would thus bring up the very questions upon which the democrats do not want to go to the people this year, — the questions which they foolishly raised in the extra session of 1879, and which they are now trying hard to have the North forget. While admitting, therefore, that Mr. Bayard would make an excellent president, and wishing that he might be elected, most practical democratic politicians think it would be unsafe to put him on the Cincinnati ticket.

The chances of Mr. Thurman are not as good as they appeared to be two years ago, before he abandoned the position upon the money question which he had steadfastly held in spite of all the vagaries of his party in Ohio and the West. He stood firmly by the old democratic traditions of hard money until 1878, never once wavering in the struggles of twelve years in Congress over the questions growing out of the currency and the public debt. None of the schemes for paying off the government bonds with greenback notes and for making money out of paper by the fiat of the government received any countenance from him. But in 1878, when his party at home had gone wholly astray after softmoney idols, he had a moment of weakness. Fearing, no doubt, that the leadership of the Ohio democracy, and with it all chance for the presidential nomination in 1880, would be lost to him, he compromised with the theories he had before so courageously and consistently antagonized. He did not go to the extent of embracing the fiat-money heresy, but in a speech upon the stump, at the opening of the Ohio campaign, he declared in favor of substituting greenbacks for national bank-notes, and opposed resumption on the first of the ensuing January, the date fixed by the law he had helped to make. This was a fatal concession. The soft-money element was not satisfied with his half-way conversion, and still preferred its former leaders, and the hard-money faction was profoundly chagrined at the defection of one of its chief champions. Mr. Thurman thus forfeited the respect of both factions without gaining any new strength, and he lost at once the character he had always borne of being a man who held to his convictions, no matter what might be the drift of the popular current. The Eastern democracy, with whom he had been a favorite presidential candidate, dropped him incontinently, and the Western democracy gave no signs of displacing in his favor the original chiefs of the anti-bank and irredeemable greenback movement. Mr. Thurman’s principal strength is now in the South, where the democrats care much less for the money question than for states rights. A Virginian by birth, and a steady adherent of the Southern side of all issues affecting the relations of the States and the nation, it is not surprising that he should have many friends in that section. His nomination at Cincinnati hardly looks possible. It could come about only by the union of an almost solid Southern vote with Ohio and three or four other Western States, and such a combination can be regarded only as a very remote contingency.

Mr. Hendricks is another candidate who has waned of late. He was an aspirant for the presidency in 1876, and took the second place on the St. Louis ticket with a good deal of reluctance, rightly thinking that it was hardly consistent for the convention to ask one who had led the democratic party in the United States senate to subordinate himself to a New York State politician who had never held a national office. After the election he felt himself under no obligation longer to play the part of lieutenant to Mr. Tilden, and his friends almost immediately placed bis name upon the list of expectant candidates for 1880. Atone time, when a contest between the Eastern and Western democrats over the currency question seemed inevitable, it looked as though Mr. Hendricks would be made the standard-bearer of the Western men and would carry off the nomination by the aid of the South. That time has gone by, however, and with it Mr. Hendricks’ prominence as a candidate. He is too colorless a man in his opinions to attract the attention of the public. His habit of avoiding pronounced expressions upon the questions of the day has got for him the epithet of “ fence-straddler.” This ability to balance himself in the middle of questions which divide his party might, however, make him an available candidate if the convention should have to cast about for a Western man who would meet the requirements of expediency.

Indiana has another candidate — one of the dark horse kind — in William H. English, a wealthy banker, who was in Congress before the war, and became prominent as the author of compromise measures. It is nearly twenty years since he left public life. If he should be brought back by the Cincinnati convention, it would more likely be as a candidate for vice-president, on a ticket with Mr. Tilden, than as the head of the ticket. His chances for the first place are too remote to be worth discussing.

Senator David Davis was supposed at one time to have a fair prospect of being adopted as the democratic leader. That was when it was thought probable that the party would be drawn, by fear of defeat, to nominate a man not identified with its past, in the hope of securing the independent, non-partisan vote. Davis used to be a sturdy republican. He was the law partner and intimate friend of Lincoln, who placed him upon the supreme bench. He made the mistake of leaving an eminent judicial position, for which he was well fitted, to enter the arena of politics, where he has shown no special ability. A combination of democrats and independent republicans in the Illinois legislature sent him to the senate, and his election under such circumstances naturally designated him as an available presidential candidate, in case the democrats should think it necessary to take a man sitting across the party line. They manifest no disposition now to resort to such an expedient ; consequently, the candidacy of Judge Davis is scarcely hypothetical.

General John M. Palmer, of Illinois, has some newspaper prominence as a possible candidate. He was a successful volunteer general, and after the war was elected governor of his State by the republicans. He joined the liberal movement in 1872, and after the defeat of Greeley went over to the democracy with Trumbull, Julian, Farnsworth, and other eminent Western republicans. As a distinguished volunteer soldier and a politician who had no connection with the democratic party during the time when it sympathized with slavery and rebellion, he has strong points of availability, but he seems to have no positive support outside of Illinois.

The opponents of Mr. Tilden, in casting about for some other eminent democrat in whose behalf a claim to peculiar strength in New York could be urged, have made more than one effort to draw Horatio Seymour from the retirement of his farm into a position of either active or passive candidacy. He has constantly refused, however, to lend himself to their purpose : perhaps from a sincere aversion to reënter the arena of political struggle; perhaps because he is wiser than his officious friends, and knows that he has no hold on the machinery of his party, and could not, if he tried, displace the men who now manipulate the levers and wires. If Mr. Seymour could be nominated, he would be a strong candidate with his party, which entertains a feeling akin to reverence for him, awakened by his high personal character, his age, the association of his name with the better days of the party, and his freedom from all connection with the factional quarrels that have distracted it of late years. But there would be no attraction in his candidacy to draw to him the element that lies between the two parties, and not the least ability to cut into the republican vote.

Judge Sanford E. Church has a small circle of ardent admirers among the New York democratic politicians, who think no man in the country has equal qualifications for the presidency; but his following is hardly considerable enough to entitle him to a place on the list of candidates.

Two New Jersey names are usually mentioned as bare possibilities in connection with the Cincinnati nomination, — those of General McClellan and Senator Randolph. McClellan has no perceptible following outside of his own State. His election as governor has not given him fresh national prominence. With most people he is only a faded recollection of the war, and of the democratic campaign against Lincoln in 1864. Randolph would be a much more available candidate, and if Tilden were out of the way might have a chance of rallying a strong Eastern following; but it is doubtful whether so unimportant a State as New Jersey would in any case be called upon to furnish the nominee.

There remains but a single possible candidate to mention. Hugh J. Jewett, a wealthy and prominent railroad manager, formerly of Zanesville, Ohio, and now of New York, has had some commendation of late in quarters where it is thought that success in business ought to be the best passport to political preferment. Mr. Jewett was once elected to Congress, but resigned in the midst of his term, feeling more interest in his own affairs than in those of the nation. Thus far no showing of real political strength has been made for him. The statement that the railroad magnates are ready to support him with moral and material aid will hardly commend him to a party which is fond of assailing these modern potentates.

If the situation as described in the foregoing pages is not materially changed before the meeting of the Cincinnati convention, the result which we have most reason to expect from the action of that body is obviously the nomination of Mr. Tilden. Second in the order of probability is the choice of General Hancock, to give the ticket the appearance of unionism and loyalty and the decorative adjuncts of sword and epaulets. If neither Tilden nor Hancock is selected, we may look for the nomination of some close friend of Tilden, like Randall or Field, or for the success of a dark-horse candidate, — perhaps some man not even included in the ample list here presented.

It is scarcely germane to the purpose of this article to go into a discussion of the prospects of the democrats for succeeding in the presidential campaign of the present year. Such a discussion would be premature at this time. It is easy to see, though, that much will depend upon the course of the republicans. In fact, the democrats have more to hope from the errors of their adversaries than from their own strength and sagacity. They are at a great disadvantage from the want of a plain and important national issue upon which they can all agree, and upon which they can go before the public with an air of earnestness, sincerity, and patriotism. Their one foundation principle is that of the limitation of the powers of the general government and the maintenance of the rights of the States. It is a very respectable, statesman-like principle, and might well enlist in its defense the efforts of a large portion of the people, had it not been so stained with treason and blood by the rebellion. The attempt to reassert it, last summer, by repealing the federal election laws, was so badly managed, and had so much the appearance of revolution, that it brought renewed opposition upon the democratic party, and lost it the fall elections in every Northern State. It will not be prudent, therefore, to say much about state rights in the Cincinnati platform. The bank issue would be popular in the West, but the Eastern democracy would not accept it, because they do not believe in an exclusive greenback currency. Just so with the tariff issue, — the Eastern wing of the party refuses to join in an assault on protective duties. The errors of Grant’s administration, out of which the democrats were enabled to make so much capital in the campaign of 1876, have not been repeated by President Hayes, and no issue can be made out of his management of the government. A national canvass cannot well be conducted by any party without some issue, real or imaginary, and the democrats, in their embarrassment, are hoping that the republicans will furnish them with one by nominating General Grant. They would be relieved at once of their trouble if the third-term scheme should succeed at the Chicago convention. They would take the offensive in the campaign, accuse their opponents of imperialistic tendencies, of violating the sacred tradition and unwritten law of two terms only, of placing Grant above Washington, and of intending to make him president for life; and they would claim for themselves the credit of resisting an attempt to undermine our free institutions. They would pay no attention to the counter attacks upon them for their revolutionary performances in Congress last summer, but would hammer away on the single point, “ No third term, — no perpetual president,— no Caesar ! ” That they would be able to carry with them the independent vote which constitutes the balance of power in the close States I think no one can question who has not an overweening faith in the popularity of General Grant. When it is remembered that the State of New York, which will, beyond any reasonable doubt, elect the candidate for whom it votes this year, gave a majority — divided and ineffectual, it is true, but still a majority — against Mr. Cornell last fall for no other apparent cause than his identification with Grantism, it will be seen how strong will be the democratic chances of success this year if they have General Grant to fight. If Grant steps aside, or is beaten in the Chicago convention, they will be obliged to choose between making the most of Mr. Tilden, his grievance, and his fraud cry, rendered ridiculous by the exposure of the cipher dispatches, and trusting, with some other candidate, to the readiness of the people to seek a change in administration, after twenty years of unbroken republican supremacy, without presenting them with any special reasons for such a change. At the worst, however, the democratic case cannot be said to be desperate. A party that controls the electoral vote of every Southern State, no matter what principles it may propound or what course it may pursue, and that consequently only needs to carry New York and one other Northern State to win, is not beaten in advance.