The Republicans and Their Candidate
THE republican party escaped a serious danger at Chicago. How great the peril was from which it found a happy deliverance the party leaders did not acknowledge to one another, if indeed they were conscious of it themselves. The newspapers half revealed it to their readers, while taking considerable pains to conceal it. After the convention was over, however, it became apparent to every one not blinded by partisanship that the nomination of General Grant would have killed the party. A bolt would inevitably have occurred, and a second convention would have assembled within a month to put another republican ticket in the field. All the conditions were ripe for such a movement. Party organs would have declaimed against it, and the men who get their living from republican politics would have denounced it; but the movement would have gone on just the same, and would have swept away many of the best elements in the old organization. The republican party would practically have closed its career. Its successor, the third-term party, beaten by the democrats at the election, would soon have disbanded, and the new anti-third-term party, by whatever name it might have called itself, would in a few years have grown into a principal organization, ready by the next presidential election to make a close contest for the possession of the government.
It is a mistake to suppose that parties are necessarily long-lived, and can go through deadly perils with impunity. They are all vulnerable. Some die of old age; some because they cannot assimilate the nutriment of the new ideas of the time ; some perish from corruption within themselves; some are assassinated. The republican party has narrowly escaped being killed by the selfishness and ambition of a few of its leaders. These men did not designingly seek its life, but they were so bent upon accomplishing the nomination of General Grant that they became singularly indifferent to public opinion and recklessly careless of results.
The outcome of the struggle at Chicago was a fortunate one in all respects. The attempt to fasten on the entire country the Boss system, which flourishes in New York and Pennsylvania, was defeated. The third-term plot which aimed a blow at one of the chief safeguards of free government, — frequent change in the supreme executive office, — was completely baffled and overthrown. The republican party was preserved for another four years, at least, in undiminished strength and vigor. Still more, by a happy inspiration it obtained a candidate possessing the full confidence of all its members and of all its leaders ; a candidate who represents its highest intelligence and broadest statesmanship, and whose record on every public question of the day is clear, conspicuous, and consistent; a candidate who has elements of popularity such as no presidential nominee has had since Lincoln.
General Garfield’s career illustrates in a remarkable degree the possibilities of American life to one born with a strong brain in a strong body, and gifted with industry, courage, perseverance, and a high ambition. His father, a poor farmer, possessed of a few sterile acres and a large family, died when he was six years old. He had no well-todo relatives to help him along. In fact, he had no help save the counsels of a wise, resolute, religious mother, and no capital save what lay in his own head and hands. With the labor of his hands, put forth in the lower forms of honest toil, with the axe, the hoe, the carpenter’s plane, and on the tow-path of a canal, he gained the means to obtain such education as a rural academy afforded. Then, making a capital of his new store of knowledge, he taught country schools, and got the means to take a higher course of study. Equipped with the training of a Massachusetts college, he opened for himself a path in life which began with the Latin and Greek professorship of an obscure school in Ohio, and broadened out until it led to a major-generalship in the Union army, to a seat in Congress held for nine consecutive terms, to an election to the senate by the unanimous choice of his party in the Ohio legislature, and now to the republican nomination for the presidency. All these honors came to him without solicitation, and without effort on his part to grasp them. So far as fate shaped his career in life, it was the career of a day laborer. High purposes, an indomitable will, a great capacity for work, fixed principles, and good habits enabled him to compel fate, and change that career to one of conspicuous honor and usefulness. Every farmer boy cannot become a major-general, a senator, and a presidential nominee, but the lesson of Garfield’s life is that the institutions of this country place no obstacles in the way of the poorest lad who toils in the fields or the workshop. It is a lesson full of encouragement and cheer. It shows that the country is not wholly given over to the rule of political rings, bosses, and conspirators, and that one party at least is still strong enough and wise enough to “ pluck from the nettle danger the flower safety,” and to select for its leader a man whose worthiness and fitness are his only strength. It shows, too, that in spite of all the changes in our social fabric, brought about by the growth of great corporations and the accumulation of vast wealth in a few hands, talent and manliness, unaided by money, can still win their way to the most exalted positions. The presidency is not yet sold to the highest bidder, nor disposed of by a junto of selfish political schemers.
The most careful research and calculation could scarcely have discovered a candidate possessing more elements of what the politicians call availability than the man whom the convention chose without forethought, on the impulse of a moment. General Garfield is acceptable to both wings of the party, and to the supporters of all the Chicago candidates. An outspoken anti-third-term man, he had nevertheless retained the personal respect and liking of the thirdterm leaders. The friends of Grant will work for his election as energetically as will those of Blaine and Sherman. His moderation in debate and hearty kindliness of manner disarm prejudice and win friends amongst those who differ with him in opinion. Had Blaine or Sherman been nominated, New York might have been thrown away by the lukewarmness of Mr. Conkling and his adherents, as it was in 1876. Now the assistance of this powerful element in the pivotal State of the contest is doubly assured; first, by the friendliness and confidence it feels towards Garfield; and, second, by the nomination of Chester A. Arthur, Mr. Conkling’s nearest political friend, for vice-president. General Garfield has a gallant record as a soldier, and is popular among the soldier class, which likes to see its services to the country recognized by the selection of its representative men for high positions. The farmers like him because he is one of them. He is a product of the soil, and his only property beside his house in Washington is his Ohio farm ; where, in the vacations of Congress, he delights in the wholesome out-door labors of the farmer. The workingmen of the towns and cities, who are growing more restless year by year at the limitations of their condition, and who have no strong political ties, admire a man who once worked for wages, like themselves, and who has had no favors from fortune that he has not won by his own toil of hand or brain. Cultivated people of all sorts have a hearty sympathy for him because of his broad culture, and see in him the student and the friend of letters as well as the successful politician. Business men have full confidence in him. His record on all questions affecting the debt and the currency is as clear as sunlight. Never has he swerved a hair’s-hreadth from the straight line of principle. Honest money based on coin and an honest payment of the nation’s obligations has been his motto through all the fluctuations of public opinion and all the vagaries of party action. No other man in Congress has made so thorough a study of the history and science of political economy and national finance, or is better grounded in his convictions upon sound principles. Independent republicans remember that he has never been an ultra-partisan, and that he has more than once shown the courage to stand almost alone in opposition to his party in Congress. Straightout, stalwart republicans know that his judgment as to the best course for the party to pursue has always been safe and conservative, and has generally been justified by events. His leadership in the house has not been dashing and brilliant, but when he has marked out a position for the republicans to take they have always been able to hold it, and have come out victors in the contest before the people. Better, perhaps, than any man in public life, he represents the strong, average good sense, patriotism, liberality, tolerance, and progressive impulses of the republican organization.
He will have to go through an angry contest and face much detraction and slander. Unfortunately for both parties, the democrats are without a clearly-defined, vital issue this year. In their poverty of principles on which to appeal to the public, they will yield to the temptation to resort to abuse and vilification of the opposing candidate, and the republicans will no doubt be led to retort in kind. The charges the democrats bring against General Garfield have been fully tried before the most exacting jury a man can face, — that of his own neighbors and constituents, — and have been rejected as unworthy of belief. They will be repeated, however, and new ones will be invented, but his character is too well established and his record too well known for him to suffer from them. The leader of the republicans of the house, with eighteen years of congressional service behind him and a term of six years in the senate ahead, to resign in case he should be elected president, will not be damaged in the eyes of republicans by the personal abuse of the opposing party. We are going to have a square fight between the two parties this year, each polling its full vote, and the one which has the most votes at the start will win. The campaign will not change the party attachments of any considerable number of voters. It will only consolidate the two parties, and rally all their stragglers.
There are questions concerning this nomination other than the popularity, availability, and good character of the candidate, — questions which will be asked by men who care nothing for politics save as a means of securing good government, and value parties only as instruments to that end. What sort of an administration, they ask, will General Garfield make ? Will the good tendencies of the Hayes administration be continued and strengthened by him, or will the country be thrown back into the rut of selfish, trading, machine politics into which it sunk during the eight years of Grant ? A beginning has been made in Washington, during the last three years, towards the elevation of national politics to the plane of patriotic statesmanship, — halting and cautious at times, it is true, but still an honest beginning. Will the good work go on, or will it stop ?
The answers to these questions must be sought in the career, surroundings, and bent of thought and purpose of the republican candidate. During his seventeen years’ service in the house, General Garfield has taken so prominent a part in debate and legislation that his opinions, and even the intellectual processes by which he arrives at conclusions concerning public questions, are known to all his associates. No other man in Congress has a record of such fullness and clearness. The political history of two decades might be written from his speeches, if no other material existed. Not only on the general questions of politics has he made this broad, plain record, but his ideas on all the details of government policy and expenditure have been expressed again and again, with such definiteness and consistency that there is scarcely a question likely to arise during his term in the White House, if he should be elected, on which his views might not be found by searching the pages of the Congressional Record. The country is not called upon to make an experiment with this man. The general course of his administration can be confidently predicted in advance. A strong believer in the value of the republican party as the best political organization the country has, or is likely to get in our day, General Garfield is not a bigoted partisan. The temper of his mind is essentially judicial. He never jumps to a conclusion. He gathers his facts with conscientious care before making up his mind. Instinctively he asks himself, “ Is there not another side to this question than the one I now see ? ” If he finds another side, his intellect argues both to his judgment before he decides. This inherent desire to be fair has often weakened his position as a party leader in the house, but it is an excellent qualification for a high executive station.
General Garfield has not grown up in the spoils school of politics. Representing a district overwhelmingly republican, he has never been tempted to make use of official patronage for his own advantage. In recommending appointments to office in his district, he has always consulted the public sentiment of the locality where the place was to be filled. Where there was a doubt as to the candidate favored by the people, an informal election has frequently been held, at his request, and he has then recommended the man having a majority of the votes cast. He was one of the first, if not the first, Congressmen to institute competitive examinations for applicants for appointment to the Military and Naval Academies. In more than one instance he has appointed a young man of obscure parentage, wholly unknown to him, because he had passed the best examination before a board of teachers and physicians. All practicable ideas of civil-service reform have always found in General Garfield an earnest advocate, and we have a right to expect from him an even fuller development and wider application of these ideas than we have witnessed under the present administration, because he will have the advantage of Mr. Hayes’s experience to guide his own efforts.
We have no reason to apprehend an attempt at personal government from General Garfield. He is essentially a man of the people, open, cordial, and accessible. Like President Hayes, he will be approachable with all, wholly free from the arrogance and conceit of office, and regarding the presidency as a grave public trust to be conscientiously administered for the good of the people. The simplicity of his tastes and manners has not been affected by his long career in Washington, and will not be changed if he goes to the White House, He is still the wholesome product of Western Reserve farm life that he was in his younger days, and will always remain so. His personal surroundings are good. His near family friends are without exception persons of intelligence and character. The best men in politics, science, literature, and journalism are his associates. He never had the slightest inclination for low company. His administration will not savor of the barrack and the stable-yard, nor will it imitate the pride and exclusiveness of Old World courts. The plain, practical, hearty republicanism of President Hayes will continue to be the rule at the White House under his successor.
Resides the judicial temper of his thought, his perfect familiarity with public affairs, and his excellent personal associations, General Garfield has another qualification for the executive office such as few presidents have had when inaugurated,— a remarkably extensive acquaintance with public men throughout the country. There are scarcely a score of men of the type and experience that aspire for public office whom he does not know personally. His intellectual and social qualities and his rank as a republican leader have caused men from every State to seek his acquaintance. He is a good judge of character, and this wide knowledge of men will be of great help to him in making good appointments. We may expect from him a cabinet and a diplomatic service representing the best brains and the best purposes of the republican party, and a civil service where fitness will be the test for appointments, and where competent, honest men once in office will not be displaced at the dictation of party managers.
There is still another question, and one of great importance : What will be the tendency of his administration, apart from its personal surroundings and its function of filling the public offices of the country ? What impress will it leave on the history of the United States? President Hayes has done the country an immense service in restoring specie payments, and in giving the people a repose from intense political excitement and an opportunity to concentrate their attention on the development of their industries. The new administration, if directed by General Garfield, will without doubt prolong this epoch of tranquillity and devote its chief attention to economic problems. All his life General Garfield, has been a close student of industrial, commercial, and financial questions. Few of our statesman are as familiar with the resources of the country and what has been done to utilize them, and no one is more competent to give wise direction to government policy in all its constitutional avenues of activity concerning their further development. The new problems raised by our advancing civilization, our increasing material wealth, and our growing density of population will be studied by him with characteristic thoroughness and conscientiousness. If we are correct in the view that this nation is at the beginning of an era of remarkable material development, during which the questions of our politics will be mainly of an economic nature, General Garfield is exactly the man for the time. If, on the other hand, the solid South continues to give cause for sectional agitation beyond the next apportionment of representation in Congress, we may trust his steady republicanism and his broad views of the scope of national authority steadfastly to maintain the results of the war as they affect the integrity of the Union and the equal citizenship of all its inhabitants.
The Chicago convention has therefore given the republicans a candidate who possesses in a remarkable degree the elements of popularity and availability, and who is peculiarly fitted by training, study, experience, and character for the high office of president of the United States. So fortunate a result has rarely come out of the conflict of local pride, personal feeling, selfish ambition, and low considerations of expediency which rages in all national nominating conventions, and goes under the euphemism of the “ deliberations ” of the body.