Progress of the Presidential Canvass

THUS far the presidential canvass has not been very animated. The democrats avoided at the outset raising any issue which would take a strong hold upon the public mind and stimulate active discussion and earnest controversy. Their nomination signifies nothing. They might have raised the whole question of the fairness and legality of the electoral commission settlement of 1877 by the choice of Mr. Tilden as their candidate. They might have brought prominently forward the old question, recently revived in Congress, of the relative powers of the state and national governments by the nomination of a conspicuous state’s rights champion like Mr. Bayard. They might have adopted the Western crusade against the national banks by nominating Mr. Thurman. They did neither. To the surprise of their adversaries and of most of their own people, they pushed aside all candidates representing issues pending before the public mind, and took up a mere soldier, without political record and without known opinions upon any subject likely to come before the administration during the next presidential term. Perhaps this was shrewd, but it was a confession of weakness. The party virtually acknowledged that it feared to go to the country upon any of the issues which its representatives in Congress have been holding up for the past four years as of vital importance. It said in effect, “ Let us drop all this talk about the electoral commission, and the returning boards, and the federal election law, and centralization, and the banks and the currency, and let us hurrah for the hero of Gettysburg who helped put down the rebellion.”

By the nomination of Hancock the democratic canvass has become pointless and illogical. During the eight years of General Grant’s administration the democrats constantly inveighed against the military spirit which controlled the government, and declared that a successful soldier was, by the very nature of his training and mode of thought, a highly unfit man to make a good president. Now they nominate a man who is nothing but a soldier; who never broke the continuity of his military career, as General Grant did, by a long period of civil life, but who has worn a uniform ever since he went, as a lad, to the West Point Academy. General Hancock’s nomination might reasonably be taken to mean that the democrats want to recant all they have said about the danger of the soldier in politics, of a military administration, and of “ bayonet rule,” and that they desire to assure the country that they have changed their views about the importance of statesmanship, and have concluded that a brilliant corps commander makes the best chief executive for the nation. Of course this is not what the democrats wish the nomination to signify. They would like to escape from the logic of their position. They want Hancock to signify all things to all classes of men in their ranks, — state’s rights to the South, nationality to the North, hard money to the East, soft money to the West, protection to Pennsylvania, free trade to Illinois, and so on through the whole list of questions upon which their party is not agreed; and they hope that his colorless record will serve as a blank sheet which every democrat can fill up with the ideas that he desires carried out in case the party is successful. Nevertheless, they cannot escape the appearance of trying to shirk the questions they loudly declared, up to the day of the Cincinnati convention, to be of vital importance.

On only one point has General Hancock a record touching political issues. While in command of a military district under the reconstruction acts, he issued an order and wrote a letter in which he spoke of the supremacy of the civil law over military authority. But there is nothing here to run a campaign upon. On this very question General Garfield has a much broader and clearer record, made in his argument before the supreme court in the Indiana conspiracy cases, in which he defended the right of persons accused of treasonable acts in time of war to a jury trial, when the territory where the acts were alleged to be committed was not the theatre of the operations of contending armies. The whole question of the relations of military commanders and courts-martial to the civil law was very fully discussed in that argument. General Hancock’s New Orleans order deals with a different case. The Southern States were placed under military government by express acts of Congress pending the processes of the restoration of civil authority under the provisions of the reconstruction laws. Civil law was not supreme in General Hancock’s military district when he issued his New Orleans order. On the contrary, the military power was the higher legal authority, and the effect of his order was only to raise a question as to the right of Congress to provide temporary military governments for the rebel States, and to set up his opinion against the laws of the land. The claim of statesmanship made by the democrats for their nominee by reason of that order will not bear scrutiny. Whether he wnote it or it was written for him by a democratic politician desirous of making him a candidate for the presidential nomination in 1868, it was neither statesman-like nor soldierly. It did not lie in the mouth of a military commander, sent to the States just conquered by the national authority for the purpose of executing the laws of Congress, to lecture the people on the dangers of military power and the importance of the supremacy of civil authority.

In the absence of any record on the part of the democratic nominee on the controverted questions of current politics, we turn to the democratic platform to find the principles upon which the campaign is to be fought, but disappointment awaits us there. The theories upon which the party has been making its fight in Congress of late years and in recent state canvasses are not clearly set forth. Some of them are avoided altogether. Nothing is said of the right of Congress to refuse appropriations to carry on the government at its pleasure, and to bring any department of the national administration to a stand-still in case the president will not abandon the veto power and sign measures relating to such department which he does not approve ; and yet on this theory the democrats held Congress in session for months last year, and in pursuance of it that body adjourned, leaving the United States marshals, who are to the federal courts what the sheriffs are to the state courts, an entire year without money for their salary and expenses. The constitutional authority of Congress to make laws regulating elections for the choice of its members is not denied in the platform in anything like distinct terms, and this issue between the two parties is rather obscured than made plain.

There is no such broad assertion of the old doctrine of state’s rights as we might have expected from the recent speeches of leading democrats in Congress, the reference to centralization in the platform being rather vague. No pledge is given to destroy the national banks if the democrats get the power, although such eminent democratic leaders as Thurman, Ewing, and Voorhees have been telling the people of the West for the past two years that the banks are hostile to their interests, and that the democratic party means to abolish them. A number of things are said in the platform with an impressive show of positiveness, but they are mainly things upon which both parties are agreed. The general purpose of the document appears to be to avoid the discussion of important national issues upon which the democracy has made a record of late, and depend for success upon the admirable military history of General Hancock and his want of known political opinions.

Upon two questions, however, the democrats have departed from their noncommittal policy. The platform demands free ships and a tariff for revenue only. Here the republicans can join issue with them squarely. Free ships, however desirable in a theoretical sense, mean practically the entire abandonment of American ship-yards. The Italians and the Norwegians can put together wooden ships cheaper than our Maine shipwrights can build them, and the great Clyde-side and Tyne-side yards of Great Britain can underbid our Delaware yards for the construction of iron vessels. The ruin of our ship-building industry might he compensated for by commercial advantages in time of peace, but we should be seriously crippled in case of war, for our navy-yards are not capable of supplying our navy with the additional armed vessels it would need, to say nothing of the fleets of transports that must be rapidly improvised for military operations. Leaving the commercial question aside altogether, the support of American ship-yards by protective legislation is a defensive measure of the highest national importance. The democrats have made no point here that will help them in the canvass. Indeed, in view of the closeness of the State of Maine and their hopes of carrying it by their alliance with the greenbackers, it looks as though they had committed a serious blunder.

They have succeeded no better with their “tariff for revenue only” plank. Such a tariff means the entire abandonment of the American system of protection under which our multiform manufacturing industries have grown and prospered. A tariff for revenue is a tariff which will produce the most revenue, and is of necessity a low tariff, that will stimulate large importations of foreign goods to undersell our own products in our home markets. This plank arrays against the democracy the entire manufacturing interest of the country, together with the large body of artisans and laborers whose daily bread depends upon its prosperity. It throws away the very fair chances the democrats had of carrying Connecticut and New Jersey, and the possibility of their securing Pennsylvania, the home State of their candidate. Besides, it will lose them many votes in New York, where there are thousands of industries which would be ruined by the repeal of protective duties. In return, the democrats gain nothing. The South, which is the only section of the country where free-trade ideas largely predominate, is solidly democratic in every case. The West is republican, and will not change its political faith on account of this bid for its favor. The East, where the pivotal States of New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey are to be the battle-field of the presidential contest, is firmly wedded to the protective system by a thousand motives of self-interest. Thus the democratic assault upon protection can only be regarded as a gigantic blunder.

It is to be regretted that the democrats have not chosen, by their nomination and platform, to identify their canvass clearly with a few broad principles of legislation, administration, or constitutional interpretation. A thorough discussion of the fundamental ideas of our government, as far as they concern the powers of national and state authority, would have been exceedingly valuable in its educational influence upon large masses of voters who have never been led to a serious consideration of the questions involved. The traditions of the democratic party lead it to take the side of state authority as against the federal power ; those of the republican party lead it to favor the extension and strengthening of the national authority at the expense of the state governments. A contest on this ground would have involved the revival of the early discussions between the federalists and the anti-federalists and a close study of the opinions of the fathers of the republic, and would have lifted the campaign to a high ground of statesmanship. The democrats, it is true, would have been somewhat at a loss to reconcile the theory of their party with its practice when in power. Jefferson, the great advocate of the state’s-rights and loose-government theory, made an exceedingly vigorous administration when he got to be president, and was as much disposed as his federalist predecessors, Washington and Adams, to make the most of the powers given him by the constitution. Jackson, when he wanted to destroy the United States Bank and when he threatened to hang the South Carolina nulliflers, was as stalwart a “strong government” man as was Grant in later years. Pierce and Buchanan, in their efforts to fasten slavery upon Kansas against the will of her people, stretched to the utmost all former broad interpretations of the constitution. As a rule, the party in power takes liberal views of the extent of federal authority, and the party out of power makes use of the rights of the States to combat its successful rival. Nevertheless, so far as professed principles are concerned, the democrats can claim to be the party of the States, and the republicans can claim to be that of the nation. The theory of the right of secession, it must not be forgotten, was essentially a democratic theory, and was the legitimate outgrowth of the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions of 1797 and 1798, which were indorsed in democratic national platforms as late as 1860.

If the democrats in their platform had vigorously renewed what is popularly known as their “ fraud cry ” and had nominated Mr. Tilden, we should have had the issue between the state and the nation presented in another form, and with the relation of parties to it completely reversed. The democrats have been claiming, ever since the settlement of the presidential controversy in 1877, that the electoral commission took wrong ground, from partisan motives, when it decided that Congress had no power to go behind the return of a state in its presidential elections. They made the broadest possible claims for national power, overlooked the express language of the constitution which gives to the States full control over the manner of casting their electoral votes, and claimed for Congress the right to make itself a returning board and investigate the action of state canvassers and even the returns of separate polling-places. Instead of final judges of their own action in the choice of a president, this theory made the States mere certifying authorities, whose attestations Congress might regard or not, according to its pleasure. The republicans appealed to all the early interpretations of the constitution, and to the unbroken line of precedents to justify their position that the certified return of a State of its vote for president is a finality, and that the only function of Congress in connection with the electoral count is to be present as official witnesses to see that the returns are correctly announced and tabulated. This issue the republicans would be glad to take before the people in the present canvass, but the democrats have avoided it.

At the date this article is written the stump-speaking campaign has not begun, and it is therefore not possible to indicate the drift of argument to be followed by the orators of the two parties in their appeals to the voters. So far as it is foreshadowed by the discussions in the party press, the canvass is not likely to be particularly instructive to those who like to see opposing theories of public policy brought into sharp antagonism. The democrats have outlined no course of argument thus far, and are evidently anxious to obscure the recent record of their party, and to escape the necessity of defending it. They content themselves with personal attacks upon the republican candidate for the presidency, as if there were no principles at issue, and as if the campaign were to settle nothing but the question of who is the better man, Garfield or Hancock. The republicans decline to engage in a defense of the record of their nominee. He has been in public life for twentytwo years, seventeen of which he has spent in a forum which puts men’s characters and talents to a severe test, — the national house of representatives. They do not believe his integrity or capacity can be successfully impeached. Besides, no charges are brought against him which were not made before the jury of his own constituents as long ago as 1874, when a great effort was made to defeat his reëlection. His district was sown broadcast with printed sheets containing the identical attacks now revived by the democrats, and a Methodist presiding elder, of excellent repute and great personal popularity, was persuaded to run as the opposing candidate. Having been a republican, it was hoped that this worthy preacher would draw off votes enough from the republican ranks to enable the democrats to defeat General Garfield. It was a year of wide-spread republican disaster. States and congressional districts which had been steadfastly republican ever since the party was organized were carried by the democrats. In the whole belt of States beginning with Massachusetts and running clear through to the Mississippi River, the democrats were swept forward to victory on the wave of popular dissatisfaction with the Grant administration. General Garfield’s opponents had the great advantage of this powerful current to aid them in their effort to overthrow him. He made his defense in print and on the stump. The charges against him, printed in the form of a broadside sheet in the office of a New York newspaper, were distributed in every audience he addressed. He met them squarely and manfully, and so effectually disproved them that he led the republican ticket, and had a larger majority in the district than was given for the popular candidate for governor, General Noyes, against whom the democrats directed no personal assaults. General Garfield’s district is shown by the census reports to be the most intelligent in the United States. It has always been exceedingly jealous of the reputation of its representatives. In half a century it has had but four. The verdict of such a district on the personal character of its member of Congress is conclusive. Since it was given at the polls in 1874, it has been twice reaffirmed, and has been indorsed by the republicans of the State of Ohio in their unanimous selection of General Garfield for the United States senate.

While the democratic newspapers fire away at the person of the republican nominee, the republican newspapers direct their shots at the record of the democratic party, paying particular attention to its recent performances, since it got power in Congress. Their line of attack substantially is as follows : They charge the democratic party with pursuing a policy that has solidified the States attached to each other by the memories of slavery and rebellion into a compact political entity, hostile to the ideas, achievements, and tendencies of the nation at large, and has made it impossible for a healthful, honest, and respectable opposition party to exist anywhere in the South. This solidity of the South is attributed to a desire to escape from the results of the war so far as they established equal suffrage and citizenship, and so far as they strengthened the national authority and overturned the state’s-rights theory; and, furthermore, to an eager ambition to justify the rebellion on the pages of history. The democracy is therefore charged with being a sectional party, ready to do the bidding of the South in return for its votes in Congress and in the electoral colleges. The new democratic doctrine, that a majority in Congress has the right to nullify a law which it cannot repeal by refusing appropriations to execute it, is vigorously assailed as revolutionary in spirit and effect. The course of the democratic party on financial questions, its effort to break down the public credit by schemes to pay the bonds in irredeemable greenbacks, its resistance to resumption, and the aid and encouragement it gave for twelve years to the manifold schemes for inflation and repudiation, which germinated in the West like weeds upon a prairie, are not forgotten. In contrast with the democratic record of sympathy with slavery and rebellion, of resistance VOL. XLVI. - NO. 275. 26 to emancipation and manhood suffrage, and of hostility to specie payments, a sound currency, and the fulfillment of the nation’s obligations, is presented the republican record of the Union defended, restored, and strengthened, slavery abolished, equal suffrage and citizenship for all, honest money, and untarnished national honor.

Presidential campaigns are no longer fought simultaneously and with equal ardor all over the country. Certain close States, which hold elections prior to the presidential election, are selected for a battle-ground to test the strength of the opposing parties, and the contest centres in them, while the rest of the country looks on with the eager interest of spectators at a tournament. The arguments and incidents of these local canvasses are repeated by the newspapers all over the land, and the whole people take part in the fight vicariously when they read the daily journals. Maine elects state officers early in September. A .coalition upon state and electoral tickets has been effected there between the democrats and the greenbackers, and the contest is thus made a close one. The result will greatly encourage the party which wins. As soon as Maine votes, the battle will shift to Ohio and Indiana, which hold state elections on the second Tuesday in October. If the republicans carry both of those States, the campaign will take such a strong set in their favor that the November fight will practically be won in advance. If they carry Ohio and lose Indiana, a tremendous struggle will be made in New York, and the vote of that State will determine whether Garfield or Hancock is to be the next president.