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Election of 1880
James A. Garfield vs. Winfield Scott Hancock
The election of 1880 was as rich in partisan wrangling as it was lacking in major issues. Factional rivalry in the Republican party between New York senator Roscoe Conkling's Stalwarts and Half-Breed followers of James G. Blaine resulted in a convention in which neither Blaine nor the Stalwart choice, former president Ulysses S. Grant, could gain the nomination. On the thirty-sixth ballot, a compromise choice, Senator James A. Garfield of Ohio, was nominated. Stalwart Chester A. Arthur of New York was chosen as his running mate to mollify Conkling's followers. The Democrats selected Civil War general Winfield Scott Hancock, a man of modest abilities, because he was less controversial than party leaders like Samuel Tilden, Senator Thomas Bayard, or Speaker of the House Samuel Randall. Former Indiana congressman William English served as Hancock's running mate.
In their platforms, both parties equivocated on the currency issue and unenthusiastically endorsed civil service reform, while supporting generous pensions for veterans and the exclusion of Chinese immigrants. The Republicans called for protective tariffs; the Democrats favored tariffs "for revenue only."
In the campaign, Republicans "waved the bloody shirt," ridiculed Hancock for referring to the tariff as a "local question," and quite possibly purchased their narrow but crucial victory in Indiana. Democrats attacked Garfield's ties to the Crédit Mobilier scandal and circulated the forged "Morey Letter" that "proved" he was soft on Chinese exclusion. Turnout was high on election day (78.4 percent), but the result was one of the closest in history. Garfield carried the electoral college, 214-155, but his popular majority was less than 10,000 (4,454,416 to Hancock's 4,444,952). Greenback-Labor candidate James Weaver garnered 308,578 votes. Outside the southern and border states, Hancock carried only New Jersey, Nevada, and 5 of 6 California electoral votes.
Election of 1884
Grover Cleveland vs. James G. Blaine
This race, marred by negative campaigning and corruption, ended in the election of the first Democratic president since 1856. The Republicans split into three camps: dissident reformers, called the Mugwumps, who were opposed to party and government graft; Stalwarts, Ulysses S. Grant supporters who had fought civil service reform; and Half-Breeds, moderate reformers and high-tariff men loyal to the party. The Republicans nominated James G. Blaine of Maine, a charismatic former congressman and secretary of state popular for his protectionism, but of doubtful honesty because of his role in the scandal of the "Mulligan letters" in the 1870s. His running mate was one of his opponents, Senator John Logan of Illinois. This gave Democrats a chance to name a ticket popular in New York, where Stalwart senator Roscoe Conkling had a long-running feud with Blaine, and they took advantage of it. They chose New York governor Grover Cleveland, a fiscal conservative and civil service reformer, for president and Senator Thomas Hendricks of Indiana for vice president.
The campaign was vicious. The Republican reformers and the traditionally Republican New York Times opposed Blaine. When it became known that Cleveland, a bachelor, had fathered a child out of wedlock, Republicans chanted "Ma! Ma! Where's my pa? Gone to the White House, Ha! Ha! Ha!" But the furor died down when Cleveland acknowledged his paternity and showed that he contributed to the child's support. Blaine alienated a huge bloc of votes by not repudiating the Reverend Samuel Burchard, who, with Blaine in attendance, called the Democrats the party of "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion." Cleveland defeated Blaine by a very close margin, 4,911,017 to 4,848,334; the vote in the electoral college was 219 to 182, with New York's 36 votes turning the tide.
Election of 1888
Benjamin Harrison vs. Grover Cleveland
In 1888 the Democratic party nominated President Grover Cleveland and chose Allen G. Thurman of Ohio as his running mate, replacing Vice President Thomas Hendricks who had died in office.
After eight ballots, the Republican party chose Benjamin Harrison, former senator from Indiana and the grandson of President William Henry Harrison. Levi P. Morton of New York was the vice-presidential nominee.
In the popular vote for president, Cleveland won with 5,540,050 votes to Harrison's 5,444,337. But Harrison received more votes in the electoral college, 233 to Cleveland's 168, and was therefore elected. The Republicans carried New York, President Cleveland's political base.
The campaign of 1888 helped establish the Republicans as the party of high tariffs, which most Democrats, heavily supported by southern farmers, opposed. But memories of the Civil War also figured heavily in the election.
Northern veterans, organized in the Grand Army of the Republic, had been angered by Cleveland's veto of pension legislation and his decision to return Confederate battle flags.
Election of 1892
Grover Cleveland vs. Benjamin Harrison vs. James B. Weaver
The Republican party in 1892 nominated President Benjamin Harrison and replaced Vice President Levi P. Morton with Whitelaw Reid of New York. The Democrats also selected the familiar: former president Grover Cleveland and Adlai E. Stevenson of Illinois. The Populist, or People's party, fielding candidates for the first time, nominated Gen. James B. Weaver of Iowa and James G. Field of Virginia.
The main difference between the Republicans and the Democrats in 1892 was their position on the tariff. The Republicans supported ever-increasing rates, whereas a substantial wing of the Democratic party pushed through a platform plank that demanded import taxes for revenue only. The Populists called for government ownership of the railroads and monetary reform, confronting these issues in a way the two major parties did not.
Cleveland, avenging his defeat of 1888, won the presidency, receiving 5,554,414 popular votes to Harrison's 5,190,801. Weaver and the Populists received 1,027,329. In the electoral college Cleveland, carrying the swing states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Indiana, garnered 277 votes to Harrison's 145.
Election of 1896
William McKinley vs. William Jennings Bryan vs. Thomas Watson vs. John Palmer
In 1896 the Republican nominee for president was Representative William McKinley of Ohio, a "sound money" man and a strong supporter of high tariffs. His running mate was Garret A. Hobart of New Jersey. The party's platform stressed adherence to the gold standard; western delegates bolted, forming the Silver Republican party.
The Democratic party platform was critical of President Grover Cleveland and endorsed the coinage of silver at a ratio of sixteen to one. William Jennings Bryan, a former congressman from Nebraska, spoke at the convention in support of the platform, proclaiming, "You shall not crucify mankind on a cross of gold." The enthusiastic response of the convention to Bryan's Cross of Gold speech secured his hold on the presidential nomination. His running mate was Arthur Sewall of Maine.
The Populists supported Bryan but nominated Thomas Watson of Georgia for vice president. Silver Republicans supported the Democratic nominee, and the newly formed Gold Democrats nominated John M. Palmer of Illinois for president and Simon B. Buckner of Kentucky for vice president.
Bryan toured the country, stressing his support for silver coinage as a solution for economically disadvantaged American farmers and calling for a relaxation of credit and regulation of the railroads. McKinley remained at home and underscored the Republican commitment to the gold standard and protectionism. The Republican campaign, heavily financed by corporate interests, successfully portrayed Bryan and the Populists as radicals.
William McKinley won, receiving 7,102,246 popular votes to Bryan's 6,502,925. The electoral college votes were 271 to 176. Bryan did not carry any northern industrial states, and the agricultural states of Iowa, Minnesota, and North Dakota also went Republican.
Election of 1900
William McKinley vs. William Jennings Bryan
In 1900 the Republicans nominated President William McKinley. Since Vice President Garret A. Hobart had died in office, Governor Theodore Roosevelt of New York received the vice-presidential nomination. The Democratic candidates were William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska for president and Adlai E. Stevenson of Illinois for vice president.
Bryan campaigned as an anti-imperialist, denouncing the country's involvement in the Philippines. Delivering over six hundred speeches in twenty-four states, he also persisted in his crusade for the free coinage of silver. McKinley did not actively campaign, relying on the revival of the economy that had occurred during his first term.
In the election McKinley won wide support from business interests. Bryan was unable to expand his agrarian base to include northern labor, which approved of McKinley's commitment to protective tariffs. Foreign policy questions proved unimportant to most voters. McKinley was elected, receiving 7,219,530 popular votes to Bryan's 6,358,071. In the electoral college the vote was 292 to 155.
Election of 1904
Theodore Roosevelt vs. Alton Parker
This race confirmed the popularity of Theodore Roosevelt, who had become president when McKinley was assassinated, and moved Democrats away from bimetallism and toward progressivism.
Some Republicans deemed Roosevelt too liberal and flirted with nominating Marcus A. Hanna of Ohio, who had been William McKinley's closest political adviser. But the party easily nominated Roosevelt for a term in his own right and Senator Charles Fairbanks of Indiana for vice president. Democrats divided again over gold and silver, but this time gold won out. The party nominated conservative, colorless New York Court of Appeals judge Alton Parker for president and former senator Henry Davis of West Virginia for vice president.
Parker and his campaign attacked Roosevelt for his antitrust policies and for accepting contributions from big business. His having invited Booker T. Washington for a meal at the White House was also used against him. William Jennings Bryan overcame his distaste for Parker and his supporters and campaigned in the Midwest and West for the ticket. Playing down bimetallism, he stressed moving the party toward more progressive stances.
Parker gained some support from the South, but Roosevelt won 7,628,461 popular votes to Parker's 5,084,223. He carried the electoral college, 336 to 140, with only the South going Democratic.
Election of 1908
William Howard Taft vs. William Jennings Bryan
After Theodore Roosevelt declined to run for reelection in 1908, the Republican convention nominated Secretary of War William Howard Taft for president and Representative James Schoolcraft Sherman of New York as his running mate. The Democrats chose William Jennings Bryan for president for the third time; his running mate was John Kern of Indiana.
The predominant campaign issue was Roosevelt. His record as a reformer countered Bryan's reformist reputation, and Taft promised to carry on Roosevelt's policies. Business leaders campaigned for Taft.
In the election Taft received 7,679,006 popular votes to Bryan's 6,409,106. Taft's margin in the electoral college was 321 to 162.
Woodrow Wilson vs. William Howard Taft vs. Theodore Roosevelt vs. Eugene V. Debs
In 1912, angered over what he felt was the betrayal of his policies by his hand-picked successor, President William Howard Taft, former president Theodore Roosevelt sought the Republican nomination. When the party chose Taft and Vice President James Sherman at the convention, Roosevelt bolted and formed the Progressive party, or Bull Moose party. His running mate was Governor Hiram Johnson of California. After forty-six ballots the Democratic convention nominated New Jersey governor Woodrow Wilson for president and Thomas R. Marshall of Indiana for vice president. For the fourth time the Socialist party nominated Eugene V. Debs for president.
During the campaign Roosevelt and Wilson attracted most of the attention. They offered the voters two brands of progressivism. Wilson's New Freedom promoted antimonopoly policies and a return to small-scale business. Roosevelt's New Nationalism called for an interventionist state with strong regulatory powers.
In the election Wilson received 6,293,120 to Roosevelt's 4,119,582, Taft's 3,485,082, and nearly 900,000 for Debs. In the electoral college Wilson's victory was lopsided: 435 to 88 for Roosevelt and 8 for Taft. The combined vote for Taft and Roosevelt indicated that if the Republican party had not split, they would have won the presidency; the total cast for Wilson, Roosevelt, and Debs spoke to the people's endorsement of progressive reform.
Election of 1916
Woodrow Wilson vs. Charles Evans Hughs
In 1916 the Progressive party convention tried to nominate Theodore Roosevelt again, but Roosevelt, seeking to reunify the Republicans, convinced the convention to support the Republican choice, Associate Justice Charles Evans Hughes. The Republicans selected Charles Fairbanks of Indiana as Hughes's running mate, but the Progressives nominated John M. Parker of Louisiana for vice president. The Democrats renominated President Woodrow Wilson and Vice President Thomas R. Marshall.
The Democrats stressed the fact that Wilson had kept the nation out of the European war, but Wilson was ambiguous about his ability to continue to do so. The election was close. Wilson received 9,129,606 votes to Hughes's 8,538,221. Wilson also obtained a slim margin in the electoral college, winning 277 to 254.
Election of 1920
Warren G. Harding vs. James M. Cox vs. Eugene V. Debs
After a generation of progressive insurgency within the Republican party, it returned in 1920 to a conservative stance. The party's choice for president was Senator Warren G. Harding of Ohio, a political insider. Governor Calvin Coolidge of Massachusetts, best known for his tough handling of the Boston police strike of 1919, was the vice-presidential nominee.
The Democratic party nominated James M. Cox, governor of Ohio, and Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York, assistant secretary of the navy in the Wilson administration. Democratic chances were weakened by President Woodrow Wilson's having suffered a stroke in 1919 and his failure to obtain ratification of the League of Nations treaty. The Socialist party nominated Eugene V. Debs, imprisoned for his opposition to World War I, and Seymour Stedman of Ohio.
A bedridden Wilson hoped the 1920 election would be a referendum on his League of Nations, but that issue was probably not decisive. If anything, the election was a strong rejection of President Wilson and an endorsement of the Republican candidate's call for a "return to normalcy."
Harding's victory was decisive: 16,152,200 popular votes to Cox's 9,147,353. In the electoral college only the South went for Cox. Harding won by 404 to 127. Although still in prison, Debs received more than 900,000 votes.
Election of 1924
Calvin Coolidge vs. Robert M. LaFollette vs. Burton K. Wheeler vs. John W. Davis
The Republican nominees for president and vice president in 1924 were President Calvin Coolidge and Charles G. Dawes of Illinois. President Warren G. Harding had died in 1923.
Disaffected progressive Republicans met under the auspices of the Conference for Progressive Political Action and nominated Robert M. La Follette for president. The new Progressive party chose Senator Burton K. Wheeler of Montana for vice president. The platform called for higher taxes on the wealthy, conservation, direct election of the president, and the ending of child labor.
In choosing their candidates the Democrats were faced with polar opposites. Alfred E. Smith of New York was the epitome of the urban machine politician, and he was also Catholic; William G. McAdoo was a Protestant popular in the South and West. A deadlock developed; on the 103rd ballot the delegates finally settled on John W. Davis, a corporation lawyer, and Charles W. Bryan of Nebraska, the brother of William Jennings Bryan.
The Republicans won easily; Coolidge's popular vote, 15,725,016, was greater than that of Davis, 8,385,586, and La Follette, 4,822,856, combined. Coolidge received 382 electoral votes to Davis's 136. La Follette carried only his home state, Wisconsin, with 13 electoral votes.
Election of 1928
Herbert Hoover vs. Alfred E. Smith
The Republican presidential nominee in 1928 was Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover of California. Charles Curtis of Kansas was his running mate. The Democrats nominated Alfred E. Smith, governor of New York, and Senator Joseph T. Robinson of Arkansas.
The Eighteenth Amendment (Prohibition) and religion--Al Smith was Catholic--dominated a campaign that was marked by anti-Catholicism. Hoover firmly supported Prohibition, whereas Smith, an avowed wet, favored repeal. Many Americans found the urban and cultural groups that the cigar-smoking Smith epitomized frightening; Hoover seemed to stand for old-fashioned rural values. The Republican campaign slogan promised the people "a chicken for every pot and a car in every garage."
The election produced a high voter turnout. The Republicans swept the electoral college, 444 to 87, and Hoover's popular majority was substantial: 21,392,190 to Smith's 15,016,443. The Democrats, however, carried the country's twelve largest cities; the support for Smith in urban America heralded the major political shift to come.
Election of 1932
Franklin D. Roosevelt vs. Herbert Hoover
In 1932, the third year of the Great Depression, the Republican party nominated President Herbert Hoover and Vice President Charles Curtis. Although Hoover had tried to respond to the crisis, his belief in voluntarism limited his options.
The Democratic party nominated Franklin D. Roosevelt, the governor of New York, for president and Senator John Nance Garner of Texas for vice president. The platform called for the repeal of Prohibition and a reduction in federal spending.
During the campaign Hoover defended his record, his commitment to a balanced budget, and the gold standard--a backward-looking stance, given that the number of unemployed stood at 13 million. Roosevelt made few specific proposals, but his tone and demeanor were positive and forward-looking.
The Democrats won the election in a landslide. Roosevelt received 22,809,638 popular votes to the president's 15,758,901 and took the electoral college by 472 votes to 59. The voters' rejection of Hoover and his party extended to both houses of Congress, which the Democrats now controlled.
Election of 1936
Franklin D. Roosevelt vs. Alfred M. Landon
In 1936 the Democratic party nominated President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Vice President John Nance Garner. The Republican party, strongly opposed to the New Deal and "big government," chose Governor Alfred M. Landon of Kansas and Fred Knox of Illinois.
The 1936 presidential campaign focused on class to an unusual extent for American politics. Conservative Democrats such as Alfred E. Smith supported Landon. Eighty percent of newspapers endorsed the Republicans, accusing Roosevelt of imposing a centralized economy. Most businesspeople charged the New Deal with trying to destroy American individualism and threatening the nation's liberty. But Roosevelt appealed to a coalition of western and southern farmers, industrial workers, urban ethnic voters, and reform-minded intellectuals. African-American voters, historically Republican, switched to fdr in record numbers.
In a referendum on the emerging welfare state, the Democratic party won in a landslide--27,751,612 popular votes for fdr to only 16,681,913 for Landon. The Republicans carried two states--Maine and Vermont--for 8 electoral votes; Roosevelt received the remaining 523. The unprecedented success of fdr in 1936 marked the beginning of a long period of Democratic party dominance.
Election of 1940
Franklin D. Roosevelt vs. Wendall L. Wilkie
In 1940 President Franklin D. Roosevelt won an unprecedented third term by a margin of nearly 5 million: 27,244,160 popular votes to Republican Wendell L. Willkie's 22,305,198. The president carried the electoral college, 449 to 82. The new vice president was Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace, chosen by the Democrats to replace the two-term vice president John Nance Garner who no longer agreed with Roosevelt about anything. Charles A. McNary was the Republican candidate for vice president.
The major issue facing the American people in 1940 was World War II. This fact had determined the Republican choice of Willkie, who was a liberal internationalist running as the candidate of a conservative isolationist party. Although Willkie did not disagree with Roosevelt on foreign policy, the country chose to stay with an experienced leader.
Election of 1944
Franklin D. Roosevelt vs. Thomas E. Dewey
By the beginning of 1944, in the middle of World War II, it was clear that President Franklin D. Roosevelt planned to run for a fourth term, and this shaped the coming campaign. Democratic party regulars disliked Vice President Henry A. Wallace; eventually they persuaded Roosevelt to replace him with Senator Harry S. Truman of Missouri.
Although Wendell Willkie, the nominee in 1940, was initially the front-runner in the Republican race, the party returned to its traditional base, choosing conservative governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York. Republicans had hoped that Governor Earl Warren of California would accept the vice-presidential nomination, but he declined. The party then turned to John W. Bricker.
The president won reelection with results that were similar to those of 1940: 25,602,504 people voted for Roosevelt and Truman, and 22,006,285 voters gave their support to Dewey. The electoral vote was 432 to 99.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was the issue in 1944: his health--the sixty-two-year-old suffered from heart disease and high blood pressure--his competence as an administrator, and his stand on communism and the shape of the postwar world. At issue also was whether any president should serve four terms. The Democrats and the president were vulnerable on all these points, but the American people once again chose the familiar in a time of crisis: "Don't change horses in midstream" was a familiar slogan in the campaign.
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