Business Enterprise And The Republican Party

If a single phrase be chosen to characterize American life during the

generation that followed the age of Douglas and Lincoln, it must be

"business enterprise"--the tremendous, irresistible energy of a virile

people, mounting in numbers toward a hundred million and applied without

let or hindrance to the developing of natural resources of unparalleled

richness. The chief goal of this effort was high profits for the

ains of industry, on the one hand; and high wages for the workers,

on the other. Its signs, to use the language of a Republican orator in

1876, were golden harvest fields, whirling spindles, turning wheels,

open furnace doors, flaming forges, and chimneys filled with eager fire.

The device blazoned on its shield and written over its factory doors was

"prosperity." A Republican President was its "advance agent." Released

from the hampering interference of the Southern planters and the

confusing issues of the slavery controversy, business enterprise sprang

forward to the task of winning the entire country. Then it flung its

outposts to the uttermost parts of the earth--Europe, Africa, and the

Orient--where were to be found markets for American goods and natural

resources for American capital to develop.


The Outward Signs of Enterprise

It is difficult to comprehend all

the multitudinous activities of American business energy or to appraise

its effects upon the life and destiny of the American people; for beyond

the horizon of the twentieth century lie consequences as yet undreamed

of in our poor philosophy. Statisticians attempt to record its

achievements in terms of miles of railways built, factories opened, men

and women employed, fortunes made, wages paid, cities founded, rivers

spanned, boxes, bales, and tons produced. Historians apply standards of

comparison with the past. Against the slow and leisurely stagecoach,

they set the swift express, rushing from New York to San Francisco in

less time than Washington consumed in his triumphal tour from Mt. Vernon

to New York for his first inaugural. Against the lazy sailing vessel

drifting before a genial breeze, they place the turbine steamer crossing

the Atlantic in five days or the still swifter airplane, in fifteen

hours. For the old workshop where a master and a dozen workmen and

apprentices wrought by hand, they offer the giant factory where ten

thousand persons attend the whirling wheels driven by steam. They write

of the "romance of invention" and the "captains of industry."

The Service of the Railway

All this is fitting in its way. Figures

and contrasts cannot, however, tell the whole story. Take, for example,

the extension of railways. It is easy to relate that there were 30,000

miles in 1860; 166,000 in 1890; and 242,000 in 1910. It is easy to show

upon the map how a few straggling lines became a perfect mesh of closely

knitted railways; or how, like the tentacles of a great monster, the few

roads ending in the Mississippi Valley in 1860 were extended and

multiplied until they tapped every wheat field, mine, and forest beyond

the valley. All this, eloquent of enterprise as it truly is, does not

reveal the significance of railways for American life. It does not

indicate how railways made a continental market for American goods; nor

how they standardized the whole country, giving to cities on the

advancing frontier the leading features of cities in the old East; nor

how they carried to the pioneer the comforts of civilization; nor yet

how in the West they were the forerunners of civilization, the makers of

homesteads, the builders of states.

Government Aid for Railways

Still the story is not ended. The

significant relation between railways and politics must not be

overlooked. The bounty of a lavish government, for example, made

possible the work of railway promoters. By the year 1872 the Federal

government had granted in aid of railways 155,000,000 acres of land--an

area estimated as almost equal to Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut,

Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. The

Union Pacific Company alone secured from the federal government a free

right of way through the public domain, twenty sections of land with

each mile of railway, and a loan up to fifty millions of dollars secured

by a second mortgage on the company's property. More than half of the

northern tier of states lying against Canada from Lake Michigan to the

Pacific was granted to private companies in aid of railways and wagon

roads. About half of New Mexico, Arizona, and California was also given

outright to railway companies. These vast grants from the federal

government were supplemented by gifts from the states in land and by

subscriptions amounting to more than two hundred million dollars. The

history of these gifts and their relation to the political leaders that

engineered them would alone fill a large and interesting volume.

Railway Fortunes and Capital

Out of this gigantic railway promotion,

the first really immense American fortunes were made. Henry Adams, the

grandson of John Quincy Adams, related that his grandfather on his

mother's side, Peter Brooks, on his death in 1849, left a fortune of two

million dollars, "supposed to be the largest estate in Boston," then one

of the few centers of great riches. Compared with the opulence that

sprang out of the Union Pacific, the Northern Pacific, the Southern

Pacific, with their subsidiary and component lines, the estate of Peter

Brooks was a poor man's heritage.

The capital invested in these railways was enormous beyond the

imagination of the men of the stagecoach generation. The total debt of

the United States incurred in the Revolutionary War--a debt which those

of little faith thought the country could never pay--was reckoned at a

figure well under $75,000,000. When the Union Pacific Railroad was

completed, there were outstanding against it $27,000,000 in first

mortgage bonds, $27,000,000 in second mortgage bonds held by the

government, $10,000,000 in income bonds, $10,000,000 in land grant

bonds, and, on top of that huge bonded indebtedness, $36,000,000 in

stock--making $110,000,000 in all. If the amount due the United States

government be subtracted, still there remained, in private hands, stocks

and bonds exceeding in value the whole national debt of Hamilton's

day--a debt that strained all the resources of the Federal government in

1790. Such was the financial significance of the railways.

Growth and Extension of Industry

In the field of manufacturing,

mining, and metal working, the results of business enterprise far

outstripped, if measured in mere dollars, the results of railway

construction. By the end of the century there were about ten billion

dollars invested in factories alone and five million wage-earners

employed in them; while the total value of the output, fourteen billion

dollars, was fifteen times the figure for 1860. In the Eastern states

industries multiplied. In the Northwest territory, the old home of

Jacksonian Democracy, they overtopped agriculture. By the end of the

century, Ohio had almost reached and Illinois had surpassed

Massachusetts in the annual value of manufacturing output.

That was not all. Untold wealth in the form of natural resources was

discovered in the South and West. Coal deposits were found in the

Appalachians stretching from Pennsylvania down to Alabama, in Michigan,

in the Mississippi Valley, and in the Western mountains from North

Dakota to New Mexico. In nearly every coal-bearing region, iron was also

discovered and the great fields of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota

soon rivaled those of the Appalachian area. Copper, lead, gold, and

silver in fabulous quantities were unearthed by the restless prospectors

who left no plain or mountain fastness unexplored. Petroleum, first

pumped from the wells of Pennsylvania in the summer of 1859, made new

fortunes equaling those of trade, railways, and land speculation. It

scattered its riches with an especially lavish hand through Oklahoma,

Texas, and California.

The Trust--an Instrument of Industrial Progress

Business enterprise,

under the direction of powerful men working single-handed, or of small

groups of men pooling their capital for one or more undertakings, had

not advanced far before there appeared upon the scene still mightier

leaders of even greater imagination. New constructive genius now brought

together and combined under one management hundreds of concerns or

thousands of miles of railways, revealing the magic strength of

cooeperation on a national scale. Price-cutting in oil, threatening ruin

to those engaged in the industry, as early as 1879, led a number of

companies in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia to unite in

price-fixing. Three years later a group of oil interests formed a close

organization, placing all their stocks in the hands of trustees, among

whom was John D. Rockefeller. The trustees, in turn, issued

certificates representing the share to which each participant was

entitled; and took over the management of the entire business. Such was

the nature of the "trust," which was to play such an unique role in the

progress of America.

The idea of combination was applied in time to iron and steel, copper,

lead, sugar, cordage, coal, and other commodities, until in each field

there loomed a giant trust or corporation, controlling, if not most of

the output, at least enough to determine in a large measure the prices

charged to consumers. With the passing years, the railways, mills,

mines, and other business concerns were transferred from individual

owners to corporations. At the end of the nineteenth century, the whole

face of American business was changed. Three-fourths of the output from

industries came from factories under corporate management and only

one-fourth from individual and partnership undertakings.

The Banking Corporation

Very closely related to the growth of

business enterprise on a large scale was the system of banking. In the

old days before banks, a person with savings either employed them in his

own undertakings, lent them to a neighbor, or hid them away where they

set no industry in motion. Even in the early stages of modern business,

it was common for a manufacturer to rise from small beginnings by

financing extensions out of his own earnings and profits. This state of

affairs was profoundly altered by the growth of the huge corporations

requiring millions and even billions of capital. The banks, once an

adjunct to business, became the leaders in business.

It was the banks that undertook to sell the stocks and bonds issued by

new corporations and trusts and to supply them with credit to carry on

their operations. Indeed, many of the great mergers or combinations in

business were initiated by magnates in the banking world with millions

and billions under their control. Through their connections with one

another, the banks formed a perfect network of agencies gathering up the

pennies and dollars of the masses as well as the thousands of the rich

and pouring them all into the channels of business and manufacturing.

In this growth of banking on a national scale, it was inevitable that a

few great centers, like Wall Street in New York or State Street in

Boston, should rise to a position of dominance both in concentrating the

savings and profits of the nation and in financing new as well as old


The Significance of the Corporation

The corporation, in fact, became

the striking feature of American business life, one of the most

marvelous institutions of all time, comparable in wealth and power and

the number of its servants with kingdoms and states of old. The effect

of its rise and growth cannot be summarily estimated; but some special

facts are obvious. It made possible gigantic enterprises once entirely

beyond the reach of any individual, no matter how rich. It eliminated

many of the futile and costly wastes of competition in connection with

manufacture, advertising, and selling. It studied the cheapest methods

of production and shut down mills that were poorly equipped or

disadvantageously located. It established laboratories for research in

industry, chemistry, and mechanical inventions. Through the sale of

stocks and bonds, it enabled tens of thousands of people to become

capitalists, if only in a small way. The corporation made it possible

for one person to own, for instance, a $50 share in a million dollar

business concern--a thing entirely impossible under a regime of

individual owners and partnerships.

There was, of course, another side to the picture. Many of the

corporations sought to become monopolies and to make profits, not by

economies and good management, but by extortion from purchasers.

Sometimes they mercilessly crushed small business men, their

competitors, bribed members of legislatures to secure favorable laws,

and contributed to the campaign funds of both leading parties. Wherever

a trust approached the position of a monopoly, it acquired a dominion

over the labor market which enabled it to break even the strongest trade

unions. In short, the power of the trust in finance, in manufacturing,

in politics, and in the field of labor control can hardly be measured.

The Corporation and Labor

In the development of the corporation

there was to be observed a distinct severing of the old ties between

master and workmen, which existed in the days of small industries. For

the personal bond between the owner and the employees was substituted a

new relation. "In most parts of our country," as President Wilson once

said, "men work, not for themselves, not as partners in the old way in

which they used to work, but generally as employees--in a higher or

lower grade--of great corporations." The owner disappeared from the

factory and in his place came the manager, representing the usually

invisible stockholders and dependent for his success upon his ability to

make profits for the owners. Hence the term "soulless corporation,"

which was to exert such a deep influence on American thinking about

industrial relations.

Cities and Immigration

Expressed in terms of human life, this era of

unprecedented enterprise meant huge industrial cities and an immense

labor supply, derived mainly from European immigration. Here, too,

figures tell only a part of the story. In Washington's day nine-tenths

of the American people were engaged in agriculture and lived in the

country; in 1890 more than one-third of the population dwelt in towns of

2500 and over; in 1920 more than half of the population lived in towns

of over 2500. In forty years, between 1860 and 1900, Greater New York

had grown from 1,174,000 to 3,437,000; San Francisco from 56,000 to

342,000; Chicago from 109,000 to 1,698,000. The miles of city tenements

began to rival, in the number of their residents, the farm homesteads of

the West. The time so dreaded by Jefferson had arrived. People were

"piled upon one another in great cities" and the republic of small

farmers had passed away.

To these industrial centers flowed annually an ever-increasing tide of

immigration, reaching the half million point in 1880; rising to

three-quarters of a million three years later; and passing the million

mark in a single year at the opening of the new century. Immigration was

as old as America but new elements now entered the situation. In the

first place, there were radical changes in the nationality of the

newcomers. The migration from Northern Europe--England, Ireland,

Germany, and Scandinavia--diminished; that from Italy, Russia, and

Austria-Hungary increased, more than three-fourths of the entire number

coming from these three lands between the years 1900 and 1910. These

later immigrants were Italians, Poles, Magyars, Czechs, Slovaks,

Russians, and Jews, who came from countries far removed from the

language and the traditions of England whence came the founders of


In the second place, the reception accorded the newcomers differed from

that given to the immigrants in the early days. By 1890 all the free

land was gone. They could not, therefore, be dispersed widely among the

native Americans to assimilate quickly and unconsciously the habits and

ideas of American life. On the contrary, they were diverted mainly to

the industrial centers. There they crowded--nay, overcrowded--into

colonies of their own where they preserved their languages, their

newspapers, and their old-world customs and views.

So eager were American business men to get an enormous labor supply that

they asked few questions about the effect of this "alien invasion" upon

the old America inherited from the fathers. They even stimulated the

invasion artificially by importing huge armies of foreigners under

contract to work in specified mines and mills. There seemed to be no

limit to the factories, forges, refineries, and railways that could be

built, to the multitudes that could be employed in conquering a

continent. As for the future, that was in the hands of Providence!

Business Theories of Politics

As the statesmen of Hamilton's school

and the planters of Calhoun's had their theories of government and

politics, so the leaders in business enterprise had theirs. It was

simple and easily stated. "It is the duty of the government," they

urged, "to protect American industry against foreign competition by

means of high tariffs on imported goods, to aid railways by generous

grants of land, to sell mineral and timber lands at low prices to

energetic men ready to develop them, and then to leave the rest to the

initiative and drive of individuals and companies." All government

interference with the management, prices, rates, charges, and conduct of

private business they held to be either wholly pernicious or intolerably

impertinent. Judging from their speeches and writings, they conceived

the nation as a great collection of individuals, companies, and labor

unions all struggling for profits or high wages and held together by a

government whose principal duty was to keep the peace among them and

protect industry against the foreign manufacturer. Such was the

political theory of business during the generation that followed the

Civil War.


Business Men and Republican Policies

Most of the leaders in industry

gravitated to the Republican ranks. They worked in the North and the

Republican party was essentially Northern. It was moreover--at least so

far as the majority of its members were concerned--committed to

protective tariffs, a sound monetary and banking system, the promotion

of railways and industry by land grants, and the development of internal

improvements. It was furthermore generous in its immigration policy. It

proclaimed America to be an asylum for the oppressed of all countries

and flung wide the doors for immigrants eager to fill the factories, man

the mines, and settle upon Western lands. In a word the Republicans

stood for all those specific measures which favored the enlargement and

prosperity of business. At the same time they resisted government

interference with private enterprise. They did not regulate railway

rates, prosecute trusts for forming combinations, or prevent railway

companies from giving lower rates to some shippers than to others. To

sum it up, the political theories of the Republican party for three

decades after the Civil War were the theories of American

business--prosperous and profitable industries for the owners and "the

full dinner pail" for the workmen. Naturally a large portion of those

who flourished under its policies gave their support to it, voted for

its candidates, and subscribed to its campaign funds.

Sources of Republican Strength in the North

The Republican party was

in fact a political organization of singular power. It originated in a

wave of moral enthusiasm, having attracted to itself, if not the

abolitionists, certainly all those idealists, like James Russell Lowell

and George William Curtis, who had opposed slavery when opposition was

neither safe nor popular. To moral principles it added practical

considerations. Business men had confidence in it. Workingmen, who

longed for the independence of the farmer, owed to its indulgent land

policy the opportunity of securing free homesteads in the West. The

immigrant, landing penniless on these shores, as a result of the same

beneficent system, often found himself in a little while with an estate

as large as many a baronial domain in the Old World. Under a Republican

administration, the union had been saved. To it the veterans of the war

could turn with confidence for those rewards of service which the

government could bestow: pensions surpassing in liberality anything that

the world had ever seen. Under a Republican administration also the

great debt had been created in the defense of the union, and to the

Republican party every investor in government bonds could look for the

full and honorable discharge of the interest and principal. The spoils

system, inaugurated by Jacksonian Democracy, in turn placed all the

federal offices in Republican hands, furnishing an army of party workers

to be counted on for loyal service in every campaign.

Of all these things Republican leaders made full and vigorous use,

sometimes ascribing to the party, in accordance with ancient political

usage, merits and achievements not wholly its own. Particularly was this

true in the case of saving the union. "When in the economy of

Providence, this land was to be purged of human slavery ... the

Republican party came into power," ran a declaration in one platform.

"The Republican party suppressed a gigantic rebellion, emancipated four

million slaves, decreed the equal citizenship of all, and established

universal suffrage," ran another. As for the aid rendered by the

millions of Northern Democrats who stood by the union and the tens of

thousands of them who actually fought in the union army, the Republicans

in their zeal were inclined to be oblivious. They repeatedly charged the

Democratic party "with being the same in character and spirit as when it

sympathized with treason."

Republican Control of the South

To the strength enjoyed in the

North, the Republicans for a long time added the advantages that came

from control over the former Confederate states where the newly

enfranchised negroes, under white leadership, gave a grateful support to

the party responsible for their freedom. In this branch of politics,

motives were so mixed that no historian can hope to appraise them all at

their proper values. On the one side of the ledger must be set the

vigorous efforts of the honest and sincere friends of the freedmen to

win for them complete civil and political equality, wiping out not only

slavery but all its badges of misery and servitude. On the same side

must be placed the labor of those who had valiantly fought in forum and

field to save the union and who regarded continued Republican supremacy

after the war as absolutely necessary to prevent the former leaders in

secession from coming back to power. At the same time there were

undoubtedly some men of the baser sort who looked on politics as a game

and who made use of "carpet-bagging" in the South to win the spoils that

might result from it. At all events, both by laws and presidential acts,

the Republicans for many years kept a keen eye upon the maintenance of

their dominion in the South. Their declaration that neither the law nor

its administration should admit any discrimination in respect of

citizens by reason of race, color, or previous condition of servitude

appealed to idealists and brought results in elections. Even South

Carolina, where reposed the ashes of John C. Calhoun, went Republican in

1872 by a vote of three to one!

Republican control was made easy by the force bills described in a

previous chapter--measures which vested the supervision of elections in

federal officers appointed by Republican Presidents. These drastic

measures, departing from American tradition, the Republican authors

urged, were necessary to safeguard the purity of the ballot, not merely

in the South where the timid freedman might readily be frightened from

using it; but also in the North, particularly in New York City, where it

was claimed that fraud was regularly practiced by Democratic leaders.

The Democrats, on their side, indignantly denied the charges, replying

that the force bills were nothing but devices created by the Republicans

for the purpose of securing their continued rule through systematic

interference with elections. Even the measures of reconstruction were

deemed by Democratic leaders as thinly veiled schemes to establish

Republican power throughout the country. "Nor is there the slightest

doubt," exclaimed Samuel J. Tilden, spokesman of the Democrats in New

York and candidate for President in 1876, "that the paramount object and

motive of the Republican party is by these means to secure itself

against a reaction of opinion adverse to it in our great populous

Northern commonwealths.... When the Republican party resolved to

establish negro supremacy in the ten states in order to gain to itself

the representation of those states in Congress, it had to begin by

governing the people of those states by the sword.... The next was the

creation of new electoral bodies for those ten states, in which, by

exclusions, by disfranchisements and proscriptions, by control over

registration, by applying test oaths ... by intimidation and by every

form of influence, three million negroes are made to predominate over

four and a half million whites."

The War as a Campaign Issue

Even the repeal of force bills could not

allay the sectional feelings engendered by the war. The Republicans

could not forgive the men who had so recently been in arms against the

union and insisted on calling them "traitors" and "rebels." The

Southerners, smarting under the reconstruction acts, could regard the

Republicans only as political oppressors. The passions of the war had

been too strong; the distress too deep to be soon forgotten. The

generation that went through it all remembered it all. For twenty

years, the Republicans, in their speeches and platforms, made "a

straight appeal to the patriotism of the Northern voters." They

maintained that their party, which had saved the union and emancipated

the slaves, was alone worthy of protecting the union and uplifting the


Though the Democrats, especially in the North, resented this policy and

dubbed it with the expressive but inelegant phrase, "waving the bloody

shirt," the Republicans refused to surrender a slogan which made such a

ready popular appeal. As late as 1884, a leader expressed the hope that

they might "wring one more President from the bloody shirt." They

refused to let the country forget that the Democratic candidate, Grover

Cleveland, had escaped military service by hiring a substitute; and they

made political capital out of the fact that he had "insulted the

veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic" by going fishing on

Decoration Day.

Three Republican Presidents

Fortified by all these elements of

strength, the Republicans held the presidency from 1869 to 1885. The

three Presidents elected in this period, Grant, Hayes, and Garfield, had

certain striking characteristics in common. They were all of origin

humble enough to please the most exacting Jacksonian Democrat. They had

been generals in the union army. Grant, next to Lincoln, was regarded as

the savior of the Constitution. Hayes and Garfield, though lesser lights

in the military firmament, had honorable records duly appreciated by

veterans of the war, now thoroughly organized into the Grand Army of the

Republic. It is true that Grant was not a politician and had never voted

the Republican ticket; but this was readily overlooked. Hayes and

Garfield on the other hand were loyal party men. The former had served

in Congress and for three terms as governor of his state. The latter had

long been a member of the House of Representatives and was Senator-elect

when he received the nomination for President.

All of them possessed, moreover, another important asset, which was not

forgotten by the astute managers who led in selecting candidates. All

of them were from Ohio--though Grant had been in Illinois when the

summons to military duties came--and Ohio was a strategic state. It lay

between the manufacturing East and the agrarian country to the West.

Having growing industries and wool to sell it benefited from the

protective tariff. Yet being mainly agricultural still, it was not

without sympathy for the farmers who showed low tariff or free trade

tendencies. Whatever share the East had in shaping laws and framing

policies, it was clear that the West was to have the candidates. This

division in privileges--not uncommon in political management--was always

accompanied by a judicious selection of the candidate for Vice

President. With Garfield, for example, was associated a prominent New

York politician, Chester A. Arthur, who, as fate decreed, was destined

to more than three years' service as chief magistrate, on the

assassination of his superior in office.

The Disputed Election of 1876

While taking note of the long years of

Republican supremacy, it must be recorded that grave doubts exist in the

minds of many historians as to whether one of the three Presidents,

Hayes, was actually the victor in 1876 or not. His Democratic opponent,

Samuel J. Tilden, received a popular plurality of a quarter of a million

and had a plausible claim to a majority of the electoral vote. At all

events, four states sent in double returns, one set for Tilden and

another for Hayes; and a deadlock ensued. Both parties vehemently

claimed the election and the passions ran so high that sober men did not

shrink from speaking of civil war again. Fortunately, in the end, the

counsels of peace prevailed. Congress provided for an electoral

commission of fifteen men to review the contested returns. The

Democrats, inspired by Tilden's moderation, accepted the judgment in

favor of Hayes even though they were not convinced that he was really

entitled to the office.


Abuses in American Political Life

During their long tenure of

office, the Republicans could not escape the inevitable consequences of

power; that is, evil practices and corrupt conduct on the part of some

who found shelter within the party. For that matter neither did the

Democrats manage to avoid such difficulties in those states and cities

where they had the majority. In New York City, for instance, the local

Democratic organization, known as Tammany Hall, passed under the sway of

a group of politicians headed by "Boss" Tweed. He plundered the city

treasury until public-spirited citizens, supported by Samuel J. Tilden,

the Democratic leader of the state, rose in revolt, drove the ringleader

from power, and sent him to jail. In Philadelphia, the local Republican

bosses were guilty of offenses as odious as those committed by New York

politicians. Indeed, the decade that followed the Civil War was marred

by so many scandals in public life that one acute editor was moved to

inquire: "Are not all the great communities of the Western World growing

more corrupt as they grow in wealth?"

In the sphere of national politics, where the opportunities were

greater, betrayals of public trust were even more flagrant. One

revelation after another showed officers, high and low, possessed with

the spirit of peculation. Members of Congress, it was found, accepted

railway stock in exchange for votes in favor of land grants and other

concessions to the companies. In the administration as well as the

legislature the disease was rife. Revenue officers permitted whisky

distillers to evade their taxes and received heavy bribes in return. A

probe into the post-office department revealed the malodorous "star

route frauds"--the deliberate overpayment of certain mail carriers whose

lines were indicated in the official record by asterisks or stars. Even

cabinet officers did not escape suspicion, for the trail of the serpent

led straight to the door of one of them.

In the lower ranges of official life, the spoils system became more

virulent as the number of federal employees increased. The holders of

offices and the seekers after them constituted a veritable political

army. They crowded into Republican councils, for the Republicans, being

in power, could alone dispense federal favors. They filled positions in

the party ranging from the lowest township committee to the national

convention. They helped to nominate candidates and draft platforms and

elbowed to one side the busy citizen, not conversant with party

intrigues, who could only give an occasional day to political matters.

Even the Civil Service Act of 1883, wrung from a reluctant Congress two

years after the assassination of Garfield, made little change for a long

time. It took away from the spoilsmen a few thousand government

positions, but it formed no check on the practice of rewarding party

workers from the public treasury.

On viewing this state of affairs, many a distinguished citizen became

profoundly discouraged. James Russell Lowell, for example, thought he

saw a steady decline in public morals. In 1865, hearing of Lee's

surrender, he had exclaimed: "There is something magnificent in having a

country to love!" Ten years later, when asked to write an ode for the

centennial at Philadelphia in 1876, he could think only of a biting

satire on the nation:

"Show your state legislatures; show your Rings;

And challenge Europe to produce such things

As high officials sitting half in sight

To share the plunder and fix things right.

If that don't fetch her, why, you need only

To show your latest style in martyrs,--Tweed:

She'll find it hard to hide her spiteful tears

At such advance in one poor hundred years."

When his critics condemned him for this "attack upon his native land,"

Lowell replied in sadness: "These fellows have no notion of what love of

country means. It was in my very blood and bones. If I am not an

American who ever was?... What fills me with doubt and dismay is the

degradation of the moral tone. Is it or is it not a result of democracy?

Is ours a 'government of the people, by the people, for the people,' or

a Kakistocracy [a government of the worst], rather for the benefit of

knaves at the cost of fools?"

The Reform Movement in Republican Ranks

The sentiments expressed by

Lowell, himself a Republican and for a time American ambassador to

England, were shared by many men in his party. Very soon after the close

of the Civil War some of them began to protest vigorously against the

policies and conduct of their leaders. In 1872, the dissenters, calling

themselves Liberal Republicans, broke away altogether, nominated a

candidate of their own, Horace Greeley, and put forward a platform

indicting the Republican President fiercely enough to please the most

uncompromising Democrat. They accused Grant of using "the powers and

opportunities of his high office for the promotion of personal ends."

They charged him with retaining "notoriously corrupt and unworthy men in

places of power and responsibility." They alleged that the Republican

party kept "alive the passions and resentments of the late civil war to

use them for their own advantages," and employed the "public service of

the government as a machinery of corruption and personal influence."

It was not apparent, however, from the ensuing election that any

considerable number of Republicans accepted the views of the Liberals.

Greeley, though indorsed by the Democrats, was utterly routed and died

of a broken heart. The lesson of his discomfiture seemed to be that

independent action was futile. So, at least, it was regarded by most men

of the rising generation like Henry Cabot Lodge, of Massachusetts, and

Theodore Roosevelt, of New York. Profiting by the experience of Greeley

they insisted in season and out that reformers who desired to rid the

party of abuses should remain loyal to it and do their work "on the


The Mugwumps and Cleveland Democracy in 1884

Though aided by

Republican dissensions, the Democrats were slow in making headway

against the political current. They were deprived of the energetic and

capable leadership once afforded by the planters, like Calhoun, Davis,

and Toombs; they were saddled by their opponents with responsibility for

secession; and they were stripped of the support of the prostrate

South. Not until the last Southern state was restored to the union, not

until a general amnesty was wrung from Congress, not until white

supremacy was established at the polls, and the last federal soldier

withdrawn from Southern capitals did they succeed in capturing the


The opportune moment for them came in 1884 when a number of

circumstances favored their aspirations. The Republicans, leaving the

Ohio Valley in their search for a candidate, nominated James G. Blaine

of Maine, a vigorous and popular leader but a man under fire from the

reformers in his own party. The Democrats on their side were able to

find at this juncture an able candidate who had no political enemies in

the sphere of national politics, Grover Cleveland, then governor of New

York and widely celebrated as a man of "sterling honesty." At the same

time a number of dissatisfied Republicans openly espoused the Democratic

cause,--among them Carl Schurz, George William Curtis, Henry Ward

Beecher, and William Everett, men of fine ideals and undoubted

integrity. Though the "regular" Republicans called them "Mugwumps" and

laughed at them as the "men milliners, the dilettanti, and carpet

knights of politics," they had a following that was not to be despised.

The campaign which took place that year was one of the most savage in

American history. Issues were thrust into the background. The tariff,

though mentioned, was not taken seriously. Abuse of the opposition was

the favorite resource of party orators. The Democrats insisted that "the

Republican party so far as principle is concerned is a reminiscence. In

practice it is an organization for enriching those who control its

machinery." For the Republican candidate, Blaine, they could hardly find

words to express their contempt. The Republicans retaliated in kind.

They praised their own good works, as of old, in saving the union, and

denounced the "fraud and violence practiced by the Democracy in the

Southern states." Seeing little objectionable in the public record of

Cleveland as mayor of Buffalo and governor of New York, they attacked

his personal character. Perhaps never in the history of political

campaigns did the discussions on the platform and in the press sink to

so low a level. Decent people were sickened. Even hot partisans shrank

from their own words when, after the election, they had time to reflect

on their heedless passions. Moreover, nothing was decided by the

balloting. Cleveland was elected, but his victory was a narrow one. A

change of a few hundred votes in New York would have sent his opponent

to the White House instead.

Changing Political Fortunes (1888-96)

After the Democrats had

settled down to the enjoyment of their hard-earned victory, President

Cleveland in his message of 1887 attacked the tariff as "vicious,

inequitable, and illogical"; as a system of taxation that laid a burden

upon "every consumer in the land for the benefit of our manufacturers."

Business enterprise was thoroughly alarmed. The Republicans

characterized the tariff message as a free-trade assault upon the

industries of the country. Mainly on that issue they elected in 1888

Benjamin Harrison of Indiana, a shrewd lawyer, a reticent politician, a

descendant of the hero of Tippecanoe, and a son of the old Northwest.

Accepting the outcome of the election as a vindication of their

principles, the Republicans, under the leadership of William McKinley in

the House of Representatives, enacted in 1890 a tariff law imposing the

highest duties yet laid in our history. To their utter surprise,

however, they were instantly informed by the country that their program

was not approved. That very autumn they lost in the congressional

elections, and two years later they were decisively beaten in the

presidential campaign, Cleveland once more leading his party to victory.