"Dear Mother: . . ." An Eyewitness Report
on the Republican National
Convention of 1876
By WILLIAM C. COCHRAN
Volume 1, Number 2
Cincinnati, June 18th 1876.
We have had a week of great excitement in Cincinnati. Many of the delegates to the National Republician Convention and the outside supporters of the prominent candidates arrived as early as Friday, the 9th inst., and the town was full of strangers Saturday. The Reform Club of New York, numbering 50 or 60 men, among them Gen. [Henry L.] Burnett, all of them supporters of [Benjamin H.] Bristow; and the N. Y. City Republican Club, numbering about 200 - with a splendid band of music - all in [Roscoe] Conkling's interest, arrived early Saturday morning and put up at the Gibson House and Grand Hotel. Large bodies of men from Philadelphia & Pittsburg, with two more splendid bands, arrived on Monday & put up at the Burnett [sic] House, and Arlington. A whole host came down from Indianapolis in [Oliver P.] Morton's interest on Tuesday with still another splendid band from Newcastle[,] Ind.
The Bristow Club in this city, numbering between 2000 and 3000 quorum pars fui engaged Pike's Opera House for the week of the Convention, and Currier's Band. Flags were hung out all over the city and the hotels were draped in the American colors, and at night handsomely illuminated. The Gibson House had immense inscriptions stretched across the entire front of the building, reading "The Reform Club of New York"[;] "New York City Republican Club," "For President Roscoe Conkling of N. Y. ["], &c. &c. The Grand Hotel had a semi circle of colored lights over the main entrance and just under them a row of gas jets arranged so as to spell the name of ROSCOE CONKLING. The Burnet House had a similar row of gas jets in front of the Building, spelling the name of JAMES G. BLAINE. The Bristow Club had a strip of muslin hung across 4th St. in front of Pike's Opera House, with the inscription BRISTOW & REFORM. The Morton men & Hayes men were not quite so conspicuous in their display, though they too had their respective headquarters and flags, and banners, with the names of their favorites stitched on. The town was more full of strangers than I ever remember to have seen it, not excepting Exposition times, and the excitement & enthusiasm grew feverish, long before the convention met. Every evening the fronts of the hotels w[oul]d be illuminated, the bands would commence to play in front of the respective headquarters, the people would congregate in great masses choking up the streets; and orators would dilate on the merits of the Republican Party; and their respective candidate for the nomination. The crowd would surge through the streets from one place to another - cheers would rend the air, fire works would be set off, red & green lights burned on nearly every corner, and in & among the crowds the political "workers" would be feeling their way trying to ascertain the sentiments of delegates and others - and to win them over by argument, entreaty, promises, & even bribes.
With all the excitement I never saw so little trouble in so large a crowd. There was no fighting, no drunkenness to speak of and no unseemly conduct. Though the Conkling men were the first on the ground, and worked hard to gain votes for their candidate it was an up hill job - and it was pretty generally known before the Convention met that he would stand no real chance of being nominated.
The Morton men had more votes to begin with than Conkling, but they did not come so early, or work so hard for their candidate, and as early as Wednesday night they admitted that Morton could not be nominated. The Blaine men were on the ground early too, and in great numbers. They had among the delegates nearly 200 who were instructed or requested to vote for him - and a large number among the uninstructed delegates who made no concealment of their preference for him, at the time they were elected and during the week of the Convention. With so large a number of votes already secured, it was not very difficult for his supporters to persuade others who had no particular preference among the candidates and whose notions of political honesty & morality were not too nice to come over to Blaine. They assured those who were tempted by prospects of office or political preferment, that he was bound to win anyhow and they might as well come in early and thus merit his recognition & favor. They magnified his "pluck," his "daring," his "ability," his "smartness," and whenever they found anyone in whose heart lurked any hatred or malice against the South, they bragged how James G. Blaine discomfited the rebels in the house and predicted that he would make them "stand around" or "take back seats," if he came into power. They talked of the man's "brilliancy," and said if he were only elected President, his would be the most brilliant administration the world ever saw. They spoke of his eloquence & power as a speaker and said that no one could make such a lively canvass and such a glorious success as he - They said nothing about his using his position & influence as Speaker of the house to forward railroad schemes in which he was interested. They said nothing about his own letters, which proved him to be a [sic] speculating in all sorts of stocks, whose value depended wholly on Congressional legislation. They said nothing of the brilliant opportunities for speculating, the White House would afford him and his intimate friends - They said nothing about his willingness to keep the "machine" running, nothing of all the disreputable & suspicious circumstances surrounding the past life - and overshadowing the future of the man - and the mouths of his opponents were stopped by news of the calamity which had overtaken him [a stroke]. No one wished to say hard things against a man who was lying at death's door, no matter how true they might be, and so during the whole day, Sunday, and Monday and Tuesday, the friends of Blaine worked upon the sympathies, & feelings, of the crowd and used with great effect the specious arguments above alluded to.
The only question ever raised in discussion was as to his physical ability to make the canvass & fill the position, if nominated & elected, and this was set at rest by reassuring telegrams which were sent nearly every hour of the day, to some one or other of his friends & posted in the bar rooms of hotels and on the bulletin boards of the various newspaper offices. The result of all this was that Blaine's friends were perfectly jubilant and confident of victory on Tuesday night. They said that they were absolutely sure of more than 300 votes on the first ballot and that they would gain enough on the second from the delegations who had to cast a complimentary vote for some "favorite son" to nominate their man. They were not only confident - but every one else was fearful and depressed, and it did seem then as though nothing could avert this great danger from the Republican Party. But from this fear & depression sprang up a mighty spirit of war & desperation on the part of all who were opposed to Blaine. He was so far recovered that there was no immediate fear of his death - and the tongues & pens of his adversaries were set free from the bondage the presence of death had seed them with - Speeches were made at the meetings of the Bristow Club held in Pike's Opera House, Tuesday & Wednesday nights by such men as Dr. [H.W.] Bellows of N. Y. - Freeman Clarke and Prof. [Paul A.] Chadbourne of Mass. - Geo. Wm. Curtis, Henry A. Chandler of Boston, Henry Arnett Brown of Philadelphia, R.H. Dana, Judge [E. Rockwood] Hoar & others, John M. Harlan of Kentucky, and several men from the South -; the Commercial & Gazette pitched in with a will, and said boldly that his nomination would be the ruin of the Republican party & that they could not support him. The New York Times did the same. The Bristow men in this city, in their private intercourse with the delegates and other politicians said they would not vote for Blaine & that the party must fail in the coming election if they nominated him. Carl Schurz and a large number of liberals & independents were here, and said that if Blaine was nominated they would either support the democratic ticket, nominated at St. Louis, or organize a third party movement. The claims of Bristow as a Reform candidate were pushed with earnestness & zeal and as the result proved with too much zeal for his own good. The Hayes men kept quietly in the background. They said nothing against any of the candidates, manifested no preferences, for one over another. Did not even make any fuss over Hayes, simply saying that they were instructed to vote for him & should do so while there was any chance for his success. They affected to be pleased with every other candidate in the field, aroused no opposition and ultimately succeeded in making their candidate the second choice of nearly every delegate.
The Bristow men were bold & aggressive. They were determined that Blaine should not be nominated if it was possible to prevent it, and that they openly avowed their intention to "kick" against the nomination if he was nominated. This of course made all of Blaine's supporters sworn enemies of Bristow. Morton's & Conkling's supporters were also prejudiced against him as he had been put forward as more holy than they - The regular machine politicians of the Convention were all opposed to him, because they said he and his supporters were "kickers," and independents, and dangerous fellows, and not true to the party. Many resented the idea of having a candidate forced upon them as they insisted Bristow was - & said that when people came to them & told them they must nominate Bristow or perish, they would rather perish than do it.
Thus Bristow's supporters aroused a great deal of opposition among the different elements in the convention, and sacrificed their candidate. But in sacrificing him, they insured Blaine's defeat - in the face of what seemed to his supporters certain victory - and made Hayes' nomination possible. Bristow's supporters made the fight and Hayes enjoys the spoils of victory - they shook the tree and he came along and quietly gathered the fruit -
As I said before the Blaine men were confident of victory on Tuesday night - & everyone else was depressed & dispirited. The Convention met on Wednesday at 12 o'clock, but before they met the Commercial & Gazette had each poured in solid columns of protest & entreaty against the nomination of Blaine - & circulated in their newspapers printed sheets containing the letters of Blaine & arranged in the order of their dates - with a running commentary on the inferences to be drawn from them -
If the Convention could have proceeded to ballot for President & Vice President at once, there can be little doubt that even then Blaine would have been nominated - but that was hardly possible in any event - and the tactics of the Bristow men were to delay action upon the nominations as long as possible and give time for the sober second thought which they felt sure would come to many of the delegates - & save them from making an irretrievable blunder. The first day was consumed in effecting a permanent organization - preliminary speech making- the appointment of committees &c - That evening there were more speeches made, and more earnest talk with the delegates against the nomination of Blaine. The next morning the papers renewed their attack on him, and it became evident that the tide was turning - against him - Still his support was so large - that the Blaine men were enabled to have their own way in regard to every measure not directly connected with the matter of his nomination - Thus when a motion was made to exclude the territories from voting for nominees - as they had no electoral votes to give to the nominee, the Blaine men succeeded in voting it down, and thus secured for him from 12 to 14 votes.
Again, when a vote was taken on the report of the Committee on Credentials in favor of admitting the [Jeremiah] Haralson delegation from Alabama - two delegations from that State having presented themselves - one headed by Senator [George] Spencer - and favorable to Morton & Conkling - the Blaine men carried the day by a vote of 375 to 354, and thus gained 16 votes for him.
But the Blaine men were defeated in all attempts to force a vote for President & Vice President - and the delay which was so precious to his opponents & so dangerous to him - could not be overcome by their action. Thus they tried Thursday morning to have the ballot taken for President & Vice President before the Committee on Resolutions was ready to report the platform - In this they were foiled completely - Again after all the committees had reported, & the platform had been adopted, which was done in the afternoon of Thursday the 15th of June - they tried to force the Convention to a nomination. The Roll of States was called, and each State that had the name of a candidate to present was allowed ten minutes to make a speech in his favor. Ex-Governor [William Pitt] Kellogg of Connecticut nominated Marshall Jewell in a short speech. The nomination was not seconded and was understood to be complimentary merely, having some bearing on the Vice Presidency. Col. R. W. Thompson of Indiana nominated Senator [Oliver P.] Morton in a fine speech which drew out a good deal of applause - and the nomination was seconded by [P.B.S.] Pinchback of Louisiana. When Gen. John M. Harlan arose amid a perfect storm of cheers to nominate Benj. H. Bristow of Kentucky, he made a telling speech which was loudly applauded - more however by the people in the galleries than by the delegates - and the nomination was then seconded by [Luke P.] Poland of Vermont, George Wm. Curtis of New York and R.H. Dana of Massachusetts - Curtis' speech was a very fine & effective one - but Poland's was dry, and Dana's was a little unfortunate in expressing himself, so that he was actually hissed in one place, where he intimated that if the convention did not nominate Bristow - Massachusetts would go democratic at the next election.
It is a great pity that New England men, with all their intelligence & boasted culture, do not possess more tact, and more of the art of pleasing. Blaine was nominated by Robert J. [G.] Ingersoll, of Illinois, who followed Mr. Dana, and made the most telling, & effective speech of the day and as many men say the most effective speech that ever was heard on such an occasion. He began by turning on Mr. Dana & saying "Gentlemen of the Convention: Massachusetts may be satisfied with the loyalty of Benj. H. Bristow - so am I. (great applause among the Bristow men) [.] But if any man nominated by this Convention can not carry the State Of Massachusetts, I am not satisfied of the loyalty of that State." (This was said with tremendous force and emphasis, and brought out an overwhelming round of applause from the Blaine men). "If the nominee of this convention cannot carry that grand old commonwealth of Massachusetts by 75,000 majority, I would advise them to sell out the Faneuil Hall as Democratic Headquarters. I would advise them to take from Bunker Hill that old monument of Glory." This was said in such a scorching, scathing, rebuking way, and with such power that nearly every one in the house thought Massachusetts ought to be ashamed of herself, that it were better for R. H. Dana that a mill stone had been hanged about his neck, and be cast into the sea than to have made that speech - and that Bristow's supporters as a whole - were deserving little more than contempt at the hands of the convention. It was a wonderful turn. Then he went on to laud & praise his hero, James G. Blaine, and at every period the whole house rose & cheered - until it seemed as though Blaine must be nominated without a shadow of doubt or wavering, and he undoubtedly would have been if the ballot could have been taken then, or that afternoon before adjourning. But is was not to be so. A colored man from Georgia [Henry M. Turner] followed him in a ridiculous speech, which provoked the laughter of the house - a half dozen times. He did not stop until the convention drowned him out with cries of "time, time" "you've said enough" - &c, &c, & the chairman told him he had better make room for others. He yielded, grinning from ear to ear, and said "Lord bless you, I'se got a dozen good points I could make yet." Gen. [William P.] Frye of Maine followed him in a speech seconding the nomination of Blaine - and then New York was called. Stewart L. Woodford then got up and in the prettiest most tasteful address of the day, nominated Senator Conkling, and gave Blaine a cruel stab.
Then Ohio was called and Gov. [Edward F.] Noyes with his rich sonorous voice nominated Governor Hayes. He made a good speech, and it was generously applauded, but the greatest applause of the day followed the speech of Ingersoll nominating Blaine - & next to that the speech of Harlan nominating Bristow. Gov [John F.] Hartranft was nominated by Pennsylvania, and then one of the Morton men made a motion to adjourn. This was yelled down by the Blaine men - One of the Conkling men then made a motion for an informal ballot, i.e. one that should not be binding upon the convention, but which would show the relative strength of the several candidates. The Blaine men yelled this down, too. The motion to adjourn was renewed, and carried, by a small majority, and thus the opposition to Blaine gained another night in which to work, and the papers got in a few more urgent protests against the nomination of Blaine and the supporters of Morton, Conkling, Bristow & Hayes had an opportunity to adjust matters between themselves & fix up a plan of action. It was conceded that neither Morton, Conkling, Hartranft nor Jewell could win, that the lot must fall to Bristow, Hayes or the great unkown. Jewell was to be withdrawn after the first complimentary ballot. The Morton men agreed to withdraw his name after two or three ballots, if it was demonstrated that their favorite could not win, & cast their solid vote for Bristow. The Conkling men preferred Hayes to Bristow, but would vote for either in preference to Blaine, and it was calculated that a large majority of the Southern delegates would vote for Bristow as soon as the names of Conkling & Morton were withdrawn. It was believed that Blaine could not get his majority until the weakness of the leading candidates was demonstrated, and that then there would be ample time to concentrate upon Bristow, or Hayes, or possibly [Elihu] Washburne - and thus defeat him - The balloting proceeded as follows:
|1st ballot||2nd ballot||3rd ballot||4th ballot||5th ballot||6th ballot||7th ballot|
On analyzing the vote it will be seen that Morton's & Conkling's votes dwindled steadily from the very start, Blaine gaining nearly all they lost on the second ballot. Bristow kept gaining steadily up to the 4th Ballot, when he stood higher than any other candidate had yet been except Blaine. On this ballot Michigan cast 11 votes for Bristow. Morton had lost 16 votes, and his strength was evidently wasting away. On the next ballot Indiana ought to have withdrawn his name and cast her whole 30 votes for Bristow. Michigan would then have cast her whole 22 votes for him, and his vote would have increased so rapidly that he would undoubtedly have combined all straggling votes, and been nominated on the next ballot - but the Morton men acting under the advices from Washington still clung to their candidate, and as Bristow gained nothing, from any other source, Michigan decided to take 11 from Bristow and cast her 22 votes solid for Hayes, and see what effect that would have. It had the effect to send Hayes' stock up at once. North Carolina gave him11 votes more, and he gained straggling votes from other states, enough to carry his strength above 100. Nine of the N. C. votes were transferred directly from Blaine to Hayes, which depressed Blaine stock and left him but 286 votes the lowest he had received since the start. People in the galleries and the supporters of the other prominent candidates now began to count him out of the race supposing that he had reached his greatest strength, and therefore there was no serious effort to combine on an opposition candidate in the 6th ballot. Hayes gained votes from Illinois, Iowa, Texas, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, some of them being transferred from Bristow and came out 2 ahead of Bristow on this Ballot.
North Carolina, not being satisfied with the progress Hayes was making and thinking that after all Blaine was the winning man, took her 12 votes from Hayes & cast them for Blaine, at which there was great cheering, which was followed up by still louder cheering when Pennsylvania cast 14 votes for Blaine. South Carolina soon after increased her votes for Blaine from 5 to 10 and the cheering was renewed. At the announcement of the final result the Blaine men made the Hall ring again & again with their cheers, and it was evident from the way they commenced to move about among the Southern delegates, that a big push would be made on the next ballot to nominate Blaine & that the opposition must combine now or never.
The Indiana & Kentucky delegates consulted earnestly together [;] Massachusetts & N. Y. retired for consultation. When the roll call was next commenced, every one felt that the end was at hand. The Blaine men gained one vote from Alabama, which had been cast for Bristow before, at which the Blaine men cheered furiously. Arkansas, the next state called transferred 11 votes from Morton to Blaine, at which the Blaine men raised another deafening shout. California gave Blaine 16 votes, where she had only given him 6 before - and so he kept gaining from every state, until it seemed as though nothing could stay his successful progress, and every step gained was cheered lustily by his supporters. When Indiana was reached, Blaine had gained 32 votes. The interest was painfully intense. Indiana was called. Her chairman rose up & walked slowly up to the platform. Everyone knew that it was for the purpose of withdrawing Morton's name, but for whom would Indiana's thirty votes be cast? In a truly pathetic and yet most dignified speech[,] every word of which was plainly heard, Will Cumback withdrew the name of Morton, thanked the convention for the noble support they had given him, and concluded by saying "in withdrawing the name of the great War Governor, Indiana gives 25 votes for Rutherford B. Hayes, of Ohio." Then it was the turn of the anti-Blaine men to shout. The people in the galleries rose to their feet, swung hats & handkerchiefs and gave three long rounds of applause. Iowa gave her 22 votes for Blaine as she had done before and the Blaine men took their turn at shouting - Then Kentucky was called. Gen. [John M.] Harlan rose from his place & walked toward the stand, and the people divining his purpose, at once set up a great cheer, and it was some time before he could be heard. He stood there, his lips trembling with emotion[,] waiting for the storm of applause to be hushed, and then he spoke grandly. He thanked the convention for the support they had given his fellow citizen, and the thanks of Kentucky were especially due to those men of Massachusetts & Vermont, who when it was whispered throughout the length and breadth of this land that Benj. H. Bristow was not to be President because he was born & reared in the South, had come forward and said they were satisfied that a Kentuckian could be loyal - "that Benjamin H. Bristow was a man to be trusted (great & prolonged applause). Without detaining you further, Kentucky unanimously instructs me to withdraw the name of Benj. H. Bristow from this convention, and in withdrawing his name, to cast her entire vote for Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio." The scene of wild & tumultuous applause that followed defies description.
Louisiana, which had given Blaine only 6 votes on the 6th Ballot now cast 14 for him, and 2 for Hayes, which gave the Blaine men another turn at cheering, and so the battle wavered. It was the most intensely exciting scene I ever witnessed. No horse race could begin to compare with it. When Massachusetts cast 21 for Hayes & Michigan 22 and Mississippi her solid vote of 16, which had been scattered before among several candidates, the applause was deafening and Hayes['] nomination seemed to be assured. When New York was called there was a lull of anxious expectation. Her chairman, Gov. [Theodore M.] Pomeroy, arose & advanced to the platform amid perfect silence, and turning to the convention said [:] "to show that New York is in favor of unity and victory, she gives 61 votes to Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio," the remainder of his sentence, "and 9 votes to James G. Blaine" was drowned in the applause that followed. North Carolina again swung over to Hayes and cast her solid vote of 20 for him, amid tremendous applause. Ohio followed with 44, which she had been doing steadily throughout the balloting but it seemed to count for more this time, and the hall rang with the cheers of the now united opposition -
When Pennsylvania was called there was another lull of expectation. Don Cameron, the young Sec[retary] of War, got upon a chair in front of his delegation, withdrew the name of [John F.] Hartranft (which had only been used as a cover for their ulterior purpose all along) and said that Pennsylvania casts 30 votes for James G. Blaine and 28 for Rutherford B. Hayes - at which both sides cheered long & lustily. South Carolina divided evenly giving 7 to Blaine & 7 to Hayes. Texas gave her entire vote with one exception to Hayes. Tennessee gave him 18, to Blaine's 6, and Vermont cast her entire vote for Hayes - and before the territories were reached some of the reporters who were quick at figures, discovered that Hayes had a majority of all the votes, & jumped up in their seats, swung their hats & shouted Hayes - Hayes! The territories were called, amid great confusion and the chairmen of the respective delegations cast their 2 votes for James G. Blaine in a most dogged & resolute tone though they knew the game was up & their favorite was laid low.
Cheering was then indulged in for 15 or 20 minutes at a stretch. The nomination of Hayes was made unanimous, and the convention proceeded to nominate a Vice President. Wm. A. Wheeler and Stewart L. Woodford of New York, Joseph M. Hawley & Marshall Jewell, of Connecticut, & Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, were nominated, It became evident early in the balloting that Wheeler was the favorite, all the Blaine men voted for him, and before the State of New York was called, Stewart L. Woodford withdrew his name. New York cast her solid vote for Wheeler. Pennsylvania cast her solid vote for Frelinghuysen. The name of Marshall Jewell was withdrawn, and before the balloting was completed, a motion was made to make the nomination of Wheeler unanimous, and carried, by an over- whelming shout.
Thus, the Republican Party escaped a terrible danger that was thrust upon it by the friends of Blaine; thus Blaine was defeated by the harmony of feeling & magnanimous action of his chief opponents, and thus Hayes was demonstrated to be the "luckiest" man in the United States. Fortune like a wanton goddess fairly pursues him - and heaps her favors upon him, without an effort on his part & almost against his wishes. It was undoubtedly the best nomination that was possible under the circumstances. If, on the 7th Ballot the attempt had been made to nominate Bristow it would undoubtedly have failed, as the Ohio delegation would either have held firm for Hayes - or broken up so as to give Blaine 16 votes, and with this encouragement from Ohio, he could undoubtedly have secured enough votes to have nominated him.
Nobody had anything against Hayes, while many cherished some grudge against Bristow and the oppostion would not have united so spontaneously & so completely on him.
The excitement about the convention interfered sadly with our business. We have lost nearly a whole week's work - but I would not have missed the opportunity for attending a National Convention and especially one of so important & exciting a character as this for anything in the world. Though a Bristow man, I rejoiced heartily in the result, and feel as though I could be a straight Republican from this time forth. U. C. D. [Utile con dulce, a Cincinnati club to which William C. Cochran belonged] rejoices greatly.
[Final page of letter missing]
[William C. Cochran]