1884 Presidential Election Term Paper

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American politics have always been a hotbed of debate. Just how far politicians are willing to go in the quest to win has revolved around the type of campaign that the participants have taken part in. If the campaign is "clean" the opponents stick to the issues and debate their platforms with little attempt to discredit the others in the race. If the race is "dirty" it means that the politicians and those who are supporting them are willing to fling mud at the others. This can mean that personal lives, problems and problems of the candidates family members are acceptable tools to sabotage the opponent campaign. Throughout the history of the nation campaigns have run the gamut of clean and dirty with everything in between. In recent years the campaign for president that was between Clinton and Bush Sr. became dirty when each side brought up non-job related issues to fling at the other in the hopes that if they can discredit the opponent personally the voters will turn their backs on them come election day. While this is a common practice it is a carefully followed path because of it gets to dirty the plan backfires and the voters begin to turn on the mud tosser. Many political campaigns have started out clean and then turned dirty as each side sank lower in the quest for votes. One presidential campaign that reached historic proportions in the area of mud slinging was the presidential election of 1884. The presidential race of 1884 has been recorded as one of the dirtiest campaigns in the history of the nation.

Most stories start at the beginning and work their way to the end, but to fully understand the significance of dirty politics this story must start at the end and then explain itself. In the race for the job of president in 1884 the final votes were among the closest in history. The recent explosion between George Bush Jr., and Al Gore was often compared to the race of 1884 because of the similar closeness in votes each time.

The opponents for the race were Grover Cleveland and James Blaine. When the electoral and the popular votes were in Blaine lost by a very small margin. Cleveland received 219 electoral votes against Blaine's 189 and he received 4,875,971 popular votes to the very close 4,850,293 that Blaine garnered (Results (Accessed 4-19-2003) (http://members.tripod.com/bcq/1884.html).The race went down in history not only because of the closeness that occurred, but also because of the depth each party stooped to in the effort to win that race. As one of the dirtiest races in United States history, there is much to be learned about politics through the study of this one election example.


The presidential election of 1884 has been noted by political writers and historians as the dirtiest presidential election in the history of the nation including the race between current Bush and Al Gore a few years ago. The race between Cleveland and Blaine sank to such depths that history teachers use it as an example of dirty politics. The campaign became so personal that there were charges levied on each side about the nastiness occurring. Some of those charges included bigotry, graft and lasciviousness (Cresswell, 2001).

In nominating Blaine, the Republicans were selecting their clear front-runner. Blaine had been Speaker of the House, member of the Senate, and a strong presidential hopeful of 1876 and 1880. He had served as Garfield's Secretary of State. He was an excellent speaker, and even had a flamboyant nickname given him by a congressional colleague: "the plumed knight (Cresswell, 2001)."

Cleveland already had major points in population. To try and damage that the affairs that he had were made public and when the fathering of his illegitimate child was made public the race nosedived even more.


Before the election Blaine was working on his own political career. During his career he believed he had been the target of an assassination attempt that actually went to Garfield (Harper, 2001). He initially refused to entertain the idea of running for president himself because of the attempt. However his resolve could not withstand the public and private support of his fellow party members who lined up behind him in several arenas.

Due to Blaine's prominence in calling for tariff protection and the exclusion of Chinese immigrants from American soil, Western Republicans lined up solidly behind him. His campaign was also effective throughout the North, challenging his rivals even in their home territories (Harper, 2001). By late May, Blaine's only serious obstacle to the nomination was President Arthur, who was unlikely to win, but could force a deadlocked convention to turn to someone else. The inability of Arthur to have a united New York delegation behind him was detrimental to his chances (Harper, 2001)."

By the time of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago on July 8-10, the formidable front-runner was Governor Grover Cleveland of New York. Several favorable factors accorded Cleveland that position (Harper, 2001). Elected governor in 1882, Cleveland gained a reputation as a reformer by signing a civil service reform law, a bill preserving Niagara Falls as a state park, and other reforms (Harper, 2001). He was from the largest electoral state, a swing-state that the Democrats had to win in order to capture the presidency. His position on the controversial tariff question was not clearly delineated, thus making him acceptable both to high and low tariff men (Harper, 2001). In all, Cleveland seemed like the candidate most likely to win in November, and after almost 30 years without a presidential victory, Democrat strategists were playing it smart (Harper, 2001)."

There were seven party candidates named for the election race (Graff, 2002). One of those candidates was humiliated through a smear campaign about his personal love life. The detractors wanted St. John to withdraw but he refused even in the face of publicizing his early marriage and divorce and the child that was a product of that union years before (Harper, 2001).

AND THE RACE WAS ON When the race was started for the seat of president and the parties first began to attack each other there seemed to be a limit on what was allowed, but those limits were quickly dissolved in the heat to win.

St. John was infuriated by the smear campaign conducted not only against him but against the son who had been born in that young marriage and grown up to study law. He retaliated in New York with the focus on Blaine's position on prohibition (Harper, 2001).

As the race progressed there were several attempts to stick to the issues at hand. Grover Cleveland sent a letter of acceptance for his nomination that included an emphasis on the reduction of federal spending. In addition he wanted the nation to work on providing the public with an honest administration, which he believed had not been the case in the past.

He made public appearances to address the issues of his presidential platform and in an effort to meet and greet voters to garner support (Harper, 2001).

Though attempts were made to keep it clean the entire election sank to record lows and the fight was on shortly thereafter.


The Democratic Party made the decision to focus on what it called the corruption of Blaine. The part worked to provide the public with an image of Blaine as arrogant, greedy and crooked.

A emblematic This was done in a bid for the working man's vote (Harper, 2001). It linked Blaine with large corporate America during a time when many were struggling to stay afloat and get ahead. "It linked Blaine to large, business corporations ("monopolies"), wielding disproportionate economic and political power which could affect the lives of common workingmen adversely. Mugwump periodicals, such as the New York Times, Harper's Weekly, and the Nation (Harper, 2001), published a steady flow of anti-Blaine editorials and news stories, while political cartoonists at Harper's Weekly, Puck (Harper, 2001), and other journals lampooned the Republican nominee, including as a "tattooed man" who sold himself to the highest bidder. The sensational New York World erroneously reported that Blaine was dying of Bright's Disease (Harper, 2001)."

The republicans retaliated with the news of Cleveland's sex scandal. Cleveland had an affair and fathered a child without being married to the mother of the child. It was reported to the public through the manipulation of the party that Cleveland had then abandoned the woman and his own child (Harper, 2001). To further discredit the presidential candidate the Republican party tracked down the information that Cleveland had forced the mother of the child to be committed to an insane asylum and their child was sent to an orphanage to be raised rather than take responsibility for his child or have the world even know he had fathered the child.

The story became a major embarrassment to the Cleveland camp. Since the negative image of Blaine was…

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