10/21/13 - presidents that didn't campaign

In today's selection -- in the late 1800s, U.S. presidential candidates did not address the presidential nominating conventions of their parties -- Abraham Lincoln famously heard the news of his nomination at the Chicago convention while playing ball with his children in Springfield. And they were not expected to actively campaign after they had been nominated. In fact they were expected to "feign indifference to the outcome" and "presume to know nothing of the appeals for money made for their sake." Here we see the efforts of Democratic presidential candidate Grover Cleveland and his Republican opponent James Blaine in 1884:

"[Mayor, Governor, and then President Grover] Cleveland's nomination came in the era before candidates addressed the convention that named them. Lincoln, for instance, had been playing ball with his children in Springfield in 1860, when news of his nomination in Chicago was brought to him. Cleveland was in his office in Albany where he heard a cannon volley heralding the news from the convention hall. 'They are firing a salute in your honor, Governor,' one of his staff called out. 'Do you think so?' Cleveland is said to have responded, as he continued to work at his desk. A few minutes later when a telephone call -- still a modern miracle -- confirmed the news, the governor's response was typical of him, 'By Jove, that is something, isn't it?' Words and manner were restrained with a vengeance....

"The campaign began according to pattern. The nominees were expected to behave with detachment and even to feign indifference to the outcome. Self-promotion was off the table, a difficult condition for [James] Blaine, whose public massaging of his ego was a hallmark of his career. ...

"After his nomination, Blaine had retreated to his home in Maine, where he was said to be working on the second volume of his memoirs, Twenty Years of Congress from Lincoln to Garfield, the first of which was just reaching the bookstores. Like Cleveland, he was acting as expected, seeming to leave to fate alone the outcome of the campaign. In reality, he was spending much of his time micromanaging it, greeting visiting delegations and showing his knowledge of men and politics superior to that of even his most experienced helpers. For his part, Cleveland was quietly hopeful -- even confident -- and attentive to guidance from [his advisors] as had become his wont. Well aware of his colorlessness as a public speaker, he was relying on his usual pose of modesty and his history of allowing honor and respect to come to him unbidden.

"Accustomed to attending state fairs and rallies of Civil War veterans, Cleveland did not have to adjust much to his new role. And since being on the campaign trail was still not an American custom, his appearances did not always call for speech making. Nor was the pressing of the flesh, de rigueur in twentieth-century campaigns, required as a means of vote getting. ...

"Behind the public appearances, party operatives were raising money for strategic vote buying. Because the Pendleton Act and similar legislation in the states had ended the ability of political bosses to dun jobholders for contributions, money raisers turned to the leaders of industry. On the Republican side, the man who passed the hat was an old Blaine supporter, the Pittsburgh steel magnate Benjamin F. Jones of Jones & Laughlin, a firm that enjoyed the benefits of high tariffs. The Democrats had William Barnum as a money raiser. His successful investments were legion, and, it was said, he knew everybody of wealth. Jones and Barnum provided the window dressing for subordinates who actually rattled the tin cup in front of likely donors. Of course, the candidates were presumed to know nothing of the appeals for money made for their sake."



Henry F. Graff


Grover Cleveland


Times Books


Copyright 2002 by Henry F. Graff


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