Polarization in Presidential Politics: The Election of 1884

The 1884 election was a vicious one in which each party launched attacks on the personal character of the other party's candidate. Maine Senator James G. Blaine had won his party's nomination after having failed to do so in the two previous elections. He came to the nomination with some baggage. Firstly, he had been the leader of one of two opposing factions within the Republican Party (known as the "half-breeds") with the other faction known as the "Stalwarts".

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Blaine had been prevented from getting the Republican presidential nomination during the previous two elections because of the something known as the "Mulligan letters". In 1876, a Boston bookkeeper named James Mulligan had located some letters showing that Blaine had sold his influence in Congress to various businesses. One such letter ended with the phrase "burn this letter". In the 1884 election, the Democratic Party resurrected the scandal of the Mulligan letters. A popular chant among Democrat supporters at their rallies was "Burn, burn, burn this letter!" Democrats alleged that Blaine had received $110,150 from the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad for securing a federal land grant. Democrat received support from anti-Blaine Republicans and both attacked the Republican candidate on the question of his integrity.

Democrats contrasted Blaine with their candidate, New York Governor Grover Cleveland, who was known as "Grover the Good". In just three years he had become successively the mayor of Buffalo, New York, and then the governor of the state of New York, and he was credited with cleaning up much of the corruption associated with Tammany Hall. Republicans needed a strategy to counter this disparity in the reputation of their candidates and in July they found a skeleton in Cleveland's closet. An opportunistic preacher from Buffalo named George H. Ball charged that Cleveland had fathered an illegitimate child while he was a lawyer in that city. They confronted Cleveland with the scandal.

Cleveland is reported to have told his supporters, "Above all, tell the truth." Cleveland admitted to paying child support in 1874 to Maria Crofts Halpin, the woman who claimed he fathered her child. The child was named Oscar Folsom Cleveland. Halpin was reportedly involved with several men at the time, including Cleveland's friend and law partner, Oscar Folsom, for whom the child was named. Cleveland claimed that he did not know which man was the father and said that he assumed responsibility for supporting the child because he was the only bachelor among the group.

That October, shortly before election day, the Republicans published an affidavit from Halpin in which she stated that until she met Cleveland her "life was pure and spotless", and "there is not, and never was, a doubt as to the paternity of our child, and the attempt of Grover Cleveland, or his friends, to couple the name of Oscar Folsom, or any one else, with that boy, for that purpose is simply infamous and false." Cleveland's campaign stated that there was no proof that Cleveland was the father, and claimed that, by assuming responsibility and finding a home for the child, he was acting charitably. They also said that Halpin was not forced into an asylum; her whereabouts were unknown.

Blaine's supporters mocked Cleveland and at their rallies, they chanted "Ma, Ma, Where's my Pa?" (After Cleveland's victory, Cleveland supporters would add to the taunt: "Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha.")

As Election Day approached, it was a question as to which of the two negatives would affect voters more. The Cleveland campaign's damage control worked well enough to keep the race very close through Election Day. But Blaine still faced oppositions from within his own party. A group of Republican reformers called the "Mugwumps" were more angry at Blaine's corruption than at Cleveland's private affairs.

In the final week of the campaign, the Blaine campaign suffered a catastrophic October surprise. At a Republican meeting attended by Blaine, a group of New York preachers criticized the Mugwumps. Their spokesman, Reverend Dr. Samuel Burchard, made a remark that was later used against Blaine. He said: "We are Republicans, and don't propose to leave our party and identify ourselves with the party whose antecedents have been rum, Romanism, and rebellion."


This anti-Catholic slur was picked up by a Democratic operative who was present. Cleveland's campaign managers made sure that it was widely publicized in national newspapers. The statement angered Irish and Catholic voters, especially in New York City and it mobilized them to vote heavily against Blaine. This gaffe was said to cost Blaine New York state and the election by the narrowest of margins. New York state decided the election. Cleveland won the state's 36 electors by a margin of just 1,047 votes out of 1,171,312 cast. Cleveland ended up with 219 electoral votes, compared to 182 for Blaine. Cleveland won 20 states, Blaine won 18. In the popular vote it was 4,914,482 (48.9%) for Cleveland, to 4,856,905 (48.3%) for Blaine.

The story of the 1884 election is the subject of Mark Wahlgren Summers' book Rum Romanism and Rebellion: The Making of A President, 1884.

Martin Luther King Day

Today the Martin Luther King Day holiday is being celebrated. April 4th, 2018 marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's assassination and later that month I had the opportunity to visit Memphis and tour the Civil Rights Museum and view the preserved Lorraine Motel where Dr. King died. I thought it fitting to day to repost the entry in this community that was posted on April 4, 2018.

On Thursday, April 4, 1968, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee while standing on the second floor of the Lorraine Motel. Dr. King was rushed to St. Joseph's Hospital, and was pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m. CST. He had been a prominent leader in the Civil Rights Movement, famous for his advocacy of nonviolence in seeking to achieve his goals.

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In 1968, Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (the SCLC) had organized a project known as the "Poor People's Campaign". Its focus was to address issues of economic justice. King traveled across various locations in the south to assemble what he described as "a multiracial army of the poor". The plan was for the group to march on Washington to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience at the Capitol until Congress created an "economic bill of rights" for poor Americans. In advance of the campaign, King had published his final book, entitled Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? In the book, Dr. King set out his views on how to address social issues and poverty, and called for a guaranteed basic income. The goal of the proposed march on Washington, D.C. was to demand economic aid to the poorest communities of the United States. It would urge government to invest in rebuilding America's cities. King said that he believed that Congress had shown "hostility to the poor" by spending "military funds with alacrity and generosity" while Congress doled out "poverty funds with miserliness." He also noted systematic flaws of "racism, poverty, militarism and materialism". King said that "reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced."

Prior to his assassination, King had received frequent death threats, and displayed a fearless and fatalistic attitude. He said that his death would not stop the struggle for equal rights. After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, King told his wife Coretta, "This is what is going to happen to me also. I keep telling you, this is a sick society."

In early 1968 King traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, in support of striking African American city sanitation workers. The workers had staged a walkout on February 11, 1968, to protest unequal wages and working conditions imposed by Mayor Henry Loeb. At the time, Memphis paid black workers significantly lower wages than whites. Several sanitation workers had been killed on the job due to unsafe working conditions. These were mostly African-American workers. There were other glaring disparities in working conditions. White workers were paid even if they stayed home during bad weather, while African-American workers were not.

On April 3, King returned to Memphis to address a gathering at the Mason Temple, which was the headquarters of the Church of God in Christ. His airline flight to Memphis was delayed by a bomb threat, but he arrived in time to make his speech, which had been dubbed the "I've Been to the Mountaintop" address. In the speech he referred to the bomb threat he had received, telling the crowd:

"And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threat, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!"

On Thursday, April 4, 1968, King was staying in room 306 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The motel was owned by businessman Walter Bailey and named after Bailey's wife. Reverend Ralph Abernathy told the House Select Committee on Assassinations that he and King had stayed in room 306 at the Lorraine Motel so often that it was known as the "King–Abernathy Suite". King's last words were reported to have been something he said to musician Ben Branch, who was scheduled to perform that night at a planned event. King said, "Ben, make sure you play 'Take My Hand, Precious Lord' in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty." King then went out onto the balcony and was standing near his room when he was struck at 6:01 p.m. by a single .30-06 bullet fired from a Remington Model 760 rifle. The bullet entered through King's right cheek, breaking his jaw and several vertebrae as it traveled down his spinal cord. The bullet severed his jugular vein before lodging in his shoulder. The force of the shot ripped off King's necktie.

Shortly after the shot was fired, witnesses saw a man, later believed to be James Earl Ray, fleeing from a rooming house across the street from the Lorraine Motel. Ray had been renting a room there. Police later found a package dumped close to the site, which included a rifle and binoculars, both with Ray's fingerprints. Ray had purchased the rifle using a false name six days earlier. A worldwide manhunt followed and Ray was arrested at London's Heathrow Airport two months later.

Ralph Abernathy heard the shot from inside the motel room and ran to the balcony to find King on the deck, bleeding profusely. Andrew Young, a colleague from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference discovered that King still had a pulse. King was rushed to St. Joseph's Hospital, where doctors opened his chest and performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation. King never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m. According to King's biographer Taylor Branch, the autopsy revealed that despite being aged just 39, King's heart was in the condition of a 60-year-old man, the result of the stresses of his 13 years in the Civil Rights Movement.

Dr. King's assassination was seen by some as a flaw in the strategy of nonviolence. But for many others, it reaffirmed the need to carry on Dr. King's King's work. Leaders within the SCLC confirmed they would carry on the Poor People's Campaign

That night, Senator Robert F. Kennedy was in Indiana campaigning for his bid to become the Democratic Party's nominee for President. He had learned about the shooting just before before boarding a plane to Indianapolis. Kennedy learned that King had died when he landed in Indianapolis. His campaign staff gave him speaking notes, but he refused them. The Indianapolis chief of police recommended that Kennedy not address the crowd because he could not provide protection, but Kennedy decided to go ahead with his speech. Standing on a flatbed truck, Kennedy was the first to tell the audience King had died. After many in the crowd expressed emotions of grief, Kennedy told them:

"For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man."

Kennedy never spoken publicly about his brother's death before. He quoted a poem by the Greek playwright Aeschylus: "Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God." He asked the audience members to pray for the King family and for the country. Later that night as violence broke out in other major cities across the country, none occurred in Indianapolis. Kennedy canceled all of his scheduled campaign appearances and had phone conversations with many leaders in the African-American community.

President Lyndon B. Johnson was in the Oval Office that evening, planning a meeting in Hawaii with Vietnam War military commanders. His press secretary George Christian informed him of King's death at 8:20 p.m. Johnson canceled the trip and directed Attorney General Ramsey Clark to investigate the assassination in Memphis. He made a personal call to King's wife, Coretta Scott King, and declared April 7 a national day of mourning, on which the U.S. flag would be flown at half-staff

Mrs. King had received an outpouring of condolences and a large number of telegrams, including one from Lee Harvey Oswald's mother, which she regarded as the one that touched her the most.

Colleagues of King in the Civil Rights Movement called for a nonviolent response to the assassination. James Farmer Jr. said: "Dr. King would be greatly distressed to find that his blood had triggered off bloodshed and disorder. I think instead the nation should be quiet; black and white, and we should be in a prayerful mood, which would be in keeping with his life." But more militant leaders called for a more aggressive response. Stokely Carmichael said, "White America killed Dr. King last night. She made it a whole lot easier for a whole lot of black people today. There no longer needs to be intellectual discussions, black people know that they have to get guns. White America will live to cry that she killed Dr. King last night. It would have been better if she had killed Rap Brown or Stokely Carmichael, but when she killed Dr. King, she lost." A nationwide wave of riots followed in more than 100 cities. After the assassination, the city of Memphis quickly settled the strike on favorable terms to the sanitation workers.

The next day, funeral rites for King were held in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia at Ebenezer Baptist Church. The service was nationally televised. A funeral procession transported King's body for 3.5 miles through the streets of Atlanta, followed by more than 100,000 mourners, from the church to Morehouse College. A second service was held there before the burial.

Governor George Wallace of Alabama, known as a segregationist, described the assassination as a "senseless, regrettable act". However Georgia Governor Lester Maddox called King "an enemy of our country" and threatened to "personally raise" the state capitol flag back from half-staff. California Governor Ronald Reagan described the assassination as "a great tragedy that began when we began compromising with law and order and people started choosing which laws they'd break".

Dr. King's funeral was held on April 9th. A crowd of 300,000 attended and Vice President Hubert Humphrey represented the President. Dr. King's last sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church was played at the funeral.

Two months after assassinating King, James Earl Ray was captured at London's Heathrow Airport while trying to depart from the United Kingdom on a false Canadian passport in the name of Ramon George Sneyd. Ray was quickly extradited to Tennessee and charged with King's murder. Ray confessed to the assassination on March 10, 1969. On the advice of his attorney Percy Foreman, Ray took a guilty plea to avoid a conviction and potential death penalty. Ray was sentenced to a 99-year prison term. He recanted his confession three days later. Ray died in prison on April 23, 1998, at the age of 70 from kidney and liver failure.

Conspiracy theories abound as to Ray's guilt. In 2004, Jesse Jackson, who was with King when he was assassinated, said, "The fact is there were saboteurs to disrupt the march. Within our own organization, we found a very key person who was on the government payroll. So infiltration within, saboteurs from without and the press attacks. I will never believe that James Earl Ray had the motive, the money and the mobility to have done it himself. Our government was very involved in setting the stage for and I think the escape route for James Earl Ray." King's friend and colleague James Bevel put it more succinctly when he said: "There is no way a ten-cent white boy could develop a plan to kill a million-dollar black man."

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Dr. King's legacy endures and had surpassed that of the ardent segregationists who hated him. Martin Luther King Day was proclaimed a national holiday in his honor. It was probably Dr. King himself who most prophetically summarized how he is remembered in the sermon he gave at the Ebenezer Baptist Church on February 4, 1968, two months before his death, when he said:

"I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody.

"I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. And I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.

"Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major. Say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind."

Polarization in Presidential Politics: The Controversial Election of 1876

The election of 1876 was so close and so controversial that when a winner was finally selected, it looked as if violence would prevent the inauguration from taking place. It took the Electoral Commission of 1876, a panel created by Congress, to resolve the disputed presidential election of 1876, the most contentious in American history. That year the presidential election was held on November 7, 1876, and when the results were tallied, it was unclear who the winner was. Democratic candidate Governor Samuel Tilden carried his home state of New York and most of the South, while Republican Candidate Rutherford Hayes, the Governor of Ohio, won most of New England, the Midwest, and the West. Early returns suggested that Tilden had won the election and many major newspapers prematurely reported a Democratic victory in their morning editions. Even Rutherford Hayes went to bed believing that he had lost the contest.

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But the results in a number of states were too close to call. In Louisiana unofficial tallies indicated that Tilden had carried the state by over 6000 votes. However, the Republican-controlled returning board threw out the votes from several areas, citing fraud and voter intimidation. Over 15,000 votes (of which more than 13,000 were for Tilden) were discounted. As a result, Hayes was awarded Louisiana's eight electoral votes. Similar problems arose in Florida. The initial count showed Hayes ahead by 43 votes, but after a correction was made, Tilden took a lead by 94 votes. Once again the returning board disallowed numerous ballots, delivering the election to Hayes by nearly a thousand votes. The board also declared that the Republican candidate had won the gubernatorial election. When the Florida Supreme Court overruled them and awardied the victory to Democrat George Franklin Drew, Drew then announced that Tilden, not Hayes, had carried Florida.

Further complications arose in Oregon. Although both sides acknowledged that Hayes had won the state, Tilden's supporters questioned the constitutional eligibility of John W. Watts, one of the Hayes electors. The Constitution provides that "no…person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States shall be appointed an elector." Watts was a United States postmaster, but he had resigned from his office a week after the election, long before the scheduled meeting of the Electoral College. Nevertheless, the state's Democratic Governor, LaFayette Grover, removed Watts as an elector, replacing him with C. A. Cronin, a Tilden supporter.

On December 6, 1876, the electors met in the state capitals to cast their ballots. In Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina, both the Democratic and the Republican slates of electors assembled, and cast conflicting votes. In Oregon, likewise, both Watts and Cronin cast ballots. Thus, from each of these four states, two sets of returns were transmitted to Washington.

Tilden had won the popular vote by almost a quarter of a million votes, but it was still unclear who had a majority in the Electoral College. Tilden received 184 uncontested electoral votes, while Hayes received 165. Both sides claiming the remaining twenty (4 from Florida, 8 from Louisiana, 7 from South Carolina, and 1 from Oregon). A total of 185 votes constituted an Electoral College majority, so Tilden needed only one of the disputed votes to become President, while Hayes needed all twenty.

The election dispute gave rise to a constitutional crisis. Many Democrats who believed that they had been cheated. They raised a cry of "Tilden or Blood!" Congressman Henry Watterson of Kentucky declared that an army of 100,000 men was prepared to march on Washington if Tilden was denied the presidency. The Constitution did not spell out how Electoral College disputes were to be resolved. Democrats controlled the House, while the Republicans controlled the Senate.

In late December, each House created a special committee charged with developing a mechanism to resolve the issue. The committees ultimately decided to create an Electoral Commission. Many Republicans objected to the idea, insisting that the President pro tempore of the Senate (a Republican) should resolve the disputes. Rutherford Hayes called that the bill unconstitutional. But a sufficient number of Republicans joined the Democrats to ensure the legislation's passage. On January 25, 1877, the Senate voted in favor of the Electoral Commission Bill 47-17. The House followed suit the next day, by a vote of 191-86. On January 29, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill into law.

Under the new legislation, the Electoral Commission would be made up of fifteen members: five representatives selected by the House, five senators selected by the Senate, four Supreme Court justices, and a fifth Supreme Court justice selected by the other four. The most senior justice was to serve as President of the Commission. Whenever two different electoral vote certificates arrived from any state, the Commission was empowered to determine which return was correct. The Commission's decisions could be overturned only by both houses of Congress.

Originally, it was planned that the Commission would consist of seven Democrats, seven Republicans, and one independent. Justice David Davis, who was widely respected as a political independent, was supposed to be the fifth justice on the Commission. But just as the Electoral Commission Bill was passing Congress, the Legislature of Illinois elected Davis to the Senate. Democrats in the Illinois Legislature believed that by doing so, they had cemented Davis' support. They were wrong. Instead of staying on the Supreme Court so that he could serve on the Commission, Davis promptly resigned as a Justice in order to take his Senate seat.

With no independents left on the Supreme Court, the final seat on the Electoral Commission was given instead to Justice Joseph Philo Bradley, a Republican. As a result, the Republicans now held a one-seat majority on the body. In every case of a disputed vote, Bradley voted with his fellow Republicans to give the disputed electoral votes to Hayes.

The Electoral Commission held its meetings in the Supreme Court chamber. It held its hearings much like a court, hearing arguments from both Democratic and Republican lawyers. Tilden was represented by Jeremiah S. Black, Montgomery Blair, John Archibald Campbell, Matthew H. Carpenter, Ashbel Green, George Hoadly, Richard T. Merrick, Charles O'Conor, Lyman Trumbull, and William C. Whitney. Hayes was represented by William M. Evarts, Stanley Matthews, Samuel Shellabarger, and E. W. Stoughton. The commission began hearing arguments on February 1, 1877.

Subsequently, in a series of party-line votes, the Commission awarded all twenty disputed electoral votes to Hayes. Under the Electoral Commission Act, the Commission's findings were final unless overruled by both houses of Congress. Although the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives repeatedly voted to reject the Commission's decisions, the Republican-controlled Senate voted to uphold them.

Unable to overturn the Commission's decisions, many Democrats instead tried to obstruct them. Congressman Abram Hewitt challenged the electoral votes from Vermont, even though Hayes had clearly carried the state. The Senate quickly voted to overrule the objection, but the Democrats conducted a filibuster in the House of Representatives. On March 1, 1877, the House debated the objection for about twelve hours before overruling it. This was followed by another objection to the electoral votes from Wisconsin. Again, the Senate voted to overrule the objection, while a filibuster was conducted in the House. Eventually, the filibusterers gave up. The House and Senate then reassembled to complete the count of the electoral votes. At 4:10 AM on March 2, Senator Ferry announced that Hayes and Wheeler had been elected to the presidency and vice presidency, by an electoral margin of 185-184.


Many of Tilden's supporters believed that he had been cheated out of victory. Hayes was given pejorative nicknames such as "Rutherfraud," "His Fraudulency," and "His Accidency." On March 3, the House of Representatives passed a resolution declaring its opinion that Tilden had been "duly elected President of the United States." Nevertheless, Hayes was peacefully sworn in as President on March 5.

In May 1878, the House of Representatives created a special committee charged with investigating the allegations of fraud in the 1876 election. The eleven-member committee was chaired by Clarkson Nott Potter, a Democratic congressman from New York. The committee, however, could not uncover any evidence of wrongdoing by the President. The New York Tribune published a series of coded telegrams that Democratic Party operatives had sent during the weeks following the 1876 election. These telegrams revealed attempts to bribe election officials in states with disputed results. Despite attempts to implicate him in the scandal, the committee did not find any wrongdoing on the part of Samuel Tilden.

Years later, in 1887, Congress passed the Electoral Count Act. Under this law, a state's determination of electoral disputes is conclusive in most circumstances. The President of the Senate opens the electoral certificates in the presence of both houses, and hands them to the tellers, two from each house, who are to read them aloud and record the votes. If the same state sends multiple returns to Congress, then whichever return has been certified by the executive of the state is counted, unless both houses of Congress decide otherwise.

Polarization in Presidential Politics: The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson

In November of 2019 the theme of this community was impeachment and as we concluded at the end of that series, the constitutional process of impeachment has become as much of a political process as it has a legal one. History has shown that during times of intense political polarization, impeachment can be used by one side in an attempt to circumvent the electoral process as a means of removing a political opponent. Lacking a precise definition of what are "high crimes and misdemeanors", differing views have prevailed in the past as to whether, for example, lying in a sworn deposition in a civil case meets this standard or not. In 1868, the issue was whether the standard was met by a polarizing President who failed to abide by a statute that he believed (and which was later found) to be unconstitutional.

On February 24, 1868, the United States House of Representatives voted to impeach President Andrew Johnson by a vote of 126 to 47. As mentioned in the November series, impeachment is the process of forwarding a formal charge that the President has been guilty of "high crimes and misdemeanors". Once a President is impeached, Articles of Impeachment are drafted, setting out what it is alleged that the President has done wrong, forming the basis for his trial in the senate. In Johnson's case, the Articles of Impeachment charged Johnson with the following:

1. Dismissing Edwin Stanton from office of Secretary of War after the Senate had voted not to concur with his dismissal and had ordered him reinstated.
2. Appointing Lorenzo Thomas as intertim Secretary of War, despite the lack of vacancy in the office, since the dismissal of Stanton had been invalid.
3. Appointing Thomas without the required advice and consent of the Senate.
4. Conspiring, with Thomas and "other persons to the House of Representatives unknown," to unlawfully prevent Stanton from continuing in office.
5. Conspiring to unlawfully curtail faithful execution of the Tenure of Office Act.
6. Conspiring to "seize, take, and possess the property of the United States in the Department of War."
7. Conspiring to "seize, take, and possess the property of the United States in the Department of War" with specific intent to violate the Tenure of Office Act.
8. Issuing to Thomas the authority of the office of Secretary of War with unlawful intent to "control the disbursements of the moneys appropriated for the military service and for the Department of War."
9. Issuing to Major General William H. Emory orders with unlawful intent to violate the Tenure of Office Act.
10. Making three speeches with intent to sow disrespect for the Congress among the citizens of the United States.


Johnson was in trouble almost from the moment that he assumed the Presidency following the death of Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Johnson was a former Democrat who had left the party to run on a ticket with Lincoln in 1864, so he was despised by Democrats. He was a southerner who had remained in the union during the Civil War, so he was hated by southerners and mistrusted by Democrats. He was neither an abolitionist nor in favor of any real rights for former slaves, so Radical Republicans also hated him. He came into office without any real friends. On top of that, he had gotten very drunk on the day of his inauguration as Vice-President and may people considered him a drunk and a lightweight. On the day that Lincoln was assassinated and at attempt was made on the life of Secretary of State William Seward, the man assigned to kill Johnson had changed his mind about performing his task. Many people suspected that Johnson was spared because he was in on the conspiracy to kill Lincoln.

On February 22, 1866, Washington's Birthday, Johnson gave a speech in which he criticized Radical Republicans, calling them "men still opposed to the Union". When asked by the crowd to name these men, Johnson named Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner and abolitionist Wendell Phillips, and accused them of plotting his assassination. Although strongly urged by Moderates to sign the Civil Rights Bill, Johnson vetoed it on March 27. In his veto message, he objected to the measure because it conferred citizenship on the freedmen at a time when 11 out of 36 states were unrepresented in the Congress. He said that the bill discriminated in favor of African-Americans and against whites. Congress overrode his veto.

Congress also proposed the Fourteenth Amendment. It was sent for ratification by state legislatures even though Johnson opposed it. The amendment was designed to put the key provisions of the Civil Rights Act into the Constitution. It extended citizenship to every person born in the United States (except Native Americans on reservations) and it penalized states that did not give the vote to freedmen. It also created new federal civil rights that could be protected by federal courts. It also forbade repayment of Confederate war debts and it disqualified many former Confederates from office. Both houses passed the Freedmen's Bureau Act a second time, and again Johnson vetoed it, but this time, the veto was overridden. Johnson's home state of Tennessee ratified the Fourteenth Amendment despite the President's opposition. When Tennessee did so, Congress immediately seated its proposed delegation, embarrassing Johnson.

Efforts at compromise failed, and a political war ensued between the Republicans (who united against a common enemy) and Johnson and his few allies in the Democratic Party. Johnson called a convention of the National Union Party. Johnson hoped to use the discarded party to unite his supporters and win election to a full-term in 1868. In the mid-term election of 1866; Southern states were not allowed to vote. Johnson campaigned vigorously, undertaking a public speaking tour, known as the "Swing Around the Circle". The trip, including speeches in Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis and Columbus. It was a political disaster. Johnson gave rambling speeches in which he compared himself to Christ, and in which he engaged in arguments with hecklers. Republicans won the mid-terms in a landslide, increasing their large majority in Congress. Johnson blamed the Democrats for failing to support his National Union movement.

Despite the Republican victory in November 1866, Johnson still considered himself in a strong position to win the presidency in 1868. The Fourteenth Amendment had been rejected in Kentucky, Delaware, and Maryland. The amendment required ratification by three-quarters of the states to become part of the Constitution. Johnson saw its defeat as the key to his victory in 1868. But when congress reconvened in December 1866, it admitted Nebraska to the Union over a veto, and the Republicans gained two senators, and a state that promptly ratified the amendment. Johnson's veto of a bill for statehood for Colorado Territory was sustained because enough senators agreed that a district with a population of 30,000 did not deserve statehood.

In January 1867, Congressman Thaddeus Stevens introduced legislation to dissolve the Southern state governments and reconstitute them into five military districts, under martial law. The states would be required to hold constitutional conventions at which African-Americans could vote or become delegates but former Confederates could not. Johnson and the Southerners attempted a compromise, without the disqualification of former Confederates, and for limited black suffrage, but the deal fell through. Johnson vetoed the bill on March 2, 1867 and Congress overruled him the same day.

Also on March 2, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act over the President's veto. During the "Swing Around the Circle" tour, Johnson had said that he planned to fire Cabinet secretaries who did not agree with his policies. This bill required Senate approval for the firing of Cabinet members during the tenure of the president who appointed them and for one month afterwards. Some senators doubted that this was constitutional or that applied to Johnson, whose Cabinet officers were Lincoln holdovers.

Johnson had difficulty working with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who, in combination with General Ulysses Grant, worked to undermine Johnson's Southern policy. Congress met in March 1867, and the House Committee on the Judiciary considered whether there were grounds for Johnson to be impeached. This committee examined Johnson's bank accounts, and summoned members of the Cabinet to testify. It also investigated whether the President had impeded the prosecution of Jefferson Davis. In fact Johnson was eager to have Davis tried. A bipartisan majority of the committee voted down impeachment charges and the committee adjourned on June 3.

In June, Johnson and Stanton battled over the question of whether the military officers placed in command of the South could override the civil authorities. The President had Attorney General Henry Stanbery issue an opinion backing his position that they could not. Stanton would not commit to follow this opinion. When Congress reconvened in July, it passed a Reconstruction Act against Johnson's position, waited for his veto, and then overruled it. In addition to clarifying the powers of the generals, the legislation also deprived the President of control over the Army in the South.

With Congress in recess until November, Johnson decided to fire Stanton and relieve one of the military commanders, General Philip Sheridan of his command. On August 5, the President demanded Stanton's resignation, but the secretary refused to quit. Johnson then suspended him pending the next meeting of Congress as permitted under the Tenure of Office Act. Ulysses Grant agreed to serve as temporary replacement while continuing to lead the Army. Grant followed Johnson's order transferring Sheridan and Daniel Sickles, but he did so under protest.

The 1867 elections generally went Democratic and the Democrats took control of the Ohio General Assembly, allowing them to defeat for re-election one of Johnson's strongest opponents, Senator Benjamin Wade. Voters in Ohio, Connecticut, and Minnesota turned down propositions to grant African-Americans the vote. Despite this, Congress met in November, and the Judiciary Committee passed a resolution of impeachment against Johnson. After debate about whether anything the President had done was a high crime or misdemeanor, the standard under the Constitution, the resolution was defeated by the House of Representatives on December 7, 1867, by a vote of 57 in favor to 108 opposed.

Johnson notified Congress of Stanton's suspension and Grant's interim appointment. In January 1868, the Senate voted to reinstate Stanton, contending that Johnson had violated the Tenure of Office Act. Grant stepped aside over Johnson's objection. Johnson then dismissed Stanton and appointed Lorenzo Thomas to replace him. But Stanton refused to leave his office, and on February 24, 1868, the House impeached the President for intentionally violating the Tenure of Office Act, by a vote of 128 to 47. The House subsequently adopted eleven articles of impeachment, for the most part alleging that he had violated the Tenure of Office Act, and had questioned the legitimacy of Congress.

A trial began in the Senate on March 13, 1868, presided over by Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, who had also been Abraham Lincoln's Treasury Secretary.

On the first day, Johnson's defense committee asked for forty days to collect evidence and witnesses since the prosecution had had a longer amount of time to do so, but only ten days were granted. The proceedings began on March 23. Senator Garrett Davis argued that because not all states were represented in the Senate the trial could not be held and that it should therefore be adjourned. The motion was voted down. After the charges against the President were made, Henry Stanberry asked for another thirty days to assemble evidence and summon witnesses, saying that in the ten days previously granted there had only been enough time to prepare the President's reply. Senator (and former Union General) John A. Logan argued that the trial should begin immediately and that Stanberry was only trying to stall for time. The request was turned down in a vote 41 to 12. However, the Senate voted the next day to give the defense six more days to prepare evidence.

The trial commenced again on March 30. Benjamin F. Butler opened for the prosecution with a three hour speech reviewing historical impeachment trials, going back to King John of England. For days Butler spoke out against Johnson's violations of the Tenure of Office Act and further charged that the President had issued orders directly to Army officers without sending them through General Grant. The defense argued that Johnson had not violated the Tenure of Office Act because President Abraham Lincoln did not reappoint Stanton Secretary of War at the beginning of his second term in 1865 and that he was therefore a leftover appointment from the 1860 cabinet, which removed his protection by the Tenure of Office Act. The prosecution called several witnesses in the course of the proceedings until April 9, when they rested their case.

Benjamin R. Curtis called attention to the fact that after the House passed the Tenure of Office Act, the Senate had amended it, meaning that it had to go back to a Senate-House conference committee to resolve the differences. He followed up by quoting the minutes of those meetings, which revealed that while the House members made no notes about the fact, their sole purpose was to keep Stanton in office, and the Senate had disagreed. The defense then called their first witness, Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas. He did not provide adequate information in the defense's cause and Butler made attempts to use his information to the prosecution's advantage. The next witness was General William T. Sherman, whose testimony benefited the prosecution.

At the conclusion of the evidence, three votes were taken and on all three occasions, thirty-five Senators voted "guilty" and nineteen "not guilty". As the Constitution requires a two-thirds majority for conviction in impeachment trials, Johnson was acquitted. Just one changed vote to guilty would have sufficed for a "guilty" verdict.


Seven Republican senators were concerned that the proceedings were unfair and defied their party by voting against conviction. After the trial, there were widespread reports that Republican senators had been bribed to vote for Johnson's acquittal. In subsequent inquiries, there was evidence that some acquittal votes were acquired by promises of patronage jobs and cash bribes.

Subsequent decisions of the United States Supreme Court held the Tenure of Office Act to be invalid, supporting the notion that this was not a proper ground to seek Johnson's removal from office. Historian Eric Foner argues that violations of the Tenure of Office Act were of secondary importance in the impeachment. Rather, he argues that Johnson wanted to use his position as commander in chief of the military to undermine the Reconstruction Act of 1867. The Tenure of Office Act was beside the point, Johnson's real crime was being out of step with a nation undergoing profound social change.

Polarization in Presidential Politics: Andrew Johnson and the Radical Republicans

President Andrew Johnson's time in Washington in the mid-1860s could not have been filled will happy memories. First he had to face the danger of being a Unionist in a Confederate state during the civil war, something that created both intense personal unpopularity and physical danger to him and his family. Then in 1864, when he was elected as Vice-President on a ticket with Abraham Lincoln, there was the little matter of his turning up drunk for his inauguration and giving an embarrassing, rambling speech in which he forgot the names of some of Lincoln's cabinet members. Lincoln assured his supporters, "Andy aint no drunkard". Johnson's one stroke of luck took place on the night of Lincoln's assassination, when the man tasked with killing Johnson lost his courage and left Johnson alone. It was under the circumstances of Lincoln's assassination that Andrew Johnson became president, this time taking the oath of office in a sober condition.

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As President, the most pressing issue on Johnson's desk was reconstruction. Johnson had to lead on the issue of how the confederate states would be brought back into the union. He had said that he intended to follow the policies of his predecessor, Abraham Lincoln, who had promised to "bind up the nation's wounds" in a benevolent manner. The Republican-controlled Congress had other ideas. It began enacting legislation to guarantee the rights of former slaves. Johnson's focus was on pardoning former Confederate officials. He was less concerned about giving any rights to freed slaves in the southern states. Johnson's policies angered the Radical Republicans in Congress and gradually alienated the moderates. By 1866, Congress had gathered enough unified support against Johnson to enact the first override of a Presidential veto in over twenty years. They passed a bill that continued the Freedmen's Bureau. Johnson also managed to alienate his own cabinet, three members of which resigned in 1866.

The mid-term elections were approaching and many saw them as a referendum on the Johnson presidency. Johnson had a reputation as a very good stump speaker, and he developed a strategy to put that talent to use to that end he decided that he would make a political speaking tour, something that was highly unprecedented for a sitting President at the time. He brought an entourage with him that included his two supporters in the cabinet, Secretary of State William Seward and Navy Secretary Gideon Welles. In order to attract bigger crowds, he commanded some of the more prominent Civil War military heroes to accompany him on the tour. These included David Farragut, George Custer, and Ulysses S. Grant. Grant was, at that time, the most admired man in the country. He would have these heroes stand next to him while he spoke, giving the impression to the audience that he had their support. As good military men, they knew how to follow orders and would not contradict their commander-in-chief.

The tour lasted for 18 days. Johnson and his group made stops in Baltimore, Maryland; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; New York City, West Point, Albany, Auburn, Niagara Falls, and Buffalo, New York; Cleveland and Toledo, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; Chicago, Springfield, and Alton, Illinois; St. Louis, Missouri; Indianapolis, Indiana; Louisville, Kentucky; Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio; and Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, as well as short stops in smaller towns between.

Johnson's critics looked upon his tour as something beneath the dignity of the office Johnson held, because Presidents had traditionally not undertaken political campaigning in the past. Johnson's advisors recommended that he give only carefully prepared speeches, but Johnson thought he knew better. As he had often done on the campaign trail, he would prepare a rough outline of speaking notes and speak spontaneously around the outline. This turned out not to be a wise strategy. Johnson's fiery oratory offended a larger segment of his audience than it pleased with its plea for generosity to the defeated Confederates.

At first Johnson was enthusiastically received, particularly in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. On these stops he delivered a speech that thanked his audience for its welcome, paid tribute to the army and navy, and declared that he still favored the preservation of the Union of the states. He would begin with the same line usually, "Fellow citizens, it is not for the purpose of making speeches that I now appear before you", a line that would generally garner a laugh. He would then give a brief biography of himself, recounting his rise from being a humble tailor to the presidency. He would compare himself to Jesus Christ and explained that like the Savior, he, too, liked to pardon repentant sinners. He would blame Congress, and especially Thaddeus Stevens and the radicals, whom he said still wanted to break up the Union, something he was trying to prevent.

The press nonetheless gave him positive coverage throughout the first leg of the tour. But as Johnson entered the Radical Republican strongholds of the Midwest, he began facing much more hostile crowds, many of which were organized by Republican leaders in those towns. It was Johnson's stop in Cleveland on September 3 that was especially memorable on the tour. There the crowd included mobs of hecklers, many of them plants by the Radical Republicans, who goaded Johnson into engaging them. When one of them yelled "Hang Jeff Davis!" in Cleveland, Johnson angrily replied, "Why don't you hang Thad Stevens and Wendell Phillips?" When he left the balcony from which he had spoken, reporters overheard an advisor telling Johnson to maintain his dignity. Johnson angrily replied "I don't care about my dignity". The remark was printed in newspapers across the nation, abruptly ending the tour's favorable press.

At later appearances in southern Michigan did not go well. On September 7, Johnson spoke in Chicago, but Illinois governor Richard J. Oglesby refused to attend the speech. The Chicago city council also boycotted the event. In Chicago Johnson changed his strategy and delivered only a short pre-written speech. Two days layer, in St. Louis on September 9, Johnson got into another argument with a heckler, after Johnson accused Radical Republicans of deliberately inciting the deadly New Orleans Riot that summer. Once again Johnson compared himself to Jesus, and called the Republicans in Congress his betrayers. The next day in Indianapolis, the crowd was so hostile and loud that Johnson was unable to speak at all. After he left, violence and gunfire broke out in the streets between Johnson supporters and opponents, resulting in the death of one man. At other points in Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, spectators drowned out Johnson with calls for Grant, who refused to speak, and for "Three cheers for Congress!"

On September 14 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a temporary platform built beside the railroad tracks for the president's appearance gave way, sending hundreds of people standing on the platform into a drained canal 20 feet below. Johnson attempted to halt the train and use it for triage for the injured, but he was advised by engineers that the train could not wait due to conflicting train traffic. Some of the presidential party left the train to assist the victims, while Johnson and the rest of the party continued onto Harrisburg. Johnson's opponents spun the appearances to look as if Johnson had callously abandoned the scene. This was not accurate and in fact Johnson later donated $500 ($8,318 in 2016 dollars) to assist the victims.

The press was generally very critical of Johnson for his appearances and speeches. The New York Herald had once been the most supportive newspaper for Johnson, but it was also critical of the president. In an editorial, the newspaper wrote: "It is mortifying to see a man occupying the lofty position of President of the United States descend from that position and join issue with those who are dragging their garments in the muddy gutters of political vituperation." Cartoonist Thomas Nast created three large illustrations lampooning Johnson.

Johnson's Republican opponents criticized Johnson for the failure of his tour. Thaddeus Stevens gave a speech about the tour, calling it "the remarkable circus that traveled through the country that cut outside the circle and entered into street brawls with common blackguards." Radical Republicans also began spreading rumors that Johnson had been drunk at several appearances, like he had been at his inauguration as vice president the year before. Though untrue, reporters and political opponents continued to spread the rumors. Although he never publicly criticized Johnson, General Ulysses Grant said, in a letter to his wife Julia, that he found the experience embarrassing, both for Johnson and for Grant himself for having to be next to the president on much of the tour.

Some of Johnson's supporters were also critical of the tour. Former Georgia Governor Herschel V. Johnson wrote that the President had sacrificed "the moral power of his position, and done great damage to the cause of Constitutional Reorganization." Senator James Doolittle of Wisconsin saidd that the tour had "cost Johnson one million northern voters."

By the time he returned to Washington from the speaking tour, Johnson had even less support in the North than he had started with. His only remaining allies in Congress were southern Democrats. These were mostly former rebels. The Republican party won a landslide victory in the congressional elections, and the new Congress took control of Reconstruction from the White House with the Reconstruction Acts of 1867. Johnson fought bitterly with the new Congress for the control of the nation's domestic policy. But the Republicans' vastly increased congressional voting bloc gave them sufficient votes to attempt impeachment of Johnson, first unsuccessfully in 1867 and again successfully in 1868. The tenth of 11 articles charging that the President "did make and declare, with a loud voice certain intemperate, inflammatory, and scandalous harangues, and therein utter loud threats and bitter menaces, as well against Congress as the laws of the United States duly enacted thereby, amid the cries, jeers and laughter of the multitudes then assembled in hearing." The impeachment managers chose not to bring this article to a vote in the Senate, but it was clearly drafted as a reference to the Swing Around the Circle Tour.

The Republicans captured the White House in 1868 and maintained control of it until 1885. The Swing Around the Circle began a long series of political defeats that crippled Johnson, the Democratic Party and the presidency for years to come.

Remembering John Tyler

On January 18, 1862 (158 years ago today) John Tyler, the 10th President of the United States, died at his home in Richmond, Virginia, at the age of 71. Because died during the Civil War, while living in Virginia, one of the Confederate States, he was not accorded the same honors at the time of his death as afforded to other presidents and is the only president whose death was not officially recognized in Washington D.C. Debate continues today as to whether Tyler was a traitor to his nation or a good man caught in the middle of unfortunate circumstances.

John Tyler was born on March 14, 1790, in Charles City County, Virginia. He was the first president born after the adoption of the Constitution, and he was also born in the same county as William Henry Harrison, the man for whom he would serve as Vice-President of the United States for a scant 31 days.

In his native Virginia, Tyler served as a state legislator, governor, U.S. representative, and U.S. senator before winning election as Vice President in 1840 on a ticket with Harrison. Harrison was renowned as the hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe and was affectionately known as "Old Tippecanoe." Together the two of them were referred to in a famous campaign song as "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!" Although Tyler had once been a Democrat, he and Harrison defeated Andrew Jackson's anointed successor Martin Van Buren in the election of 1840 under the Whig banner. Tyler served as Vice-President for only 31 days and became president upon the death of Harrison on April 4, 1841. Because there was no precedent for what happened when a president died in office up to that time, Tyler became the first Vice President to succeed to the office of President on the death of the incumbent. He was also the first person to become President without ever being elected to that office. He asserted his right to the office in the face of opposition from members of both parties, some of whom derisively called him "His Accidency."

Tyler was a strong supporter of states' rights, something that endeared him to his fellow Virginians but alienated him from most of the congressional movers and shakers in Washington. Opposition from both the Democrats and Whigs in Congress hamstrung his presidency. As President, Tyler opposed much of the Whig platform and vetoed several Whig party proposals including Henry Clay's plans for a national bank. As a result of this conflict, most of his cabinet resigned, and the Whigs expelled him from their party. In spite of this he was still able to achieve a number of foreign-policy accomplishments, including the Webster–Ashburton Treaty with Britain and the Treaty of Wanghia with Qing China. He was also able to orchestrate the annexation of the independent Republic of Texas during his last days in office. He wanted to seek election to a full term in 1844, but he had alienated both the Whigs and Democrats and his efforts to form a new party failed to attract significant support.

Tyler essentially retired from electoral politics until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. He unsuccessfully tried to negotiate a peace between the two sides, and when that was unsuccessful he sided with the Confederate government, and won election to the Confederate House of Representatives shortly before his death. It is not surprising that he sided with the Confederacy, given his strong support for states' rights throughout his lifetime.

Tyler has the distinction of being the President who fathered the most children: fifteen with two wives. His first wife Letitia died in 1842, and two years later, in 1844, he married 24 year old Julia Gardiner, a woman who was 30 years younger than him. Two of his grandsons are still living as of this writing.

On January 12, 1862, after complaining of chills and dizziness, in Richmond, Tyler vomited and collapsed. He was revived, but the next day he repeated the same symptoms. His condition did not improve, and he made plans to return to his home (called Sherwood Forest) on the 18th. On the night of the 17th he began suffocating, and his wife Julia called for his doctor. Just after midnight, Tyler took a last sip of brandy, and told his doctor, "I am going. Perhaps it is best." He died early on the morning of the 18th. It is believed that he had suffered a stroke.


Tyler is buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia, in front of the gravesite of former President James Monroe. Tyler's death was the only one in presidential history not to be officially recognized in Washington, because of his allegiance to the Confederacy. He had requested a simple burial, but Confederate President Jefferson Davis ordered a grand, politically charged funeral, at which Tyler was portrayed as a hero to the Confederacy. Tyler's coffin was draped with a Confederate flag.

Remembering Rutherford Hayes

On January 17, 1893, 127 years ago today, Rutherford Birchard Hayes, the 19th President of the United States, died at the age of 71. Hayes was elected President in 1876 in the closest US presidential election in history, even closed than the Bush-Gore election of 2000. Like George W. Bush in 2000, Hayes received fewer popular votes than his opponent, but unlike 2000, the 1876 election involved a dispute over the electoral votes of several states, and the outcome of the election was in doubt until February when a congressional committee awarded all three disputed states to Hayes in what became known as the Compromise of 1877.

Hayes was born in Delaware, Ohio on October 4, 1822. His father died 10 weeks before Hayes was born. Hayes practiced law and was city solicitor of Cincinnati from 1858 to 1861. He fought in the Civil War and was wounded five times, most seriously at the Battle of South Mountain. Hayes had a reputation for bravery in combat and was promoted to the rank of major general. After the war, he served in the U.S. Congress from 1865 to 1867 as a Republican. Hayes left Congress to run for Governor of Ohio and was elected to two terms, serving from 1867 to 1871. After his second term had ended, he returned to practicing law for a time, but returned to serve a third term as governor in 1875.

As President, Hayes was a reformer who implemented civil service reform. His biggest failure was in not protecting African Americans from retaliation in the south like his predecessor Ulysses S. Grant had. He ordered federal troops out of southern capitols, leading to retaliation from angry whites against African-Americans. Some historians believe that this was part of the bargain that led to Compromise of 1877. Hayes kept his pledge not to run for re-election.

After the inauguration of his successor, Hayes and his family returned to their home in Spiegel Grove, Ohio. Hayes became an active advocate for educational charities, arguing for federal education subsidies for all children. He believed that education was the best way to heal the rifts in American society and allow individuals to improve themselves. He unsuccessfully urged Congress to pass a bill that would have allowed federal aid for education for the first time. He encouraged African-American students to apply for scholarships from the Slater Fund, one of the charities with which he was affiliated. Hayes also advocated for better prison conditions. Another cause that troubled him in retirement was the disparity between the rich and the poor. In an 1886 speech he said that "free government cannot long endure if property is largely in a few hands and large masses of people are unable to earn homes, education, and a support in old age."

Hayes was greatly saddened by the death of his wife Lucy in 1889. In 1890, he chaired the Lake Mohonk Conference on "the Negro Question", a gathering of reformers that discussed racial issues.

Hayes died of complications of a heart attack at his home on January 17, 1893. His last words were said to be "I know that I'm going where Lucy is." President-elect Grover Cleveland and Ohio Governor William McKinley led the funeral procession that followed Hayes's body until he was interred in Oakwood Cemetery. Following the gift of his home to the state of Ohio for the Spiegel Grove State Park, he was re-interred there in 1915. The following year the Hayes Commemorative Library and Museum, the first presidential library in the United States, was opened on the site, funded by contributions from the state of Ohio and Hayes's family.

Polarization in Presidential Politics: Lincoln and the Copperheads

In the time immediately preceding the 1864 election, Abraham Lincoln thought he would be a one term president. The war was taking longer than everyone had expected, and the mounting casualties made the Democratic Party message of a negotiated peace sound more appealing. The Republican Party was split between the Radical Republicans and the moderates. Some Republicans like Salmon P. Chase, Benjamin Wade, and Horace Greeley, opposed Lincoln's re-nomination on the grounds that they were convinced that he could not win re-election. Chase had visions of becoming president himself.

Chase wasn't alone in that belief. For much of 1864, Lincoln himself believed he had little chance of being re-elected. Confederate forces had triumphed at the Battle of Mansfield, the Battle of the Crater, and the Battle of Cold Harbor and the war was continuing to take a very high toll in terms of casualties. During three months in the summer of 1864, over 65,000 Union soldiers were killed, wounded, or missing-in-action. In comparison, there had been 108,000 Union casualties in the first three years. The prospect of a long and bloody war started to make the idea of "peace at all cost" offered by the Democrats look more appealing. In the north anti-war Democrats known as "Copperheads" began to gain strength in certain parts of the country.

On August 23, Lincoln wrote the following: “This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President-elect as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.” Lincoln folded the note, sealed it, and asked the members of his Cabinet to sign the back of the paper without reading it. They did so.

The presidential election of 1864 was held on November 8th. In order to appeal to those who supported the war, the Democrats nominated General George B. McClellan as their candidate. They did so in the hope of attracting support from Republicans. Like the Republicans, the Democratic Party was also split between War Democrats and Peace Democrats. Moderate Democrats supported the war against the Confederacy, but they were now calling for a negotiated peace. Radical Peace Democrats (the Copperheads) believed that the war was a failure. They favored an immediate end to the war. McClellan was seen as a strong candidate who could unify the party. The pro-war McClellan was selected as the party's candidate for president and anti-war Representative George H. Pendleton, who enjoyed support among Copperheads,
was selected as the party's candidate for vice-president.

An event known as the Radical Democracy Convention was held on May 29, 1864. General John C. Frémont, who had been the first presidential candidate for the Republican Party in 1856, was selected as their candidate. But Frémont withdrew from the race in September 1864. In his statement, Frémont declared that winning the Civil War was too important to divide the Republican vote. Although he still felt that Lincoln was not going far enough, he saw the defeat of McClellan as something of the greatest necessity. Frémont also brokered a political deal with Lincoln in which Lincoln removed Postmaster General Montgomery Blair from office in return for Frémont's withdrawing from the race.

Probably the thing that saved Lincoln's bid for re-election most was the fall of Atlanta on September 2. It turned out to be a September surprise, rather than an October surprise, but in those days news traveled a lot slower than it does today. On August 31, General William Tecumseh Sherman's army captured the railroad track from Macon to Atlanta. With his supply lines fully severed, Confederate General John Bell Hood pulled his troops out of Atlanta the next day, September 1, destroying supply depots as he left to prevent them from falling into Union hands. He also set fire to eighty-one loaded ammunition cars, which led to a conflagration watched by hundreds. The next day, on September 2, Mayor James Calhoun, along with a committee of leading formally surrendered the city. Sherman sent a telegram to Washington on September 3, reading, "Atlanta is ours, and fairly won". He then established his headquarters there on September 7, where he stayed for over two months. On November 15, the army departed east toward Savannah for what became known as "Sherman's March to the Sea".

The fall of Atlanta and the overall success of this military campaign were extensively covered by Northern newspapers, and were a boon to Northern morale and to President Lincoln's political standing. Suddenly the Democratic Party's call for negotiations with the Confederacy on the subject of a potential truce was not as popular. The capture of Atlanta and Hood's burning of military facilities as he evacuated showed that a successful conclusion of the war was in sight, weakening support for a truce. Republicans, under the banner of the National Union Party, campaigned on the slogan "Don't change horses in the middle of a stream." Many war Democrats joined them.

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Only 25 states participated in the election, since 11 Southern states had declared secession from the Union. Three new states participated in a presidential election for the first time: Kansas, West Virginia, and Nevada. The reconstructed portions of Tennessee and Louisiana chose presidential electors, although Congress did not count their votes. Just for added measure, Lincoln arranged for leave for Union soldiers in those states where they were required to be physically present in the state to vote on election day.

Lincoln received 2,218,388 votes (55.0%) and 212 electoral votes. McClellan received 1,812,807 votes (45.0%) and 21 electoral votes. McClellan won just three states: Kentucky, Delaware, and his home state of New Jersey. Lincoln won in every state he carried in 1860 except New Jersey, and also carried a state won four years earlier by Stephen Douglas (Missouri), one carried by John C. Breckenridge (Maryland) and all three newly admitted states (Kansas, Nevada and West Virginia). Soldiers were allowed to vote in the field if they came from the following states: California, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin. Out of the 40,247 army votes cast, Lincoln received 30,503 (75.8%) and McClellan 9,201 (22.9%).

Regrettably, Lincoln would not live out his second term in office. He was shot by assassin John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865 and died the following morning. His death would give rise to more polarization, this time between the Radical Republicans and the man who succeeded Lincoln in office.

Polarization in Presidential Politics: Fort Sumter

Perhaps the most difficult presidential transition in history took place in 1860, when Abraham Lincoln was elected to succeed James Buchanan. It was a time when sectional strife and division rose to such a high level that it split the Democratic Party and caused many to worry that the president-elect would not live to see his inauguration.

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In the mid-term of elections of 1858, the newly formed Republican Party won a majority in the House of Representatives. By 1860, the party had full control of Congress. Many in the slave-holding states became frightened by the prospects that this held for the future of the so-called "peculiar institution" of slavery, something they believed they depended on for their economic livelihood. In 1860, incumbent Democratic President James Buchanan, a northerner from Pennsylvania who was viewed as very sympathetic to the slave-holding interests, declined that he would not seek re-election.

In 1860, when the Democratic Party held its nominating convention, the party struggled unsuccessfully to try and unite the Northern and Southern factions within its party who saw the issue of slavery differently. At their National Convention held in Institute Hall in Charleston, South Carolina in April 1860, 51 Southern Democrats walked out over a platform dispute. The extreme pro-slavery Alabama delegation left the hall first, followed by the delegates of Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, three of the four delegates from Arkansas, and one of the three delegates from Delaware. The remaining delegates nominated Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas, a moderate on the issue of slavery, who favored "popular sovereignty" (i.e. the right of each state to decide whether or not it would permit slavery to exist within its boundaries). But this did not occur immediately. By the 57th ballot, Douglas led the balloting, but was still 51.5 votes short of nomination. On May 3, the delegates agreed to adjourn the convention. They reconvened at the Front Street Theater in Baltimore, Maryland, on June 18. After two more ballots, the remaining Democrats nominated Douglas as their presidential candidate.

The Democrats who bolted the convention in Charleston reconvened in Richmond, Virginia on June 11. When the Democrats reconvened in Baltimore, all states returned except South Carolina and Florida. On 18 June, they bolted again, accompanied by nearly all other Southern delegates. This group met immediately in Baltimore's Institute Hall, and nominated Vice President John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky for President.

Another faction of former Whig Party members nominated former Speaker of the House John Bell, under the banner of the Constitutional Union Party. Bell took no position on slavery. His only issue was saving the Union.

When the election was held on November 6, 1860, the newly created Republican Party (founded in 1854) received a majority of the electoral votes. Abraham Lincoln became president, with no real support from the South. Buchanan had supported Breckinridge in the election.

In October, as election day neared, the US army's Commanding General, Winfield Scott, warned Buchanan that Lincoln's election would likely cause at least seven states to secede. He also recommended to Buchanan that massive amounts of federal troops and artillery be deployed to those states to protect federal property. This was not entirely feasible, as Scott also warned that few reinforcements were available. In 1857 Congress refused to heed both men's calls for a stronger militia and the Army had fallen into a poor condition. Buchanan ignored Scott's recommendations.

After Lincoln's election, Buchanan directed his Secretary of War, John B. Floyd, to reinforce southern forts with such provisions, arms and men as were available. Floyd, a southerner from Virginia, convinced Buchanan to revoke the order.

When Lincoln won the election, talk of secession and disunion reached a fever pitch. Buchanan decided to address the issue in his final message to Congress. Unfortunately, he did not address the issue in any helpful manner. In his message, Buchanan said that states had no legal right to secede from the union. But he also said that the federal government could not legally prevent them from doing so. He placed the blame for the crisis on what he described as "intemperate interference of the Northern people with the question of slavery in the Southern States". He said that if these segments in Congress did not repeal what he called their "unconstitutional and obnoxious enactments", the seceding states would be justified in taking offense. Buchanan's suggestion to solve the crisis was a constitutional amendment reaffirming the constitutionality of slavery in the slave states, and calling for popular sovereignty in the territories.

Buchanan's message pleased no one. It was sharply criticized both by the north, for its refusal to stop secession, and the south, for denying its right to secede. Five days after the address was delivered, Treasury Secretary Howell Cobb, from Georgia, resigned from Buchanan's cabinet.

Efforts were made by statesmen such as Sen. John J. Crittenden, Rep. Thomas Corwin, and former president John Tyler to negotiate a compromise to stop secession. Buchanan supported their efforts, but all failed. Efforts to compromise were also made by a group of governors meeting in New York. Buchanan tried to convince President-elect Lincoln to hold a national referendum to resolve the issue of slavery. Lincoln declined the suggestion.

On December 20, 1860, South Carolina declared its secession from the United States. This was followed by six other slave states, and, by February 1861, they had formed the Confederate States of America. The secessionist states declared eminent domain over federal property within their states. Buchanan and his administration took no action to stop the confiscation of government property. All arsenals and forts in the seceding states were lost (except Fort Sumter, off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina, and three island outposts in Florida).

Secessionist fervor was strongest in South Carolina. Buchanan made a deal with South Carolina's legislators that he would not reinforce the Charleston garrison in exchange for no interference from the state. But Buchanan did not inform the Charleston commander, Major Robert Anderson, of the deal and on December 26 Anderson moved his command to Fort Sumter. Southerners responded with a demand that Buchanan remove Anderson, while northerners called for support for Anderson. On December 31, Buchanan ordered reinforcements sent to the fort.

On January 5, Buchanan sent civilian steamer Star of the West to carry reinforcements and supplies to Fort Sumter, which was located in Charleston harbor. On January 9, 1861, South Carolina state batteries opened fire on the ship, preventing it from reaching Fort Sumter. It returned to New York. Buchanan was criticized by both north (for lack of retaliation for the attack on the ship) and the south (for attempting to reinforce Fort Sumter). Buchanan made no further moves either to prepare for war or to avert it.

On the way to his inauguration, traveling by train from his home in Springfield, Illinois, Lincoln addressed crowds and legislatures along the way. He evaded possible assassins in Baltimore, who were discovered by Lincoln's head of security, Allan Pinkerton. On February 23, 1861, he arrived in disguise in Washington, D.C.

Lincoln directed remarks in his inaugural address to the South, telling the seceding states that he no intention, or inclination, to abolish slavery in the Southern states. He said:

"Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States that by the accession of a Republican Administration their property and their peace and personal security are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the most ample evidence to the contrary has all the while existed and been open to their inspection. It is found in nearly all the published speeches of him who now addresses you. I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declare that I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so."

The President ended his address by telling the people of the South:

"We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."


On Buchanan's final day as president, March 4, 1861, he remarked to the incoming Lincoln, "If you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland, you are a happy man." Lincoln and the Republican leadership agreed that the dismantling of the Union could not be tolerated.

On April 4, as the supply situation on Sumter became critical, President Lincoln ordered a relief expedition, to be commanded by former naval captain Gustavus V. Fox. Fox's orders were to land at Fort Sumter with supplies only, and if he was opposed by the Confederates, to respond with the U.S. Navy vessels following and to then land both supplies and men. On April 6, Lincoln notified Governor Pickens of South Carolina that "an attempt will be made to supply Fort Sumter with provisions only. Lincoln notified the governor of South Carolina, not the new Confederate government. Confederate President Jefferson Davis ordered General Pierre Beauregard to demand Fort Sumter's surrender, and if it did not, to capture the fort before the relief expedition arrived.

Beauregard dispatched aides to Fort Sumter on April 11 to issue the ultimatum. Major Anderson refused and at 1 a.m. on April 12, the aides brought Anderson a message from Beauregard: "If you will state the time which you will evacuate Fort Sumter, and agree in the meantime that you will not use your guns against us unless heart shall be employed against Fort Sumter, we will abstain from opening fire upon you." After consulting with his senior officers, Major Anderson replied that he would evacuate Sumter by noon, April 15, unless he received new orders from his government or additional supplies. Confederate Colonel Chesnut wrote a reply, which he handed to Anderson at 3:20 a.m.: "Sir: by authority of Brigadier General Beauregard, commanding the Provisional Forces of the Confederate States, we have the honor to notify you that he will open fire of his batteries on Fort Sumter in one hour from this time."

Bombardment of the fort began on April 12, 1861 at 4:30 a.m. The Union garrison surrendered the fort to Confederate personnel at 2:30 p.m., April 14. No one from either side was killed during the bombardment. Anderson carried the Fort Sumter Flag with him North, where it became a widely known symbol of the battle, and rallying point for supporters of the Union.

The bombardment of Fort Sumter was the first military action of the American Civil War. Following the surrender, northerners rallied behind Lincoln's call for all of the states to send troops to recapture the forts and preserve the Union. With the scale of the rebellion apparently small so far, Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers for 90 days. The call for 75,000 troops triggered the secession of four additional states to join the Confederacy.

Polarization in Presidential Politics: The Coming of Secession

James Buchanan was the third in a series of "doughface" presidents. Hailing from Pennsylvania, Buchanan's biographer Jean Baker theorizes that Buchanan was "an intellectual and electoral hostage" to the South, and was so enamored with the ways of the south that he let ideology trump pragmatism. Secession began on his watch, and Buchanan is frequently criticized not only for doing nothing to stop it, but for allowing the conditions for it to occur to take place under his presidency.

Buchanan had served as Secretary of State in the James K. Polk administration from 1845 to 1849. He helped negotiate the 1846 Oregon Treaty establishing the 49th parallel as the northern boundary of the western United States. He served as minister to the Court of St. James's (Britain) from 1853 to 1856, during which time he was out of sight from a public that watched Franklin Pierce's handling of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and "bleeding Kansas".

Right from the start of his administration Buchanan showed that he sided with the interests of slaveholders. In his inaugural address, Buchanan said that the question of slavery in the territories was "happily, a matter of but little practical importance" because the Supreme Court was about to settle it "speedily and finally", adding that when the decision came he would "cheerfully submit, whatever this may be". He was referring to a case before the court known as the Dred Scott case. Two days after Buchanan's inauguration, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney delivered the Dred Scott Decision on behalf of the court's majority. He ruled that Congress had no constitutional power to exclude slavery in the territories. The decision delighted Southerners and angered many in the North. This was no surprise to Buchanan. He was happy to see the territorial question resolved by the Supreme Court. He wrote to Justice John Catron in January 1857, inquiring about the outcome of the case and suggested his preference for a decision favorable to Southerners. Catron, who was from Tennessee, replied on February 10 that the Supreme Court's southern majority would decide against Scott and asked Buchanan to convince his fellow Pennsylvanian, Justice Robert Cooper Grier, to join the majority. Buchanan wrote to Grier and successfully convinced him to side with the majority. The court declared that the Missouri Compromise of 1820 unconstitutional.

When the decision was issued two days later, Republicans began spreading word that Taney had revealed the outcome of the case to Buchanan. Abraham Lincoln, in his 1858 House Divided Speech, denounced Buchanan, Taney, Stephen A. Douglas and Franklin Pierce as accomplices of the Slave Power. He alleged that they were part of a conspiracy to eliminate legal barriers to slavery.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 had created the Kansas Territory, and allowed the settlers there to choose whether to allow slavery. This had resulted in violence between "Free-Soil" (anti-slavery) and pro-slavery settlers (see "Bleeding Kansas"). The anti-slavery settlers organized a government in Topeka, while pro-slavery settlers established a seat of government in Lecompton, Kansas. For Kansas to be admitted to statehood, a state constitution had to be submitted to Congress with the approval of a majority of residents. To resolve the issue, Buchanan appointed Robert J. Walker as territorial Governor, and asked him to try and reconcile the factions and approving a constitution. Walker, who was from Mississippi, was expected to assist the pro-slavery faction. But most Kansas settlers were against slavery in the territory. The pro-slavery Lecomptonites held a referendum, which Free-Soilers boycotted. Walker viewed the process as unfair and resigned in disgust.

Nevertheless, Buchanan now pushed for Congressional approval of Kansas statehood under the Lecompton Constitution. Buchanan made every effort to get Congressional approval, offering favors, patronage appointments and even cash for votes. The Lecompton bill passed through the House of Representatives, but failed in the Senate, where it was opposed by Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois. Douglas advocated letting the settlers decide on slavery and he rejected the fraudulent way the Lecompton Constitution was supposedly adopted. The battle over Kansas escalated into a battle for control of the Democratic Party and between Buchanan and Douglas. Douglas's Senate term ended in 1859; so the Illinois legislature elected in 1858 had to choose whether or not to re-elect him. This battle included the famous Lincoln-Douglas Debates. Douglas Democrats won the legislative election and Douglas was re-elected to the Senate. Douglas forces took control throughout the North, except in Buchanan's home state of Pennsylvania, reducing Buchanan's support within the party.

The Democratic Party's national convention in 1860 led to a split in the Party. The southern wing walked out of the convention and nominated its own candidate for president, incumbent Vice President John C. Breckinridge. A faction of former Whigs from the south and former members of the American (Know Nothing) Party nominated former Speaker of the House John Bell, who took no position on slavery, his only focus was on saving the Union. The remainder of the party finally nominated Stephen Douglas. Buchanan supported Breckinridge's candidacy. When the Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln, it was a near certainty that he would defeat a splintered Democratic party.

In October of 1860, General Winfield Scott warned Buchanan that Lincoln's election would likely cause at least seven states to secede. He recommended that massive amounts of federal troops and artillery be deployed to those states to protect federal property. Buchanan ignored these recommendations. After Lincoln's election, Buchanan directed his Secretary of War John B. Floyd to reinforce southern forts, but Floyd, who was from Virginia, convinced him to revoke the order. Floyd later became a Confederate general during the war.

With Lincoln's victory, secession of many southern states seemed imminent. Buchanan addressed the issue in his final message to Congress. He denied the legal right of states to secede but said that the federal government could not legally prevent them. He blamed "intemperate interference of the Northern people with the question of slavery in the Southern States" for the crisis. His only suggestion to solve the crisis was "an explanatory amendment" reaffirming the constitutionality of slavery in the states. His address was sharply criticized both by the north, for its refusal to stop secession, and the south, for denying their right to secede.

Efforts were made by statesmen such as Sen. John J. Crittenden, Rep. Thomas Corwin, and former president John Tyler to negotiate a compromise to stop secession, with Buchanan's support, but all of these failed. Buchanan tried to convince President-elect Lincoln to call for a constitutional convention or national referendum to resolve the issue of slavery. Lincoln declined.

South Carolina declared its secession on December 20, 1860, followed by six other slave states, and, by February 1861, they had formed the Confederate States of America. As Scott had predicted, the secessionist governments declared eminent domain over federal property within their states and sought to take control of all federal property within their borders. Buchanan and his administration took no action to stop the confiscation of government property. Before Buchanan left office, all arsenals and forts in the seceding states were lost (except Fort Sumter, off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina, and three island outposts in Florida). Buchanan made a quiet arrangement with South Carolina's legislators that he would not reinforce Fort Sumpter if the state left it alone. However, Buchanan did not inform the Charleston commander, Major Robert Anderson, of the agreement, and on December 26 Anderson violated the pact by moving his command to Fort Sumter. Southerners responded with a demand that Buchanan remove Anderson, while northerners demanded support for the commander. On December 31, Buchanan ordered reinforcements.

On January 5, Buchanan sent the civilian steamer Star of the West to carry reinforcements and supplies to Fort Sumter. On January 9, 1861, South Carolina state batteries opened fire on the ship, causing it to turn around and return to New York. Buchanan was again criticized both by both north (for lack of retaliation against South Carolina) and the south (for attempting to reinforce Fort Sumter). Buchanan made no further moves either to prepare for war or to avert it.

On Buchanan's final day as president, March 4, 1861, he remarked to his successor Abraham Lincoln, "If you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland, you are a happy man."

The Civil War began the month after Buchanan's retirement. He publicly supported the war, writing "the assault upon Sumter was the commencement of war by the Confederate states, and no alternative was left but to prosecute it with vigor on our part". He also wrote a letter to his fellow Pennsylvania Democrats, urging them to "join the many thousands of brave & patriotic volunteers who are already in the field".

Buchanan spent most of his remaining years defending himself from public blame for the Civil War, which some of his critics called "Buchanan's War". He received many angry and threatening letters, and stores displayed Buchanan's likeness with the eyes inked red, a noose drawn around his neck and the word "TRAITOR" written across his forehead. Newspapers accused him of colluding with the Confederacy.

Buchanan finally began defending himself in October 1862, in an exchange of letters between himself and Winfield Scott that was published in the National Intelligencer newspaper. He soon began writing his fullest public defense, in the form of his memoir Mr. Buchanan's Administration on the Eve of Rebellion, which was published in 1866.

Buchanan caught a cold in May 1868, which quickly became worse. He died on June 1, 1868, from respiratory failure at the age of 77 at his home at Wheatland.