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The Election of 1872

In 1872, Ulysses S. Grant sought re-election to a second term as President of the United States. His opponent was the famous newspaper editor Horace Greeley who ran both as a Democrat and also as the candidate of the Liberal Republican Party. As we all know, Grant was successfully re-elected, but even if he the outcome had been otherwise, Greeley would never have become president, because he died on November 29th.

At first, it looked as if Grant was going to have some problems due to divisions within his own party. Grant was a believer in the "spoils" system, while opponents in his party lobbied for civil service reform. An prominent group of dissenting Republicans split from the party to form the Liberal Republican Party in 1870. At their convention, held in Cincinnati in 1872, the Liberal Republicans nominated New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley for President on the sixth ballot, defeating Massachusetts Congressman Charles Francis Adams, the grandson of President John Adams and son of President John Quincy Adams. Missouri Governor Benjamin Gratz Brown was nominated for vice-president on the second ballot. The Liberal Republican platform called for civil service reform to curb corruption.

At the Republican National Convention held in Philadelphia on June 5-6, 1872, President Grant was unanimously renominated for a second term. But the convention's 752 delegates decided on a change of Vice-President, replacing incumbent Schuyler Colfax with Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson.

The 1872 Democratic National Convention was held in Baltimore, Maryland, on July 9-10. Because of its strong desire to defeat Ulysses S. Grant, the Democratic Party also nominated the Liberal Republican's team of Greeley and Brown and adopted their platform. Greeley's history as an aggressive critic of the Democratic party cooled enthusiasm for his candidacy. The convention lasted only six hours stretched over two days, and thus far it has been the shortest major political party convention in history.

Grant's administration had been accused of corruption, and the Liberal Republicans demanded civil service reform and an end to the Reconstruction process, including withdrawal of federal troops from the South. Greeley turned out to be a poor campaigner with little political experience, and his career as a newspaper editor gave his opponents a long history of public positions to attack. Grant was still fondly remembered for his Civil War service. His campaign was funded by famous entrepreneurs such as Jay Cooke, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Alexander Turney Stewart, Henry Hilton, and John Astor and he was able to outspend his opponent in the campaign. Greeley's running mate, Benjamin Gratz Brown, committed several gaffes due to his drinking problem. For instance, at one campaign picnic he became so drunk that he tried to butter a watermelon.

This was the first election in which groups for women's suffrage such as the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association became more of a political force. Although women were not allowed to vote, feminist Victoria Woodhull was nominated for the presidency by the Equal Rights Party and several suffragettes attempted to vote in the election. Susan B. Anthony was arrested and fined $100 for attempting to vote. Woodhull was in jail on Election Day.

Grant won an easy re-election over Greeley by a margin of 56% to 44%. Grant captured 286 electoral votes to what would have been 66 electoral votes for Greeley. But Greeley died on November 29, 1872, just twenty-four days after the election and before any of the electors from the states Greeley won (Texas, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Maryland) could cast their votes. With Greeley gone, many electoral college voters cast their votes for a variety of other Democrats.

This election was the last in which Alabama and Mississippi voted for a Republican until 1964. Arkansas would not be carried by a Republican again until 1972.


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