Thursday, October 13, 2016

Presidential Election of 1896

Democratic Presidential Banner from 1896

Americans seem to think the Presidential Election currently in the news is the wildest one yet, but last week's blog shared some of the elections that have been called "the dirtiest."  This week I will share events of the 1890 elections, the last Presidential Elections of Isaac B. Werner's lifetime, which were pretty crazy!!

The era most of us know as the Gilded Age was great for a small segment of Americans, but for farmers like Isaac, as well as other workers engaged as miners, small ranchers, and factory laborers, times were hard.  The big issue became whether adhering to the gold standard to keep a stable economy was best or whether implementing bimetalism to include silver would benefit more ordinary Americans.

Cartoon from St. John, KS County Capital
For farmers and other working class people who were suffering most economically, 'Free Silver!' became the rallying cry.  The Republicans had the political wealth and power, but the People's Party believed that if they joined with the Democrats in nominating William J. Bryan as their Presidential candidate that their combined votes could defeat the Republicans. 

The caption on the cartoon showing Uncle Sam trying to ride his bicycle with only one wheel, identified as "Gold" reads:  "The country will never be Prosperous again until Silver is restored to full and unlimited coinage."  The "Silver" wheel lies on the ground, crushed by "Demonitization" with the guiding light of a lamp left behind on the ground labeled "Common Sense."

It was William Jennings Bryan's Cross of Gold speech at the Democratic Convention, with its reference to drip down economics, that probably lifted him above other potential nominees, and it was certainly Bryan's nearly exclusive focus on "Free Silver" that led the People's Party to nominate him, despite the fact that he was not a member of their party!

When it came to selecting the Vice-Presidential candidate, however, the Democrats and the People's Party nominated different candidates.  The Democrats chose a wealthy man from the east coast, hoping he would bring some votes from those Republicans who favored silver (and there were a few who did).  The People's Party nominated one of their own as the Vice-Presidential candidate, wanting to be represented on the ticket. 

The tactic did not succeed.  Republican McKinley received 271 electoral votes while Bryan received only 176.

Four years earlier in the 1892 Presidential Election, bimetallism had also been an issue, with the Democrats choosing Cleveland as their candidate, the Republicans choosing Harrison, and the People's Party choosing Weaver.  Cleveland prevailed with 277 electoral votes to Harrison's 145 and Weaver's 22.  The poor economy during Cleveland's administration was blamed on adherence to the gold standard by many in the People Party and Cleveland's own Democratic party, and they demanded bimetallism.

Political Cartoon from St. John, KS County Capital progressive newspaper

The above political cartoon uses the bicycle theme to illustrate why bimetallism beats the gold standard.  President Cleveland is depicted riding a unicycle, cheered on by the wealthy.  The caption reads:  "Cleveland--'This blasted wheel wobbles too much.  I never can catch that fellow ahead and you might as well save your breath.  I am in a perplexing and delicate predicament as a result of ill-advised financial expedients.'"

The poor economy set the stage for the Democrats in 1896 to nominate Bryan as their candidate.   People's Party candidate Weaver's weak performance in 1892 motivated the populists in 1896 to make the unusual decision to select the nominee of the Democratic ticket for their own Presidential candidate, while at the same time nominating a different man for Vice President. 

The Republicans who favored bimetallism split from their party to form a splinter party, as did the Democrats who favored retaining the Gold standard, while the People's Party nominated a Democrat as their candidate, resulting in William Jennings Bryan having two different running mates.  Talk about a crazy Presidential Election!

So, as you follow the news of the upcoming Presidential Election of 2016, perhaps you can take some comfort in the fact that as crazy as it may seem to you, America has survived crazy Presidential elections in the past.

By the way, although Bryan did receive a strong showing of 47% of the popular vote in 1896 to McKinley's 51%, the electoral vote was McKinley 271, Bryan 176.  That difference shows how important it is that candidates pay attention to states with more electoral votes during their campaigning.  It also explains why we see so many charts on our television screens showing the likely votes of the "Important" electoral states and why Isaac's old home state of Kansas, with fewer electoral votes, is rarely mentioned by the television commentators. However, in the 1896 Presidential election, Kansas was at the heart of political news.

1 comment:

The Blog Fodder said...

Then there was this election which may well be repeated this year.