The Republican National Convention
St. Louis, Missouri, 16-18 June 1896
Due to the severe ongoing depression, which had started during the administration of Democrat Grover Cleveland, Republicans entered the 1896 campaign with high hopes of victory, ready to appeal for a return to "Republican prosperity."
Several famous contenders from former years—such as Senator John Sherman, (right) sponsor of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and the Silver Purchase Act—were aging and declined to run. From the start, Ohio's William McKinley (left above) was the clear front-runner. A former Congressman and governor of his state, McKinley was famous for having steered a high-tariff bill through Congress in 1890. As Republicans gathered in St. Louis, McKinley's name was mentioned everywhere, though according to the custom of presidential hopefuls, he stayed home.
McKinley had no clear position on the currency question, and opposition to him came from two directions on this issue. Henry Teller (left) of Colorado, a 66-year old railroad lawyer who had served in the U.S. Senate for twenty years, led the Western delegates who sought a "free silver" plank. They lost overwhelmingly. Most of these pro-silver Republicans, like Teller, were lifelong Republicans whose deep loyalties to the party of Union victory were sorely tested. After a dramatic speech, Teller and 22 other Western Republicans walked out of the Republican convention in protest.
On the other side, Thomas Platt (left) and fellow Easterners feared that McKinley was not dedicated enough to the gold standard, which was popular in their states. Platt, the boss of New York state's Republican machine, discovered that McKinley's friends had worked skillfully in advance and secured a lock on the nomination. McKinley won easily in the first round of balloting.
Management of the Campaign
McKinley's friend Marcus Hanna of Ohio had engineered his nomination, and after the convention directed the party's national campaign. An industrialist in the coal and iron industries, Hanna seems to have had a local reputation for fair dealings with his workers. An excellent strategist, he was helped in his fundraising efforts by the Democrats' free silver and income tax planks, which terrified the nation's elite. Hanna collected enormous sums from leading industrialists and financiers, leading to widespread accusations that Republicans were in league with trusts. The total amount spent by Republican headquarters is unclear, but it was at least $4 million. McKinley's face appeared everywhere on posters, pamphlets, and signs. Theodore Roosevelt allegedly remarked later that "Hanna marketed McKinley like a patent medicine."
McKinley's Running Mate
Garrett A. Hobart, (right) a New Jersey businessman and legislator hand-picked by McKinley's team, easily took the vice-presidential slot.
Republicans stressed maintainance of the gold standard and of high protective tariffs that would protect American jobs and wages. Both were old ideas that had been promulgated by a succession of Republican candidates and administrations before the depression of 1893. Despite a vague promise to seek international agreements for looser monetary policy, the platform was economically conservative. Urging support for Armenians and for Cubans who sought freedom from Spain, it pointed toward the issues of foreign relations that would take center stage by 1900. But it contained none of the reform goals, such as antitrust and worker protection, that Republicans' progressive president Theodore Roosevelt would advocate effectively after the turn of the century.
With few new ideas, Republicans concentrated on warning of the dangers posed by free silver. With this theme, they tapped a deep vein of anxiety among the middle classes, especially in the East, shared by many Gold Democrats. Fears of a radical alliance between farmers and industrial workers pervaded Republican rhetoric. Party spokesmen lumped together Silver Democrats, Populists, and Socialists, depicting them as a single threat to national order.
Republicans often accused these opponents of seeking tyrannical state power, while claiming in the next breath that they were anarchists—basing most of their assertions on the so-called "anarchy plank" in the Silver Democrats' platform. Charges of anarchy largely stemmed from the Chicago Pullman strike of 1894, and made "Altgeldism" a key issue of the campaign. Some cartoonists even linked Bryan to Charles Guiteau, an embittered would-be civil servant who had assassinated President James Garfield in 1881.
In many of the attacks, Republicans took note of the prominent role of women in the free silver camp, including stump speakers such as Populist Mary Lease. Republicans framed their attacks in terms of gender roles, for example when Andrew White dismissed Bryan supporters as "unbalanced men and hysterical women." Many Republicans claimed that free-silver men and women had the roles backwards: men were weak and effeminate, while women were aggressive and "unsexed."
In other appeals, the Republican party "waved the bloody shirt," reminding the nation of Republicans' accomplishment in winning the Civil War. Bryan's Western and Southern supporters were sometimes accused of plotting another secession movement, and more often of setting sectional interests ahead of the common good.
A Front-Porch Campaign
Unlike Bryan, who toured the U.S. by railroad, McKinley followed the precedent of other candidates and received visitors at his home in Canton, Ohio—though his goal was hardly to maintain privacy. In the Republicans' "front porch campaign," multitudes of party loyalists (and some Gold Democrats who rejected Bryan and the Chicago platform) journeyed to Canton, often using free or discounted passes from friendly railroads. Addressing the crowds from his porch, McKinley promised a return to good times if Republicans took office in Washington. After the speeches, Ida McKinley often served lemonade to the thirsty crowds. The McKinley's were not always repaid kindly: visitors ripped apart their picket fence, little by little, and took the pieces home as souvenirs.
Apparently McKinley's well-run campaign, added to middle-class fears in the face of labor unrest and Bryan's warnings, persuaded a majority to vote for the Republicans, who won an overwhelming victory. During the first years of McKinley's administration, in 1897 and 1898, the economy improved substantially. Though economic historians still debate whether Republican policies had much to do with this result, McKinley's friends argued that he had proved to be the "Advance Agent of Prosperity," as Hanna had promised. Certainly Silver Democrats' prophecies of doom had not proved accurate, and in 1900 McKinley handily won a second term.
My opposition to Governor McKinley proceeds almost entirely from my belief that his nomination would bring the Republican party into turmoil and trouble. . . . McKinley represents the most radical extreme view of protection. I foresee the greatest dangers to the Republican party as the result of extreme tariff legislation. Fully as important as the tariff bill—yes, more so—is the measure that must be devised to render our currency system intelligible, safe and elastic. If Major McKinley has any real convictions on the subject of the currency, they are not revealed in his votes or his speeches. He voted once for free and unlimited coinage of silver. . . . He has described himself as a bi-metallist; as in favor of free coinage of both metals. . . . This should remove McKinley from the list of Presidential possibilities. —Thomas Platt, 6 May 1896, in his Autobiography
I see that the Republicans busted at St. Louis and "Teller and his men took their hats and left." Sacred Writ informs us that "a house divided cannot stand." —People’s Party Paper, 3 July 1896
Abundantly supplied with money, and able to command any number of millions he needed, Hanna really began his campaign to make McKinley President immediately after the defeat of Harrison in 1892. He had the South practically solid before some of us awakened. Then he picked off enough Western and Pacific Slope States, before the convention met, to render him and McKinley invincible in 1896. Mark Hanna's success as chairman of the National Committee was due to the confidence business interests had in him and the unprecedented and unlimited campaign fund on which he could draw. . . . Hanna was a lovable character personally. His heart was as big as the house in which he lived. McKinley and he were as brothers. McKinley's tragic death quite broke Hanna's heart, and hastened his own demise. —Thomas Platt, 1910, from his Autobiography
McKinley is the pliant tool of Mark Hanna, the most vicious, carnal, and unrelenting oppressor of labor and crusher of its organizations in existence. He is a man who would stop at nothing—not even murder if he could do it, as he has done, in an indirect way—to keep laboring men from assuming position to defend themselves in their right to living wages and decent treatment at the hands of corporations and monopolies. —People’s Party Paper, 16 October 1896
Canton, Sept. 12—Two trainloads of the Commercial Democratic McKinley Club of Chicago reached Canton this morning. They were met at the station by the Canton Commercial Travelers' escort and the Canton Troop. The party numbers between 900 and 1000. They were escorted to the hotels for breakfast, and prepared to call on McKinley at 11 o'clock. As they paraded past Mother Nancy Allison McKinley's home they cheered, the venerable woman bowing her acknowledgement.
A thousand people joined the Democratic Chicagoans at the McKinley home at 11 o'clock. The meeting waxed enthusiastic as Maj. McKinley appeared on the doorstep. Chief Marshal Frank Higbee introduced President Hoffstadt, who said, in part:
"Maj. McKinley: In behalf of the Commercial Democratic McKinley Club of Chicago, comprising only men who have always voted the Democratic ticket, and representing every branch of the mercantile interests of our city, I extend to you our most cordial greeting, and pledge to you our earnest support."
... Following closely upon the call of the Chicago commercial men came the first Pennsylvania delegation, the steel workers of the Carnegie Mills at Homestead. They came in a special train of thirty-three coaches.... The cheers were mingled with the music of a dozen bands, and the noise all over the business section of Canton was simply deafening. —Los Angeles Times, 13 September 1896
Republican Party Platform.
Adopted at St. Louis, June 16, 1896.
The Republicans of the United States, assembled by their representatives in National Convention, appealing for the popular and historical justification of their claims to the matchless achievements of thirty years of Republican rule, earnestly and confidently address themselves to the awakened intelligence, experience, and conscience of their countrymen in the following declaration of facts and principles:
For the first time since the Civil War the American people have witnessed the calamitous consequences of full and unrestricted Democratic control of the Government. It has been a record of unparalleled incapacity, dishonor and disaster. In administrative management it has ruthlessly sacrificed indispensable revenue, entailed an unceasing deficit, eked out ordinary current expenses with borrowed money, piled up the public debt by $262,000,000 in time of peace, forced an adverse balance of trade, kept a perpetual menace hanging over the redemption fund, pawned American credit to alien syndicates, and reversed all the measures and results of successful Republican rule. In the broad effect of its policy it has precipitated panic, blighted industry and trade with prolonged depression, closed factories, reduced work and wages, halted enterprise and crippled American production, while stimulating foreign production for the American market. Every consideration of public safety and individual interest demands that the Government shall be rescued from the hands of those who have shown themselves incapable of conducting it without disaster at home and dishonor abroad, and shall be restored to the party which for thirty years administred it with unequalled success and prosperity. And in this connection we heartily endorse the wisdom, patriotism and the success of the Administration of President Harrison.
Allegiance to Protection Renewed.
We renew and emphasize our allegiance to the policy of Protection as the bulwark of American industrial independence and the foundation of American development and prosperity. This true American policy taxes foreign products and encourages home industry; it puts the burden of revenue on foreign goods; it secures the American market for the American producer; it upholds the American standard of wages for the American workingman; it puts the factory by the side of the farm, and makes the American farmer less dependent on foreign demand and prices; it diffuses general thrift and founds the strength of all on the strength of each. In its reasonable application it is just, far and impartial, equally opposed to foreign control and domestic monopoly, to sectional discrimination and individual favoritism.
We denounce the present Democratic tariff as sectional, injurious to the public credit and destructive to business enterprise. We demand such an equitable tariff on foreign imports which come into competition with American products, as will not only furnish adequate revenue for the necessary expenses of the Government, but will protect American labor from degradation to the wage level of other lands. We are not pledged to any particular schedules. The question of rates is a practical question, to be governed by the conditions of the time and of production; the ruling and uncompromising principle is the protection and development of American labor and industry. The country demands a right settlement, and then it wants rest.
We believe the repeal of the reciprocity arrangements negotiated by the last Republican Administration was a national calamity, and we demand their renewal and extension on such terms as will equalize our trade with other nations, remove the restrictions which now obstruct the sale of American products in the ports of other countries, and secure enlarged markets for the products of our farms, forests and factories.
Protection and reciprocity are twin measures of Republican policy and go hand in hand. Democratic rule has recklessly struck down both, and both must be re-established. Protection for what we produce; free admission for the necessaries of life which we do not produce; reciprocal agreements of mutual interest which gain open markets for us in return for our open market to others. Protection builds up domestic industry and trade and secures our own market for ourselves; reciprocity builds up foreign trade and finds an outlet for our surplus.
We condemn the present Administration for not keeping faith with the sugar producers of this country; the Republican party favors such protection as will lead to the production on American soil of all the sugar which the American people use and for which they pay other countries more than $100,000,000 annually. To all our products--to those of the mine and the field, as well as those of the shop and the factory--to hemp, to wool, the product of the great industry of sheep husbandry, as well as to the finished woolens of the mill--we promise the most ample protection.
We favor restoring the early American policy of discriminating duties for the upbuilding of our merchant marine and the protection of our shipping in the foreign carrying trade, so that American ships--the product of American labor, employed in American shipyards, sailing under the Stars and Stripes, and manned, officered and owned by Americans--can regain the carrying of our foreign commerce.
The Currency Plank.
The Republican party is unreservedly for sound money. It caused the enactment of the law providing for the resumption of specie payment in 1879; since then every dollar has been as good as gold.
We are unalterably opposed to every measure calculated to debase our currency or impair the credit of our country. We are, therefore, opposed to the free coinage of silver, except by international agreement with the leading commercial nations of the world, which we pledge ourselves to promote; and, until such agreement can be obtained, the existing gold standard must be preserved. All our silver and paper currency must be maintained at parity with gold, and we favor all measures designed to maintain inviolable the obligations of the United States and all our money, whether coin or paper, at the present standard, the standard of the most enlightened nations of the earth.
Justice to Veterans.
The veterans of the Union armies deserve and should receive fair treatment and generous recognition. Whenever practicable, they should be given the preference in the matter of employment, and they are entitled to the enactment of such laws as are best calculated to secure the fulfillment of the pledges made to them in the dark days of the country's peril. We denouce the practice in the Pension Bureau, so recklessly and unjustly carried on by the present administration, of reducing pensions and arbitrarily dropping names from the rolls, as deserving the severest condemnation of the American people.
Our foreign policy should be at all times firm, vigorous and dignified, and all our interests in the Western hemisphere carefully watched and guarded. The Hawaiian Islands should be controlled by the United States, and no foreign Power should be permitted to interfere with them; the Nicaragua Canal should be built, owned, and operated by the United States, and, by the purchase of the Danish Islands, we should secure a propert and much-needed naval station in the West Indies.
The massacres in Armenia have aroused the deep sympathy and just indignation of the American people, and we believe that the United States should exercise all the influence it can properly exert to bring these atrocities to an end. In Turkey, American residents have been exposed to the gravest dangers, and American property destroyed. There, and everywhere, American citizens and American property must be absolutely protected at all hazards and at any cost.
We reassert the Monroe Doctrine in its full extent, and we reaffirm the right of the United States to give the doctrine effect by responding to the appeals of any American State for friendly intervention in case of European encroachment. We have not interfered, and shall not interfere, with the existing possessions of any European Power in this hemisphere, but those possessions must not, on any pretext, be extended. We hopefully look forward to the eventual withdrawal of the European Powers from this hemisphere, and to the ultimate union of all the English-speaking part of the continent by the free consent of its inhabitants.
From the hour of achieving their own independence, the people of the United States have regarded with sympathy the struggles of other American peoples to free themselves from European domination. We watch with deep and abiding interest the heroic battle of the Cuban patriots against cruelty and oppression, and our best hopes go out for the full success of their determined contest for liberty. The Government of Spain, having lost control of Cuba, and being unable to protect the property or lives of resident American citizens, or to comply with its treaty obligations, we believe that the Government of the United States should actively use its influence and good offices to restore peace and give independence to the island.
The peace and security of the Republic, and the maintenance of its rightful influence among the nations of the earth, demand a naval power commensurate with its position and responsibility. We therefore favor the continued enlargement of the navy and a complete system of harbor and seacoast defenses.
For the protection of the equality of our American citizenship and of the wages of our workingmen against the fatal competition of low-priced labor, we demand that the immigration laws be thoroughly enforced and so extended as to exclude from entrance to the United States those who can neither read nor write.
The Civil Service law was placed on the statute book by the Republican party, which has always sustained it, and we renew our repeated declarations that it shall be thoroughly and honestly enforced and extended wherever practicable.
We demand that every citizen of the United States shall be allowed to cast one free and unrestricted ballot, and that such ballot shall be counted and returned as cast.
We proclaim our unqualified condemnation of the uncivilized and barbarous practices well known as lynching and killing of human beings, suspected or charged with crime, without process of law.
We favor the creation of a National Board of Arbitration to settle and adjust differences which may arise betwen employers and employed engaged in inter-State commerce.
We believe in an immediate return to the free homestead policy of the Republican party, and urge the passage by Congress of the satisfactory free homestead measure which has already passed the House and is now pending in the Senate.
We favor the admission of the remaining Territories at the earliest practicable date, having due regard to the interests of the people of the Territories and of the United States. All the Federal officers appointed for the Territories should be selected from bona fide residents thereof, and the right of self-government should be accorded as far as practicable.
We believe the citizens of Alaska should have representation in the Congress of the United States, to the end that needful legislation may be intelligently enacted.
Temperance and the Rights of Women.
We sympathize with all wise and legitimate efforts to lessen and prevent the evils of intemperance and promote morality.
The Republican party is mindful of the rights and interests of women. Protection of American industries includes equal opportunities, equal pay for equal work, and protection to the home. We favor the admission of women to wider spheres of usefulness, and welcome their co-operation in rescuing the country from Democratic and Populistic mismanagement and misrule.
Such are the principles and policies of the Republican party. By these principles we will abide, and these policies we will put into execution. We ask for them the considerate judgment of the American people. Confident alike in the history of our great party and in the justice of our cause, we present our platform and our candidates in the full assurance that the election will bring victory to the Republican party and prosperity to the people of the United States.
© 2010 Rebecca Edwards, author of New Spirits: Americans in the Gilded Age, 1865-1905 by Rebecca Edwards, Oxford University Press
Major events of the campaign,
in cartoon and story. (Click date)