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Election of 1880: Garfield vs the Resurgent Democrats

Candidates:
Republican Party: James Garfield (Ohio) and Chester Arthur (New York)
Democratic Party: Winfield Hancock (Pennsylvania) and William English (Indiana)
Greenback Labor: James Weaver (Iowa) and Benjamin Chambers (Texas)

Election Results:
Garfield/Arthur: 214 electoral votes, 4.446 million popular votes
Hancock/English: 155 electoral votes, 4.444 million popular votes
Weaver/Chambers: 0 electoral votes, 305,000 popular votes

Summary:
The Democratic Party, still reeling from charges of treason during the Civil War, began to rebound with a share of congressional power in the 1878 midterm elections. They also were able to take advantage of Rutherford Hayes' inability to lead the nation effectively after the scandal over his election. Hayes displeased many by turning away from the patronage system, pulling federal troops out of the South (and the South not protecting civil rights), and hitting hard against striking railroad workers. Even to many Republicans, Hayes' promise for one term in office was a stroke of good luck because they felt they had stronger candidates against the resurgent Democrats.

The Republican nominating process was divided between supporters of a third term for former president Ulysses S Grant, who was part of the Stalwart Republican camp. In opposition to the more liberal Grant camp was the moderate, Half Breed camp led by Maine politician James G. Blaine. These two camps were deadlocked in the nominating convention and the common thread was James Garfield, an Ohio congressman who was well respected in the party. Garfield was supporting compromise candidate John Sherman but received some token support in the first couple of ballots.

After it became obvious that Grant and Blaine were not budging in their number of delegates, the Blaine and Sherman delegates decided to nominate Garfield to eliminate Grant as a candidate. In the end, Garfield received the presidential nomination with growing momentum and interest in his campaign from both camps. The New York boss Roscoe Conkling handpicked Chester A. Arthur as the vice presidential candidate, in order to placate the important New York constituency and to keep Garfield in line on patronage. Garfield would become a champion of civil rights in the South and worked against patronage in the one year he had as president before being assassinated.

The Democratic Party hoped to capitalize on their 1878 successes and chose Winfield Hancock, a former Union general and career soldier, in their convention after former candidate Samuel Tilden (who last in 1876) withdrew. Hancock was the former military governor of Texas and Louisiana who gained a reputation for supporting whites and Democrats in these territories over Republicans and blacks. The only major difference revealed in the ensuing campaign between Garfield and Hancock was over tariffs. Garfield and Republicans wanted to raise tariffs in order to protect American businesses, while Hancock showed little concern and called it a "local" issue.

Garfield went a long way toward mending Republican fences by promising ideological balance in his future cabinet and keeping a low profile. Hancock went after Garfield's involvement in the Credit Mobilier railroad scandal but the allegations did not stick. Garfield's front porch campaign and his track record as a soldier and politician were more extensive than Hancock's and the support of the New York machine was vital. A shift of a few thousand votes in New York City would have shifted the balance toward the Democrats and Winfield Hancock would have been the president.

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