United States presidential election, 1888: Wikis


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1884 United States 1892
United States presidential election, 1888
November 6, 1888
BHarrison.jpg GroverCleveland.png
Nominee Benjamin Harrison Grover Cleveland
Party Republican Democratic
Home state Indiana New York
Running mate Levi P. Morton Allen G. Thurman
Electoral vote 233 168
States carried 20 18
Popular vote 5,443,892 5,534,488
Percentage 47.8% 48.6%
Presidential election results map. Blue denotes states won by Cleveland/Thurman, Red denotes those won by Harrison/Morton. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes allotted to each state.

Previous President
Grover Cleveland

Benjamin Harrison

The United States Presidential Election of 1888 was held on November 6, 1888. The tariff was the main issue in the election of 1888. Benjamin Harrison, the Republican candidate, opposed tariff reduction. Neither Cleveland nor the Democratic Party waged a strong campaign. Cleveland's attitude toward the spoils system had antagonized party politicians. His policies on pensions, the currency, and tariff reform had made enemies among veterans, farmers, and industrialists. Even with these enemies, Cleveland had more popular votes than Harrison. However, Harrison received a larger electoral vote and won the election.

This was the third of only four U.S. elections in which the President-elect did not receive a plurality of the popular vote. The first was the 1824 election; the second had been just 12 years earlier in the 1876 election, while the fourth would happen 112 years later in the 2000 election.[1]




Republican Party nomination

Republican candidates:

Candidates gallery

Harrison/Morton campaign poster

By the time Republicans convened in Chicago in June 1888, front-runner James G. Blaine had withdrawn from the race because he believed that only a harmonious convention would produce a Republican candidate strong enough to upset incumbent president Grover Cleveland. Blaine realized that the party was unlikely to choose him without a bitter struggle. After he withdrew, Blaine expressed confidence in both Benjamin Harrison and John Sherman. Harrison was nominated on the eighth ballot.

The Republicans nominated Harrison, because of his war record, his popularity with veterans, his ability to express the Republican Party's views, and the fact that he lived in Indiana. The Republicans hoped to win Indiana's 15 electoral votes, which had gone to Cleveland in the previous presidential election. Levi P. Morton, a New York City banker, was nominated for vice president over William W. Phelps, his nearest rival.

Presidential Ballot
Ballot 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th
Benjamin Harrison 80 91 94 217 213 231 278 544
John Sherman 229 249 244 235 224 244 231 118
Russell A. Alger 84 116 122 135 142 137 120 100
Walter Q. Gresham 111 108 123 98 87 91 91 59
William B. Allison 72 75 88 88 99 73 76 0
Chauncey Depew 99 99 91 0 0 0 0 0
James G. Blaine 35 33 35 42 48 40 15 5
John J. Ingalls 28 16 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jeremiah M. Rusk 25 20 16 0 0 0 0 0
William W. Phelps 25 18 5 0 0 0 0 0
Edwin H. Fitler 24 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
William McKinley 2 3 8 11 14 12 16 4
Robert T. Lincoln 3 2 2 1 0 0 2 0
Samuel F. Miller 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0
Joseph B. Foraker 0 0 0 1 0 1 1 0
Frederick Douglass 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
Frederick D. Grant 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
Creed Haymond 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
Vice Presidential Ballot
Ballot 1st
Levi P. Morton 591
William W. Phelps 119
William O. Bradley 103
Blanche K. Bruce 11
Walter F. Thomas 1

Democratic Party nomination

Democratic candidates:

Candidates gallery

Cleveland/Thurman campaign poster

The Democratic national convention held in St. Louis in June 1888 was harmonious. Incumbent President Cleveland was renominated unanimously without a formal ballot. This was the first time an incumbent Democratic president had been renominated since Martin Van Buren in 1840.

After Cleveland was renominated, Democrats had to choose a replacement for Thomas Hendricks. Hendricks was the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for vice president in 1876 before winning with Cleveland in 1884. Hendricks served as vice president for only eight months before he died in office on November 25, 1885. Former Senator Allen G. Thurman of Ohio was nominated for vice president over Isaac P. Gray, his nearest rival. Gray lost the nomination to Thurman primarily because his enemies again brought up his actions while a Republican.[2]

The Democratic platform largely confined itself to a defense of the Cleveland administration, while supporting reduction in the tariff and taxes generally as well as statehood for the western territories.

Vice Presidential Ballot
Ballot 1st Before Shifts 1st After Shifts
Allen G. Thurman 684 822
Isaac P. Gray 101 0
John C. Black 36 0
Not voting 1 0

Other nominations

The Prohibition Party ticket of Clinton B. Fisk and John Brooks captured nearly a quarter million popular votes as the prohibition movement gained steam. Another group, the Union Labor Party, was formed with Alson Streeter as their nominee. The Union Labor Party garnered nearly 150,000 popular votes, but failed to gain widespread national support.

General election


Cleveland set the main issue of the campaign when he proposed a dramatic reduction in tariffs in his annual message to Congress in December 1887. Cleveland contended that the tariff was unnecessarily high and that unnecessary taxation was unjust taxation. The Republicans responded that the high tariff would protect American industry from foreign competition, guaranteeing high wages, high profits, and high growth. The argument between protectionists and free traders over the size of the tariff was an old one, stretching back to the Tariff of 1816. In practice the tariff was practically meaningless on industrial products, since the United States was the low-cost producer in most areas (except woolens), and could not be undersold by the less efficient Europeans. Nevertheless the tariff issue motivated both sides to a remarkable extent.

Besides the obvious economic dimensions, the tariff argument also possessed an ethnic dimension. At the time, the policy of free trade was most strongly promoted by the British empire, and so any political candidate who ran on free trade instantly was under threat of being labelled pro-British and thereby losing the swing Irish-American voting bloc. Cleveland neatly neutralized this threat by pursuing punitive action against Canada (which was still viewed as part of the British empire) in a fishing rights dispute.

Harrison was well funded by party activists and mounted an energetic campaign by the standards of the day, giving many speeches from his front porch in Indianapolis which were covered by the newspapers. Cleveland adhered to the tradition that presidential candidates did not campaign, and forbade his cabinet from campaigning as well, leaving his 75 year old vice presidential candidate Thurman as the spearhead of his campaign.

Blocks of Five

One of the most notorious electoral frauds was perpetrated for this election in Indiana. William Wade Dudley, Treasurer of the Republican National Committee, wrote a circular letter to Indiana's county chairmen telling them to "Divide the floaters into Blocks of Five, and put a trusted man with the necessary funds in charge of these five, and make them responsible that none get away and that all vote our ticket."

A Purchased Presidency

Grover Cleveland at the time might not have been in the best graces with his home state of New York with Tammany Hall against him, but he did have a prominent reputation with that state since he became a politician. With his home state being a swing state, as well as the state with the most electoral votes, the Republican Party could not sit by and allow him to obtain such a valuable state during the election. Because of that, the Republicans set out to gain funds to buy ballots in New York. Thomas C. Platt, with the hopes of becoming Secretary of Treasury, set out to obtain $150,000 for the Republican Party. The money generated was then used to buy numerous ballots in the state of New York, further hindering Cleveland’s chances of winning the state as well as the election.[3]

The Murchison letter

A California Republican named George Osgoodby wrote a letter to Sir Lionel Sackville-West, the British ambassador to the U. S., under the assumed name of "Charles F. Murchison". "Murchison" described himself as a former Englishman who was now a California citizen and asked how he should vote in the upcoming presidential election. Sir Lionel wrote back and indiscreetly suggested that Cleveland was probably the best man from the British point of view.

The Republicans published this letter just two weeks before the election, where it had an effect on Irish-American voters exactly comparable to the "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion" blunder of the previous election: Cleveland lost New York state and the presidency and Sackville-West was sacked as British ambassador.[4]


Cleveland was defeated. He actually led in the popular vote over Benjamin Harrison (48.6% to 47.8%), but Harrison won the Electoral College by a 233-168 margin, largely by virtue of his 1% win in Cleveland's home state of New York. Had Cleveland won his home state, he would have won the electoral vote by a count of 204-197 (201 votes being then needed for victory). Cleveland earned 24 of his electoral votes from states that he won by less than 1% (Connecticut, Virginia, and West Virginia).

Cleveland thus became one of only four men (Andrew Jackson in 1824, Samuel Tilden in 1876, and Al Gore in 2000) to win the popular vote but lose the presidency. As Frances Cleveland and the outgoing president left the White House, she assured the staff that they would return in four years, which they did.

Presidential candidate Party Home state Popular vote Electoral
Running mate Running mate's
home state
Running mate's
electoral vote
Count Pct
Benjamin Harrison Republican Indiana 5,443,892 47.8% 233 Levi Parsons Morton New York 233
Stephen Grover Cleveland Democratic New York 5,534,488 48.6% 168 Allen Granberry Thurman Ohio 168
Clinton Bowen Fisk Prohibition New Jersey 249,819 2.2% 0 John Anderson Brooks Missouri 0
Alson Jenness Streeter Union Labor Illinois 146,602 1.3% 0 Charles E. Cunningham Arkansas 0
Other 8,519 0.1% Other
Total 11,383,320 100% 401 401
Needed to win 201 201

Source (Popular Vote): Leip, David. 1888 Presidential Election Results. Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections (July 27, 2005). Source (Electoral Vote): Electoral College Box Scores 1789–1996. Official website of the National Archives. (July 31, 2005).

In popular culture

In 1968 the Michael P. Antoine Company produced the Walt Disney Company musical film The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band which centers around the election of 1888 and the annexing and subdividing of the Dakota Territory into states (which was a major issue of the election).

See also

Business advertising card with an election theme


  1. ^ Gaines 2001.
  2. ^ Indiana and Indianans, By Jacob Piatt Dunn, George William Harrison Kemper, Pg 724
  3. ^ "A Purchased Presidency". New York Times. March 11, 1910. http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=980CEEDA1E30E333A25752C1A9659C946196D6CF. 
  4. ^ [Butterfield 1947 p. 253] and [Shenkman 2004]


Primary sources

Secondary sources

  • Butterfield, Roger (1947). The American Past: A History of the United States from Concord to Hiroshima, 1775–1945. New York: Simon and Schuster. 
  • Calhoun, Charles W. (2008). Minority Victory: Gilded Age Politics and the Front Porch Campaign of 1888. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. ISBN 9780700615964. 
  • Jensen, Richard (1971). The Winning of the Midwest: Social and Political Conflict, 1888–1896. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226398250. 
  • Morgan, H. Wayne (1969). From Hayes to McKinley: National Party Politics, 1877–1896. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press. 
  • Reitano, Joanne R. (1994). The Tariff Question in the Gilded Age: The Great Debate of 1888. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 0271010355. 
  • Summers, Mark Wahlgren (2004). Party Games: Getting, Keeping, and Using Power in Gilded Age Politics. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0807828629. 
Journal articles
  • Baumgarden, James L. (Summer 1984). "The 1888 Presidential Election: How Corrupt?". Presidential Studies Quarterly 14: 416–27. 
  • Gaines, Brian J. (March 2001). "Popular Myths about Popular Vote-Electoral College Splits". PS: Political Science and Politics 34: 70–75. 

External links


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