The Republican Party/Chapter X

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With the return of a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives which met in 1875, the period of Republican control of the government ended and thereafter authority and responsibility were divided between the two parties with the natural result of greatly diminished efficiency. The President continued his prudently progressive Republican policies, establishing in September, 1875 the system of fast mail trains which effected so great an improvement in the mail service; and later in the same year making a noteworthy recommendation for universal secular and compulsory education. He was, however, largely dependent upon Congress for support, and the two Houses were seldom able to agree save on the most necessary routine matters. The Republican Senate was generally able, however, to thwart the reactionary proposals of the Democratic House, and to maintain the governmental policies which had proved so beneficial to the country.

A noteworthy enterprise of the Grant administration was the giving of national patronage to the world's fair at Philadelphia with which the one hundredth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence was commemorated. This exhibition of the industry, commerce and art of all nations was the most extensive ever thus far held in the world, and it had an effect of inestimable value in acquainting America and the rest of the world with each other and in stimulating the domestic industry and foreign commerce of the United States.

Meantime the question of the tariff, of protection or free trade, increased in importance and became more and more a direct issue between the two parties, the great mass of Republicans inclining toward a tariff for the protection of American industry and the great mass of Democrats toward a “revenue tariff” or declared plainly for a tariff which, while of course primarily for revenue, should be so adjusted as to favor American interests. The Liberal Republican and Democratic platform evaded the issue by remitting it to Congress for its determination; an equivocal course which was necessary because the majority of the Democrats were pronounced free traders, while their candidate, Mr. Greeley, was an extreme protectionist. In the platforms of 1876 more definite stands were taken. The Republicans declared that tariff duties, levied for the primary purpose of revenue, “should be adjusted to promote the interests of American labor and advance the prosperity of the whole country.” The Democrats denounced the protective tariff as “a masterpiece of injustice, inequality and false pretence,” and demanded that “all custom-house taxation shall be only for revenue.”

In that year the Republicans, after a spirited contest among various candidates, nominated Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio for President and William A. Wheeler of New York for Vice-President on a platform which, beside the tariff plank, confirmed the results of the war, and demanded resumption of specie payments, protection of the free public school system, the reservation of public lands for free homes for the people, the protection of American citizens impartially whether native or naturalized, and the suppression of polygamy as a “relic of barbarism.” It also recognized with approval the substantial advances made by various Republican state legislatures toward the establishment of equal citizenship rights for women, and repeated the former pledge of respectful consideration for all demands for the further extension of those rights. The Democrats nominated Samuel J. Tilden of New York for President and Thomas A. Hendricks of Indiana for Vice-President on a platform composed more like a stump speech than a programme of statesmanship. It denounced practically everything that the Republican government had done, especially its fiscal policy, and demanded the repeal of the act for the resumption of specie payments.

The ensuing campaign was comparatively spiritless. In a number of states gross frauds were committed, both in the voting and in the counting of votes and making of returns, and in consequence the result of the election was disputed. The controversy was made the worse by the lack of legislation for the canvassing of the electoral votes and declaration of the result. A compromise was finally arrived at between the Republican Senate and the Democratic House, under which a special Electoral Commission was constituted, consisting of five Senators, five Representatives and five Justices of the Supreme Court to pass upon the whole matter and declare the result of the election. This commission. contained eight Republicans and seven Democrats. After long and painstaking consideration, it finally decided that Hayes and Wheeler had received 185 and Tilden and Hendricks 184 electoral votes, and that the former were therefore elected. Although bitterly protested against by Democrats, this decision was loyally acquiesced in and its substantial justice has been strongly confirmed by the deliberate judgment of posterity. It may be added that of the popular vote the Democratic ticket received about 4,300,000 and the Republican ticket about 4,035,000 votes. The Greenback party, seeking payment of the national debt with irredeemable paper money, polled 81,737 votes for Peter Cooper of New York and the Prohibitionists 9,522 for Green Clay Smith of Kentucky.

Soon after his installation as President, Mr. Hayes withdrew the Federal troops from the southern states, which had been used to protect negroes in their right to vote, and in consequence the negro vote was almost entirely suppressed by terrorism, force and fraud, and the governments of the southern states and their delegations to Congress became and long remained solidly Democratic. In the first half of Hayes's term the Senate was Republican and the House Democratic, and in the second half, from 1879 to 1881, both were Democratic. In these circumstances there was and could be little profitable legislation. The Senate and President at first, and afterward the President alone, prevented the Democrats from repealing the Resumption act or destroying the protective tariff system, while the Democrats of the House did all they could to embarrass the President by withholding necessary appropriations and by employing other annoying devices. In these circumstances, popular sentiment soon revolted against Democratic rule. Following the great Republican triumph in the successful resumption of specie payments at the beginning of 1879, the state elections of that year showed a decided drift toward Republicanism. The administration of President Hayes was clean, efficient and progressive, despite the obstacles offered by Democratic obstructionists. The Republican party was united and encouraged and the whole nation was prosperous.

In 1880 the Republicans adopted a platform reaffirming their established principles, especially the maintenance of constitutional authority, the promotion of popular education, a tariff discriminating in favor of American labor, no further grants of public lands to corporations, suppression of polygamy, protection to American citizens, and improvements of rivers and harbors for the benefit of commerce. It also called for such action, through treaty-making or legislation, as would protect the United States from the evils of unrestricted Mongolian immigration. On this platform James A. Garfield of Ohio and Chester A. Arthur of New York were nominated for President and Vice-President. There was a strong movement in the convention for the renomination of President Grant, but it failed and the whole party harmoniously entered the campaign for the election of Garfield.

The Democratic convention adopted a platform denouncing the election and seating of President Hayes as a fraud and Mr. Hayes personally as a criminal usurper; demanding “honest money consisting of gold and silver, and paper convertible into coin on demand”; and “a tariff for revenue only.” Its money plank was obviously an acceptance of the identical Republican principles which the Democrats had formerly opposed and denounced, and in various other details the platform substantially agreed with that of the Republicans. The chief difference was in respect to the tariff which thus for the first time became the paramount issue of the campaign. On this platform the Democrats nominated General Winfield Scott Hancock of Pennsylvania and William H. English of Indiana.

The campaign was waged with great vigor, chiefly upon the tariff issue. The Republicans unequivocally advocated maintenance of the policy of protection to American industry, though of course with such modifications from time to time as circumstances might require, and they charged the Democratic demand for a “tariff for revenue only” with being tantamount to free trade. To this the Democrats could make no effective reply. Their candidate General Hancock, a gallant soldier but quite unversed in statecraft, aggravated the case by trying to dismiss the tariff as an issue of only local interest. The result was that despite the arbitrary suppression of the Republican vote throughout the South, the Republican ticket was handsomely elected; receiving 214 electoral and 4,454,416 popular votes, to the Democrats' 155 electoral and 4,444,952 popular votes. The Greenback party, favoring "fiat” money and abolition of national bank notes, polled 308,578 votes for James B. Weaver of Iowa and the Prohibitionists 10,305 for Neal Dow of Maine.

With a Republican President and Republican control of Congress in 1881 the work of constructive and progressive legislation was resumed. A Tariff Commission was appointed, to study scientifically the whole question of duties on imports, to divorce the question from party politics and to report a new schedule suited to the changed conditions of the country. It was obvious that the revenue needs of the war times were now past and that many of the industries which had been created and fostered by the protective system had become able to maintain themselves under lower rates of duty. The Commission accordingly recommended an average reduction of duties of about 20 per cent. This report was considerably modified by Congress, but the new tariff law enacted in 1883 did provide for some reduction of rates and an increase of the free list as well as a marked reduction of internal taxation. This refusal of Congress to carry out all the recommendations of the commission was due largely to the fact that the country did not generally desire any radical change in the tariff system. There was general prosperity, and it was felt that that prosperity in manufacturing, in commerce and in agriculture was almost inseparably connected with the system of protection. Naturally there was reluctance to disturb it.

The Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives in 1883 and in 1884 passed a “horizontal reduction” tariff bill, arbitrarily reducing duties without any pretence at scientific discrimination. This was rejected by the Republican Senate, as was also another “revenue tariff” bill in 1888, and no further changes were made until the Republicans again secured control of all departments of the government.