Since the indications were that the Democrats would be successful in the Congressional elections of 1878, the election in the "shoe-string district" that year was allowed to go by default.
In 1880, the year of the Presidential election, I decided that I would again measure arms with Chalmers for Representative in Congress from that district. It was practically a well-settled fact that there was to be a bitter fight for the Republican Presidential nomination that year. There were three prominent candidates in the field for the nomination,—James G. Blaine, U.S. Grant, and John Sherman. Grant was especially strong with southern Republicans, while Blaine had very little support in that section. Sherman was well thought of on account of the splendid record he had made as a member of the United States Senate, and, in addition to that, he had the influence and the support of the National Administration, of which he was a member,—being at that time Secretary of the Treasury.
In the State of Mississippi Bruce, Hill and I,—the three leading colored men,—had formed an offensive and defensive alliance. Bruce was United States Senator, which position he had secured largely through the influence and active support of myself and Hill,—of Hill especially, since he was on the ground at the time of the election, which enabled him to take personal charge of the campaign before the Legislature in the interest of Mr. Bruce.
Hill had been elected Secretary of State on the ticket with Ames in 1873 and, after the expiration of his term, was, through the influence and support of Bruce and myself, made Collector of Internal Revenue for the State of Mississippi. The office of Secretary of State, to which he was elected in 1873, was one that the Democrats did not take possession of in 1876. Unlike the Governor and Lieutenant-Governor, the removal of the incumbent was not necessary to put that party in possession of the State Government.
I, Lynch, was at that time a member of the National House of Representatives, which position I was able to retain for a long time with the active assistance and support of Bruce and Hill,—especially of Bruce.
That we three should work in perfect political harmony was both natural and proper, since, in doing so, we protected our own interests and secured for ourselves, and for our friends and supporters, appropriate official recognition. At nearly every State convention either Bruce or I was made chairman of the convention, with Hill as floor manager.
The State committee was organized and controlled in the same way. Through that thorough and effective organization I was Chairman of the Republican State Committee from 1881 to 1892, and I could have retained it longer had I consented to serve; notwithstanding the dissolution of the combination, which took place about that time, as will be shown and explained later.
There was a faction in the party that was opposed to the leadership of these three influential colored men, but it was never strong enough to organize or control a State Convention as long as we three worked in union. While this union had the effect of keeping us at the front as recognized leaders of the party it could not be said it was detrimental to the party organization, for the reason that under that leadership the organization never failed to support the men that the party believed to be the strongest. In other words, while we used the party machinery to prevent our own political extinction we never allowed our own ambitions to conflict with what was believed by other influential members of the party to be for the best interest of the organization.
It looked for a while as if the State Convention of 1880 would result in a dissolution of this combination which had so successfully controlled the party organization in the State so many years. Bruce and Hill were supporters of Secretary Sherman for the Republican Presidential nomination, while I was favorable to the candidacy of ex-President Grant. That Grant was the choice of a large majority of the Republicans of the State could not be truthfully denied. Mr. Bruce was the Republican United States Senator in harmony with the administration. Mr. Hill was an office-holder under that administration, and Secretary Sherman was believed to be the administration candidate for the nomination.
As soon as the fact was developed that Bruce and Hill were for Sherman and that I was for Grant, the faction which had always opposed and fought the leadership of the Bruce-Lynch-Hill combination took up the fight for Grant, with the determination to take advantage of Grant's strength and popularity in order to secure control of the party machinery. It was this that prevented at that time a dissolution of the Bruce-Hill-Lynch combination. The situation with which we were confronted made it necessary for the three to come together and, in a spirit of concession, agree upon a common line of action. Upon the suggestion of Mr. Bruce a conference soon took place at which I agreed that, since it was my purpose to be a candidate for the Congressional nomination in the Sixth or "shoe-string district," I would not be a candidate for delegate to the National Convention, but that I would support Bruce and Hill as delegates from the State at large, with the understanding that, if at any time Sherman's name should be withdrawn and Grant's nomination were possible, they should support Grant. It was further agreed that I should support the Bruce-Lynch-Hill combination in the fight for the organization of the State Convention, but that I should be at liberty to use my influence for the election of Grant men as delegates other than Bruce and Hill.
At the conclusion of this conference I made public announcement of the fact that, since it was my purpose to become a candidate for Congress in the Sixth or "shoe-string district," I would not be a candidate for delegate to the National Convention but would give my support to Bruce and Hill, for two of the four places on the delegation from the State at large, with the understanding that the delegation, if controlled by them, would not be hostile to Grant. I had reasons to know that Mr. Bruce, in consequence of his cordial relations with Senator Conkling,—the national leader of the Grant forces,—was not unfriendly to Grant, and that he would use his influence to prevent the delegation from going into any combination for the sole purpose of defeating the nomination of Grant. In other words, Grant was Brace's second choice for the nomination.
The fight for the delegation was waged with a good deal of heat and bitterness. The canvass had not progressed very far before it was developed that Grant was much stronger than the faction by which he was being supported. The fight was so bitter, and the delegates to the State Convention were so evenly divided, that the result was the election of a compromise delegation which was about evenly divided between Grant and Sherman. Bruce and Hill were among those that were elected.
The National Convention, which was held in Chicago in June of that year, was one of the most exciting and interesting in the history of the party. It was that convention that abolished what was known as "the unit rule." Up to that time the right of a State Convention to elect all the delegates to which the State was entitled,—district as well as State,—and to instruct them as a body had never before been questioned. New York, as well as other States, had instructed the delegates to cast the entire vote of the State for Grant. This was the unit rule. It is a rule which even now is enforced in National Conventions of the Democratic party. It was through the enforcement of this rule that Mr. Cleveland was renominated, when he was so bitterly opposed by a portion of the delegation from his own State,—especially the Tammany delegates,—that General Bragg was moved to make the celebrated declaration that he "loved Mr. Cleveland on account of the enemies he had made." Notwithstanding the fact that those delegates were strongly opposed to Mr. Cleveland, and though they protested against having their votes recorded for him, they were so recorded through the application and enforcement of the unit rule. It was the enforcement of this rule upon which Mr. Conkling insisted in the National Republican Convention of 1880. About twenty of the New York district delegates, under the leadership of Judge W.H. Robertson, refused to be governed by the instructions of the State Convention. Their contention was that the State Convention had no right to bind by instructions any delegates except the four from the State at large. After a lengthy and heated debate the convention finally sustained this contention, and since that time the unit rule has not been recognized in a National Republican Convention.
This action, no doubt, resulted in the defeat of General Grant for the nomination; for it was a well-known fact that his nomination was possible only through the enforcement of the unit rule. His friends and supporters, however, under the leadership of Senator Conkling, made a strong and desperate fight with the hope that the tide might ultimately turn in their favor, but with the intention, in any event, of preventing if possible the nomination of Mr. Blaine. General Grant's name was placed before the Convention by Senator Conkling in one of his most eloquent and masterly efforts.
"The man whose name I shall place in nomination," he said, "does not hail from any particular State; he hails from the United States. It is not necessary to nominate a man that can carry Michigan. Any Republican can carry Michigan. You should nominate a man that can carry New York. That man is U.S. Grant."
Mr. Blaine's name was placed in nomination by a delegate from Michigan by the name of Joy. His effort did not come up to public expectation. The eloquent speech of Senator Frye, of Maine, who seconded the nomination, made up in part for the public disappointment in Mr. Joy's effort. The name of Secretary John Sherman was placed before the Convention in one of General Garfield's most powerful and convincing efforts. It is safe to say that the speech delivered by General Garfield on that occasion made him the nominee of that convention. After drawing an eloquent and vivid picture of the kind of man that should be made President,—with the intention of naming John Sherman as the man thus described,—he asked in a tone of voice that was pitched in a high key:
"Who is that man?"
The response came from different parts of the hall, "Garfield."
And sure enough it was Garfield. After a number of fruitless ballots it became apparent that neither of the three leading candidates could possibly be nominated. Very few, if any, of the Grant men would at any time go to either Blaine or Sherman. Very few, if any, of the Sherman men would go to Blaine, while Blaine men could not in any considerable numbers, be induced to go either to Grant or Sherman. While a number of Sherman men would have supported Grant in preference to Blaine, there were not enough of them, even with the Grant men, to constitute a majority. When Garfield's name was suggested as a compromise candidate he was found to be acceptable to both the Blaine and the Sherman men as well as to some of the Grant men, who had abandoned all hope of Grant's nomination. The result was that Garfield was finally made the unanimous choice of the convention. The New York delegation, being allowed to name the man for Vice-President, nominated Chester A. Arthur, of that State.
Although General Garfield was nominated as a compromise candidate his election was by no means a foregone conclusion. The Democrats had nominated a strong and popular man, General W.S. Hancock, one of the most brilliant and successful generals in the Union Army. Associated on the ticket with him was a popular Indiana Democrat, William H. English. It looked for a while as if Democratic success were reasonably certain, especially after the September State and Congressional elections in the State of Maine, the result of which was virtually a Democratic victory.
What was known as the celebrated Mentor Conference then took place. Mentor was the home of General Garfield. The conference consisted of General Garfield, General Grant, and Senator Conkling. Who was instrumental in bringing that conference into existence perhaps will never be known, and what was actually said and done on that occasion will, no doubt, remain a mystery. But it resulted in bringing the Grant-Conkling wing of the party,—which up to that time had been lukewarm and indifferent,—into the active and aggressive support of the ticket. Senator Conkling immediately took the stump and made a brilliant and successful campaign, not only in New York but also in the other close and doubtful States. The result was that Garfield carried New York by a majority of about twenty thousand and was elected. Without New York he would have been defeated; for the South this time was unquestionably solid in its support of the Democratic ticket; at least, according to the forms of law. It was not necessary to resort to the questionable expedient of an electoral commission to determine the result of that election. It is safe to say that, but for the active support given the ticket in that campaign by General Grant and Senator Conkling, New York would have been lost to the party and Garfield would have been defeated. With the election of Garfield the National House of Representatives was also Republican. The majority was small, but it was large enough to enable the party to organize the House. The Garfield administration started out under very favorable auspices. How it ended will be told in another chapter.