When the Forty-seventh Congress expired March 4th, 1883, I returned to my home at Natchez, Mississippi. 1884 was the year of the Presidential election. Early in the year it was made clear that there was to be a bitter fight for the Presidential nomination.
President Arthur was a candidate to succeed himself; but Mr. Blaine, it was conceded, would be the leading candidate before the Convention. Senator John Sherman was also a candidate. It was generally believed that Senator Edmunds of Vermont would get a majority of the delegates from the New England States. Mr. Blaine was weaker in his own section, New England, than in any other part of the country except the South. The South, however, had somewhat relented in its opposition to him, as previously stated, in consequence of which he had a stronger support from that section than in any of his previous contests for the nomination; to this fact may be attributed his nomination by the Convention. That support, it was believed, was due more to a deference to public opinion at the North,—the section that must be depended upon to elect the ticket,—than confidence in Mr. Blaine.
The delegation from my own State, Mississippi, was, with one exception, solid in its support of President Arthur. The one exception was Hon. H.C. Powers, one of the delegates from the first district.
Two active, aggressive, able and brilliant young men had just entered the field of national politics, both of them having been elected delegates to this convention. Those men were Theodore Roosevelt, of New York, and H.C. Lodge, of Massachusetts. Both were vigorously opposed to the nomination of Mr. Blaine. Roosevelt's election as a delegate from New York was in the nature of a national surprise. Mr. Blaine was believed to be very strong in that State. The public, therefore, was not prepared for the announcement that Theodore Roosevelt,—an anti-Blaine man,—had defeated Senator Warner Miller,—the able and popular leader of the Blaine forces in that State,—as delegate to the National Convention from the State at large. The Blaine leaders were brought to a realization of the fact, that, in consequence of their unexpected defeat in New York, it was absolutely necessary, in order to make sure of the nomination of their candidate, to retain the support they had among the Southern delegates.
With that end in view the National Committee, in which the Blaine men had a majority, selected a Southern man, Hon. Powell Clayton, of Arkansas, for temporary chairman of the Convention. The anti-Blaine men,—under the leadership of Messrs. Roosevelt, Lodge, Hoar, Hanna, Geo. William Curtis and others,—decided to select another Southern man to run against Clayton. For that purpose a conference was held;—composed of many of the active supporters of Arthur, Sherman, and Edmunds,—to select the man to put up against Clayton.
I did not attend the conference. Senator Hoar suggested my name and insisted that I was the man best fitted for the position. After a brief discussion it was decided unanimously to select me. A committee was appointed, of which ex-Governor Pinchback, of Louisiana, was chairman, to wait on me and inform me of what had been done, and to insist upon my acceptance of the distinguished honor which had thus been conferred upon me. Another committee was appointed,—of which Hon. M.A. Hanna, of Ohio, was chairman, to poll the Convention to find out the strength of the movement. This committee subsequently reported that Clayton would be defeated and Lynch elected by a majority of about thirty-five votes. For two reasons I had some doubt about the propriety of allowing my name to be thus used. First, I doubted the wisdom of the movement. It had been the uniform custom to allow the National Committee to select the temporary chairman of the Convention, and I was inclined to the opinion that a departure from that custom might not be a wise step. Second, I did not think it could possibly win. My opinion was that a number of delegates that might otherwise vote for me could not be induced to vote in favor of breaking what had been a custom since the organization of the party.
I did not come to a definite decision until the morning of the day that the Convention was to be organized. Just before that body was called to order I decided to confer with Maj. William McKinley and Hon. M.A. Hanna, of Ohio, and act upon their advice. McKinley was for Blaine and Hanna was for Sherman, but my confidence in the two men was such that I believed their advice would not be influenced by their personal preference for the Presidential nomination. I did not know at that time that Mr. Hanna had taken an active part in the deliberations of the conference that resulted in my selection for temporary chairman of the Convention. I first consulted Major McKinley. I had served with him in Congress and had become very much attached to him. He frankly stated that, since he was a Blaine man, he would be obliged to vote against me, but he told me that this was an opportunity that comes to a man but once in a lifetime.
"If you decline," he said, "the anti-Blaine men will probably put up someone else who would, no doubt, receive the same vote that you would receive. If it is possible for them to elect anyone, I know of no man I would rather have them thus honor than you. While, therefore, I shall vote against you and hope you will not be elected,—simply because I am a Blaine man, and a vote for you means a vote against Blaine,—I shall not advise you to decline the use of your name."
I then approached Mr. Hanna, who appeared to be surprised that I hesitated about consenting to the use of my name.
"We have you elected," he said, "by a majority of about thirty-five. You cannot decline the use of your name, for two reasons; first, since we know we have the votes necessary to elect you, should you now decline the public would never believe otherwise than that you had been improperly influenced. This you cannot afford. In the second place, it would not be treating us fairly. We have selected you in perfect good faith, with the expectation that you would allow your name to be thus used; or, if not, you would have declined in ample time to enable us to reconvene, and select someone else. To decline now, on the eve of the election, when it is impossible for us to confer and agree upon another man for the position, would be manifestly unfair to us as well as to your own candidate for the Presidential nomination, whose chances may be injuriously affected thereby."
This argument was both impressive and effective. I then and there decided to allow my name to be used. I learned afterwards that it was under the direction and management of Mr. Hanna that the Convention had been so carefully and accurately polled. That his poll was entirely correct was demonstrated by the result. This also established the fact that as an organizer Mr. Hanna was a master, which was subsequently proved when he managed Mr. McKinley's campaign both for the nomination and election to the Presidency in 1896.
When the Convention was called to order, and the announcement was made that the National Committee had selected Hon. Powell Clayton, of Arkansas, for temporary chairman of the Convention, an attractive young man in the Massachusetts delegation was recognized by the chair. He gave his name, as H.C. Lodge. He said he rose to place the name of another gentleman in nomination; and, after making a neat and appropriate speech in commendation of his candidate,—a speech that created a very favorable impression,—he named ex-Congressman John R. Lynch, of Mississippi, whom he believed to be a suitable man for the position. The ball was then opened. This was an indication of a combination of the field against Blaine. Many speeches were made on both sides, but they were temperate in tone, and free from bitterness. Among those that spoke in support of my candidacy were Messrs. Theodore Roosevelt, and Geo. William Curtis, of New York. When the debate was over the chairman directed that the States be called in alphabetical order,—the roll of delegates from each State to be called, so as to allow each individual delegate to cast his own vote. When Mississippi was reached, I joined with H.C. Powers, the Blaine member of the delegation, in voting for Clayton. The result was just about what Mr. Hanna said it would be.
The Blaine men were discouraged and the anti-Blaine men were jubilant. It was claimed by the latter, and apprehended by the former, that it was indicative of Mr. Blaine's defeat for the nomination. It certainly looked that way, but the result of the election for the temporary chairmanship proved to be misleading. Mr. Hanna's poll was not to find out how many delegates would vote for the nomination of Mr. Blaine, but how many would vote for Lynch for temporary chairman. On that point his poll was substantially accurate. It was assumed that every Blaine man would vote for Mr. Clayton. This is where the mistake was made. It turned out that there were some Blaine men, especially from the South, that voted for Lynch. The result, therefore, was not, as it was hoped it would be, an accurate test of the strength of the Blaine and anti-Blaine forces in the Convention.
Since my election had not been anticipated,—at least, by me,—my speech of acceptance was necessarily brief. I presided over the deliberations of the Convention the greater part of two days, when Hon. John B. Henderson, of Missouri, was introduced as the permanent chairman. This is the same Henderson, who, as a Republican United States Senator from Missouri, voted against the conviction of President Andrew Johnson, who had been impeached by the House of Representatives for high crimes and misdemeanors in office. The Democratic Senators needed but seven votes from the Republican side of the chamber to prevent conviction. They succeeded in getting the exact number, Senator Henderson being one. He appears to have been the only one of that number that politically survived that act. All others soon passed into political oblivion; although several of them subsequently identified themselves with the Democratic party. While it may be said that Senator Henderson survived the act, it is true that his election as a delegate to the National Republican Convention of 1884 and his selection as the permanent chairman thereof are the only prominent illustrations of that fact.
During the deliberations of the Convention Mr. Bishop, one of the delegates from Massachusetts, introduced a resolution to change the basis of representation in future National Conventions of the party. His plan was to make the number of Republican votes cast, counted, certified and returned at the last preceding National election, the basis of representation in succeeding National Conventions.
Hon. W.O. Bradley, of Kentucky, led off in a very able, eloquent, and convincing speech in opposition to the resolution. The colored delegates from the South selected me to present their side of the question. For that purpose I was recognized by the chair, and spoke against the resolution. In the first place I called attention to the fact that if elections were fair, and the official count honest in every State, the probabilities were that there would be no occasion for the proposed change. That the change proposed would result in a material reduction in the representation in future conventions chiefly from Southern States was because the greater part of the Republican votes in some of said States were suppressed by violence or nullified by fraud. The effect of the change proposed would be simply to make such questionable methods the basis of representation in future Republican National Conventions. This, I claimed, the Republican party could not afford to do. At the conclusion of my remarks the resolution was withdrawn by its author, Mr. Bishop, who came over to my seat, and congratulated me upon the way in which I had presented the case; stating at the same time that my speech had convinced him that his proposition was a mistake.
After a hotly contested fight Mr. Blaine was finally nominated. Senator John A. Logan, of Illinois, was named as the candidate for Vice-President. It looked as if the time had at last come when the brilliant statesman from Maine would have the acme of his ambition completely realized.
I was honored by the delegation from my State with being made a member of the National Committee, and also a member of the committee that was named to wait on Mr. Blaine and notify him officially of his nomination. The notification committee went all the way to Mr. Blaine's home, Augusta, Maine, to discharge that duty.
The ceremony of notification took place in Mr. Blaine's front yard. The weather was fine. The notification speech was delivered by the chairman, Senator Henderson, to which Mr. Blaine briefly responded, promising to make a more lengthy reply in the form of a letter of acceptance. At the conclusion of the ceremony he called me to one side and asked what was the outlook in Mississippi. I informed him that he could easily carry the State by a substantial majority if we could have a fair election and an honest count; but that under the existing order of things this would not be possible, and that the State would be returned against him.
"Oh, no," he replied, "you are mistaken about that. Mr. Lamar will see that I get a fair count in Mississippi."
I confess that this remark surprised me very much.
"Mr. Blame," I replied, "you may understand the political situation in Mississippi better than I do, but I know whereof I speak when I say that Mr. Lamar would not if he could and could not if he would, secure you a fair count in Mississippi. The State will be returned against you."
"You will find," he said, "that you are mistaken. Mr. Lamar will see that I get a fair count in Mississippi."
Mr. Lamar not only made an aggressive campaign against Mr. Blaine, but it was chiefly through his influence and efforts that the State was returned against Mr. Blaine by a very large majority. And yet no one who knew Mr. Lamar could justly accuse him of being an ingrate. He was essentially an appreciative man; as he never failed to demonstrate whenever and wherever it was possible for him to do so. No one knew better than did Mr. Lamar that he was under deep and lasting obligations to Mr. Blaine; but it seems that with all his wisdom and political sagacity and foresight Mr. Blaine was unable to distinguish between a personal and a political obligation. Mr. Lamar felt that what Mr. Blaine had done for him was personal, not political, and that if his,—Lamar's,—party was in any respect the beneficiary thereof, it was merely incidental. At any rate, it was utterly impossible for him to serve Mr. Blaine in a political way. Had he made the effort to do so he not only would have subjected himself to the accusation of party treachery, but it would have resulted in his own political downfall. To expect any ambitious man to make such a sacrifice as this was contrary to human nature.
The truth was that Mr. Blaine had been chiefly instrumental in bringing about a condition of affairs at the South which made it impossible for any of his Democratic or Republican friends in that section to be of any material service to him at the time he most needed them. And yet, he could not see this until it was too late. In spite of this he would have been elected, but for the fact that he lost the pivotal State of New York by a small plurality, about eleven hundred and forty-seven, the reasons for which have been given in a previous chapter. It is therefore sad, but true, that by his own act this able and brilliant statesman, like Henry Clay, died without having reached the acme of his ambition,—the Presidency of the United States.