The Republicans of my district insisted that I make the race for Congress again in 1884, and I decided to do so, although I knew it would be useless for me to do so with any hope of being elected, for I knew the prospect of success was not as favorable as two years previous.
Judge Van Eaton, the Democratic candidate for Congressman in 1882, was a representative of the better element, and would, therefore, rather be defeated than be declared elected through the enforcement and application of questionable methods. He publicly declared on several occasions that, as anxious as he was to be a member of Congress, he would rather be defeated than have a certificate of election tainted with fraud. In other words, if he could not be fairly and honestly elected he preferred to be defeated. He insisted upon a fair election and an honest count. This was not agreeable to many of his party associates. They believed and privately asserted that his open declarations on that point not only carried an implied reflection upon his party in connection with previous elections, but that he was taking an unnecessary risk in his own case. Chiefly for these reasons, the Judge, though a strong and able man, was denied the courtesy of a nomination for a second term. It had always been the custom to allow a member to serve at least two terms; but this honor was denied Judge Van Eaton, the nomination being given to Honorable T.R. Stockdale, of Pike county.
Stockdale was a different type of a man from Van Eaton. He was in perfect accord with the dominant sentiment of his party. He felt that he had been nominated to go to Congress,—"peaceably and fairly," if possible, but to go in any event. Then, again, that was the year of the Presidential election, and the Democrats were as confident of success that year as they had been in 1876 and in 1880.
For President and Vice-President the candidates were Blaine and Logan, Republicans, and Cleveland and Hendricks, Democrats.
Mr. Cleveland had the prestige of having been elected Governor of New York by a majority of about one hundred thousand. New York was believed to be the pivotal and the decisive State, and that its votes would determine the election for President. That the Republicans, even with such a popular man as Mr. Blaine as their candidate, would be able to overcome the immense majority by which Mr. Cleveland had carried the State for Governor was not believed by any Democrat to be possible. The Democrats did not take into account any of the local circumstances that contributed to such a remarkable result; but they were well known to Republicans in and out of that State. One of the principal contributory causes was a determination on the part of thousands of Republican voters in that State to resent at the polls National interference in local State affairs.
Judge Folger, President Arthur's Secretary of the Treasury, was the Republican candidate against Mr. Cleveland for the Governorship when the latter was elected by such an immense majority. It was a well-known fact that Judge Folger could not have been nominated but for the active and aggressive efforts of the National Administration, and of its agents and representatives. The fight for the Republican nomination for Governor that year was the beginning of the bitter fight between the Blaine and the Arthur forces in the State for the delegation in 1884. In the nomination of Judge Folger the Blaine men were defeated. To neutralize the prestige which the Arthur men had thus secured, thousands of the Blaine men, and some who were not Blaine men, but who were against the National Administration for other reasons, refused to vote for Judge Folger, and thus allowed the State to go Democratic by default. In 1884, when Mr. Blaine was the candidate of the Republicans for the Presidency, a sufficient number of anti-Blaine men in New York,—in a spirit of retaliation, no doubt,—pursued the same course and thus allowed the State again to go Democratic by default. The loss which Mr. Blaine sustained in the latter case, therefore, was much greater than that gained by him in the former.
But, let the causes, circumstances, and conditions be what they may, there was not a Democrat in Mississippi in 1884 who did not believe that Mr. Cleveland's election to the Presidency was a foregone conclusion. That he would have the support of the Solid South there was no doubt. Those States, they believed, were as certain to be returned Democratic as the sun would rise on the morning of the day of the election.
Although I accepted the nomination for Congress, I as chairman of the Republican State Committee, devoted the greater part of my time to the campaign throughout the State. Mr. Blaine had many warm friends and admirers among the white men and Democrats in the State, some of them being outspoken in their advocacy of his election. In making up the electoral ticket I made every effort possible to get some of those men to consent to the use of their names. One of them, Joseph N. Carpenter, of my own home town, Natchez, gave his consent to the use of his name. He was one of the solid business men of the town. He was not only a large property owner but the principal owner of a local steamboat that was engaged in the trade on the Mississippi River between Natchez and Vicksburg. He was also the principal proprietor of one of the cotton-seed-oil mills of the town. In fact his name was associated with nearly every important enterprise in that community. Socially no family stood higher than his in any part of the South. His accomplished wife was a Miss Mellen, whose brother, William F. Mellen, was one of the most brilliant members of the bar that the State had ever produced. She had another brother who acquired quite a distinction as a minister of the gospel.
When the announcement was made public that Joseph N. Carpenter was to be an elector on the Republican ticket, intense excitement was immediately created. The Democratic press of the State immediately turned their batteries upon him. Personal friends called upon him in large numbers and urged him to decline. But he had consented to serve, and he felt that it was his duty, and ought to be his privilege to do so. Besides, he was a sincere Blaine man. He honestly believed that the election of Mr. Blaine would be conducive to the best interests of the country, the South especially. To these appeals, therefore, he turned a deaf ear. But it was not long before he was obliged to yield to the pressure. The fact was soon made plain to him that, if he allowed his name to remain on that ticket, the probabilities were that he would be financially ruined. He would soon find that his boat would be without either passengers or freight; his oil mill would probably be obliged to close because there would be no owners of the raw material of whom he could make purchases at any price, and even his children at school would, no doubt, be subjected to taunts and insults, to say nothing of the social cuts to which his family might be subjected. He was, therefore, brought to a painful realization of the fact that he was confronted with conditions which he had not fully anticipated. He could then see, as he had never seen before, that he had been brought face to face with a condition and not a theory. He was thus obliged to make his choice between accepting those conditions upon the one hand, and on the other the empty and temporary honor of serving as an elector on the Blaine Republican ticket. His convictions, his manhood and his self-respect were on one side; his material interests and family obligations were on the other. His mental condition during that period can better be imagined than described. After giving thoughtful consideration and sleepless nights to the matter, he at length decided to yield to the pressure and decline the use of his name. He informed me of his decision through the medium of a private letter which he said he had written with great reluctance and sincere regret. The committee thereupon named Dr. Jackson, of Amite County, an old line Republican, to fill the vacancy.
It will thus be seen that in pursuing a course that Mr. Blaine thought would place southern Democrats under obligations to him he placed a weapon in the hands of his own personal and political enemies by which they were enabled to crush and silence his friends and supporters; for after all it is not so much the love of fair play, as it is the fear of punishment, that actuates the average man in obeying the laws and respecting the rights and privileges of others. Mr. Blaine's friends and supporters at the South were the very people who stood most in need of that security and protection which can come only through a thorough and impartial enforcement of laws for the protection of citizens in the exercise and enjoyment of their civil and political rights, as well as the enforcement of laws for the protection of life, liberty and property.
Judge H.F. Simrall, one of the most brilliant lawyers in the State,—who came into the Republican party under the leadership of General Alcorn in 1869, and who had served as a Justice of the Supreme Court of the State,—made an effort to canvass the State for Mr. Blaine, but his former associates, with whom he tried to reason, treated him with such scanty courtesy that he soon became discouraged and abandoned the effort.
There were two factions in the Democratic party, Mr. Lamar being the recognized head of one of them. His political enemies suspected and some of them accused him of being partial to Mr. Blaine. To save himself and his friends from humiliation and defeat in his own party it was necessary for him to dispel that suspicion, and disprove those accusations. With that end in view he made a thorough canvass of the State in the interest of Mr. Cleveland and the Democratic party. The State was returned for Mr. Cleveland by a large majority, for which Mr. Lamar was in a great measure credited. Mr. Blaine finally saw his mistake, which he virtually admitted in the speech delivered by him at his home immediately after the election; but it was then too late to undo the mischief that had been done. It was like locking the stable door after the horse had been stolen. That Mr. Blaine died without having attained the goal of his ambition was due chiefly to his lack of foresight, poor judgment, political blunders, and a lack of that sagacity and acumen which are so essential in a successful party leader.