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Hancock led through the 21st ballot, as Hendricks neared within four votes. Chase’s name was put into nomination on the 17th ballot, and Pendleton’s name was withdrawn on the 18th. The Ohio delegation could have added to Hancock’s momentum against Pendleton’s rival, Hendricks, but they cast their lot instead with another Pennsylvanian, Asa Parker. On the 22nd ballot, General George McCook of Ohio rose to nominate Horatio Seymour, causing spontaneous cheering and demonstrations of approval. While Seymour had not been an active candidate and genuinely seemed not to want the nomination, he was widely respected within the party and had the fewest enemies of any of the current contenders. He expressed to the convention his thanks, declined the offer, then stepped down from the podium to confer with the New York delegation. The convention ignored his plea and made his nomination unanimous. The nomination of a vice-presidential candidate proceeded without Seymour present, and the delegates unanimously selected Frank Blair Jr. of Missouri.

The Republican Campaign
It was traditional that presidential nominees did not campaign openly, but Grant’s particular reticence, epitomized by his sparingly-worded acceptance letter, roused considerable press commentary and caused some to label him "the American Sphinx." Grant did take one railroad trip westward to Denver, with Generals William T. Sherman and Philip Sheridan, which bordered on being a campaign tour. But there, too, he was seen but not heard, waving to enthusiastic crowds at various train-stops but refusing to deliver speeches. For the most part, Grant stayed at his home in Galena, Illinois, where he received groups of well-wishers. The actual campaigning was left to thousands of Republican speakers and organizers across the country. They gave stump speeches, circulated campaign pamphlets and political broadsides, rallied the voters with barbecues and torchlight parades, and organized into pro-Grant clubs like the Tanners (Grant had worked as a tanner) and the Boys in Blue (Union veterans).

The Republicans entered the campaign promoting themselves as the party that saved the union, freed the slaves, and was reforming the South. They argued that, with the Senate almost assured of staying in Republican hands, the election of a Democratic president would produce a stalemated federal government and continue executive hostility toward Reconstruction. Republicans also "waved the bloody shirt," that is, reminded voters constantly that the Democratic party had backed slavery and secession and opposed the Union war effort. Republican newspapers allocated ample coverage to anti-black and anti-Republican violence in the South.

Seymour was personally smeared with the "bloody shirt" when Republicans recalled that while governor in 1863 he had addressed the perpetrators of the New York City draft riot as "My friends." Harper’s Weekly cartoonist Thomas Nast would relentlessly harass Seymour for his role during the Draft Riots. Others labeled his association with the Peace Democrats as the equivalence of treason. Republican party spokesmen carried accusations against their Democratic rival to a personal level by alleging that his family was prone to insanity (Seymour’s father had committed suicide) and that the candidate himself was in frail health.

The last point was important because the man who would be a heartbeat away from the presidency, Democratic vice-presidential nominee Frank Blair Jr., was a loose cannon who unintentionally proved to be one of the best weapons in the Republican arsenal. (As it turned out, Seymour outlived his running-mate by 11 years.) Blair came from a prominent political family, had founded the Free-Soil party in Missouri, served in the Union military, and lost his wealth financing the Union cause. After the war, however, he became a vocal critic of Radical Reconstruction. During the 1868 campaign, Blair advocated nullification of the Reconstruction Acts and predicted that a Grant presidency would degenerate into a military dictatorship. His harsh words and abrasive personality tended to alienate potential supporters.

Republicans had a field day with Blair, labeling his temperament volatile and his views extreme and dangerous. They went so far as to claim that he wanted another civil war, distilling his message as "Let us have war!" and contrasting it to Grant’s "Let us have peace!" The New York Tribune identified Blair as a "revolutionist," while the New York Evening Post warned that his election would initiate "government by assassination." Partly to counter charges of Grant’s drinking problem, Republicans branded Blair as a drunkard, producing what they claimed was one of his hotel bills of $10 for board and $65 for whiskey and lemons.

The Democratic Campaign
The Democratic party struck back by contending that the Republicans were advocating racial equality or even black superiority, not only in the South, but for the entire country. Democrats pictured the South as a beleaguered area suffering not only from the destruction of war and but also from Republican-imposed military rule. They presented their party as the only truly national party and as the only one that could bring about sectional reconciliation. Like the Republicans, Democrats engaged in the American political tradition of character assassination, attacking Grant as a besotted, uncouth, simple-minded, unprincipled, Negro-loving tyrant. As Republicans marched in their parades, Democrats taunted them with signs reading "Grant the Butcher," "Grant the Drunkard," and "Grant the Speculator." A campaign ditty included the lines: "I am Captain Grant of the Black Marines/ The stupidest man that ever was seen." Grant’s running-mate, Schuyler Colfax, was depicted as unprincipled, mean-spirited, and anti-Catholic (like many, he was briefly a Know-Nothing in the mid-1850s as he moved from the Whig to the Republican party).

Results of the state elections in the early fall were an ominous sign for the prospects of the national Democratic ticket in early November. Between September 1 and October 22 Republicans triumphed in eight of nine state elections, including the major states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. Panic spread throughout Democratic ranks, prompting a movement to dump Seymour and Blair and replace the presidential nominee with Chase or Hendricks. Seymour was apparently willing to step down, but members of the Democratic Executive Committee—Belmont, Tilden, and August Schell—refused to allow it. They blamed Democratic losses on Republican vote fraud and convinced Seymour, who had a reputation as a talented orator, to go on a campaign speaking tour.

In the 19th century it was considered taboo for presidential candidates to trek across the country canvassing for votes, and the few who had attempted it had been assailed for soiling the dignity of the office. The Democrats in 1868, however, were desperate, so Seymour took to the stump. On October 21 he began in Syracuse, followed by campaign stops in Buffalo, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, Indianapolis, and Chicago. Although Democratic papers tended to praise his efforts, some reporters noted that his delivery of the nearly identical speeches became more lackluster with each iteration. Whatever the case may be, he was not able to undo the damage done by Blair’s remarks or to diminish Grant’s popularity.

When the votes from the November 3 election were tabulated, Grant scored a comfortable victory in the popular vote, 53% to Seymour’s 47%, while winning by a landslide in the electoral college, 214 to 80. 78% of the electorate participated, including for the first time in American history an estimated 500,000 black men. Seymour won a majority of the Southern popular vote, but only Georgia and Louisiana in that region’s electoral vote. He showed strength in the border states and the Mid-Atlantic, winning the electoral votes of Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York, and in the Pacific West, winning Oregon and losing California by only 500 votes. The surprisingly substantial totals for the ambivalent Seymour and the vitriolic Blair were enough to dispel the contention that Grant had been unstoppable.

Republicans charged Democrats with committing fraud and intimidation, particularly in New York City under "Boss" Tweed and across the South where the Ku Klux Klan and other terrorist groups were active. Numerous reports of violence against black and white Republicans in the South were reported in the press during the late summer and fall. However, the election did not turn into the bloodbaththat some had feared.

In February 1869 the outgoing Republican Congress, reassured by an apparent election mandate, passed the 15th Amendment which guaranteed that the right to vote could not be abridged on account of race or color. The requisite number of states ratified the amendment by March 1870 and it became part of the U.S. Constitution. Also by the early months of 1870 the governments of all the former Confederate states had been reconstructed and allowed to regain Congressional representation. Even though Congress passed the Enforcement Acts and the Ku Klux Klan Act, the opinion of Northern white politicians, journalists, and the general public became increasingly less concerned with the plight of black Americans. Within a few years the Reconstruction experiment would end.

Sources consulted: Paul F. Boller Jr., Presidential Campaigns; William A. DeGregario, The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents; John Hope Franklin, "Election of 1868," in Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., ed., History of American Presidential Elections, vol. III, pp. 1247-1256; Stewart Mitchell, Horatio Seymour of New York; and, Brooks D. Simpson, Let Us Have Peace: Ulysses S. Grant and the Politics of War and Reconstruction, 1861-1868.

 
 
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