Having recovered from
their disarray following the Civil War, Democratic presidential
nominees in 1876 and 1880 nearly won the presidency. In 1882,
Democrats recaptured a majority in the House of Representatives
and cut the Republican margin in the Senate to four. Democrats
also scored well in state elections, winning the governorship in
key states like New York and Massachusetts, as well as in
Republican strongholds like Kansas and Michigan. Outside of the
South, where the Democrats dominated after the collapse of
Reconstruction, the two major parties were competitive across
the country. Although a party whose leaders represented a wide
disparity of views on major issues, most Democrats were
determined to remain united in 1884. The Republicans, on the
other hand, were divided into often-warring factions, blamed for
an economic recession in Northeastern cities, and hampered with
a president (Chester Arthur) whom most considered, at best, a
caretaker. (Arthur succeeded to the presidency in September 1881
after President James Garfield died from wounds caused by an
Stalwart, Half-Breed, and Reform
The Republican party in 1884 was divided into several factions.
The Stalwart faction was originally so-named because they
were firm (“stalwart”) in their opposition to the Southern
policy of Republican President Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881),
the final end of Reconstruction.
During the Hayes administration, prominent Stalwarts
included Senators James Blaine of Maine and Roscoe Conkling of
New York, both of whom lost the Republican nomination to Hayes
in 1876, and John Logan of Illinois, among others.
The Stalwarts also became known for their opposition to
civil service reform and other reform efforts of the liberal
wing of the party.
In 1880, many of the Stalwarts, led by Senators Conkling, Logan,
and Donald Cameron of Pennsylvania, supported former president
Ulysses S. Grant’s unsuccessful bid for a (non-consecutive)
Enthusiasm for Grant was widespread in the South, where
Republicans needed patronage to retain a political foothold in
the post-Reconstruction world of the Democratic “Solid South.”
Senator Blaine, however, was Grant’s leading rival for
the nomination until both lost to a compromise candidate,
Representative James Garfield of Ohio.
Blaine came to represent the dominant moderate wing of
the Republican party, called “Half-Breeds” by their opponents.
They endorsed the protective tariff and a “hard money”
The Reformers (or Liberals or Independents) were the other major
faction of the Republican party.
They supported civil service
reform, numerous other political and social reforms, and
often opposed the expansionist foreign policy of Grant and
Blaine, as well as the protectionist tariff which Blaine
Leading voices for the Reformers included
Harper’s Weekly editor George William Curtis, former
interior secretary Carl Schurz, and up-and-coming politician
By 1884, President Chester Arthur (1881-1885) led the
administration Stalwart faction and was seeking reelection,
although a remnant group of Stalwarts backed Logan for the
Blaine, appointed secretary of state by Garfield,
resigned a few months after the president’s assassination in
1881. He then worked secretly to undermine Arthur’s