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1881 Assassination of President Garfield:
On July 2, while walking with Secretary of State James Blaine in the waiting room of the Baltimore & Potomac Railroad in Washington, D. C., President James Garfield was shot by Charles Guiteau, a disgruntled office-seeker. After lingering for months, Garfield died on September 19 in New Jersey. On September 22, 1881, Vice President Chester Arthur of New York was sworn in as president. The lawyer of Garfield’s assassin pleaded his client not guilty by reason of insanity. However, a jury found Guiteau guilty, and he was hanged on June 30, 1882.

1882 Chinese Exclusion Act:
On May 6, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred Chinese immigration to the United States for 10 years and prohibited Chinese residents in the United States from acquiring American citizenship. President Chester Arthur had vetoed the original bill, which had stipulated exclusion for 20 years and established an internal passport system. He signed the new bill, which omitted the passport clause and reduced the law’s life span by half. Future laws, however, extended the duration of the act. For more information, visit HarpWeek’s site on “The Chinese-American Experience.

1883 Civil Service Reform Act:
January 16, 1883, Congress enacted civil service reform through the Pendleton Act, named after its Senate sponsor, Democrat George Pendleton of Ohio. The law imposed on the federal bureaucracy a system of merit examinations for hiring. It prohibited compulsory contributions (“assessments”) from and obligatory partisan participation by federal workers. The law created a bipartisan civil service commission to oversee its enforcement. The Pendleton Act initially covered only a small segment of the federal-government workforce, but was expanded over the decades by executive orders.

Mongrel Tariff:
In 1882, President Arthur had established a commission to study the tariff issue. Its report advised sharp reductions in the tariff rates. Protectionists and tariff reformers both lobbied Congress intensely. The final bill, enacted on March 2, 1883, was a compromise measure that reduced the overall tariff rate by a mere 1 percent. Satisfying neither side of the issue, the law was called the “Mongrel” tariff.

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1884 Chinese Exclusion Act Amended:
Congress adopted amendments to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act (see above), which made it more difficult for Chinese residents in the United States to obtain certification to leave and return to America. The amendments also defined the Exclusion Act as applying to all Chinese, regardless of their country of origin. (For more information, visit HarpWeek’s site on “The Chinese-American Experience.”)

Republican National Convention:
On June 3-5, the Republican National Convention met in Chicago. James G. Blaine, a former secretary of state, senator, and congressman from Maine, won the presidential nomination on the fourth ballot over President Chester Arthur, Senator George Edmunds of Vermont, and others. After Robert Lincoln refused to allow his name to be placed in nomination for vice president, the convention selected Senator John Logan of Illinois with only seven dissenting votes. Angered by Blaine’s nomination, a group of prominent Republicans bolted the party and endorsed the presidential candidacy of Democrat Grover Cleveland, the reform governor of New York. Called “Mugmumps” by their critics, the bolting Republicans objected to what they considered Blaine’s record of corruption, insincere commitment to civil service reform, and reckless foreign policy.

Democratic National Convention:
On July 8-10, the Democratic National Convention met in Chicago. Governor Grover Cleveland of New York was nominated president on the second ballot, defeating Senator Thomas Bayard of Delaware, former senator Allen Thurman of Ohio, and Congressman Samuel J. Randall of Pennsylvania. Senator Thomas Hendricks of Indiana, the vice-presidential nominee of 1876, was again selected as the vice-presidential nominee in 1884.

Minor Party Conventions:
The coalition Greenback-Labor Party nominated former governor Benjamin Butler of Massachusetts for president and A. M. West for vice president. The National Prohibition Party nominated former governor John St. John of Kansas for president and William Daniel for vice president.

Election Results:
On November 4, 1884, Grover Cleveland became the first Democrat elected president since before the Civil War. His victory was narrow in both the Electoral College—219 to Republican James Blaine’s 182—and the popular vote, 48.5% to Blaine’s 48.26%. Greenback-Labor nominee Benjamin Butler won 1.8% of the vote, while Prohibitionist nominee John St. John received 1.5%. St. John’s vote total in New York State (drawn mainly from Republicans) was particularly harmful to Blaine. In Congress, Democrats retained control of the House and Republicans of the Senate.
 

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