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Democratic Campaign
In July, Grover Cleveland broke campaign precedent by delivering an acceptance speech before 20,000 supporters at New York City’s Madison Square Garden in lieu of the customary notification meeting with a few party officials at the candidate’s home.  Otherwise, he rejected electioneering publicly for the White House.  He did, however, work actively behind the scenes, writing letters to newspaper editors and Democratic leaders, as well as monitoring closely the efforts of his campaign manager, William C. Whitney.  Nationally, the Democrats spent nearly $2,350,000 (or $46,300,000 in 2002 dollars), which was about $800,000 (or $15,700,000 in 2002 dollars) more than Republican expenditures.  Cleveland’s formal letter of acceptance, which was published unusually late (September 26), emphasized the need for tariff reform and opposed free silver.  Although Cleveland considered high protective tariffs to be bad economic policy, he disagreed with the Democratic platform plank that defined any tariff that went beyond raising revenue to be unconstitutional. 

The main stump speaker for the Democrats was the vice presidential nominee, Adlai Stevenson.  To preempt a Republican plan to make an issue of his soft-money views, he agreed to sign a statement backing Cleveland’s hard-money position.  On a campaign swing through the Upper South and Border States, Stevenson hammered away at the Republican “Force Bill,” declaring that its defeat was “more important than a hundred tariff bills.”  Nevertheless, Democrats across the country made the steep McKinley Tariff a major issue in 1892, as they had done successfully in the 1890 congressional elections.  They pointed to the Homestead Strike as evidence that high tariffs did not guarantee good wages for laborers in protected American industries. 

At Cleveland’s urging, a campaign headquarters for the “West” was opened in Chicago, but the New York political situation remained a problem for the nominee.  Specifically, the loyalty of Tammany Hall and Senator David Hill were in question.  Whitney finally convinced the very reluctant candidate to meet with his home-state enemies on September 8.  Cleveland refused to promise patronage or other political benefits, and at one point threatened to withdraw from the race, but Whitney eventually managed to wrest pledges of active support from the Hill and Tammany machines.  Senator Hill had refused to attend, but did briefly speak on behalf of the national party without mentioning Cleveland by name.

The Election Results
On Election Day, November 8, Cleveland won the popular vote over Harrison and Weaver by the largest margin in 16 years, 46%-43%-9% (5.6 to 5.2 to 1 million).  It was the third consecutive time that he had achieved a popular majority in a presidential election; a feat equaled only by Andrew Jackson and Franklin Roosevelt (who surpassed it with four).  Cleveland’s victory in the Electoral College came with 277 votes to Harrison’s 145 and Weaver’s 22.  The Populist became the only third-party nominee to win electoral votes between 1860 and 1912 by capturing the states of Nevada, Idaho, Colorado, Kansas, and winning one electoral vote in both North Dakota and Oregon.  Yet, the Populist Party lost six House seats and failed to break the Democratic hold on the South.  Cleveland carried the four key swing states of Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Indiana, and became the first Democrat to win Illinois and Wisconsin since before the Civil War.  Democrats gained a slight majority in the Senate, but saw their hold on the House reduced by 40 seats.  Nevertheless, it was the first time since 1858 that Democrats controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress.

Sources consulted:  William A. DeGregario, The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents (New York:  Random House, 1993); Rebecca Edwards and Sarah DeFeo, “The Populist Party,” 1896:  The Presidential Campaign:  Cartoons & Commentary, a Vassar College Website, iberia.vassar.edu/1896/populists.html; Henry F. Graff, Grover Cleveland (New York:  Time Books, Henry Holt & Co., 2002); Hicks, John D., The Populist Revolt (Westport, CT:  Greenwood Press, 1931); H. Paul Jeffers, An Honest President:  The Life and Presidencies of Grover Cleveland (New York:  William Morrow, 2000); H. Wayne Morgan, “Election of 1892,” in History of American Presidential Elections, ed. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., New York:  Chelsea House Publishers, 1985; “Populist Party,” The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth edition, 2001, www.bartleby.com/65/po/Populist.html; Homer E. Socolofsky and Allan B. Spetter, The Presidency of Benjamin Harrison, Lawrence, KS:  University Press of Kansas, 1987; and, Richard E. Welch, Jr., The Presidencies of Grover Cleveland, Lawrence, KS:  University Press of Kansas, 1988.

 
 
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