Just as he had controlled the vice-presidential selection, Garfield worked
tirelessly behind the scenes to organize and direct every aspect of his
campaign, down to scribbling personal notes to county chairmen across the
nation. As tradition warranted, he did not go on a campaign speaking tour (see "Presidential
Campaigning" in Campaigning), but instead conducted a "front-porch"
campaign in which groups of supporters-Union veterans, businessmen, women
suffragists, children, politicians, and others-visited him at his farm outside
Mentor, Ohio. He avoided discussing issues with these crowds of partisan
well-wishers, and ordered Republican campaign workers to do the same.
Republicans used a campaign book that included patriotic speeches and sayings by
Garfield and other prominent Republicans, campaign songs, and reminders of the
country's peace and prosperity under Republican leadership. Neglecting
substantive issues, a major theme of the book and of the entire campaign was
"waving the bloody shirt" by associating the Democratic party with secession and
the Confederate cause. That strategy changed in September after the state
election in Maine produced a Democratic-Fusion governor. Senator Blaine of Maine
convinced Garfield to have Republicans emphasize the protective tariff against
the allegedly free-trade Democrats (in reality, both parties were split on the
Republicans also attacked Hancock's lack of political experience (he had never
held elective office) and his supposed lack of understanding of the issues. A
satiric Republican pamphlet called "A Record of the Statesmanship and Political
Achievements of General Winfield Scott Hancock" contained blank pages. When the
Democratic nominee told the Paterson, New Jersey, Daily Guardian (published
October 8) that "the tariff question is a local question," he was skewered by
Republicans and the press for his ignorance. In fact, he meant that the divisive
issue should be decided by the voters through their elected representatives in
Congress, a position taken by several politicians, including, as Democratic
leaders eagerly pointed out, Congressman Garfield. Perception trumped reality,
though, and Hancock's explanation only made matters worse.
While most Republicans did not directly attack Hancock's character, partisan
rumors did circulate that Hancock had plotted to overthrow President Abraham
Lincoln during the Civil War and had engaged in corrupt business practices while
stationed in Louisiana during Reconstruction.
While the Republican campaign was primarily a 19th-century version of "Where's
the beef?" *,
the Democratic campaign centered around the tried-and-true strategy of
mudslinging. Democrats revived charges of Garfield involvement in the Credit
Mobilier scandal. They accused him of being a heartless thief: stealing from a
Southern widow, not paying bills from common laborers, and refusing spare change
to a homeless veteran. The most damaging slander was a forged letter in which
the Republican nominee supposedly endorsed the Burlingame Treaty of 1868 and
unlimited Chinese immigration. The letter also insinuated that labor was like
any other product, therefore employers should buy it as cheaply as possible. It
was published in Tammany Hall's newspaper, The Truth, a few weeks before
the election and hit the West Coast, where Chinese immigration (see "Nativism"
in Issues) was stridently opposed, like an earthquake. The fake letter
probably cost the Republicans a senate seat in California and may have
undermined support for Garfield in the Far West. He lost California and Nevada
by slim margins and narrowly won Oregon.
* This commercial tag-line
indicating the lack of substance in one's competitor was used by former Vice
President Walter Mondale against his primary opponent Senator Gary Hart during a
1984 Democratic debate.