The Democratic Campaign
Managing the Cleveland campaign were William Barnum, the Democratic national chairman, and Calvin Brice, a railroad promoter.  Brice papered important states like New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut with tariff reform and pro-Cleveland literature, but by September most of the funds had dried up as complaints mounted about the campaign’s lethargy.  The president did little to advance the effort besides his letter of acceptance (in September) and a few publicized letters on policy.  Except for the American Free Trade League, Democrats lacked assistance from organizations of the type on which Republicans heavily relied (mainly related to the tariff issue).

Almost by default, the brunt of the campaign fell on Thurman, the vice presidential candidate.  The nomination had surprised the 74-year-old politician, irritated his wife, and provoked National Chairman Barnum to quip, “We might just as well nominate a corpse.”  But Thurman dutifully accepted, and began an ambitious speaking tour, taking him from Ohio (his home state) and Michigan in August to New York and New Jersey in September to West Virginia, Indiana, and back to Ohio in October.  His brief speeches were mixtures of explaining why high tariffs were bad for workingmen and consumers and delineating his physical ailments, such as cholera, head cold, and neuralgia.  He collapsed twice on stage, once at New York City’s Madison Square Garden and then in Newark, New Jersey.  The press understandably concentrated on Thurman’s poor health.   

The Republican Campaign
By contrast, the Republican campaign was highly efficient and effective, with Matthew Quay, chairman of the Republican National Committee, managing the political strategy and businessman John Wanamaker overseeing the finances.  Wanamaker created committees that solicited contributions from business, financial, and industrial leaders and also tapped the personal assets of Republican senators, raising an unprecedented amount estimated at $3 million ($56.6 million in 2002 dollars).  In addition, two forms of organizations were important for the effectiveness of the Republican campaign:  associations promoting high tariffs (e.g., American Iron and Steel Association and the American Protective Tariff League) and local Republican clubs.  The former carried the Republican’s main message to citizens through informational literature.  The latter, which included Young Republican Clubs, became an integral part of energetic grassroots campaigning and coordinated well with the party’s state and national committees.

James Clarkson of Iowa, editor of the Des Moines Register and vice-chairman of the Republican National Committee, scheduled political rallies across the country from July through October, assigning congressmen and local officials to specific tasks.  James Blaine and John Sherman made major speaking tours for the national ticket.  The star of the show, though, was the candidate himself.  Harrison adopted the strategy of James Garfield, the 1880 Republican nominee, by conducting a “front porch” campaign in which he spoke to groups of supporters who had been transported to his Indianapolis home.  However, unlike Garfield, who stuck to patriotic themes, Harrison hammered away at the issues in 94 speeches delivered in a clear, logical, and emphatic manner.  He discussed various points from the Republican platform, but emphasized the tariff, warning that the Democrats favored free trade, which would lead to lower wages and fewer jobs for Americans.

The Tariff, the Fisheries Treaty, and the Murchison Letter
In July, after the end of both political conventions, the House of Representatives passed the Mills tariff reform bill.  In the Senate, Republican William Allison offered a substitute bill, which lowered some rates (cutting raw sugar duties in half), placed many items not manufactured in America on a duty-free list, and abolished domestic taxes on tobacco and medicinal alcohol.  In all, it reduced revenue by over $70 million dollars while retaining the protectionist nature of the tariff system.  Since the Mills bill only cut revenue by $55 million, Democrats were hard pressed to explain why it was better for reducing the treasury surplus than the Republican alternative.  Although the congressional tug-of-war intensified the tariff debate in the presidential campaign, neither bill became law.

Also in July, the Senate rejected the Cleveland administration’s treaty on the fisheries controversy.  The Republican charge that the document was too pro-British was, like their platform endorsement of Irish home rule and their linkage of Democratic tariff reform with British free trade, a calculated attempt to attract Irish Americans to the GOP.  The president, though, played political hardball by asking for congressional authority to ban the importation of all goods from British Canada.  Congress refused, as Cleveland foresaw, but the request allowed him to appear tough with Britain.  It was also a threat to New England Republicans, since the region’s railroads were the major transporter of products from Canada. 

In September, a Republican businessman, falsely identifying himself as a British-born American citizen (Charles F. Murchison), solicited the opinion of the British minister to the United States, Sir Lionel Sackville-West, on the presidential election.  The diplomat’s written response—that the Cleveland administration was more interested than Republicans in good relations with Britain—was leaked to the press in late October.  Sackville-West made matters worse when he publicly criticized both the Senate’s rejection of the fisheries treaty and the president’s sweeping counterproposal.  After the British government refused to remove the minister, the president dismissed him.  In the end, the Republican campaign for Irish votes was apparently unsuccessful, with Cleveland’s percentage in the Irish districts of New York City and Boston higher than his totals in 1884. 

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