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1892 Presidential Election


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Note: the write-up below is an editorial reflecting the views of the artist

The 1892 Presidential Election is perhaps best remembered for Grover Cleveland's comeback to the Presidency, but it was far more than that to the people of the time. Against a flawed incumbent President Benjamin Harrison, several major movements gained a boost in popularity in this election. In particular, this election would mark the peak of the People's Party at the Presidential level.

The People's Party was a largely agrarian and rural party formed by groups such as the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, Farmers' Alliances, and the Knights of Labor. Also known as the Populist Party, the People's Party supported stances such as bimetallism (tying American currency to both gold and silver rather than just gold), collective bargaining, federal regulation of railroad rates, a graduated income tax, direct election of Senators, and more.

The Populists were most popular in the agrarian West, but also had a measure of popularity in the South by running "fusion" tickets in place of Republicans, to try and break the absolute hold the Democratic Party had on the south since the end of Reconstruction. Both movements within the party would be successful, though later become polarized against each other and help lead to the party's downfall. The party would cast its lot in by endorsing William Jennings Bryan in 1896 and 1900, which proved unsuccessful in getting a People's Party candidate elected to the Presidency. However, many of the platform issues the People's Party endorsed would later be passed.

Back to 1892, the People's Party performed very well among the restless Gilded Age electorate, but failed to garner support in the Midwest despite the support of labor organizers like Eugene Debs. This has been chalked up due to the divides in priorities from Midwestern and Northeast labor, largely urban, and the more rural and agrarian labor that was the People's Party bread and butter in the Great Plains and West. In particular was the issue on tariffs that could hurt farmers and help urban laborers.

The tariff was a particularly big campaign issue, dating back to the 1890 McKinley Tariff. Cleveland called for lowering it while Harrison, obviously, supported it. The tariff was steep and it divided states and laborers, as said, in the west and the east between those who desperately wanted it lowered and those who wanted to keep it. Not to be outdone on just economic issues, though, civil rights was part of the campaign as well. Though the fight is often papered over now, Harrison supported a bill called the Lodge Force Bill, which would have allowed federal circuit courts to appoint election supervisors if a relatively small number of locals petitioned for it. This would have helped the black voting population in the South, but it stalled in congress and Cleveland became President so it didn't happen. And, well, that really sucks. There's not really a way to sugarcoat that.

In the end, Cleveland won, was unable to handle popular pressures bubbling beneath the grimy surface of the Gilded Age (Pullman Strikers Forever), and then the economy collapsed and only one Democrat would be President from 1896 all the way until 1932. He left office massively unpopular and alienated most of his party. One thinks Cleveland would have been better off stopping at one term, perhaps. As said, the People's Party would endorse progressive reformer William Jennings Bryan in 1892 and 1896 before fading away but getting their platform largely passed in a victory of sorts. The Prohibition Party, who got a respectable number of votes in 1892 as well, would see their own victory with the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1920, though that wouldn't go over so well and be repealed in 1933. The end.

Citations


Jeffrey B. Lewis, Brandon DeVine, Lincoln Pitcher, and Kenneth C. Martis. (2013) Digital Boundary Definitions of United States Congressional Districts, 1789-2012. Retrieved from http://cdmaps.polisci.ucla.edu on 2 September, 2018.

Haynes, Stan M, and Stan M Haynes. “Preface.” President-Making in the Gilded Age: The Nominating Conventions of 1876-1900, McFarland & Company, Inc., 2016, pp. 2–2.


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