Crimson Banners Fly: The Rise of the American Left

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Crimson Banners Fly: The Rise of the American Left

Author's Notes: "Crimson Banners Fly" is an alternate history timeline set at the turn of the century, at the precipice of momentous change for the United States. This will be a re-imagining of an older timeline of mine from around 2015/6 called "Paint it Red" (posted only on the Atlas Forum). Time will tell how close this will mirror that original story line, but at the risk of divulging too much too soon, I will say that the plan is to keep this fresh yet familiar. The story starts with a flash-forward, then leads into the introduction which takes place pre-POD in order to provide some background on the era and its politics. I hope everyone enjoys the story!

 
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Prologue: The Chicago Assassination

Exterior of the Chicago Coliseum, 1910s - Source: Wiki Commons

Prologue: The Chicago Assassination

The following excerpt is referenced from the United Broadcast Service featurette, The Citizen:

A sharp crack barrels through the hall.
In quick succession, two more ring out.
The sounds echo for a moment. Then nothing.

In the span of a breath, a shared sense of shock sinks to an eerie and bewildered silence. Attendees glance toward one another in baffled confusion as each try to decipher the cause of the deafening sound. Like an alarm bell, a cry of terror breaks the still air. Blood drips from a man's torso. thump. thump.



The above text briefly describes the traumatic experience of May 12th, 1920 within the Chicago Coliseum. This chain of events took place in the midst of a highly-attended, albeit contentious, nominating convention for the Socialist Party of America and it drove the festivities to a screeching halt. Political violence was not unheard of in the United States, and especially not so for activists and veterans of the labor movement, yet few anticipated a plot so meticulously designed.

To be certain, the Socialists of the 1920s were no strangers to visceral political opponents. The SP Convention in Chicago had already proven arduous for the party leadership - from stark disagreements with Mayor Thompson over the venue to swathes of protesters accusing the party of fermenting Communist revolution. The radical party held prominent foes in each major political sect and in all corners of the nation. Even the President of the United States once cited the SP as an unpatriotic force worthy of investigation. Regardless, such opposition only seemed to embolden the organization as a major player in American politics as its membership inflated to well over a hundred thousand over the course of the decade.

According the recorded city police report of the incident, on the penultimate morning of May 12th, an individual under the guise of a state delegate sifted through the sea of convention attendees toward an ongoing meeting of vanguard organizers. Clad in an unsuspecting black suit and striped tie, the man apparently did not arouse suspicion from the party brass as he approached the conversationalist group. He then fired thrice from a Colt revolver and briskly ducked from the scene.

Mr. Thomas Calvin Lufkin, a twenty-year-old self-proclaimed anarchist, was arrested at the front entrance of the Chicago Coliseum and within weeks was deemed guilty by a grand jury. He was charged with two counts of felony assault and one count of first-degree murder. This man was ordered to the electric chair.


The Citizen concludes with a bittersweet message.

"The Assassination in Chicago, a terror plot derived from fear and misunderstanding, was intended to divide the movement and bring the party faithful to their knees. Looking back at our history, it proved to have the opposite effect. The first Socialist Party, on the brink of an irreconcilable schism, courageously rebounded and unified beneath the memory and legacy of Eugene Debs, and thereafter pressed on to outperform expectations in the election and excite interest in the Socialist Program.

Workers of all Industries - Unite!"
 
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Part 1: Introduction

Pullman Strikers and the National Guard - Source: Wiki Commons

Part 1: An End to Bourbon America

Introduction: The Nifty Nineties: Navigating the Depressive State with Gold and Silver


1894.

The United States stood distressed both economically as well as socially. President Grover Cleveland, having won his second, non-consecutive term, once more captained the ship of state. Cleveland previously presided over a period of relative growth in the country, however he found upon his inauguration that local and international markets were in the midst of a sharp decline. This downward trend was later generally referred to Panic of 1893, and it proved to snowball in the spring and summer of that year.


As is most oft the case, there was no single root cause to the depression. [...] Cleveland singled out the Treasury. Its monetary policy having been adjusted by Sherman Silver Purchase Act some years prior meant that the Gold Bugs had a target at the ready when news broke. The law, which demanded a massive federal purchase of silver at the rate of 4.5 million ounces per month, threatened to drive gold from circulation through uneven exchange rates. Cleveland motioned for Congress to repeal the law in an effort to cull the drop in gold reserves, and although the compliant legislature followed suit, gold remained scarce and the now-overproduced silver depreciated in value and plummeted in price. [...] Cleveland did not have any intention of providing direct support to the teetering American economy of the mid 1890s.
Jacob Harnega, Tariffs and Taxes, 1998

Several monumental companies, including the Northern Pacific Railway and the Union Pacific Railroad, as well as businesses and farms across the United States collapsed in the wake of the depression. The jolt in the market, as one would assume, triggered across the board wage cuts in various large industries. This included the Pullman Palace Car Company, a rail car manufacturer owned by George Pullman. Rail workers employed by Pullman lived in company towns (Pullman, Chicago): Communities organized by the company owner with their own micro economies and predetermined rent and food prices. With revenue slowed and his profit at stake, Pullman authorized a slashing of wages whilst refusing to accommodate for the need for lower rent costs. As such, in March and April of 1894 a majority of these factory workers chose to join the American Railway Union.

On June 26th, with George Pullman declaring outright that he would refuse to arbitrate, A.R.U.-affiliated workers began a systematic boycott of company train cars. Within days, thousands joined the strike and virtually all roads and transcontinental lines out of Chicago were paralyzed. The boycott extended far beyond Pullman workers (only about 4,000 strikers were employed with the Pullman Company) or even A.R.U. members. Despite extensive press coverage deriding the disruption as "led by anarchic foreign mobs" and, as the Chicago Tribune declared, having the "dignity of an insurrection," an estimated 260,000 sympathetic rail workers were involved with the effort at its apex.

The President of the American Railway Union, Eugene Debs, relayed the following message in July of 1894.


The struggle with the Pullman Company has developed into a contest between the producing classes and the money power of the country. The fight was between the American Railway Union and the Pullman Company. The American Railway Union resolved that its members would refuse to handle Pullman cars and equipment. Then the railway corporations, through the General Managers' Association, came to the rescue, and in a series of whereases declared to the world that they would go into partnership with Pullman, so to speak, and stand by him in his devilish work of starving his employees to death. The American Railway Union accepted the gage of war, and thus the contest is now on between the railway corporations united solidly upon the one hand and the labor forces on the other.
Jeremy Brecher, Strike!, 1972

With the trains stalled from Chicago to California, the mail system was locked from completing deliveries, cattle and other livestock perished along the route, and produce rotted. Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld (D-IL) implored the president to resist sending in federal troops as a means to forcibly end the boycott. He wrote to Cleveland insinuating that media reports of strike-influenced violence were dramatically overstated and sending in armed men would provoke genuine bloodshed. Attorney General Richard Olney pulled the president from the opposing camp, professing that the strike must be quelled through a federal injunction against the striking rail employees. Olney, himself a former attorney for the rail industry, advised that with general railway transportation disrupted the responsibility fell to the president to solve the matter.

From his time serving as the Mayor of Buffalo to Governor of New York, Cleveland became known for professing balanced restraint and fair government (often to his detriment, as with his 1888 defeat which had been mainly attributed to his failure to sign off on pensioner legislation). He nonetheless remained firmly on the side of the established, pro-gold business class and had no intention of allowing strikers to leave the nation's transportation system in disarray. Professing the need to keep the mail service moving, President Cleveland authorized several thousand U.S. Marshals and soldiers to shut down the strike.


The strike was defeated. Union leaders and workers, faced with the total mobilization of state power, had little choice but to declare the strike off. Debs was imprisoned for six months on federal charges of conspiracy while Cleveland enjoyed a boost in public support for his part in ending the boycott. Rather than be focused on the defeat, however, Debs instead relished in the potential of mass organizing, writing, "They might as well try to stop Niagara with a feather as to crush the spirit of organization in this country."
 
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Puck Magazine Satirical Cartoon: Let Them Have It All, And Be Done With It! (1882) - Source: Wiki Commons

Taking a step back, it is crucial first to examine the economic and political realities of the era if we are to dive into this realm of conflicting -isms. As mentioned prior, those serving as wage laborers in mid-1890s were severely threatened by the tide of the depression, however workers of all persuasions were no strangers to wealth disparity. Living and working conditions stood woefully inadequate compared to the owning class long before any such coinage disaster.

During this period, known commonly as the Gilded Age in the United States, the wonders of mass industrialization greatly expanded the population of cities and allowed for the development of technologically advanced factories. Such factories typically operated under the direct or indirect control of a corporation, be it Southern Pacific Railroad, Standard Oil Co., or Carnegie Steel. As a consequence of efficient management, non-existent labor regulations, and rocketing GDP expansion, the industrialists and financiers in ownership of these corporations came to be some of the wealthiest men in human history.

Domestic manufacturing flourished with machine-driven enterprise and a new wave of immigrants arriving from Europe and China bolstered the workforce and the business empires of John D. Rockefeller, Philip Armour, and, to a lesser extent, George Pullman. The positive economic growth spanning the latter half of the nineteenth century did amount to notable wage increases among workers, especially when compared to those in European nations, thereby proving, as classical liberals had argued, that all of America profited when the upper class profited. Still, the scope of the disparity proved indisputable when Andrew Carnegie carried an income of roughly $40 million each year (the man, not the corporation) while his workers, undergoing twelve-hour shifts, seven days a week, took home an average $500 in that same year.

According to philosophers concerned with the contradictions pertaining to capitalism, including Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the wealth engorging the likes of Andrew Carnegie was, in totality, generated by the Carnegie Steel workers, and therefore it was unjustifiable for the owner to possess such obscene wealth. These ideas purported that the state served the interests of the owners above the workers, and furthermore that policy stemming from Washington (in the case of the United States) would not fundamentally challenge the mode of production.

Those of whom rejected the above evaluation included Herbert Spencer, a theorist famed with coining Social Darwinism. Spencer believed, among other things, that the poorest men and women in society were destined for their lowest rung social class by the immutable laws of nature. Intellectuals and business magnates alike embraced this "natural selection" aspect of Darwinian theory as justification for their conservative political objectives and the endurance of laissez-faire capitalism. For them, the dominance of a select few over the population was as natural as the ecological food chain.

Renowned politicians in both the Democratic and Republican parties adhered to, and sometimes championed, these fundamental principles and proudly stood shoulder-to-shoulder with wealthy business interests.


Beyond Reconstruction, differentiation within the party duopoly narrowed squarely to overblown squabbles over the tariff rate. The rise of President Grover Cleveland, a Bourbon [ie; conservative, pro-business] Democrat in support of an American Gold Standard, seemingly eliminated bimetallism as a partisan issue. [...] The Republicans traditionally favored a centralized, strong federal government while the Democrats favored strong state governments, although that too was shifting under the stewardship of Cleveland who retained influential support in industrial enclaves throughout New York and Illinois. Industrialists did not universally align with one candidate over another in the Bourbon Age. They were assured, often and sans hesitation, that, as Cleveland stated, "No harm shall come to any business interest as the result of administrative policy so long I am President... a transfer of executive control from one party to another does not mean any serious disturbance of existing conditions."
Thomas O'Conner, A Radical History of American Politics: Vol. 4, 2014
 

President Grover Cleveland II Term Portrait - Source: Wiki Commons

There is truth to O'Conner's argument regarding the indistinguishable platforms and upper class solidarity of the two major American political parties up to and including the 1890s, however the differences as presented to the electorate were as stark as could be. The Republican Party, known for its Lincoln-ite roots, led the United States from the dawn of the Civil War up to the first inauguration of President Cleveland. It characterized itself as a force for economic growth and fair-minded reform, yet, perhaps due to its lavish dominance, was oft criticized as corrupt and untrustworthy (Mind you, these charges were not unwarranted - see Ulysses S. Grant).

Republican office-holders closely allied themselves with the industrialists and the business community. This affiliation meant that Republicans, nigh universally in this period, supported protectionism. Politicians championing the imposition of high tariff rates claimed that they were doing so to protect American labor from degradation as well as furnish revenue for the federal government. The passage of the Tariff Act of 1890 put such words into action when Representative William McKinley (R-OH), the acclaimed "Napoleon of Protection," fostered a bill which dramatically raised the mean duty on imports to about fifty percent. President Benjamin Harrison praised the bill and happily signed it into law, yet later discovered a distinct lack of popular support: Evident through the GOP's bludgeoning in 1890 Congressional midterm elections and Harrison's loss in 1892.

On the opposing side of the aisle stood the Democrats. Known as the temple of Jeffersonian and Jacksonian politics, the Democratic Party evolved throughout the early part of the nineteenth century into an agrarian-centric party rooted in 'South South' of the U.S. Historically, politicians aligning with this party defended (White) Southern interests through their vehement support of segregation, states' rights, and a reduced tariff rate. Planters and farmers in the South and West, the core of the traditional Democratic electorate, greatly disapproved of high tariff and tax rates, believing these policies to be counterproductive to their export-driven income. This propelled the Democratic Party into its pro-free trade stance as they sought to distance themselves from the protectionist Republicans.

Beyond its long-established base, the Democrats also held control in various Northern cities. Local party bosses organized extraordinarily efficient 'machines' in condensed urban areas like New York City which rallied Irish, Italian and Polish immigrants to vote the Democratic line. It appealed to these communities through, essentially, basic bribery. In exchange for their votes, destitute immigrants were offered jobs and sustenance. Democrats succeeded in consolidating this growing demographic, although the party was not able to capitalize on this method until the personality-driven Presidential Election of 1884. When that year's Republican presidential candidate, Senator James G. Blaine (R-ME), faced accusations of harboring anti-Catholic and anti-Irish sentiments, New York shifted to the Democratic column and awarded its 36 Electoral Votes to the victor, Grover Cleveland.

Bourbon Democrat Grover Cleveland won elections to the presidency in both 1884 and 1892 (as well as a Popular Vote win in 1888) as an anti-corruption and pro-free trade candidate. In the process he molded a worthwhile conservative coalition unique to its time. Previous Democratic nominees were unable to mimic such an alliance and often alienated otherwise supportive demographics. The turnaround in 1892 returned Democratic control to the White House and Democratic control to the Senate. This phenomenon managed to, at last, pierce the armor of the Republican hegemony.

However, as previously discussed, upon Cleveland's second ascension to the Executive Branch, the once-evergreen economy of the United States shattered with the Panic of 1893. The intense contraction in the financial sphere snowballed into the greatest economic downturn in the nation's history. Beyond the slashing of wages and bank closures, the depression would propel unemployment figures to a staggering twenty percent and force local towns and cities into approving a novel wave of impromptu homeless shelters and food banks. President Cleveland, knowing his administration could become a prime target for the depression, doubled down on partisan legislative goals. That is, repealing the Sherman Silver Purchase Act and the McKinley Tariff. The former he accomplished with relative ease (much to the chagrin of pro-Silver, or Free Silver, Democrats), but the latter required passage of a new, tariff adjustment bill.

The Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act did finally pass in 1894, but it failed in reducing tariff rates to the extent desired by the president, it failed in easing the worst effects of the depression, and it failed in absolving the Democrats of responsibility. In the 1894 Congressional midterm elections, the incumbent party suffered some of the worst seat losses in its history. Four senators lost in their bids for re-election, three of whom in states Cleveland carried in 1892 (New Jersey, North Carolina and West Virginia). The number of total House Democrats fell from 198 to 93 seats. The whole of the Democratic Party, left fractured in the wake of the elections, gave rise to not only their Republican foes, but a novel third party. The People's Party.
 

Populist Party Presidential Campaign Button - Source: Wiki Commons

In 1892, a consortium of agrarian workers and activists involved with the cooperative National Farmers Alliance movement met with the intent to advance the agenda of a political party independent of the Democrats and Republicans. Here, at a facility in St. Louis, these men and women collectively decided that neither of the two major parties were adequate on the matter of challenging the existing tenant system and ensuring legal equality for all workers. It was in this moment that the People's Party was birthed into the national consciousness.

We meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political and material ruin. Corruption dominates the ballot box, the legislatures, the Congress, and touches even ermine of the bench. These people are demoralized. [...] The newspapers are subsidized or muzzled; public opinion silenced; business prostrate; our homes covered with mortgages, labor impoverished, and the land concentrating in the hands of capitalists. [...] The fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes.
Ignatius L. Donnelly, Populist Party Assembly Speech, 1892

Populists, as they were called, adopted their premier party platform at this national convention. It incorporated a wide assortment of left-wing positions which appeared astoundingly radical, even heretical, when read alongside the standardized, milquetoast offerings by the major parties. The People's Party demanded a progressive income tax, legal protection for workers, support for labor organizations, and public ownership of the railroads. This platform must have impressed some untapped electorate as the party managed to win nearly 9% of the vote for its presidential candidate, James Weaver, and elect a small Congressional delegation.

The Democrats, having carefully monitored and reviewed the activities of the Populist Party, understood the unprecedented rise of this new sect as a threat to their incontestable rule in the South and, thereafter, considered various methods to return the Populist electorate to its Democratic roots. Southern Democrats first concentrated on consolidating the agrarian vote by utilizing racial politics. In the deeply segregated South of the 1890s, racism served as a tool of the planter class to sow animosity between Black and White laborers (to the detriment of both). New voting stipulations in Southern states mandated literacy tests and property qualifications in order to retain eligibility. These laws were touted as measures specifically enacted to bar Black people from ballot access, although, in truth, they targeted the lower class regardless of race. Party officials in the South deliberately focused on sowing feelings of racial hatred in White tenants and farmers, and soon found success in enticing many of them back to the Democratic fold.

Secondly, and of enormous significance to the future of American politics, the Democrats chose to softly appeal to the Populist program. Following the mass collapse of nationwide support for the Democratic Party in the wake of the depression, the weakened Bourbon Cleveland-ites had little choice but to open themselves to compromise. To this end, they proposed alignment with the most inoffensive demand of the Populists: the free coinage of silver.

This opened the door for self-described "fusionists" within the People's Party to gain a prominent foothold. Fusionists emphatically argued for the cross-endorsement of Populist-appeasing Democratic candidates for office as opposed to running independent candidates. Older and more radical members of the People's Party disapproved of this tactic and insisted that seemingly tolerable Democrats were merely feigning empathy in exchange for votes. Such members were, in the end, drowned out by the fusionists. From 1894 to 1896, the Populists worked primarily to orchestrate a takeover of the Democratic Party at their upcoming national convention and, in the process, eyed a possible contender for the nomination by the name of William Jennings Bryan.
 
Part 1: Chapter I

Republican Campaign Poster Attacking Free Silver - Source: Wiki Commons

Chapter I: The Eagle and the Phoenix: Our Road to the Fourth Party System

With the dawning of 1896, the clock ticked ever-louder as election season loomed ahead. A disjointed and disunited Democratic Party remained locked in the shadow of the unmoving depression and fiscal analysts gave no indication when, or if, the economy would return to a healthy state. President Grover Cleveland and his administration proved their unwillingness to offer meaningful solutions to the economic woes of the country and the incumbent's popularity dissipated as a result. As Cleveland's influence with the party rank-and-file all but vanished, the answer to whom the party would nominate that fateful summer was anyone's guess.

The tide of anti-Cleveland sentiment plainly indicated that the Bourbon leadership of the Democrats was in danger of losing its ironclad grip over party operations. An easy response from the upper echelon may have been to abandon affiliation with the president all-together and present a candidate with no visible ties to the present administration nor its policies. Another choice would have been to gracefully step aside and allow for a Silver Democrat to gain the mantle, perhaps then pushing for a representative of the Old Guard as vice president. They instead propped up fellow Bourbonite Governor William Russell (D-MA) who staunchly supported the gold standard, fiercely defended and supported Cleveland, and, as if a cherry on the rhetorical cake, was in extremely poor health. Other potential conservative candidates, like Senator David B. Hill (D-NY) and UK Ambassador Thomas F. Bayard (D-DE), declined to be considered.

An absolute insistence on the gold standard became the single greatest obstacle that the Old Guard of the Democrats refused to reconcile with, and this meant certain doom as the call for "Free Silver" reached a crescendo. For its proponents, the concept of minting silver dollars at a fixed 16-1 ratio to gold meant flexible currency for an expanding economy instead of relying solely on gold: a substance held only in abundance by creditors, robber barons and the Bank of England. In 1894, Pro-silver author William H. Harvey exemplified this attitude when he judged that, "a central influence in London and New York" controlled those invested in the gold standard.

Republican Senator George F. Hoar (R-MA), on the opposing side of the debate, alternatively offered, "A sound currency is to the affairs of this life what a pure religion and a sound system of morals are to the affairs of the spiritual life." He insisted, as was standard in defending the gold standard, that silver was an "inferior metal" which increased the potential for inflation and speculation. Hoar viewed champions of Free Silver as dim-witted anarchists while Harvey saw economic patriots.

The cause of Free Silver, and its class overtones, grew to such prominence in this era that it virtually overshadowed all other issues - especially, though not exclusively, on the Democratic side. Insurgent Democrats and Populists wrestled with Bourbonites for control of state parties in the South and West, while politicians in these same states delivered public speeches promoting the silver cause. Doubtlessly, the most famous of these speakers was Nebraska Representative William Jennings Bryan (D-NE). From March of 1895 through the summer of 1896, Bryan toured from state to state, speaking out in favor of fair coinage and attending pro-silver gatherings. The common presence of Bryan at these events was unparalleled.


One admirer wrote in May that before he met Bryan at a free-silver convention, he'd known him "by reputation, like every other person on the continent." Bryan's correspondence glinted with rapturous reviews. "Your visit to our little city marked an epoch," wrote the manager of a lyceum agency in Greenville, Ohio; "your effort gave more satisfaction than anything enjoyed here for years, or probably ever." [...] Nearly every recollection begins by describing the quality of that voice. "Sonorous and melodious," "deep and powerfully musical," [...] the Nebraskan could project his voice a remarkable distance. Mary Bryan recalled one day in 1898 when, from inside a hotel room in Corpus Christi, she could hear her husband perfectly "three long blocks" away.
Michael Kazin, A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan, 2006

With the Democratic nominating convention fast approaching, an alliance of Populists and Silver Democrats conquering state offices and pledging delegates to their cause all but assured that an entirely new type of candidate would be chosen in 1896. James Weaver and People's Party fusionists even finalized plans to delay their own convention until the DNC that July in order to provide that nominee, should an acceptable choice be selected, an endorsement and subsequent boost. The Democratic Party was desperate need of a facelift, and now it seemed likelier than ever.
 
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Governor William McKinley - Source: Wiki Commons

The depressive state of the American economy left a discernible footprint in the Democratic camp, but, as the beneficiaries of the anti-Cleveland backlash in the 1894 elections, the Republican Party had no cause to adjust business as usual. They could, and often did, squarely blame the "failed policies" of the party in power for their ineptitude in the face of crisis. Urging a swift end to a period of disastrous and abhorred Democrats rule over the federal government, the Republican leadership was confident that they could boost their own popularity and likelihood of victory come November.

In stark difference to the fractured Democrats scrambling to find a worthy candidate distinguishable from Cleveland, the Republican Party seemed to have their frontrunner primed at the starting line. Subtly building support and relationships with state bosses since his celebrated keynote address at the 1892 Republican National Convention, Ohio Governor William McKinley (R-OH) was in a stronger position than any potential rival to attain the nomination. Known as the architect behind the 1890 Tariff Act and as an even-handed arbitrator with local labor disputes, the Ohioan had the policy chops, name recognition and executive experience necessary to develop into an effective presidential candidate.

Not all were convinced of McKinley's abilities, however. Specifically, his lack of a clear stance on the currency question had the Eastern party bosses hesitant to rally behind the Ohioan. Senator Thomas Platt (R-NY), for example, disliked the prospect of coronating McKinley without first receiving a clear guarantee that he would tow the party line on the gold standard. Platt, and others, feared that McKinley's lack of dedication to the strict adherence to gold-backed currency could give rise to the shushed, Western-based Free Silver contingent of the Republican Party and, therefore, wane the influence of the Eastern establishment and their financial backers. All things considered, this appeared to matter little when McKinley brushed off machine support completely in 1895.

By contemporaneous accounts, McKinley rose to the national spotlight with the assistance of his confidant and fastidious advisor, Marcus Hanna. This strategist, as remarked by historian Jay Morgan, proved to be an integral piece to McKinley's political ambitions.


Hanna and McKinley anticipated collaborative triumph. The candidate carried a respectable resume and the mind for governance, yet all evidence points to Hanna as the chessmaster. Not McKinley, but Hanna did the legwork and the consulting, solicited funds from investors, and dealt directly with the national committee and party chair. He fostered the start of a true political campaign and pioneered the idea of managing a candidacy like a business. The actual candidate had no interest in any of this. McKinley, some charged, was simply the face of the Hanna candidacy. It were these very accusations that tore at the seams of the cooperative campaign and skewed its fate.
Jay R. Morgan, The American Elephant: A Study of the Republican Party, 1980

Historians have speculated that a friend to the Ohio governor may have whispered to his ear rumors regarding some notion of Mark Hanna's disguised deception or true intention to shepherd delegates to a "Candidate Hanna." Speculation of McKinley as a mere figurehead to the 'behind the curtain' rule of Hanna seeped into common discussion within Republican circles in the winter of 1896 - likely accelerated by allies to Platt and the Old Guard. The governor initially scoffed at these suggestions and retained trust in his friend, but incessant questions about the structure of his burgeoning presidential campaign and his inability to prove the critics false eventually provoked conflict.

Hanna had presented to McKinley his plan to accrue a majority of delegates to the convention without the need to form a deal with corrupt party bosses. He insisted that they utilize his rented Georgia home as a base for operations in the South and gradually captivate Republicans in these oft-ignored states to circumvent the need for machine help. McKinley, to the shock of his advisor, outright rejected the idea and expressed his belief in concentrating efforts in delegate-rich states like Illinois and Pennsylvania. According to his own, albeit limited, account of the 1896 campaign, Hanna retorted with unwavering disapproval. He tried to explain the folly in, as he wrote, "relinquishing a gold-mine" of "untouched" delegates "ripe for the plucking." McKinley listened, "teeth grinding all the while," and responded "in his usual monotone, 'It is my direction that you no longer pursue this. There shall be no further discussion. Remember which of us is running for office.' "

Hanna firmly believed that a focus on the industrial North sans support from regional party leaders would doom the campaign and his career with it. Refusing to pocket his objections, the short-tempered advisor removed himself from the conference and, within a matter of weeks, from his position as de facto campaign manager. The strategist remained a personal friend and tepid political supporter of McKinley's candidacy, but he would never again carry the same volume of influence with his ally.
 
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Governor Levi P. Morton and Speaker Tomas B. Reed (left to right) - Sources: Wiki Commons

The departure of Mark Hanna from the William McKinley Campaign deeply and fundamentally tarnished its anticipated ascendancy. All that the strategist from Ohio worked to build withered away once the governor was left to his own devices. "That duo may have held the winning formula," wrote Jay Morgan. "Alone, McKinley possessed the iron will to push ahead and the adoration of the Republican rank and file, but he sorely lacked the dynamism and practical instincts necessary to produce results."

The advisor's presence initially enticed the eyes of eager patrons and wealthy contributors formerly unconvinced of McKinley's capabilities. Some of these donors now hesitated and chose to step back from an early commitment to any one candidate. Fortunately for the Ohio governor, he still retained a modicum of support among his political allies. A host of other plausible Republican candidates, such as the 'rags-to-riches' Senator Russell A. Alger (R-MI), former Chair of the New Jersey Republican Party Garret Hobart (R-NJ), 'Ohio Icicle' Senator John Sherman (R-OH), and former U.S. Minister to France and nominee to the vice presidency Whitelaw Reid (R-OH) all backed McKinley's candidacy and thereby refused to enter the fray.

On the other side of the coin, the Old Guard of the GOP celebrated the blow to McKinley and quickened efforts to unite and draft a candidate of their own. To this, former Vice President Levi P. Morton (R-NY) seemed an obvious choice. Serving previously under two administrations and presently as the governor of New York, Morton had the proper credentials as well as the complete backing of former Senator Platt. Morton's lengthy record as a lucrative businessman also helped reassure fellow banking tycoons that they would be protected on his watch. One facet of the former vice president's tenure that severely dampened his standing in the party, however, had been his refusal to break a Democratic filibuster during debate over a civil rights bill in 1891. This display of failure, which to Morton was merely an insistence on neutrality, meant a lack of loyalty to the party faithful.

In spite of the aforementioned death of the federal election bill in the Senate, it did manage to pass through the House by a margin of just six votes. Speaker of the House Thomas Brackett Reed (R-ME), along with the bill's author, Representative Henry Cabot Lodge (R-MA), led their accomplished charge to pass the legislation. Reed, unlike Morton, (in)famously presided over Congress with an imperial nature and a firm hand, earning him the nickname "Czar Reed" by his adversaries. In a manner akin to Henry Clay before him, the House Speaker dramatically expanded the powers associated with his title and routinely exerted such powers in legislative sessions to the benefit of the Republican Party. Reed also rather disliked Governor McKinley, due specifically to a brief war over the speakership when the latter served a congressman, and soon joined the effort to prevent his nomination that summer.

Reed and Morton, along with Senators Matthew S. Quay (R-PA) and William B. Allison (R-IA), all began developing the cadre of support necessary to secure favor from state delegates in the winter and spring of 1896. On February 4th, a wrench was thrown in their plans when an intriguing letter from former President Benjamin Harrison found its way to the press.


Yes, the Harrison Letter. Well, the former president was asked by the Republican State Committee of Indiana if he would consider running for a third time - having, as you know, won in 1888 and lost in 1892. He writes back to the state chairman expressing gratitude for their continued faith and, from there, basically skirts around the core of the question. Harrison says, "I think the voters of our party are entitled to have their voices heard," and ends it there. Now *laughing* the committee didn't know exactly what to do with this, especially since the delegates back then were assigned by state affiliates of the national party, not elected in a modern primary system. [...] It's not clear from the letter if he actually wanted the presidency back, but, and this is the important bit, he never said he didn't.
Calvin Charles, UBS American Presidents: Life Portrait of Benjamin Harrison, Aired 1999

Harrison's ambivalence on the matter of his potential candidacy perked the ears of the Indiana Republican Party apparatus which promptly launched its effort to draft the former president. His friends in the party began sending agents out to amenable state parties and, in course, enlisted the help of Harrison's Treasury Secretary, former Ohio Governor Charles Foster (R-OH), to disrupt the unanimity of the Ohio GOP in their allegiance to McKinley. Harrison allies professed that the former president solicited Congress for tariff legislation long before McKinley brought a drop of ink to paper. These advocates found less resistance than anticipated from delegates in the explored states, as four years of economic catastrophe likely generated a sense of nostalgia toward Harrison's presidency.

Nevertheless, even by late April of that year, no single candidate had separated himself from the pack in terms of pledged delegates. McKinley, having focused in the industrial Midwest and Mid-Atlantic, cultivated a respectable delegate base, yet ultimately failed in his objective to lock out regional rivals. His efforts were spurred in places like Pennsylvania and Illinois where other candidates already had implanted deep footholds. Any talk of McKinley as a frontrunner to the nomination vanished. Between a lackluster showing by the much-hyped Ohioan, the rekindling of Benjamin Harrison, and the obsessive intent of state parties to boost local "favorite son" candidates, the dreaded prospect of a second - or third, fourth, etc - presidential ballot at the convention seemed inevitable.
 
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The National Republican Convention, June 18, 1896 - Source: Wiki Commons

At 12:20 P.M., on Tuesday, June 16th, 1896, Chairman Thomas Carter declared the Republican National Convention open for business. The nominating convention took place within a temporary structure located just South of City Hall on Tucker Blvd in St. Louis, Missouri. Delegates representing all 45 states met at this facility to compose the party's distinct platform and lawfully designate whose names shall appear on the Republican side of the presidential ballot. The venue itself, built specifically to contain the body of the convention, was packed door-to-door with these representatives, in addition to other party officials and guests.

Following the traditional opening prayer, discussion and voting swiftly began on various planks to be included within the official platform. Great debate ensued particularly over the adoption of a currency plank cementing favor of preserving the gold standard. Although it had been the case that the overall majority of Republicans preferred a pro-gold approach as opposed to bimetallism, delegates from western mountainous states vastly desired the free coinage of silver. Senator Henry M. Teller (R-CO), a leader of this contingent, attempted to rally for the defeat of the currency plank, but it nonetheless passed over his objection.

Upon approval from the party chairman, Teller subsequently had Senator Frank J. Cannon (R-UT) read aloud a statement expressing their dissatisfaction with the results. The statement vehemently attacked the prospect of abandoning the party's 1892 pledge for bimetallism, stating it would mean, "the absolute ruin of the producers of the country, and finally of the nation itself." Provoking a sea of hisses, the senator continued, "...the Republican party, once the redeemer of the people, [was] now about to become their oppressor unless Providentially restrained." At the closing of the speech, Senator Cannon removed himself from the platform and, along with the whole of the 23-person silver delegation, withdrew from the convention hall. All others in the venue cheered their departure as the on-site band boomed with patriotic music. That matter having been dealt with, the pro-gold, pro-tariff, and pro-expansion (acquiring of Hawaii and the Danish West Indies) platform was settled and so ended the first two days of the RNC.

The nominating ceremony was hosted on the third day. Led by the party chairman, delegates representing the home states of each of the candidates rose and spoke briefly on their behalf. This process was carried out alphabetically, meaning Indiana arose first. On behalf of Benjamin Harrison, an active Republican gubernatorial candidate for Indiana, State Senator James A. Mount (R-IN), presented his nominating speech. It did well enough in recounting the achievements of the Harrison Administration, and surely invoked its fair share of applause, but the speech from Senator Shelby M. Cullom (R-IL) seconding the nomination awarded thunderous applause and a standing ovation lasting upwards of fifteen minutes. It was plain to see that, in terms of delegate preference, Benjamin Harrison was far beyond comparison.

Senator Allison's nominating speech came and went with most enthusiasm originating with the Iowa delegation. Then, Senator Lodge spoke to the merits of Speaker Reed, winning exuberant cheers from the audience for his efforts. The address endorsing Senator Cushman Davis (R-MN), from a Mr. Thomas Jackson, ended in little fanfare, as did Mr. Frederick Carlisle's for former Senator Charles F. Manderson (R-NE). Popular New York Assemblyman Chauncey M. Depew (R-NY) spoke next for the nomination of Governor Morton, managing to shine a favorable light on the divisive vice president with a sharp focus on his business experience and his ability to "...place the Empire State solidly in the Republican column."

Senate candidate and former Ohio governor Joseph B. Foraker (R-OH) next spoke for his home state in endorsing Governor McKinley for president. Foraker assured the convention that not only did McKinley rise above the fray in terms of his character and record, but that the American people, "know him, trust him, believe in him, love him and they will not allow him to be unjustly disparaged in their estimation." The speaker was met with a rousing ovation once he concluded, but neither its length nor decibel was said to have exceeded that awarded to Cullom. Senator Quay's nominating speech was last on the list, and the first balloting tally took place in its immediate aftermath.


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Per the Republican Party bylaws, in order to officially declare a nominee, one candidate required a minimum of 471 votes. Seeing as no one candidate either met nor surpassed this threshold, a second ballot was necessary. It is of importance to note that upon casting their first roll call votes, the delegates were no longer bound by or pledged to state convention results.

The first call could not have ended much worse for Governor McKinley. Despite his best efforts to corral Midwestern delegates, the better part of them allied with other candidates. A last-ditch effort by the McKinley Campaign to prolong the nominating process failed when the Quay and Allison contingents rejected calls to negotiate, and instead promptly endorsed Harrison's candidacy. This only proved what the McKinley-ites feared most: that their distant, second-place finish with a mere 199 delegates plainly demonstrated the validity of those claiming Hanna's principal role in the campaign. The far-reaching expectations for the Ohioan's campaign came crashing down, and he would sail no higher than he did on this first ballot. The Draft Harrison Movement, having been legitimized in the first ballot, naturally ballooned with fleeing, faithless McKinley delegates.

The interim lasted about twenty minutes or so before the chairman shouted the convention back to order over roaring chants of "Four More Years for Harrison!" For one viewing the events of the convention unfold, it was no secret where the momentum was headed. Sensing this, the delegation speedily voted for a second roll call to take place instantaneously in place of extending the proceedings through Friday.


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With that, the nomination was sealed. For the third time in a row, the Republican nomination would go to General Benjamin Harrison of Indiana. Once the results of the roll call were announced, the convention erupted in a cathartic wave of chants, tin horn blasts, and general pandemonium. After some time, the chairman returned the hall to order and called upon Senator Lodge who, in turn, pledged the support of Massachusetts to Harrison and moved to make the nomination unanimous. Pennsylvania did the same, as did Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, and, at long last, Ohio. The vote, by acclamation, passed, and the chairman formally declared Harrison the nominee of the Republican Party.

The final on the agenda was the matter of vice president. Nominating speeches for the five candidates were short, and thereafter the state delegations cast their votes. Fortunately, Harrison named his preferred pick to the Indiana delegation prior to the convention in the opportune case he was nominated (in this era the candidates did not typically attend the conventions themselves out of tradition). The Harrison team, with the assistance of Mr. John Randolph, a Tennessee delegate, floated the nomination of former Chattanooga mayor and Representative Henry Clay Evans (R-TN).


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The Democratic National Convention, July 1896 - Source: Wiki Commons

The 1896 Democratic National Convention, held at the famous, three-story Chicago Coliseum in Illinois, opened its doors on July 7th as scheduled. It was indisputable that the overwhelming majority of delegates arrived at the convention ready to enshrine the cause of Free Silver into the party platform. Over the course of the past several months, Silver Democrats and Populists triumphed over stagnant Bourbon Democrats in delegate-appropriating votes across the country. Representing the interests of their pro-silver constituencies, prominent politicians from the South and West poured into Chicago with an explicit aim to free the party from its aged establishment stranglehold and remake the Democratic Party as contemporaries knew it.

Once the festivities began, the reality of the situation made itself apparent to the Bourbonites. In sheer vote count, the Populist-allied faction of the party far outmatched the minority Cleveland Democrats.


The war in the Democratic Party had already been decided by the time of the Chicago convention. In any case, witnessing the proposal of the party's most radical platform in its history must have been a shocking sight to [Former Navy Secretary William] Whitney. It lambasted and renounced every last one of Grover Cleveland's policies and actions as president. [...] [The platform] named the gold standard an "anti-American" policy, ridiculed the Supreme Court for its ruling nullifying the income tax, supported strict railroad and trust regulations, opposed utilizing injunctions against striking workers, called for admission of New Mexico, Arizona and Oklahoma into the Union as states, offered sympathy for Cuban independence, and shunned the concept of a presidential third term.
Thomas O'Conner, A Radical History of American Politics: Vol. 4, 2014

Bourbonites, as one may imagine, sternly objected to the proposed platform and demanded a floor debate to determine the merits of its adoption. The majority complied and designated Senator Benjamin Tilman (D-SC), the "favorite son" candidate of South Carolina, and former Representative William Jennings Bryan to speak on their behalf. Tillman was an avid segregationist and white supremacist known for his harsh language laced with a populist tonality. In other words, he may not have been the best choice to represent the cause of Free Silver, but the delegation nevertheless insisted. The South Carolinian then delivered a biting, albeit incredibly divisive, speech framing coinage as a sectional matter between Northeastern moneyed interests and "white slaves" who required "emancipation". Tillman's speech as a whole proved disastrous and garnered a distinctly negative reception from Silver Democrats who hastily denounced the senator's attempts at morphing a cordial debate into one more at home in the Antebellum Democratic Party.

Three Gold Democrats spoke at the conclusion of Tillman's remarks and offered a flimsy defense of President Cleveland's financial policies, receiving uninterested and scattered applause. The convention chairman called next for the Nebraskan representative to end the then-drawn out debate. Bryan shot up from his seat, arrived at the podium and proceeded to deliver one of the single most captivating and influential speeches in political history. Opposite to that of Ben Tillman, Bryan conceptualized the coinage issue, as he said, not as "...a contest between persons. The humblest citizen in all the land, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of error. I come to speak to you in defense of a cause as holy as the cause of liberty -- the cause of humanity."


It is the issue of 1776 over again. Our ancestors, when but three million, had the courage to declare their political independence of every other nation upon earth. Shall we, their descendants, when we have grown to 70 million, declare that we are less independent than our forefathers? No, my friends, it will never be the judgment of this people. Therefore, we care not upon what lines the battle is fought. If they say bimetallism is good but we cannot have it till some nation helps us, we reply that, instead of having a gold standard because England has, we shall restore bimetallism, and then let England have bimetallism because the United States have.
If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we shall fight them to the uttermost, having behind us the producing masses of the nation and the world. Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.
William Jennings Bryan, Democratic Convention Speech, 1896

What followed Bryan's conclusion was a celebration the likes of which neither major party had ever seen. Men flung their hats and coats in the air and waved their canes. The convention band played an interpretation of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow." A swathe of delegates, swayed by Bryan's words, cried tears of astonishment and joined with the Nebraska delegation. All in all, the impromptu frenzy went on for over thirty minutes before the party chairman had an opportunity to regain control of the crowd. Needless to say, the program offered by the Silver Democrats passed.

Representative Richard P. Bland (D-MO), a bimetallist Democrat famed with coordinating the pro-silver Bland-Allison act in 1878, was the party frontrunner leading into the July convention. He checked off all of the necessary boxes for Democrats and Populists alike. Bryan hoped, in fact, that Bland would end up the nominee. He knew that, in the midst of a depression, most Americans were far more likely to vote for a supposed "sure bet" over someone espousing comforting rhetoric. Bryan himself held no political office at the time of the convention and only served in Congress for four years while Bland, and other candidates under consideration for the nomination, recorded multiple decades of service. That notwithstanding, the Nebraskan was a known presence in Democratic circles from his aggressive nationwide romp and the above "Cross of Gold" speech made him an absolute sensation.

When the first roll call reached its end, Bryan rocketed past all but Richard Bland (who failed to reach the two-thirds threshold for nomination). In the second and third ballots, Bryan steadily increased his total to 197, then 219. By the fourth, he surpassed Bland. Finally, to the extreme resentment of the Gold Democrats, the fifth and final ballot provided the Democratic nomination to the electrifying man from Nebraska.


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Having made its selection of Representative Bryan for the presidency, the party delegates shifted then to the question of vice president. The nominee faced a tough decision. A wide assortment of names were presented to the Nebraskan, all from governors and senators to businessmen and railroad directors. Bryan initially considered Democratic committee member and shipbuilder Arthur Sewall (D-ME) in order to attract New England to his candidacy and as well as former Governor Sylvester Pennoyer (D-OR) to do the same on the West coast, but he instead moved to capitalize specifically on the drawbacks of the Republican ticket. The Bryan team believed that in spurning McKinley and his home state of Ohio, the Republican Party may have dampened its support in the Buckeye State and thereby allowed for the possibility of a Democratic win.

Bryan himself is said to have corresponded with his running mate of choice and personally communicated his interest in harmonizing a worthwhile campaign together. The individual turned out to be Ohio publisher John R. McLean, owner of The Cincinnati Enquirer, and although it did take a fair amount of convincing, Bryan made the deal. Following a grueling five ballots, the convention complied.


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Part 1: Chapter II

Harper's Weekly Depiction of a "Popocratic" Supreme Court
Justices include Jacob Coxey, Eugene Debs, Ben Tillman and Peter Atgeld - Source: Wiki Commons


Chapter II: The Election of 1896: Crossroads of a Nation

The nomination of firecracker William Jennings Bryan for president and the adoption of a Populist-inspired party platform infuriated the voiceless Bourbons. Its candidates refused and its policies soundly rejected, a slew of conservative Democrats found no home with their own political party and, in the aftermath of the Democratic Convention, planned an alternative. On July 24th, this contingent haphazardly organized the formation of an anti-Bryan protest organization dubbed the National Democratic Party, “as a means to preserve the ideals of Thomas Jefferson and Grover Cleveland."

Gold Democrats firmly believed that Bryan's pledge to enact a federal Free Silver program would bring chaos to Wall Street and total ruin to the American economy, and they were not alone. Traditionally Democratic groups and newspapers throughout the North and South denounced the alleged "silver fanatics" and proposed temporarily aligning with the Republicans and Benjamin Harrison. President Cleveland relished in this backlash to rampant bimetallism and, although he flatly refused to be considered as their nominee, gave the National Democrats his blessing when they resolved to nominate their own candidate in September. It is worthy to note, however, that Cleveland later chose not to endorse or otherwise assist their endorsee, geriatric, gold-bug Senator John McAuley Palmer (D-IL), despite early signs that he was favorable to their cause.

As once uttered by Alexander Graham Bell, "When one door closes, another door opens." The People's Party at their St. Louis national convention chose the path of fusion in a 3-1 delegate vote. Led by James Weaver, the majority opinion of the Populist delegation (not the rank-and-file) had been that the most practical method of enacting their goals to transform the country was through reforming the Democratic Party and not pushing an independent candidate. Bryan represented enough of a clean break with the Democratic Ancien Régime that the fusionists were placated. Populist William D. Lloyd excellently summarized their argument. "If we don't fuse, all the silver men we have will leave us for the more powerful Democrats."

The Populists officially nominated William Jennings Bryan for president alongside their own vice presidential nominee, former Representative Thomas E. Watson (P-GA). The Nebraskan appreciated the endorsement of the third party, obviously recognizing the potential threat of a rival contender, however did not indicate a willingness to campaign with Watson in McLean's stead. Supposedly unfazed, the Populists now concentrated all cannons on the Republican Party and their effort to win back control over the Executive Mansion.

In order to achieve victory, the Bryan Campaign first required a viable strategy. A great deal stood between the populist Nebraskan and electoral success: an ongoing depression blamed on the incumbent Democratic president, the abundance of publications and large employers characterizing his campaign in negative terms, a schism within his party, and the abandonment of wealthy, conservative financiers once vital to Cleveland's coalition. At any rate, Bryan did have his oratory abilities as well as experience countering well-funded opponents.

Playing to his core advantage, the former congressman concluded that his only feasible method of winning the election was to bring his ideas directly to the electorate. Therefore, from August through November, Bryan embarked on a nationwide speaking tour to accomplish just that. Not unlike his prior mission to popularize the plight of silver, the candidate canvassed for thousands of miles by rail and conducted his entire campaign on the road, meeting millions of voters in their own cities and, in that, circumvented the need for voters to rely on the overt anti-Bryan press for political insight. This type of travel-based "whistle-stop" campaigning was frankly unheard of in the nineteenth century and the Republicans did not have any real counter-measure.

The Republican candidate, Benjamin Harrison, conducted the standard front-porch campaign from his home in Indianapolis. To huge, visiting crowds he would articulate a range of topics integral to the Republican program - although he scantly discussed the currency issue with a remote degree of enthusiasm. [...] Internally, Republicans working on Harrison's behalf found it an arduous task persuading the candidate to modernize his campaign structure. The former president was known to snub proactive suggestions like those of John Hay offering the employ of counter-orators to Bryan. "He shows not an ounce of interest in meeting the moment," wrote one campaign worker.
Jay R. Morgan, The American Elephant: A Study of the Republican Party, 1980

The reluctant Harrison, despite his personal campaigning, chiefly allowed for the Republican National Committee and his own select officers to run the operation. His vice presidential candidate, Henry Clay Evans, routinely met with GOP activists and negotiated with a handful of businessmen over prospective campaign contributions from his own home in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Evans oft promoted Harrison's war record and tenure as president, drawing comparisons with the economic failures of Grover Cleveland and the congressional Democrats.

Members of the committee, working in tandem with state parties in the Midwest and Northeast, more so criticized Bryan rather than point to the achievements of Harrison. Beyond prototypical name-calling and mudslinging, they worked specifically to tie Bryan's character to Governor John Peter Altgeld (D-IL). Atgeld, then known as the governor who pardoned survivors of the 1886 Haymarket bombing and refused to comply with President Cleveland's demands to break-up the Pullman Strike, became an easy target for the Republican Party to call on when it condemned the so-called 'radical element' of the Democratic Party. The Illinois governor actually had no correspondence with Bryan and did not support his nomination, but Harper's Weekly magazine nonetheless portrayed the Nebraskan as a puppet of Atgeld's during the presidential campaign.
 
Just read through your existing posts. This looks really well-researched and well-done. I hope you can make a good long-term TL about the rise of the Socialist Party.
 

Headline of the New York Journal - Source: LoC

The New York Journal, a sensationalist newspaper chained owned by pro-Bryan publisher and press magnate William Randolph Hearst, printed an article in August 1896 entitled, "Harrison Denounces Gold Standard". This story asserted that Benjamin Harrison, despite repeated assurances by his spokespersons and the national committee, would not rule out the application of bimetallism as a tool to lessen the severity of the depression. It cited a frustrated source within the campaign who describes, "fuming debates with (RNC Chair) Hobart over the merits of the Silver Act," and the former president's insistence that undying faith in an uncompromising gold standard was folly. "Doubts over trust in the currency plank hang low over the general's campaign. It is the Republican Storm Cloud, a bearded albatross on the neck of the party."

Though initially brushed off as another baseless shred of yellow journalism, within twenty-four hours the crux of that article was reprinted in three other publications, including The Cincinnati Enquirer. The fact of the matter was that the story held weight. Harrison, thus far, did not present a vocal endorsement of the gold standard and as president he indeed signed off on the 1890 Sherman Silver Purchase Act and, furthermore, disapproved of President Cleveland's repeal of said law. To their detriment, neither the campaign nor its candidate could rebuff the legitimacy of the Journal's story.

Upon learning that Harrison remained sympathetic to the plight of bimetallism, many of the fundraising negotiations between Representative Evans and Republican financiers began to break down. Some of those who planned contribution efforts to the Republican Party out of a sense of fear over Bryan's nomination now lost a degree of faith that a Harrison presidency was capable of thwarting a Free Silver bill in Congress. To be certain, Harrison was doubtlessly a safer bet for the interests of wealthy industrialists regardless of his position on coinage. Both the candidate and his party appealed to this demographic by outwardly promoting protectionism and opportunistic overseas expansion, but it remains certain that Harrison Campaign suffered by demonstrating a lack of commitment to upholding the gold standard.

By the final months of the campaign season, the idea that Harrison would, as Republican editors once described it, "effortlessly stroll in to his rightful abode" seemed far fetched. Bryan had gained momentum from the beginning through his endless stream of town-to-town sermonizing. Pro-Harrison newspapers like The New York Times doubled-down on printing editorials questioning Bryan's mental fitness and stability. Desperate corporate employers began mailing out notices to Midwest branch offices insinuating Democratic victory meant a high chance of bankruptcy and the inevitability of mass unemployment. It was nothing short of panic, and McLean's coordination with influential Democratic publishing allies like Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer worked to characterize these tactics as such.

Bryan observed the fallout resulting from the Journal piece and keenly exploited the newfound weakness of the Republican nominee in his cross-country speeches. In a Chicago address to trade unionists, while speaking to the cause of regulating corporate power and monopolies, Bryan remarked, "Now a word in regard to the ballot. I beg you to remember that it was not given to you by your employer; nor was it given to you for his use. The right to vote was conferred upon you by law. You had it before you became an employee; it will still be yours after your employment ceases. [...] Never take at face value the proposition of an employer that conditions will worsen if you do not vote as he wants you to, especially not when certain professed commonalities serve to underscore variances in grander principles."

Albeit stopping short of explicitly outing his competitor, Bryan essentially signaled that employers and industrialists favored Harrison for a reason other than his currency proposals. Even with the knowledge that Harrison was no purebred gold-bug, wealthy owners still insisted that Bryan would bring ruin to the economy. According to Bryan, this meant that they fret as much, if not more so, over his general doctrine of economic fairness and his evangelical espousing of the social gospel rather than Free Silver. It was this messaging that Bryan deployed among seas of urban laborers in Chicago, Cincinnati and Cleveland as his campaign rolled through.
 

The Campaigns of Bryan and Harrison (left to right) - Sources: Wiki Commons and ULIB

Polls opened to the public on the morning of November 3rd. Both Bryan and Harrison campaigned vigorously and down to the wire, with the former concluding his speaking tour in Omaha, Nebraska. Editorial partisans representing both parties assured the public that their preferred candidate would win in a landslide despite inconclusive evidence to that end - although it could be argued that side in this electoral fight had positive signs to point to. German-Americans, by and large, supported the Republican ticket while farmers and unskilled workers in the South planted their flag in the Democratic camp.

Everyone expected a high turnout and throughout Election Day this appeared to be the case. Of those eligible, 79.9% voted. The big question, and perhaps the one which stood to decide this election, was who industrial workers in the Midwest would support. Harrison played to the demand for stability, offering this demographic the promise of protectionism and low prices. Bryan, on the other hand, appealed to their sense of hope, pledging an increased money supply and a more equitable America.

As predicted, Harrison swept the entire Northeastern United States, winning traditional Republican strongholds like Massachusetts and Connecticut with upwards of 60% of the total vote. This far exceeded their numbers in 1892 or 1888 against Grover Cleveland and put a damper on any hopes that the Democrats would make a breakthrough in this region. Similarly, Bryan lost New Jersey, a state won by the Democratic candidates for president since 1876, by a stunning 18%. Harrison conquered New York State as well, earning about 51% of the vote and all but six of its 60 counties. In the aftermath of the election, the rather confident win for the Republicans in the Empire State was attributed to the efforts of Governor Morton and the state machine.

Shifting further down the Mid-Atlantic, we find further bad news for Representative Bryan in his loss of Pennsylvania to former President Harrison. Unlike New Jersey and New York, Pennsylvania had a record for tilting Republican, but in 1896 it awarded Harrison victory with a giant 57% to Bryan's 39%: the party's best margin since Ulysses S. Grant's 62% in 1872. The orator from Nebraska did manage secure majority wins in Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, yet he could not replicate Cleveland's past victories in Delaware and Maryland. West Virginia was more of a nail-biter, however it was called for Bryan with 5,800 votes separating the candidates.

The Solid South remained the South Solid. Bryan, as some conservatives in his party fear-mongered, did not loosen the grip of the Democratic hold over the American South. From the Carolinas to Texas, Harrison suffered defeats identical to those he encountered in 1888 and 1892. Populists broke hard for Bryan and, as such, likely assisted in his majority win in North Carolina (Cleveland only carried the Tar Heel State by a plurality four years prior).

Aside from the traditional Democratic bases in the South, Bryan performed best in the mostly rural American West. Farmers, laborers, and rail workers ensured the Democratic candidate across-the-board wins in every U.S. state west of the Mississippi River other than Iowa, Minnesota and North Dakota. This had been detrimental to the Harrison Campaign who was absolutely convinced in their ability to win California and Oregon. Harrison himself defeated Cleveland in California in 1888, yet, because of the strength of the Populists and Bryan's appeal to small farmers in the Central Valley region, history would not repeat itself for the Hoosier's benefit.

In order to win the Electoral Vote, the victorious candidate required a minimum of 224 EVs in 1896. With all of the above figures in tow, Bryan held 206 to Harrison's 153. All that remained was the deeply contested Industrial Midwest. It is notable that four of the remaining five states were rather close - with Wisconsin as the exception. Harrison defeated Bryan in the Badger State, 56% to 41%. The second closest state in the region was Illinois. Leaving aside its aggressive campaign to corral the voters of Chicago, Rockford and Springfield, the Democratic machines in these cities could not withstand the organization of the Harrison Campaign. Harrison was awarded all 24 EVs in Illinois.

Michigan was the next closest in terms of the raw vote count, delivering Harrison 51% to Bryan's 45%. Then, to the extreme embarrassment of former President Harrison, Indiana, his home state, reported a Bryan score by a margin of 20,000 votes. At long last, in Ohio, following a strenuous outreach to industrial laborers and a carefully orchestrated pro-Bryan bombardment by the Cincinnati Enquirer, Bryan won by a tiny margin of 3,506 votes.
 
1896 Congressional Elections

Senate
Republican: 44 (+2)
Democratic: 34 (-7)
Populist: 5 (+1)
Silver Republican: 5 (+5)
Silver: 2 (0)


House
Republican: 193 (-61)
Democratic: 136 (+43)
Populist: 23 (+14)
Silver Republican: 3 (+3)
Silver: 1 (0)
Independent: 1 (+1)


House of Representatives Leadership
Speaker Thomas B. Reed (R-MA)
Minority Leader Joseph W. Bailey (D-TX)
Minority Leader John Calhoun Bell (Pop-CO)
Minority Leader John Franklin Shafroth (SR-CO)

The 55th U.S. Congress would remain controlled by the Republican Party. Diverged from the results of the presidential election, the 1896 congressional elections predominantly benefited the Republican Party, albeit with some noteworthy Democratic gains in the House of Representatives and the splinter of pro-Silver Republicans into their own, diminutive party.

Representative Bryan walked away from the presidential election as the winner of the national Popular Vote, and in doing so he picked up states like Ohio and Indiana. The GOP, however, enjoyed uninterrupted majority rule in most Midwest state governments. This endured even after 1896. To the frustration of reformers like Bryan, Constitutional law then determined that only state legislatures were entrusted with the power to appoint representatives to the United States Senate. Therefore, Ohio delivered wins to both Democrat Bryan as well as Republican Joseph B. Foraker.

This phenomenon repeated in a slew of other states that year, further bolstering the Republican Senate majority and too the drive for a Constitutional amendment for the direct election of senators. Republican challengers resoundingly defeated Democratic incumbents including Senators John M. Palmer (IL), copperhead Daniel W. Voorhees (D-IN), and Rules Committee Chairman of the 53rd Congress Joseph C.S. Blackburn (D-KY). Charles W. Fairbanks (R-IN), known for his well-received keynote address at the Republican National Convention, succeeded Voorhees in Indiana.

Senator David B. Hill (D-NY), the Bourbon Democrat once considered a potential candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, failed in his re-election effort, allowing for the re-ascension of Republican Thomas C. Platt to that office. Platt, once a "Stalwart" Republican and a friend to controversial Senator Roscoe Conkling (R-NY), retired the office in 1881 in the midst of a factional disagreement with President James Garfield. He now returned to the Senate intent on disrupting the agenda of President-elect Bryan.

John C. Spooner (R-WI) also won re-election to the Senate, defeating his once-successor, William F. Vilas (D-WI). Spooner, a corporate lawyer and incredibly influential policymaker, previously assisted in developing the Sherman Antitrust Act's powers to prosecute Standard Oil, Co. Although Spooner lost his seat in an 1890 Democratic wave to Vilas, a conservative Democrat and an architect of the National Democratic Party, the Wisconsin statesman re-entered the legislature in March of 1897.

Three individuals were elected to represent the People's Party in the 55th Senate (in addition to two not up for re-election): Confederate veteran William A. Harris (Pop-KS), minister James H. Kyle (Pop-SD), and Henry Heitfeld (Pop-ID). Of these, only Heitfeld, having won a closely contested battle with pro-Silver Senator Fred Dubois (R-ID), would arrive to Washington D.C. as a freshman senator.


Senators Elected in 1896 (Class 3)
Edmund Pettus (D-AL): Democratic Hold
James K. Jones (D-AR): Democratic Hold
George Perkins (R-CA): Republican Hold
Henry M. Teller (SR-CO): Silver Republican Gain
Orville H. Platt (R-CT): Republican Hold
*Stephen Mallory II (D-FL): Democratic Gain
Alexander S. Clay (D-GA): Democratic Hold
Henry Heitfeld (Pop-ID): Populist Gain
William E. Mason (R-IL): Republican Gain
Charles W. Fairbanks (R-IN): Republican Gain
William B. Allison (R-IA): Republican Hold
William A. Harris (P-KS): Populist Hold
William J. Deboe (R-KY): Republican Gain
Samuel D. McEnery (D-LA): Democratic Hold
George L. Wellington (R-MD): Republican Gain
George G. Vest (D-MO): Democratic Hold
John P. Jones (Silver-NV): Silver Hold
Jacob Gallinger (R-NH): Republican Hold
Thomas C. Platt (R-NY): Republican Gain
Jeter Pritchard (R-NC): Republican Hold
Henry C. Hansbrough (R-ND): Republican Hold
Joseph B. Foraker (R-OH): Republican Gain
*Joseph Simon (R-OR): Republican Gain
Boies Penrose (R-PA): Republican Hold
Joseph Earle (D-SC): Democratic Hold
James H. Kyle (Pop-SD): Populist Hold
Joseph Lafayette Rawlins (D-UT): Democratic Gain
Justin S. Morrill (R-VT): Republican Hold
George Turner (SR-WA): Silver Republican Gain
John C. Spooner (R-WI): Republican Gain

*The Florida and Oregon state legislatures failed to elect its senators. They would fill both vacancies in 1897 as noted.
 
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