St. Petersburg, Russian Empire
17 June, 1899 [O.S]
Alix ran two fingers through her newborn daughter’s fine, honey hair. The infant looked up at her with great blue eyes. Alix sighed. The little girl’s cheeks were a bright, rosy red, as a babe’s should be. She had cried for hours, but now she was silent.
The diminutive Grand Duchess only watched her mother with those helpless, mournful eyes. In rapt silence.
Alix felt a lump in her throat. She wondered for a moment, if she was not an empress—then no one would care for her daughters. Except her. But she was an empress, and so her children would never truly be her own. Duty. Honor.
She rocked the infant gently. The girl smiled. Or seemed too.
This was the third.
Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna Romanova.
There was something special about this one. Something distinct and particular in those marine eyes that her elder sisters lacked. Something sad. Or terrible. Alix could not quite tell. Perhaps it would reveal itself as the child grew. Or perhaps not.
A cool wind blew in through the open window. The sky outside was stark blue. She could hear the Neva running. Spring was here.
Maria blinked sweetly. She pawed at her mother with a tiny, chubby hand. Alix’s heart warmed, and she squeezed her daughter’s little forearm affectionately.
Whatever was in those eyes—terrible or tragic—it was portentous She could feel it. Something was in the offing.
There were footsteps behind her. She whirled around, with Maria clutched tight to her breast. And she breathed a sigh of relief. It was only Nicholas.
The Tsar and Autocrat of all the Russias reeled a bit. “I’m sorry, Alix,” he said. “I did not mean to startle you.”
“You didn’t,” Alix said.
Maria did not cry, through all the commotion. Nicholas approached. He looked down into his little girl’s cherubic face. He had the look of a proud father. But something else, also. Alix’s heart broke. Maria was not a son.
“They say she is a curse,” Nicholas said.
“Who?” Alix demanded, immediately. Who would dare—
“The people,” Nicholas responded, sadly. He tugged his beard. “A bad omen. Another daughter.”
“Well,” Alix managed to say. Her throat closed up a bit. “Then she is our
1900 began with the executions of the 42 Cripple Creek rebels. They were hanged in batches in Denver over the space of a week from 11 to 19 January. It was the largest mass execution in US history.
And it did not augur well for the election year.
The Democratic Party still shambled along, oblivious to its own death. The two years since Wilmington had hollowed out whatever remained of the party, except its die-hard core in the deep south. The northern immigrant workers that had once been such a reliable base deserted in droves to the Populists or the Socialists. Northern conservatives who had once voted Democrat either switched their allegiances to the Republicans or simply ceased voting entirely. Even many Catholics went over to the GOP, something that would have been nigh unimaginable a few decades before.
Appeals to free trade or limited government had simply lost the force they once had. All that remained was the south, and the Democrats’ final but potent weapon of racial animus.
Membership had dropped everywhere, by upwards of 50% from 1894 in most of the north. Even in the south it had fallen as many white farmers voted Populist tickets. But they still had a solid core of voters below the Mason-Dixon line. And now it was almost a purely southern party.
In the running for the nomination were John Daniel of Virginia, John Morgan of Alabama (both men were ex-Confederate officers), Arthur Pue Gorman of Maryland, John Palmer of Illinois (the only northerner seriously considered), and Ben ‘Pitchfork’ Tillman of South Carolina (the convention thus became popularly known as 'the Convention of the Three Johns).
So far had the Democratic Party in the north collapsed that the now overwhelmingly southern leadership did not even bother to raise delegations from many states above the Potomac.
Thus, there were only 370 delegates up for grabs.
In the first round, Tillman received 133 votes. Palmer received 108. Daniel received 86. Gorman got 24. Morgan took 14.
On the second ballot, Palmer received 127, Tillman soared to 182. Daniel dropped to 64. Gorman and Morgan both got nothing.
On the third ballot, Tillman took Daniel’s delegates and got to 246, leaving him one maddening delegate short of the two-thirds majority he needed for the convention. The Palmer delegates argued that Tillman’s nomination was ‘suicide’. He was a rabid white supremacist, even by the standards of his region. He was angry, intemperate. No one outside the deep south would dream of voting for him. Again, it was suicide.
Some wag called out ‘the party’s already dead!’ to raucous laughter.
Tillman managed to peel away three of Palmer’s delegates, and so he became the Democratic nominee for president in 1900.
Puck magazine depicted a deranged Tillman stabbing to death the ass on which he rode with a pitchfork. The ass was of course, labeled, ‘Democratic Party’. They were hardly the only ones to mock the depths to which the party had sunken to put up Pitchfork Ben for president.
Indeed, the Democrats held out no real hope of victory. Not after their drubbing in 1896 and continued slide in ’98.
Their aim was to rack up enough votes to deprive anyone else (presumably either McKinley or Bryan) of a majority, which might allow them to play kingmaker.
The Populists’ nomination was much easier. Bryan won uncontested. This time, there seemed a real chance he might win. The loss of support the party had suffered since 1896 had not yet become clear.
Bryan, as disturbed as anyone else by the ever-worsening violence and unrest in the country, said that he went “into the election with a heavy but determined heart.”
The SLP this year had a new candidate. In 1896, Clarence Darrow had been offered the Socialist nomination. He had declined it then. But it had been four years, and Darrow’s views had radicalized markedly since then.
At a speech in New York in December 1899, Darrow announced his candidacy to an audience of STLA unionists.
“When a federal judge and jury sentenced Eugene Debs to die, their pouches heavy with the railway bosses’ gold, he deigned to prophesy. With his heart bared to all mankind, he spoke a hard and simple truth. He said, ‘one day there will arise in this land a great commonwealth of toil, or else the despotism on display in Chicago and New Orleans will become general’. I dare any man to charge that he spoke falsely. And if any man so dares, he may tell it to the widows of Cripple Creek, who have seen their husbands and sons cut down by troops marching under the national banner, for they had the temerity to demand humanity. He may tell it to the people of Wilmington, who gave all, even their heart’s blood, in defense of their rights as free men. The day of which Debs spoke is come. You can see the webs of tyranny woven round the stricken body of this republic. You can see them in the glittering of a soldier’s bayonet, in the hollow eyes of a wasting child begging bread from strangers. You can feel them tight around your own limbs. Around your spirits. You may burst them yet, but tarry and they will become unbreakable. That is the choice before you, now—liberty or slavery.”
Emil Seidel reprised his role as vice presidential nominee—for he was of immigrant extraction and a manual worker by trade, a fine contrast to the old-stock, patrician Darrow.
It was in the Republican Party where the true drama unfolded.
McKinley should have easily been re-nominated. He would have been, in any normal election cycle. But of course, 1900 was no normal election year.
Henry Frick had begun laying the groundwork for his presidential run in 1898, when he took to ingratiating himself with the Republican Party in Pennsylvania, making new friendships and reaffirming those he already maintained. He established a close relationship with Pennsylvania’s Republican Party boss Matthew Quay, offering him generous shares in Carnegie Steel (he had not yet renamed it ‘US Steel’—he kept the Carnegie name long after splitting with his partner. Many suspected, for the sole purpose of irritating Carnegie himself). The LDP, in which Frick held much sway, made hearty contributions to the state party’s coffers, and to Quay himself.
It was in ’98 that Frick also began making occasional trips to Washington, where he met other significant party figures such as New York party boss Thomas Platt and general kingmaker of the GOP Mark Hanna. Hanna personally did not like Frick, finding him arrogant and his cool, unemotional manner concerning. But he recognized the man’s ambition and the sort of magnetic power he could exert over others.
Frick’s lifelong friend and collaborator Andrew Mellon also did his part. Mellon, a banker, was owed favors by a number of politicians, who in turn could put in good words for Frick in the halls of power.
Frick had made certain he was a household name nationally through the massively successful Voice of the Nation
. When he announced his candidacy, no one would ask who he was.
In February 1900, Henry Frick announced that he would be seeking the Republican nomination for president. McKinley had proven unequal to the tasks at hand, he said. The anarchy threatening the country had to be dealt with, and swiftly. He was the man for the job. Hadn’t he done as much at Lattimer? Unlike McKinley and Cleveland, when red agitators sprouted up on his watch, he cut them down without burning cities and butchering civilians.
McKinley and Hanna were annoyed, to say the least. They did not take him seriously at first but would have preferred no one put up so much as a token challenge to the sitting president. The thing ought to come off as smoothly as possible in times like this.
They only began to worry when it was found one could hardly turn a corner without smacking into someone with a copy of the Voice
in their hands or wearing one of the mass-produced ‘Frick’ buttons featuring the steel magnate’s stern aquiline profile silhouetted black. Frick was wealthy, and he used that wealth to make certain his message was heard. He organized speeches by such figures as General Sherman Bell, the commander of the National Guard who’d been taken prisoner by the miners at Cripple Creek. Bell regaled audiences with lurid tales of red atrocity, true and untrue. He described his poor boys, still in their uniforms, led off by wild-eyed WFM men to be shot down like animals. He finished his addresses by asking his listeners to support Frick. ‘The only man on the stage who even really knows there’s a problem, and the only man who wants to do
something for it. The man of the hour.’
That was soon enough Frick’s slogan.
The man of the hour
By the time the convention arrived, in mid-June, McKinley and Hanna realized they’d severely underestimated the man of the hour, and the mood of the time. Frick would have never stood a chance in 1892, before the Red Summer. Even in early ’98, he would have had trouble picking up the support he needed for a successful challenge of a sitting president. But this was an America that had seen Wilmington and Cripple Creek, on top of ’94.
It was a new world.
Frick’s supporters at the convention included Quay and Mellon, and a number of lesser known men, most hailing from the industrial belt, where labor troubles had been the direst, and a few from the west.
No one expected Frick to win, but his presence, and the presence of his boisterous delegates, was unnerving all on its own.
On the first and only ballot, McKinley took 712 delegates, an outright majority, and more than enough to cinch him the nomination. But that left an astonishing 208 delegates for Frick. The fact that he had won even so many did not bode well.
“That man,” Hanna said to Theodore Roosevelt, McKinley’s running mate, “is mad. He has got anarchists on the brain.”
“The problem is,” Roosevelt replied. “So does the rest of the country.”
The Republican leadership hoped that would be the end of this silliness. Now Frick and his delegates would fall in line, and McKinley would go on to victory. Even if might be a narrower victory than the last time.
Instead, Frick’s delegates horrified their fellows when nearly half staged a noisy walkout, singing ‘Hail, Columbia’.
The horror deepened when the Voice
announced that Frick would be running for president anyhow, on the ticket of the newly formed National Party.
“Who in God’s name does the man think he is?” Hanna demanded.
He thought he was Henry Clay Frick, evidently.
And the race was on.
McKinley languished in something of a depression for much of the campaign. He felt a measure of guilt for the travesty his first term had devolved into. More than he
campaigned, his running mate, Theodore Roosevelt, campaigned.
Roosevelt was a New England patrician, but one of exceptional drive and vitality. He had an affinity for the natural world, and the world at large. He had completed a study of the birds of the Adirondacks while at Harvard, spent some time working as a rancher out west, and finally composed a naval history of the War of 1812.
He had served with distinction in Cuba and ridden his wartime heroism into the New York governor’s mansion. But Roosevelt was something of a maverick in the political establishment. He was a whirlwind of reform, rooting out the deep-seated corruption in New York’s civil service, replacing dirty cops and aldermen by the score. He also brought his powerful affection for nature to the office, establishing wildlife preserves in the Catskills and striking hard against the excesses of business, whether that be maltreatment of workers or effusive pollution. He soon drew the ire of the stolid conservatives that peopled his state’s Republican Party, including Matthew Quay, briefly an ally before he grew weary of Roosevelt's idealistic antics. Quay contrived Roosevelt’s nomination to the vice presidency (McKinley’s first VP, Hobart, having died suddenly of a heart attack in 1899) with the intention of getting him out of the way.
Roosevelt reluctantly acquiesced.
But once on the campaign trail, there was little reluctant about him. He may not have been thrilled about his new position, and he may not have been in good accord with McKinley on many things (McKinley was a solid conservative, and Roosevelt anything but), but he pulled hard for the man. It has often been said that Roosevelt saved the 1900 campaign. This is surely an exaggeration, but not a great one.
Roosevelt reminded listeners that the economy was
improving under McKinley, even if it was not improving as quickly as everyone would like. He counseled patience. He harped on the Spanish-American War, never allowing prospective voters to forget that the United States had won
that war and won it under McKinley. He was fond of waving the hat he’d worn into battle at San Juan Hill, complete with the bullet holes in the brim. Roosevelt had a bright, vivacious manner that one ‘could not help but be cheered by’, as one spectator remembered.
Many began to mumble that they wished Roosevelt
were running for president.
But he began to irritate his own party fellows again, when he turned his attentions to the dire straits in which so many American workers found themselves. In a speech before Pittsburgh ironworkers—by 1900 a key Socialist constituency—Roosevelt excoriated the ‘greed’ of the great trusts and called the LDP ‘very nearly a criminal enterprise’. He received raucous cheers, but Hanna and his old mentor Thomas Platt upbraided him for the outburst, demanding that he never ‘go spouting off like Gene Debs ever again.’
Roosevelt quietly but firmly disagreed. He told McKinley himself that he could take a stand against ‘men like Frick and Morgan’ or watch ‘the ranks of the anarchists explode’.
He went unheeded. The Republican Party was glad to deploy Theodore Roosevelt’s natural charisma in its service, but it had little use for his progressive ideas.
Another key weakness of the GOP’s 1900 campaign was that it was not actually sure who it was campaigning against.
Obviously not the Democrats, who had no chance in hell of even approaching victory.
The Populists seemed the clearest threat. After all, Bryan had taken 27% of the popular vote and 98 electoral votes in ’96. The Populists had not gained significantly in ’98, but who knew what the totals this year might reveal?
The Socialists were the great bugbear. They’d won 8.5% of the popular vote (and no electoral votes, thank God) in ’96. And then they’d clawed their way past 13% in ’98. State legislatures from Pittsburgh to Denver were increasingly full of reds. Now, in the aftermath of Wilmington and Cripple Creek, who knew where it would end? Could they poll more than the Populists?
The very idea put a chill down most spines.
Then there was Frick’s insurgent campaign. The Republicans had expected challenges from their left in the Populists and Socialists, but they had not looked forward to a threat from the right, as Frick was now presenting. His campaign was built around skewering McKinley for the ‘impotent, quavering’ nature of his administration, incapable or unwilling to stand up to the red menace. What America needed was a mailed fist, and he could provide it.
The result was that the Republican message was confused, haphazard, almost schizophrenic. They insisted on maintaining sound money as a part of the platform but considering the country had not seen the massive economic upswing expected as the fruits of adherence to the gold standard, this was played down compared to ’96. When attacking the Socialists, they emphasized the importance of private enterprise and constitutional republicanism to the American way of life. When battling Bryan, they tried to convince voters that America might not be in the best way, but she would be in far worse straits if the Great Commoner was allowed to implement his madcap free silver schemes. And when trying to claw defecting Republicans back from Frick, they focused on the man’s inexperience and made much hay out of his supposed dedication to the Voice
over his duties as governor. Though some (usually Roosevelt) occasionally skewered him as a soulless capitalist who saw the world as something to be profited from and then discarded, the GOP simply could not unleash a truly vicious attack upon Frick as a ‘puppet of moneyed interests’ (as Roosevelt sometimes called him in public), because, after all, they feared to appear ‘soft on radicals’.
As for Frick himself, he ran quite a smooth show. He was already famed for his cool, ineffable manner. He had maintained it even as Alexander Berkman stuck a pistol in his face. The theme of his campaign was quite simple: he was the only one who could or would
save America from the rising red tide. McKinley was hopelessly inept, Bryan was an abettor of reds, and of course, Darrow was the menace itself.
He was not a gregarious, jovial entertainer like Roosevelt, nor could he stir the heart as both Bryan and Darrow could, but listeners always noted the command with which Frick spoke. Mark Hanna would grudgingly admit, ‘when he spoke, regardless of what came out of his mouth, you read it as an order.’
Frick was the polar opposite of Darrow in more ways than one. Darrow would never use one word where ten would do. Frick would never use one word where a frightful stare would suffice. His speeches were short and to the point, but they left his listeners convicted.
When Roosevelt called him a butcher for his actions at Homestead eight years earlier, Frick responded only by saying, “There are a hundred corpses at Cripple Creek for every corpse at Homestead.”
To Frick’s consternation, most of his fellow titans of industry viewed the National Party and his presidential run as a bit of irresponsible adventurism. Socialism and radicalism menaced, certainly, but for the time being most capitalists were prepared to stick it out with McKinley, and splitting the conservative vote seemed unwise. Even the LDP, in which Frick wielded considerable influence, lavished most of its donations on the Republican campaign. Frick felt slighted, but wealthy as he was, the Sultan of Steel did not need anyone to finance his campaign for him. He steamed from city to city aboard his private Pullman car, made his point, and moved on. Even his campaign posters tended to be especially succinct. One of the most popular simply presented a profile of the man, underscored with the triptych that became his signature; ‘Country. Order. Peace.’
Frick did not want the National Party to be taken as merely a splinter of the Republicans. If he could not have the GOP’s nomination, then he would make sure his new party would never be mistaken for the one he had left behind.
And he did not want to be seen simply as ‘the business candidate’. If he was going to win, he needed an expansive electorate.
The NP could not simply be ‘anti-socialist’. It needed an identity.
In an interview with the New York Times
in summer 1900, Frick insisted he was not ‘anti-labor’. He explained that if he were president, he would strive to establish harmony between capital and workmen, and provide structured, possibly state-run forums through which each might advance its interests peacefully. Corporations, he called them. This prospective system he called a ‘corporate republic’.
In fact, some of the early campaign posters Frick put out carried as their slogan, ‘for the corporate republic of capital and labor!’ These were withdrawn on the advice of Andrew Mellon, who suggested they carried an uncomfortable implication of doing away with the current
To this conciliatory end, he secured as his running mate the relatively young William Randolph Hearst, a New York Democrat and businessman known for his liberal sympathies. Hearst published the New York Journal
and had supported Bryan’s candidacy in ’96. For a long time he tended towards the progressive and even pro-labor side of the Democratic Party. But the events of ’94, and especially Wilmington and Cripple Creek, had turned him fiercely against ‘radicalism’. He still professed to be a friend of the worker, but like Frick insisted that labor and capital must resolve their differences peaceably and cordially within the confines of the existing order—it could not all be upended on a whim.
With the Democratic Party in shambles and now essentially nonexistent outside the south, Hearst only briefly wavered before accepting Frick’s offer.
Naturally, Darrow, as the representative of the red specter Frick sought to exorcise, bore the brunt of the attacks from the King of Coke. Frick described the lawyer as ‘florid, with little besides the flowers.’
Darrow characteristically retorted—in flowery enough language—that Frick was ‘an enemy of all the decent sentiments of mankind, stripped of all that makes men men save the thirst for jewel and precious stone, undisturbed by consideration of the world beyond the strict confines of the balance sheet, the purest incarnation of raw avarice and industrial tyranny.’
To this barrage in particular, Frick responded, ‘as I said. Flowers. He can heap all the roses he likes upon the inhuman carnage of Chicago; it will remain so.’
As for Darrow himself, he ran perhaps the most spectacular campaign of the year. He played up his history as an attorney for the great railroads, explaining that ‘his heart rebelled’ against ‘the injustice I for which I was compelled to marshal defense. My gorge rose at the corruption of the republic’s hallowed institutions, repurposed so that they might serve not liberty and man, but rather gold and silver. I became a high priest of Mammon, and I could stand it no more.’ The image of the former servant of capital turned a defender of labor resonated.
Frick and Darrow both liked to conjure up the ghost of Eugene Debs. But while Frick used it to frighten, Darrow employed the specter of his one-time client to inspire.
‘A nobler man I never knew, briefly as I knew him’ he said before an audience at Cooper Union in New York. ‘The good people who shot Debs would have shot Lincoln. They would have shot Washington, and probably Christ himself. When it is a capital crime to plead for a living wage and a loaf of bread, you can be sure civilization is fast disappearing in this ‘land of liberty’.’
His wit also did not hurt.
When he was reminded by a Republican partisan that he had defended the assassin Prendergast, who had murdered the mayor of Chicago in 1893, he said merely, ‘yes, I confess, I am a lawyer.’
Darrow enjoyed perhaps the most energetic ground-level support of any candidate, thanks to the exceptional organizational ability of the Socialist Labor Party. In St. Louis, a chorus of pretty young women, chosen for their red hair, opened his speech with a rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner,
followed by the Internationale
. Even a decidedly hostile reporter from the Tribune
was forced to admit the strains were ‘stirring’.
An amusing spectacle was organized in Buffalo, where Darrow, in a mock-up of a courtroom, defended labor (portrayed by an actor in the greasy overalls of an archetypical workman) against capital (portrayed by a pot-bellied actor in the suit and top hat of an archetypical bourgeois), in a trial presided over by a judge who wore a placard reading ‘the impartial state’ (and who regularly interjected on behalf of capital). The skit left the audience howling with laughter.
The SLP published a booklet entitled simply ‘What do the Reds Want?
’. The cover carried a reproduction of an anti-socialist newspaper cartoon that featured a scruffy anarchist sinking a dagger into Lady Liberty’s back. When the reader opened the cover, he found a very simple list of modest, eminently reasonable proposals.
‘The socialists recognize that wealth is produced by labor. They merely wish that this be recognized by society at large,’ was the first plank. Another was ‘the Socialists believe that the worker ought to be remunerated according to his share of the work. Profits mustn’t rise while wages fall or stagnate.’ Yet another initially called for ‘race equality,’ but fearing this might be taken as advocating racial mixing, in reprints was fixed to read, ‘equal dignity and right for men of all races’.
DeLeon was very unhappy with the publication, which seemed just the sort of moderate, simpering, reformist nonsense he’d been fighting against all his life. He was outvoted by the SLP’s executive council and mollified when Ella Boor convinced him it was merely a strategic presentation of Socialist philosophy and obviously not a policy plan.
Nevertheless, the booklet was a massive hit, reaching a circulation of over a million by election day, in the face of DeLeon’s objections.
In fact, DeLeon was rather grumpy about the whole affair, holding fast to his insistence that political theater was no substitute for revolutionary action. He was also suspicious of the newcomer Darrow, who he called ‘a showman who has not read a word of Marx’. Darrow in fact devoured Capital not long after joining the party but nonetheless clashed with DeLeon several times on certain points of theory. Darrow was
a believer in the Socialist program, including the socialization of production, and was becoming more and more sympathetic toward the idea revolution. He was simply not as hard-headed as DeLeon, and so the two men never really got along.
The final participants in the race were the Democrats, who are only just worth mentioning. The Democratic campaign was, like just about everything the Democrats had attempted since the Red Summer, a catastrophe.
By nominating Tillman, the Democrats ensured whatever support was left to them outside the south would crumble even further. Even many convinced white supremacists were disturbed and put off by Tillman’s violent racial hatred and open advocacy of lynching.
‘A lunatic,’ ex-president Cleveland despaired of his party. ‘They have nominated a damned lunatic.’
The ticket was a bizarre one. As a sop to the Democrats that remained beyond the borders of the old Confederacy, the old northern Democrat and one-time Union officer John M. Palmer was nominated as Tillman’s running mate. The two men despised each other. Palmer was a hardline ‘sound money’ man who had announced in ’96 that he would have run on another ticket had the Democratic Party abandoned its commitment to the gold standard. Tillman had leaned towards the Populist wing of the party, before the Battle of Wilmington at least, which convinced him that the Populists were a fount of ‘negroism’. The pair fought constantly, spent as little time together as possible, and Tillman on one occasion threatened to ‘run through’ his vice president hopeful.
Neither Bryan, nor McKinley, nor Frick, nor Darrow, gave the Democrats the time of the day, except as a punchline. McKinley, not known for his gregariousness, joked at a speech in Gary, Indiana that he ‘certainly hoped not to find [himself] conceding to Mr. Tillman in a few months’ time.’
Frick wondered aloud if ‘Mr. Tillman has checked for the negroes and carpetbaggers under his bed tonight,’ to the laughter of his audience.
But decrepit as the party might be on a national scale, it still maintained some power in its southern heartland, and would not give it up easily. The old party machines and ‘good old boys’ networks’ that had dominated Dixie for so long were desperate to retard the march of the Populists and the Socialists on their turf.
The reborn Klan was deployed as a paramilitary force to menace blacks and known white Populists (or Socialists) and do worse than menace if necessary. In Montgomery, in August 1900, a unit of Klansmen engaged in a gunfight with a band of Populist farmers, resulting in six deaths. In Calhoun County, Florida, the offices of the local SLP were set alight. In response, a prominent local Klansman was beaten nearly to death on his way home from work.
This sort of low-level political violence would soon become general throughout the country, but it became so in the south far earlier than it did anywhere else.
Fearful of the gains that might be made at the ballot boxes by black voters, various states moved to disenfranchise their colored populations as soon as possible. Worried that the elections in fall would sweep away forever the already-shrinking Democratic majority, Democratic state senators in Louisiana attempted to ram through a hastily written constitution of dubious legality. Louisiana was one of the southern states with the strongest and fastest growing Populist-Socialist movement, much to the terror of the traditional elites. The new constitution would effectively strip the vote from 50%+ of Louisiana blacks, a critical constituency in the south for both parties.
Though the Democrats still held a bare majority, there were enough Populists and wavering Democrats in the legislature to block its passage.
That fall, the Louisiana Democrats were indeed thrown out of power, never to return.
The country finally went to the polls that fateful November.
McKinley was one of the few US presidents in the history of the republic hardly cheered by his (re)conquest of power. Total turnout was up more than 5% from 1896, but his share of the vote totals had fallen both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of total ballots cast. While he had taken 45.2% in ’96, now he received only 5,050,185 votes for a portion of 33.2%. The most immediate cause of this collapse in the Republican electorate was the defection of Henry Frick, who had taken with him most of the rapidly growing constituency whose first and foremost concern was rising ‘anarchy’. McKinley had also lost a significant portion of the labor vote he’d won in ’96, which had become disenchanted with a ‘recovery’ that by and large did not include wage laborers. In 1900 these one-time McKinleyite workers either voted SLP, Populist, or did not vote. McKinley took the presidency outright only by the narrowest margin—he won 225 electoral votes, one over the necessary majority. This was a victory hardly celebrated in the halls of the GOP.
Bryan came in second place, much to his disappointment and that of his party. The Populist’s share of the vote also fell since ’96, though by a much smaller magnitude than that of the Republicans. In ’96, Bryan had received 27% of ballots cast. In 1900, he received 3,894,119 popular votes, for a total of 25.6%. The Populists’ core constituency, western farmers, had been mollified by the McKinley recovery. Those who voted generally did vote Populist, as the Democrats were no longer of any account, and they mostly were not inclined to vote Republican or Socialist. But many simply did not vote, not oppressed by the economic malaise that had weighed so heavy on them in the last cycle. Bryan also received votes from many workers not radical enough to cast a ballot for Darrow, and from many southern blacks. But the Populists did not see the huge gains for which they had hoped. Their ascent had sputtered out. The Populists’ share of electoral votes also fell by nearly half, coming in at 54. Interestingly, they got these from different states than they had in ’96. The electors of Georgia, Louisiana, and North Carolina were lost to the Democrats and went to Bryan. So did Idaho and Montana.
In third place by share of popular vote came the SLP, who were thrilled by the numbers. The SLP vote had more than doubled since ’96, soaring from 8.3% to 21.3%, with 3,240,028 votes. The great majority of this increase came from evermore disenchanted workers in the industrial belt and in the west, whose unions were ground down by force, and whose wages stubbornly refused to rise. However, a not insignificant number of former liberal Republicans and some ex-Populist farmers also cast their votes for Darrow. The Socialists took 50 electoral votes, coming in just behind the Populists. Despite the overwhelming majority of their numerical support coming from the industrial belts, their electoral votes primarily came from the west, thanks to the lower populations of states past the Mississippi, and thus greater impact of SLP organizers on individual voters; the electors of Oregon, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado went for the SLP. So, to the amazement of many, did those of Florida, by a bare 3,272 votes. Their only great success in the electoral college sourced from the east came from that growing stronghold of the SLP, Pennsylvania, which granted them by a slim 9,832 votes the 32 electors that made up more than half of their total.
Then there was Frick. Frick made perhaps the most spectacular gains, considering he was head of a party that had not existed months before. He took 1,840,580 votes, for a total of 12.1%. He also received an amazing 81 electoral votes, outstripping both Bryan and Darrow, despite losing out to them in the popular vote. These came mostly from Illinois and Missouri, two states especially riven by labor violence. He also took the electoral votes of California, Texas, New Jersey, and Delaware. Most of these he won by bare majorities of less than 20,000, with one or another of his rivals nipping at his heels. To a jubilant crowd Frick announced, ‘we have brushed victory with our fingertips. Next time we shall seize it.’ The great majority of Frick’s support of course, came from Republicans who agreed with his line that McKinley was far too soft on radicals. In terms of social categorization, these were overwhelmingly middle-class voters who felt that not only their property, but even their lives might very well be endangered by rising labor militancy. Shopkeepers, lawyers, civil servants, other professional men, and middling farmers were his core constituents, with a leavening of industrialists.
In the years since, Frick has gone down as the implacable enemy of the worker. There is of course, good cause for the characterization. But the fact is that a not-insignificant amount of Frick’s support came from certain working-class constituencies. Primarily, these ‘Frick workers’ were from New England, a region whose laboring stratum the SLP would never truly capture. These workers were also disproportionately skilled laborers, many of who felt alienated by the ‘industrial unionism’ of the SLP, which they feared would drag all wage-earners down to the level of the most common, unskilled ‘working plug’. These were the sorts who would have been comfortable with the old craft unions and were discomforted by their decline in the face of the STLA. Workers who voted Frick were variously called class-traitors, scabs, scum, or blacklegs. But vote for him they did.
Then there were the tragic Democrats. Tillman won 1,095,221 votes total, an astonishing fall from the more than five and a half million Cleveland had taken only two elections ago in 1892. This netted him 37 electoral votes, which he did by managing to hang on to four traditional strongholds: Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and of course, South Carolina.
Upon receiving the returns, would-be vice president Palmer was supposed to have said, ‘we ought to just close up shop,’ to which Tillman responded that he ought to close up his mouth.
McKinley clung to the Executive Mansion, but there was an air of foreboding over his inaugural address that had not been present four years earlier. Instead of promising peace or prosperity, he swore to ‘staunch the country’s dreadful wounds.’
Most were less than convinced.
1901 came rolling in.
US Presidential Election of 1900