Samuel J. Tilden (1876, Democratic)
- Opponent: Rutherford B. Hayes
- State: New York
- Running Mate: Thomas A. Hendricks
Background and Education: Samuel Jones Tilden was born on the 9th February 1814 in New Lebanon, New York. His parents were Elam Tilden and Polly Jones. The family was fairly wealthy, as the Tildens owned a medical cannabis company. As he was frequently ill, Tilden did not attend school with any regularity. He would drop out of Yale. Tilden eventually started at NYU Law. During his studies, Tilden read law in the office of an attorney. He was eventually admitted to the bar in 1841.
Personal Life: Tilden never married or had any children.
Pre-Election Career: Tilden was a corporate lawyer who specialized in railroads. His skill allowed him to make a considerable amount of money. In 1844, Tilden won election to the New York State Assembly. He’d been involved in Democratic politics for years, as had his family. The exception to this was in 1848, when he supported Van Buren’s Free Soil Party. Tilden was an anti-slavery advocate and a fierce supporter of the Union. This, however, did not mean he defected to Lincoln or the Republicans. Tilden was not a huge supporter of the war and felt that the GOP was abusing power.
After the war, Tilden was voted in as Party Chairman for the New York Democrats. He gained a reputation for anti-corruption after he helped lead an investigation into William “Boss” Tweed. Tweed would eventually be indicted on over one hundred counts of fraud and other financial improprieties.
This reputation helped him easily become the Governor of New York in 1874. He continued to root out corruption. One such example of this was when he broke up the so-called ‘Canal Ring. A group of New York politicians of both major parties were profiting from the repair of state canals. They charged varying amounts for works and locked contractors in. Tilden also supported lower taxes and smaller government.
Election: In 1876, Ulysses S. Grant had served two terms as President. Despite being personally popular, Grant’s administrations had been full of corruption and scandal. Thus Tilden was the perfect Democratic candidate due to his anti-corruption campaigns. As Grant was not running again, the Republicans had a candidate in Rutherford B. Hayes. The Panic of 1873 had caused severe economic distress. Currency was also being debated, with hard money v notes being the issue of the day.
Election Day proved to be anything but decisive. Results in South Carolina, Florida and Louisiana were unclear but the counts would be done by Republican controlled boards. Votes were thrown out, justified by apparent pressure and violence. An electoral problem in Oregon flipped from Hayes to Tilden.
In order to remedy this, a roughly bipartisan electoral commission came together in order to sort things out. They eventually decided, 8-7, that the election should have gone to Hayes. The Democrats were not thrilled about that. They extracted promises to end Reconstruction in the South. Worried that this would backfire, the count was ordered to commence. In the end, Hayes won 185 votes. Tilden got 184.
Later Years: In 1878, the House of Representatives created The Potter Commission. This commission looked at the accusations of impropriety during the 1876 election. As it was pushed for and run by Democrats, the aim was to discredit Hayes’ presidency. Unfortunately for them, it uncovered a massive amount of fraud and bribery from the Democrats. Despite his innocence, Tilden’s reputation was badly damaged.
Tilden was the Democrats’ choice for 1880, but he would only accept if it was unanimous due to
his ill health. This unnerved the convention, who selected another candidate. Tilden was once
again the favourite in 1884, but he completely ruled it out.
Samuel J. Tilden died in Yonkers, New York, on the 4th August 1886. Tilden was 72. He is buried in the Cemetery of the Evergreens in east New York. Tilden died a very wealthy man and stipulated that the money in his will would be used to create a public library. It still stands today – rhe New York Public Library.
Appearance and Character: Tilden was an average looking man with dark hair that turned grey as he got older. He was a very scrupulous man with strong convictions. Tilden fought very hard against corruption and enjoyed an excellent reputation for most of his life. During the counts in the 1876 election, Tilden urged against violence and disharmony.
Winfield S. Hancock (1880, Democratic)
- Opponent: James A. Garfield
- State: Pennsylvania
- Running Mate: William H. English
Background and Education: Winfield Scott Hancock was born on the 14th February 1824 in Montgomery Square, Pennsylvania. He had an identical twin brother named Hilary. His parents were Benjamin Hancock and Elizabeth Hoxworth. Benjamin was a teacher and staunch Democrat. Hancock was initially privately educated but was moved to the local public school upon its opening. His congressman nominated him to attend West Point and he was accepted. Hancock’s father packed two books in his bag- The Constitution and William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England.
He proved to be a mediocre student, coming 14th out of 25 in his 1844 class.
Personal Life: Hancock was introduced to Almira “Allie” Russell, daughter of a merchant, by a West Point classmate. They married in January 1850 after a short courtship. Allie happily joined Hancock on the frontier and proved to be a very strong woman. They had two children, Russell and Ada. Ada died aged eighteen of typhoid fever. Russell was thirty-four and left a widow with three children. Both predeceased their parents. A grandson died the day that Hancock was nominated for the Democratic ticket.
They seemed to have a happy relationship. Allie wrote a book about her husband after his death, defending him until the end. She died in 1893 and is buried in St. Louis, away from her husband.
Pre-Election Career: Hancock served several years in the territories before the outbreak of the Mexican-American War. He was unable to get out of recruitment duty until his namesake General William Scott personally got him a job on his staff. Hancock mainly had bureaucratic duties after the war, but proved to be a very adept administrator (his superiors hadn’t wanted him to leave recruitment as he was so good). He did see combat during the Seminole War. The Civil War broke out in 1861. This was hard for Hancock, as he was very close with many men who’d become Confederates. His first real taste of action occurred during the Battle of Williamsburg. Hancock won a surprise victory and became known as “Hancock the Superb.” He would see both defeat and victory during the war.
Hancock was injured during the Battle of Gettysburg by a ball to the thigh. It took him six months to return to active duty. After a fairly successful return, a disastrous victory at Ream’s Station saw him quit the battlefield and return to administrative duties.
Upon the assassination of Lincoln, Hancock was called to oversee the execution of the conspirators. He was particularly reluctant to execute Mary Surratt, perhaps because of her gender, and others deemed less culpable. Nevertheless, Hancock did as ordered. Hancock was briefly sent west, but was then ordered by President Johnson to oversee Reconstruction as commander of the Fifth Military District. His leniency upset Republicans, but he was extremely popular in the South despite having fought for the Union. The election of Grant and Hayes would see Hancock be sent across the country. His most notable activity was fighting against strikers during the Great Railroad Strike of 1877.
Election: In 1880, the Democrats chose Hancock as their nominee for President. He was extremely popular in the South, whilst many in the North respected him. This made him a valuable candidate. Unfortunately, the tide soon turned against him. The North was worried about having a President so amiable to the South. There was also concern about having another military leader in power, as Grant had left his term widely unpopular. In the end, it was one of the closest elections in US history. Republican James A. Garfield won the popular vote by just under 2K. The Electoral College gave him a stronger victory but both men won nineteen states. Upon being comforted about his loss, Hancock replied “that is alright, I can stand it.”
Later Years: Gracefully accepting defeat, Hancock attended Garfield’s inauguration and later, his funeral. Hancock continued with his military career until the end of his life. He was also President of the NRA and actively involved in military organisations. Hancock died on the 7th February 1886 from a war wound and complications from diabetes. After a simple funeral, Hancock was buried in Montgomery Cemetery, Pennsylvania.
Appearance and Character: Hancock was a very tall (6’2) man, considered extremely handsome and dignified. He had thick brown hair and a mustache. Many regarded him as a born leader due to his dignity and bearing. Hancock was widely revered for his honesty, decency and sense of duty. Even political enemies respected him. He bore his defeat gracefully and respected Garfield’s victory. Hancock was repeatedly quite the potty mouth but we can expect that from a veteran soldier.
James G. Blaine (1884, Republican)
● Opponent: Grover Cleveland
● State: Maine
● Running Mate: John A. Logan
Background and Education: James Gillespie Blaine 1830 was born on the 31st January in West Brownsville, Pennsylvania. His parents were Ephraim Blaine and Maria Gillespie. The family were fairly well-to-do. Blaine started at Washington College aged thirteen and graduated near the top of his class in 1847.
Personal Life: When Blaine was working as a professor, he met a teacher named Harriet Stanwood. The two married in 1850 and went on to have seven children- four sons and three daughters. Harriet died in 1907 and is buried in Maine. His son James’ marriage would cause a political firestorm towards the end of Blaine’s life. Jamie, only seventeen, had married a woman named Mary Nevins. Five years later, Mary asked for a divorce. This was extremely scandalous in the 1880s. Blaine was silent on the matter, but it soon played out in the newspapers. Mary managed to win the divorce, gain custody of their son and gain alimony. James was a drunken idiot who could hardly hold down a job and was widely considered a failure, even by his own father.
Blaine attempted some damage control, but Mary was more than happy to fight back. He attempted to defend his son and his many issues, but James was just seen as a spoiled brat. Mary sent open letters in response to Blaine’s, calling for justice. Eventually, his opponents bought Mary’s letters from her ex-husband for over $50,000.
Pre-Election Career: At only eighteen, Blaine became a professor at a prep school and college in Kentucky. He moved to Pennsylvania briefly and then Maine to live with his wife’s family. They headed to Philadelphia after the birth of their first son where Blaine would teach at a school for the blind.
Blaine bought co-ownership of a Maine newspaper in 1853, forgoing his expected path of law. The Kennec Journal would become a mouthpiece for the new Republican Party. Blaine had been a Whig before this. He continued his venture into politics, though he did become a newspaper editor in 1857. Between 1858 and 1863, Blaine was a member of the Maine House of Representatives.
It was in 1862 that Blaine finally entered national politics, having been elected as a congressman. In the years of Reconstruction, Blaine pushed for harsh measures against the South but did support amnesty for the average soldier. He was also a staunch advocate of civil rights. In 1869, Blaine was voted Speaker of the House, a role he would enjoy for six years. Blaine proved a close friend and ally of the otherwise controversial Ulysses S. Grant.
In 1874, he was elected to the Senate. In 1881, Blaine had his first stint as Secretary of State. He promoted an expansionist and market approach. Unfortunately, the assassination of his good friend James A. Garfield forced Blaine to resign. Blaine then spent three years as a private citizen.
Election: The decision by the unpopular Rutherford B. Hayes meant that the field was wide open for the Republicans in 1884. Despite early attempts to keep him off the ticket and his own misgivings, Blaine won the nomination. Unfortunately, he was following two Republicans who had been marred by scandal. Cleveland was seen as a fresh character not involved in moral failings, though the story of his illegitimate love child did the rounds.
Blaine himself was accused of corruption, which he vehemently denied. This concerned old allegations of favouring railroads in legislation, though this time old letters had surfaced. The most damaging blow of all occurred when spokesman Samuel D. Burchard delivered his infamous “Rum, Romanism and Rebellion” speech in NYC. This speech was virulently anti-Catholic, accusing them of being violent and racist alcoholics. Considering this was in NYC, where many Catholics lived, it didn’t go down too well. Cleveland won fairly narrowly. Many believe Burchard’s speech ended Blaine’s chances.
Later Years: Blaine spent the next few years writing, stumping for fellow Republicans and traveling abroad. Many party members still liked him and urged him to run against Cleveland again in 1888. Blaine firmly rejected the notion, though it took a while for them to get the hint. After Benjamin Harrison won, he chose Blaine as his new Secretary of State. Blaine continued his expansionist policies, hoping to extend American influence to Latin America and the Pacific. He was well-liked in Washington but had personal animosity with Harrison. Issues of the day included the Chilean Civil War and a Pan-American customs union.
As 1892 came close, many supporters wanted Blaine over the disliked Harrison (sensing a pattern here?). Harrison, to his credit, knew he was unpopular and would lose the election, but desperately wanted to keep his rival Blaine off the ticket. He had thought Blaine wanted it, as he’d resigned as Secretary of State days before the convention. Blaine, however, was exhausted and his always precarious health wasn’t at its best. He spent the next few months resting at home.
Blaine died on the 27th January 1893 in Washington DC, six months after he resigned. He was sixty-two, days shy of his sixty-third birthday. Blaine is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, DC.
Appearance and Character: Blaine was a stern looking man with a long beard and dull
coloured eyes. Popular within his party, Blaine was an intelligent and studious politician. He was
actually a family man unlike Cleveland (possible rapist/locked the mother in an asylum/had the
baby taken away from her). Unfortunately, Blaine was often attached to scandal due to his fierce
loyalty and potential involvement in railroad schemes. Despite his dislike for his son, Blaine did
try to defend him, though this just made his son look spoiled and the father coddling.
William Jennings Bryan (1896, 1900, and 1908, Democratic)
● Opponent: William McKinley (1896/1900)/William H. Taft (1908)
● State: Nebraska
● Running Mate: Arthur Sewell, Thomas E. Watson (1896), Adlai Stevenson I and John W.
Background and Education: William Jennings Bryan was born on the 19th March 1860 in Salem, Illinois. His parents were Silas Bryan and Mariah Jennings. Bryan was a brilliant and intelligent student with a talent for public speaking from an early age. He graduated from Illinois College in 1881 before entering Union Law College (now Northwestern Law). Bryan graduated there in 1883 after two years of study.
Personal Life: Bryan met a student named Mary Baird in 1879. After nearly five years of courtship, the two wed in 1884. Mary was a brilliant woman instrumental in her husband’s success. She was his advisor, secretary and teacher. Mary was a writer in her own right and staunch supporter of female suffrage. She died in 1930 and is buried with her husband in Arlington. They had three children: Ruth, William and Grace. Ruth would later become a member of Congress in 1929 (Florida’s first female representatives). She would also become the US’s first female ambassador.
Pre-Election Career: After a successful career in law, Bryan successfully won a congressional seat in 1890 aged only 30. His star rose extremely quickly and he became known for his populist leanings. He was an advocate for direct election of Senators and of farmers. Bryan became renowned for his oratory skills. The issue that Bryan was most interested in was monetary policy. He was a staunch supporter of the free silver movement. Those who supported it believed that basing coinage on silver as well as gold would expand the federal money supply. This was a very populist position opposed by the banks and wealthy of the day.
Bryan failed to gain a Senate seat in 1884 and instead returned to Nebraska to work at a newspaper.
Between his first two presidential campaigns in 1886 and 1900, Bryan continued his crusade for free silver and was likely horrified when President McKinley signed the Gold Standard Act. He also supported the US in the Spanish-American War as he believed in freeing Cuba. An Anti- Imperialist, Bryan was not happy when he discovered that the US was to take control of the Philippines.
After 1900, Bryan’s role as a Democratic leader slipped as the party started to reorganise itself. Bryan nevertheless continued to play a part in national politics as the Progressive era loomed large. He was a prominent critic of the Roosevelt administration. Bryan then took a three year tour of Europe and Asia between 1903 and 1906.
1896 – Bryan’s first time as Democratic nominee was in 1896. He was interested in becoming the nominee but was worried that he was too young and inexperienced. His luck changed when he was picked to deliver a speech on free silver at the DNC. The “Cross of Gold” speech was delivered on the 9th July 1896. Bryan’s famous oratory skills were on full display that day. His fiery rhetoric and strong views sent an electric shockwave through the audience. Bryan won on the fifth ballot. He also represented the Populist and Silver Democrats. Some Democrats, upset by Bryan, ran their own candidate.
His ticket mate for the Democrats was shipbuilder Arthur Sewall. His ticket mate for the Populists was former Georgia congressman Thomas E. Watson. Candidates campaigning was seen as unbecoming but Bryan ran an active campaign. He criss-crossed the country and gave exhilarating speeches. Bryan was supported by farmers and the working class, but was loathed by many conservatives and industrial workers. McKinley won comfortably due to a strong campaign and lots of funds.
1900 – Bryan won the Democratic nomination with ease. Unfortunately, the challenge was harder this time. The times were good and McKinley took credit for the economy. Many linked it to the Gold Standard Act. Bryan also had a fierce competitor in Theodore Roosevelt, McKinley’s new running mate. Roosevelt was just as energetic and bombastic as Bryan. Bryan continued to run on the free silver platform but this was unpopular. His anti-imperialist stance was also unpopular after the success of the Spanish-American War. Bryan’s ticket mate was former Illinois congressman Adlai Stevenson I. McKinley won decisively once again.
1908 – Even after his wilderness years, Bryan remained popular with Democrats. Whilst initially rivaled by John Albert Johnson for the nomination, Bryan once again won. His ticket mate was former Indiana State Senator John W. Kern. This time his opponent was William H. Taft. Bryan’s progressive politics aligned with that of Roosevelt’s. Businessmen still supported the Republicans and Bryan no longer had the free silver leg to stand on. He suffered his final, and worst, defeat.
Later Years: Following his defeat, Bryan came out in favour of top two political issues: female suffrage and prohibition. His views on suffrage undoubtedly came from his intelligent wife. Bryan was also a lifelong teetotaler who despised alcohol and believed it to be the cause of society’s ills.
In 1912, Bryan chose not to run again. He threw his support behind Woodrow Wilson and proved a valuable player. As a thank you, Wilson made Bryan his Secretary of State, a prestigious decision. Bryan oversaw US invasions despite his anti-imperialist and conflict views. He nevertheless made many trade deals and was aligned with Wilson on policy.
The outbreak of WW1 in Europe changed things. Bryan remained staunchly neutral and fought to keep America out of the war, though he did want to play mediator. After Wilson repudiated the Germans for the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, Bryan tendered his resignation. Bryan spent the next few years supporting Woodrow Wilson’s successful reelection bid and campaigning strongly for prohibition. His interest in religion sharpened and he became a creationist. This consumed his work in the last few years of his life. It would culminate in the 1925 Scopes Monkey trial. A Tennessee school taught evolution as a way to get publicity. Bryan argued for the prosecution. He played up his creationist views but came across as arrogant and stupid to the press and public. Whilst the Tennessee schoolteacher lost, Bryan’s credibility was shredded.
On the 26th July 1925, only days after the trial ended, Bryan died suddenly in his sleep. He died in Dayton, Tennessee and is buried in Arlington Cemetery.
Appearance and Character: Bryan was a portly man with a severe expression and receding hairline. Known as “The Great Commoner,” Bryan was the leading orator of his day bar none. His talent for speech making won him presidential nominations. He was very progressive for the day in regards to suffrage and anti-racism, but his strong creationist views made him seem uneducated and foolish. Bryan had strong views on helping the poor, much to the anger of conservative Democrats. Historians are divided on his legacy, but there’s no doubt he shaped the Democrats’ policy and was the leading non-Presidential political figure of the day.