The History of New York State
Book XII, Chapter 10, Part 1

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

CHAPTER X
POLITICS IN NEW YORK STATE

From Cleveland to Hughes

Cleveland as Governor--Charles J. Folger, who had been elected Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals of New York in the year that Garfield became President, became Secretary of Treasury under President Arthur, and in September, 1882, was nominated for Governor of New York. It was unfortunate for Folger that he should be pitted against one of the strongest and steadiest men of his time--Grover Cleveland. The latter had not been well-known outside his own city of Buffalo, until that year, but as Mayor of that city he had shown such strengths and courage that he was marked for much higher office. While most of 1882 showed that Republicans had not united, as it was hoped they would become, after the fall of Conkling. Folger was suspected of having secured the nomination by irregular means. He may not have been a party to the irregularity, but it brought him under suspicion. It appears that "a member of the State Convention was represented by a substitute who appeared on a proxy afterwards shown to be a forgery; and this substitution affected the organization of the convention," writes Ellis H. Roberts. #1 "The national administration was charged with throwing its influence against the re-nomination of Governor Cornell, and Judge Folger was denounced as its candidate forced upon an unwilling convention. The revolt at the polls was unparalleled in the chronicles of the State. The eminent services, the high character, the unexceptional attitude of Judge Folger as an individual were acknowledge by many Republicans who enlisted zealously for his defeat, as a rebuke to what they termed the 'dictation of the machine' and as a censure of the National administration." Judge Folger "experienced in his own person," continues Roberts, "how little often the popular vote turns on the ability or services or character of the candidate, and how the drift of parties and the course of events may overwhelm the innocent when condemnation is aimed at general abuses or tendencies. . . . .Paradoxical as it is, the immense majority against him taught the people to estimate his wroth and character at a higher standard then before." #2

Cleveland came into convention notice without much expectation of success. At the most, he thought his naming for the Governorship might help him to gain a seat on the Supreme Court, but Cleveland possessed what few of the more prominent Democrats could show--an unsoiled political record. Politics since the Compromise in 1850 had followed incredibly tortuous ways. More than once the parties had crossed each other along the way, so that it was somewhat difficult to determine basic affiliations. Democrats had supported Republicans, and the latter at times had seemed to be Democrat. Unscrupulous partisan critics could point to apparent infidelity and instability in the political records of most men who had been long in politics. Cleveland was a newcomer, his escutcheon was still bright, freshly burnished by good reform work as Mayor of Buffalo. Some great Democrats came under consideration for the Governorship in 1882--General Henry W. Slocum, Roswell P. Flower, Erastus Corning, Waldo Hutchins, and some others; but some unfavorable association could be pointed to in each. After a couple of ballots, it was seen that the logical Democratic standard bearer was Cleveland; and in the next ballot he gained the nomination.

His prospects were excellent, for while the republicans were hopelessly divided, the Democrat, for the first time in many years, were unitedly behind their candidate. The circumstances of the Folger nomination made the Republican candidate's predicament most unenviable. One of the minor Republican candidates withdrew early in October because in his own opinion the nominations were "tainted by fraud." Some of the truest friends of Judge Folger urged him also to withdraw; but he held on, and went on to the avalanche of Cleveland votes that buried him deeper than any other New York Gubernatorial candidates had been since the office first became elective. #3 Cleveland was given a plurality of 192,854.

Although Cleveland rode blissfully into office behind a united Democratic party, he knew as well as many others that harmony would not continue--if he held to his role of reformer. This he was determined to do. Tammany soon clashed with the Governor, and the end of a hectic session found Tammany at loggerheads with Cleveland. The Governor showed courage in vetoing the bill which would have reduced fares on New York elevated Railways to five cents. He considered that the companies were entitled to a profit on their investment. Still, by his veto, which at first enraged the people of New York, it was seen that the Governor was, above all, conscientious, that he did not hesitate to be fair and honorable, even at the cost of his own political advancement.

Incidentally, in the Legislative session of 1883 the "Spoils System" sustained some serious wounds, the first State Civil Service law to be passed in the United States being enacted. Another interesting happening was the tender of minority nomination for Speaker to Theodore Roosevelt, who was then beginning his second session as an assemblyman. Cleveland aroused the Tammany tiger to uncontrollable fury when he appointed a Brooklynite, William H. Murthe , to the Commissionship of Emigration. Kelly's opposition was so strong that the appointment was not confirmed by the Senate.

In 1883 the Republicans nominated the same ticket as in 1881, excepting that Pliny T. Sexton was their choice for the Treasurership. The Democrats, now manifesting greater harmony, in convention put forward Isaac H. Maynard for Secretary of Sate. Upon him Tammany centred most of the opposition; and while most of the Democratic candidates won, Maynard was beaten by General Carr. One again, however, the Republicans regained control of both houses.

This led the aggressive Theodore Roosevelt, then only twenty-five years old, to fight energetically for the Speakership of the new Assembly. He lost to Sheard by twelve votes, but in any save a Presidential year he might have won it. However, Roosevelt, as chairman of the Assembly Cities committee, was able to report a bill which would steer into the public treasury many fees that had formerly been the perquisites of the county clerk and register, also others that curbed the avarice of sheriff and surrogates. Governor Cleveland signed these Republican bills, for, although imperfectly drawn, they went some of the way to remedy well-known evils of public administration. He also improved New York City affairs by signing a measure that authorized the Mayor to appoint subordinates without aldermanic confirmation.

Cleveland had done well as governor, and in 1884, Democratic national delegates began to look upon him as a Presidential possibility. His friends in New York had looked upon him as such long before. Indeed, Manning, who led the regular Democrats, had begun to organize State force with this objective soon after Cleveland had gone to Albany. However, Manning had many enemies, and he found his task a hard one. Finally, he succeeded in getting the New York delegation instructed to cast it seventy-two votes for Cleveland under the unit rule, despite the vehement protest by Tammany. Kelly carried his protest into the national convention at Chicago, and such bitterness against Cleveland was manifested that a Wisconsin delegate, General Edward S. Bragg, recommended the nomination of Governor Cleveland, because of the enemies he had made in his own State. Cleveland's had been a reform administration, and if, argued Bragg, he had done as well as the intensity of the opposition indicted, he could do well for the Nation.

The national convention voted to permit State delegates to enforce the unit rule, but when, in the opening ballot, the vote of New York was announced as a unit for Mr. Cleveland, it was made known that forty-nine delegates only voted for him, twenty-three votes being divided among others. Still, the first ballot showed that Cleveland had received 302 votes, and that his nearest competitor had received only 170. A demonstration was made next day for Thomas A. Hendricks, who had received only one vote in the first ballot. It did not reach alarming proportions, though Tammany joined in; and the second ballot gave Cleveland 683 votes, Bayard being next with 81-1/2 votes, and Hendricks third with 45-1/2 votes. So Cleveland became the nominee, and Hendricks secured the nomination for Vice-President.

At the Republican Convention held in Chicago, James G. Blaine again loomed large. President Arthur, naturally, hoped to get recognition, if only as testimony of a difficult executive term well administered. His friends from New York were present, as delegates-at-large, but of the district delegates the majority favored Blaine. Conkling was now one of Arthur's bitterest enemies, and even the offer of appointment of the former Senator to the United States Supreme Court bench could not turn Conkling from his opposition to the President.

The great man from Utica was not present, but many of his friends were; and they had not been in the Arthur camp at the State Convention. Thomas C. Platt and Warner Miller worked for Blaine, and Senator George F. Edmunds, of Vermont, was opposed to both Arthur and Blaine. Among those delegates from New York who inclined toward Edmunds, were Theodore Roosevelt, James W. Wadsworth, George Z. Erwin, Henry F. Tarbox, and Theodore B. Willis. No one faction was dominant at the State Convention, but the Blaine men included ex-Governor Cornell and Frank Hiscock. Finally, the delegates-at-large chosen were Theodore Roosevelt, Andrew D. White, John I. Gilbert, and Edwin Packard.

The chairman of the New York delegation was George William Curtis, but President Arthur could find no cheer in his home State. Still, at the first ballot, Arthur, with 278 votes was not hopelessly out of the running, Blaine having only 66-1/2 votes more, and Edmunds being able to show only 93 votes. Four ballots, however, decided the nomination, Blaine receiving it with 541 votes to Arthur's 207 and Edmunds' 41.

The election hung mainly upon results in New York. The campaign was bitterly contested, but Democrats did not err when they felt confident that they would raw the independent Republicans to their candidate. The New York "Times" opposed the Republican ticket and among the republicans who declared for Cleveland we George William Curtis and Henry Ward Beecher. They had no confidence in Blaine. While Blaine campaigned actively in New York and elsewhere, Governor Cleveland quietly went on with his executive duties, answering criticisms only so far as to ask his friends to "tell the truth" about his early weaknesses in public administration. Tammany, of course, was inherently opposed to Cleveland, and it was difficult to bring this powerful body into reluctant loyalty. Roman Catholics in general, and labor men of New York in particular, were only half-heartedly supporting Cleveland, but when Blaine, in an indiscreet moment, chose as spokesman for a delegation of clergymen, the Rev. Dr. D. Samuel Burchard, a Presbyterian, who quite tactlessly described Democracy as the Party of "Rum, Romanism and Rebellion," he threw several thousand votes into Cleveland's lap.

With these votes he Buffalonian won New York State, and with it the Presidency; without them he might have lost. "The highest Blaine elector in New York received 562,005," and although the result was for several days in doubt, it was eventually found that the "pluralities of the Cleveland electors ran from 1,047 to 1,149; so ht less than 600 votes could have changed the result in the Nation." Blaine, who had been one of the great men of three national conventions had, by one fatal slip, lost the Presidency when it had been almost in his hand. The popular vote was Cleveland, 4,912,696; Blaine, 4,849,680; St. John (Prohibition), 151,830; Butler (Greenback), 133,824. The electoral vote was: Cleveland, 219; Blaine, 281. So as one worthy New Yorker left the white House, another entered.

President Arthur was broken in health and spirit when he left the White House. The loss of the nomination was a severe blow to him, though he grieved more than he should have, it seems. His had been a difficult term, and in general he had done well. Roberts Testifies to his merit and work thus: "The circumstances which attended his accession to the executive office were trying and they were met by him in the main with prudence and patriotism. He disappointed some of the partisans with whom he had formerly acted and disarmed the criticism of those who had been his opponents. His administration was marked by dignity and courtesy, while it closed for the time the control of his party in the National Government. If he did not unite his party in his own State, the white house, while he was president, exhibited American society of the type of the richest circles of our largest cities. He retired with a broken constitution, and when he died, November 18, 1886, the judgment expressed was in all quarters kindly; and history, without ranking him with the strong masters of principles and events, will concede him a creditable rank wit those who in times of peace have sat in the executive chair." #4

Hill Succeeds Governor Cleveland--Upon the resignation of President-elect Cleveland from his State office, the Lieutenant-Governor, David B. Hill, assumed the Governorship. This change occurred on January 6, 1885, a year marked by an exciting contest among legislators for the Senatorial seat of George H. Lapham. First, much factional feeling was manifested in the election of Speaker; while ex-President Arthur, with Miller, Hiscock, and Roosevelt, supported Walter S. Hubbell. The latter, as Speaker, it was suspected would be the first step in a movement to give ex-President Arthur the place in the Senate; and his many enemies fought bitterly to prevent this. In the end Erwin was the victor.

This was thought to point to the election of Leslie Russell as Untied States Senator. However, on January 19, William M. Evarts, who had done so well as Secretary of State in the Hayes administration, especially in laying down the fundamental principle of United States policy in Panama and Nicaragua canal questions, was chosen to succeed Senator Lapham. Evarts had held that the first duty of government is to protect life and property, that it is incumbent upon the United States to guard her nationals and their property wherever placed, if jeopardized by neglect of the foreign Government in whose territory they live. This policy, known as the Evarts Doctrine, has recently been followed by President Coolidge, in the handling of a troublesome state of Nicaraguan affairs. The Evarts Doctrine has, of late, governed our foreign relations very generally. Senator Evarts did as well in the Senate as he had in the State Department. He has unquestioned place in New York history as one of its greatest lawyers and most brilliant statesmen.

Evarts was one of the wittiest public men of his time; and although all anonymous witticisms attributed to him were not his, one story followed him for many days. He was said to have remarked that George Washington had been able to throw a silver dollar over the Potomac because a dollar went so much farther in those days; but once, when asked whether had had told an English visitor a similar store, he wearily answered: "No, I have been misquoted. What I said to the Englishman was that Washington might readily have performed the feat, since he once threw a sovereign across the sea."

Governor Hill was a forceful executive, but hardly as effective as Cleveland. Partisanship was too apparent in his actions; hence opposition to his plans were keener. He and Cleveland did not see eye to eye. Cleveland also was at odds with Tilden, and although he reluctantly gave Manning--his most influential supporter in the Presidential campaign--a place in his cabinet, and made William C. Whitney Secretary of the Navy, Tilden could not get the ear of the President. Tilden, however, was soon to pass from all things mortal, #5 and Manning also had not long to live. Incensed that the President would not heed his recommendations as to Federal patronage in New York, Manning suffered an apoplectic seizure. He lingered for some time, and although he held nominal control of the Treasury Department until April, 1887, he was no longer active in national or State affairs.

Governor Hill proved stronger than Manning and Whitney in the Democratic state convention of 1885, so the movement to nominate Edward Cooper for Governor was defeated. Hill was re-nominated, and although most of the old Democratic leaders were indifferent, he succeeded in defeating the Republican candidate, Ira Davenport. #6 With the aid of Tammany, and able campaign management by Alton B. Parker, Governor Hill fought his way tot he Governorship again; also to domination of New York Democracy.

The Democrats secured all the State offices, but the Republicans dominated the Legislature. They elected James W. Husted as Speaker, William F. Sheehan being the minority candidate. Edmund L. Pitts was president pro tem of the Senate. So Hill's legislative way was not easy. Republicans also controlled the next legislature, fortunately for Frank Hiscock, who was able to secure the place of Warner Miller in the Untied States Senate in 1887. The Senator-elect had had a decade of creditable congressional service, and latterly had shared leadership in the House with William McKinley and Thomas B. Reed. It was suggested that congressman Hiscock might have been the next Speaker, but his friends preferred to advance him to the United States Senate.

Throughout his long career as governor, the ultra-partisan, David B. Hill, found the Republican Legislature always stubborn. They were in his way for the greater part of his seven years as executive. More than all else, they resented his vetoing of the Constitutional Convention bill. The bickerings went on for several years. Governor Hill, however, was more fortunate in composing differences in his own party. Luckily for him death had removed his bitterest enemy. The stormy petrel that had hovered over State politics, agitating both republican and Democratic parties many times since Tweed's passing had also passed away. "Honest John" Kelly, head of Tammany, died in June, 1886. Richard Croker, who for the whole period had been his deputy and was now to be his successor, was a man of more sagacious and less arbitrary mind. He helped to bring harmony in the ranks of Democracy, and generally supported the Democratic Governor.

The Republicans nominated Frederick D, Grant, of New York, son of President Ulysses S. Grant, for the State Secretaryship in 1887; but the Democratic nominee, Frederick cook, was elected, as also were all the Democratic candidates for State office in that year. The legislature, however, still remained Republican.

Lines were drawn tight quite early in the Presidential year, 1888. A governor must also be elected in that year; so the legislature had these thoughts uppermost during the winter session. The Republicans were glad to speed passage of legislation which they knew would be vetoed by Governor Hill, and the Democrats lost no opportunity of magnifying the flaws they detected in Republican measures. The Republicans charges the Governor with "playing politics," apparently with the design of doing the same themselves. Hill vetoed a bill which had provided for the printing of ballot sheets by the State, and had given no ready opportunity to use pasters. He also refused to sin an act to prevent bribery at elections, doing so because he thought the act would lead to blackmail, but he did not frown upon the act which had substitute electrocution for hanging. Incidentally, New York was the first government in the world to do so; and the mishaps that attended he first use of the electric way of carrying out the sentence of death upon a murderer excited world-wide horror.

While New York Democracy was thought to be, in general one unit, care was taken that Governor Hill and his friends should not control the National delegation. New York Democracy wanted President Cleveland re-nominated; and they could not be sure that Hill was enthusiastically of that mind. George Raines, Edward Cooper, Roswell P. Flower, and Alfred C. Chapin were chosen as delegates-at-large, and the Cleveland administration was commended. So also was that of Governor Hill, although the latter was given only five votes for a place on the National delegation. It followed therefore that the Hill faction was somewhat disgruntled. This was quite evident later--in the election returns.

However, the New York delegation to the National convention left for St. Louis enthusiastically and of one purpose. Moreover, they found the whole convention so satisfied with the Cleveland administration that he was re-nominated by acclamation.

His had been a reform administration, and the Democrats wee confident that the electors would say that he had succeeded. In the platform adopted by the Democratic convention is a passage which reads: "the Democratic party welcomes an exacting scrutiny of the administration of the executive power, which four years ago was committed to its trust in the election of Grover Cleveland. . . . . . and it challenges the most searching inquiry concerning its fidelity and devotion to the pledges which then invited the suffrages of the people. During a most critical period of our financial affairs, resulting from over-taxation, the anomalous condition of our currency, and a public debt unmatured, it has by the adoption of a wise and conservative course, not only averted disaster, but greatly promoted the prosperity of the Cleveland administration, and much had been accomplished, despite a Republican Senate, and a strong republican opposition in the House of Representatives. President Cleveland had, stated the platform, "brought the public service to the highest standard of efficiency, not only by rule and precept but by the example of his untiring and unselfish administration of public affairs."

Needless to say, the Republicans did not think so. They condemned Democratic plans of tariff reform. They advocated better protection of American industries; declared that the introduction of foreign contract labor and of Chinese labor as "alien to our civilization and constitution"; condemned the Democratic policy of "loaning the government's money, without interest, to 'pet banks'"; considered that the conduct of foreign affairs by the Cleveland administration had "been distinguished by its inefficiency and cowardice"; arraigned the government "for its weak and unpatriotic treatment of the fisheries question"; and considered that "the men who abandoned the Republican party in 1884," and continued "to adhere to the Democratic party" had "deserted not only the cause of honest government, of sound finance, of freedom, of purity of the ballot, but especially" had "deserted the cause of reform in the civil service." In conclusion, they denounced "the hostile spirit shown by President Cleveland in his numerous vetoes of measures for pension relief" of Civil War soldiers. Chauncey M. Depew, of New York, was one of the candidates for the Republican nomination, but on the seventh ballot Benjamin Harrison of Indiana passed John Sherman of Ohio, and on the eighth ballot was given the nomination. Levi P. Morton, of New York, was nominated for Vice-President.

At the State Democratic Convention, Governor Hill was re-nominated by acclamation. At the Republican Convention ex-Senator Warner Miller was also nominated by acclamation for the Governoship.

The Democratic State ticket was most displeasing to a powerful Democratic faction. On the day after the convention, the New York "Times' which was ardently behind Cleveland, repudiated the State ticket. "From such uncleanness as the New York Democracy put upon itself at Buffalo yesterday," reads the editorial, "there is but on purification--the fires of defeat. In nominating David B. Hill for Governor, the Democratic Convention did not merely touch the pitch and pass by with soiled garments; it went boldly into the pool of defilement and wallowed. For the first time in its history, the party entrusted the work of choosing its candidate to its basest members."

This view was commonly held by the reform section of the Democratic party, who were squarely behind Cleveland. Governor hill's chances were weakened during the campaign by the exposure of an attempt made to pay the cost of hill's first campaign out of New York City's treasury. Nevertheless, there were undoubtedly more adherents of hill than of Cleveland in New York State, for whereas Harrison carried the State by a plurality of 13,002, the republican candidate, Warner Miller, lost the Governorship to Hill by a deficiency of 19,1717 votes. Hill's strength was in the cities.

New York State gave Harrison 648,759 votes, and cast only 635,757 for Cleveland; but the latter's administration was endorsed by a majority of the people of the country, the popular vote being: Cleveland, 5,540,950; Harrison, 5,444,337. In the Electoral college, however, the voting was: Harrison, 233; Cleveland, 168. Thirty-six New York electors voted for Harrison, and not one for Cleveland. The New York "Tribune" later attacked Governor Hill, charging "that he sold a Presidency for a Governorship"; to which the dauntless Governor retorted "that if this were true some one must have bought a Presidency at the price of Governorship," #7 There are generally two sides to an argument.

Harrison recognized the debt he owed to New York, but he did not fully redeem his liability. Chauncey M. Depew expected to be made Secretary of State and declined all other Cabinet offices. Blaine, however, became Secretary of State. Platt, who had some so much in New York for Harrison, had his eyes fixed on the Treasury Department, but he was destined to see it only from afar. Harrison, however, did give Senator Platt the satisfaction of naming Benjamin F. Tracy of Buffalo for Secretary of the Navy; and Platt could find some solace in realizing that, since Miller had "fallen outside the breastworks," he was now the leader of his party in the State. Evarts was now "out of the running." Hiscock was "marking time" in the United States Senate. Though he did not realize it, he had reached the pinnacle of his career.

Governor Hill emphasized his victory by vetoing several Republican measures in 1889 and was undoubtedly in control of the Democratic organization. He smothered an attempt to retire Attorney-General Tabor and Comptroller Wemple, whose strength had been somewhat weakened by scandal; and in the fall elections of 1889, the Governor had the pleasure of seeing his whole ticket march on to victory, Frank rice becoming Secretary of State. The Republicans were still in control of the Legislature, but their majority had been lessened.

This indication of political change produced a compromise Ballot Act in 1890, and fewer measures that were objectionable to the Governor. In 1890 Richard Croker came under suspicion of profiting privately from the fees of the Shrievalty of New York, and Tammany suffered somewhat in consequence. However, the country as a whole was swinging away from the republican Party, and in New York in the fall of 1890 the political pendulum ha swung past the dividing point. Indeed, for the first time in many years, Governor Hill, in 1891, found himself in possession of a Democrat Assembly. Even Mayor Grant of New York City was re-elected, notwithstanding that he, when sheriff, had been charged with handing over part of the fees to the Crokers, for this private use. The exposure, at least, brought Republicans and the County Democrats together for municipal reform.

The Stolen Senate--Having control of the Legislature, Governor Hill was able to secure his nominee in the speaker's chair, William F. Sheehan being chosen. This paved the way for Hill to step into the Senatorial place vacated by Evarts in March. For the remainder of that year, however, New York was to be governed by a man who was also one of the representatives in the United States Senate. Hill clung to the Governorship, and to the leadership of New York Democracy, preferring to devote himself to his executive duties at Albany than to take his seat in the Senate when the Washington session opened in December. By this extraordinary procedure, Lieutenant-Governor Edward F. Jones was denied the honor of ending six years as such by functioned for even a few weeks as Governor. Hill seemed to be hungry for office; in fact, for some years he had endured the pangs of Presidential hunger; and he dreaded to hand the reins of New York Democracy to another.

 

The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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