The History of New York State
Book XII, Chapter 10, Part 2

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam


In November, 1891, the Democrats succeeded in the State elections, sending Roswell P. Flowers to take Hill's place as governor, #8 Sheehan becoming Lieutenant-Governor. The unsuccessful Republican candidate was J. Sloat Fassett. Again the Democrats were in the majority in the Assembly, and facing the question of deciding four doubtful Senatorial elections, the State Senate stood fourteen to fourteen. In this emergency the public witnessed a most distressing lapse from honor and probity in high office. Brown writes: "The Senate was in doubt and Hill's desperate effort to obtain control developed into one of the most notable, and in its effects on personal and party fortunates, most far-reaching political scandals in the history of the State. No such striking abuse of the election machinery had occurred in New York State since 1792, when John Jay was deprived of the Governorship by the throwing out of the votes of three counties on pretexts of the most extreme technicality in clear denial of substantial justice and the rights of voters." #9 The governor, the Deputy Attorney-General Isaac H. Maynard, and several other State officials, as well as a majority of the judges of the highest court of the State, were involved in this abuse of the voting privilege, and, although the immediate outcome was the seating of seventeen Democrats and only fifteen Republicans in the State Senate with what temporary advantage this majority could give the Democratic party, the final and substantial advantage went to the Republicans, for in 1892 Maynard who had been rewarded with appointment to the Court of Appeals, was rejected by the people, and his "crushing defeat marked the turn of the tide that was to give the Republican sixteen unbroken years of complete control of the State Government." #10

Still, for the immediate purposes of ex-Governor Hill, the Senate majority obtained by questionable means suited quite well. He was able to secure passage of a bill re-apportioning election districts, a change which made the power of the Democrats stronger; and this reapportionment was sustained by the Court of Appeals. Senator Hill also used his control of the Democratic state organization to further his Presidential aims. He lost no time in doing so, either. Many weeks before the usual time for ht gathering of Democratic representatives to chose delegates for the National Convention, Senator Hill brought New York Democrats together at Albany for that purpose. The Cleveland adherents protested against this "snap convention," and decided to hold another three months later in Syracuse. Nevertheless, the New York delegation that went to Chicago in June, 1892, clamored for the nomination of Hill. As before, President Cleveland had to look away from his home State, which was noisily against him. All the noise made by the New York delegation could not convince the convention that Hill would make a more desirable candidate. The incidents of the last New York State election, and especially of the "stolen Senate," would be campaign material which the Republicans would, no doubt, make the most of against Hill.

After all, the vital issue of that time was protection versus Free Trade. The Republicans advocated Protection; Cleveland, leading the Democrats, had stood squarely for Free Trade. The ex-President was the leader that the Nation, that is the Democratic section of the Nation, had most confidence in. So strong was the confidence of Democrats in the Buffalonian that Grover Cleveland was re-nominated almost unanimously on the first ballot. He was given 617-1/2 votes, Hill being next with 114 votes. Another New Yorker also appeared on the ballot, William C. Whitney being given one vote. Adlai Stevenson, of Illinois, was nominated for Vice-President on the first ballot.

The Republicans were almost as unanimous. At their National Convention in Minneapolis, president Harrison was re-nominated on the first ballot, receiving 535-1/6 votes, James G. Blaine being next with 182-1/6 votes, beating William McKinley for second place by only that one-sixth of a vote. Whitelaw Reid was the Vice-President nominee, by acclamation on the opening ballot.

Downfall of Hill--the Democrats adopted a platform which dealt chiefly with trade issues. They denounced "Republican protection as a fraud--a robbery of the great majority of the American people for the benefit of the few." They denounced "the McKinley Tariff Law enacted by the Fifty-first Congress as the culminating atrocity of class legislation"; and they condemned the Harrison administration as extravagant. If entrusted with power, the Democrats pledge themselves "to relentless opposition to the Republican policy of profligate expenditure, which in the short space of two years squandered an enormous surplus and emptied an overflowing treasury." On the other hand, the Republicans protested, in their platform, against the bitter opposition of the Democratic party against Republican measures which the government was confident would "eventually give us control of the trade of the world."

Another political organization, one which was to have considerable effect upon the fortunes of the old parties convened at Omaha, in July. The People's Party of America, by which name the organization chose to be known, met, as their platform declares, "in the midst of a Nation brought to the verge of moral, political, and material ruin." The platform continues: "Corruption dominates the ballot-box, the Legislatures, the Congress, and eve touches the ermine of the bench. The people are demoralized; most of the States have been compelled to isolate the voters at the polling-places to prevent universal intimidation or bribery. The newspapers are largely subsidized or muzzled, public opinion silenced, business prostrated. . . . . . .labor impoverished, and the land concentrating in the hands of the capitalists. . . . . . .The fruits of the toil of millions are bodily stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few, unprecedented in the history of mankind; and the possessors of these, in turn, despise the republic and endanger liberty. From the same prolific womb of governmental; injustice we breed the two great classes--trams and millionaires." Were it not for the election scandals, the People's party would probably have had little strength. Basically, they adhered more to Democratic principle, for the Republicans at that time were under suspicion of being aligned with capital. The Republicans maintained they were very soundly laying the bases of prosperity for both capital and labor, but the country did not think so. President Harrison went to defeat, and Grover Cleveland once more became President. The popular vote was: Cleveland, 5,554,414; Harrison, 5,190,802. James B. Weaver, the Presidential candidate of the Popularists, received 1,027,329 votes, and John Bidwell, the Prohibition nominee, too another 271,028 votes from the main parties. Simon wing, the Socialist-Labor candidate, also polled more than 20,000. However, the voice of the people was unmistakably for Cleveland, and he received 277 of the Electoral College votes, Harrison registering only 145 and Weaver only 22. New York's 36 votes were all cast for Cleveland. So he entered upon his second term as President with, apparently, strong suppose from his home State. As a matte of fat, however, New York Democrats were not so enthusiastically behind the President. Hill was still in power.

In 1893, the Democrats carried the Legislature, and so were able to send Edward Murphy, Jr., to the United States Senate, to take the seat that Frank Hiscock had held for six years. there were several notable changes in State officials as the result of the fall elections of that year. John Palmer took the place of Frank Rice as Secretary of State, James A. Roberts became Comptroller, Addison B. Colvin displaced Elliott Danforth as State Treasurer, and Theodore E. Hancock became Attorney-General in place of Simon W. Rosendale.

One most significant event of 1893 was the election of delegates to take up matters of constitutional revision. The Democrats, led by Governor Flower and ex-Governor Hill, took the initiative in calling for the election of delegates, but the people in November, 1893, by their votes, indicated that, although they wished to have the Constitution revised, they preferred to place the vital questions in the hands of Republicans. Never in the history of the State had the people shown such universal interest in such matters. Out of a total poll of more then 600,000, only 30,000 negatives were cast; and of the 168 delegates elected, only 65 were Democrats. The Constitutional Convention began its work in Albany on May 8, 1894, and Joseph H. Choate, in his opening address as president, said: "Strange indeed it will be if we shall meet and sit together for four or five months and separate without being able to throw some new safeguards around the purity of the ballot and to rescue our people form the shocking scenes, almost amounting to anarchy, which had recently disgraced the polls in various section of the State." It seems that in the 1893 elections, the Republicans gained phenomenal majorities in almost all parts of the State, yet there were some election districts of New York City in which not a single Republican vote was cast. This could not pass unnoticed. For partisan purposes, the rights of the people might be temporarily usurped, but ultimately, under this democratic form of government, the people come into their own. The new State constitution, which was approved in 1894 by a popular majority of 63,295, restored the two-years term for the Governor, increased the number of Senator to fifty, and of Assemblymen to 150.

The campaign for Governor in 1894 emphasized the turn of popular favor from Senator. He had in no way helped Cleveland, and the latter had given several indications that the thought little of the Senator's recommendations. The Democratic Tariff Act which Hill supported was looked upon as a course of "perfidy and dishonor" by Cleveland. He refused to sign the measure. Again, after the death of Justice Blatchford, in July, 1893, Cleveland and Hill clashed bitterly as to this successor on the bench of the United States Supreme Court. Cleveland appointed William B. Hornblower, a person most offensive to Senator Hill, who exerted all his Senatorial strength to prevent confirmation. He succeeded, but Cleveland would not for a moment consider the appointment of Senator Hill's choice--the discredited Maynard. Instead, the President submitted the name of another worthy New Yorker, Wheeler H. Peckham; and when Peckham was rejected by the Senate, Cleveland decided to look away from New York altogether. He appointed Edward Douglass White, of Louisiana; but another of the Peckham family, Rufus W., was given the next vacant seat, in 1895.

Democrats of New York were hopelessly divided in 1894, and saw no hope of agreeing upon a candidate for Governor until Hill's name was suggested. Cleveland Democrats may have been more astute than the record shows. They may have seen that the nomination of Senator Hill would bring about his downfall. At all events, the Senator looked upon the proposal as an attempt to sacrifice him; but, try as he would, he could not stave off the nomination. At last, he reluctantly agreed to accept it. One minority faction of Democrats, having been barred from the convention, registered a protest against Hill by nominating Everett P. Wheeler for the Governorship.

The Republicans entered the campaign under better auspices. Levi P. Morton, who had distinguished himself as Minister to France, and had been Vice-President in the Harrison administration, was nominated at the first ballot. There had, however, been much preliminary skirmishing, some favoring Leslie W. Russell, who since 1891 had been a justice of the State Supreme Court. Another group wished to nominate General Steward L. Woodford; and Fassett thought he should have the nomination. Harmony was soon restored, and Morton went on to victory. It was a veritable Republican landslide, Morton receiving a plurality of 156,108. #11 Of thirty-four Congressmen elected, twenty-nine wee Republican, and that party dominated the next State Legislature almost as overwhelmingly. In addition to the ratification of the new Constitution, the people approved of the measure to create a Greater City of New York.

Having carried his nominee--Morton--to victory, ex-Senator Platt was now in control of the State Government, and Hill, who had been such a dominating power for a decade, was in the shade. Reform had gripped municipal administration of New York City, Theodore Roosevelt, as President of the New York Police Board, coming vigorously forward, in his fearless re-organization of the police force. Hill protested against the vigorous enforcement of the Sunday Excise Act, but Roosevelt went on, declaring that non-enforcement meant "personal liberty to commit crime."

In the 1895 elections the Republicans were returned with substantial majority; yet, the session of 1896 was most exciting. The act to create Greater New York split the Republicans dangerously. Morton, the Governor, would probably have vetoed the measure had he not been relying upon the support of Platt at the National convention of that year. Morton was Presidential "timber" and Platt was promised to "take off his coat' for him if Morton in no way obstructed the way of the Platt Republicans in the legislation that concerned Greater New York. Governor Morton signed the bill, which Platt had been able to steer through the State Legislature only by cooperating with Tammany Democrats. Thirty-six Republican Assemblymen voted against the bill, and if the Governor had vetoed it, it is doubtful whether the Legislature could have overridden his veto.

Faithful to his promise, Platt held loyally to Morton to the end, though it was almost a foregone conclusion among delegates that McKinley would be nominated. Platt was unable to take a solid Morton delegation to Chicago. Of the New York delegation, seventeen were for McKinley and fifty-five for Morton' but in all the country no more then three additional votes could be swept into Morton's camp. Even before the balloting began Morton's friend were sounding him, as to the Vice-Presidency. McKinley was nominated on the first ballot, receiving 661-1/2 votes. Morton was fourth on the list, with fifty-eight votes. Garrett A Holbart, of New Jersey, was chosen for Vice-President on the opening ballot.

Free Silver--The republican platform was positive in one respect, though few expected that silver would be made the paramount issue of the campaign. Republicans were not prepared to move from the gold standard until silver became the standard for the civilized world; but Republican thought that the campaign would be fought more on questions of tariff. They defended the McKinley tariff and thought that with William McKinley at the head of their ticket they could put tariff ahead of the other question that was agitating the country. However, thanks to the eloquence of William Jennings Bryan, Free Silver became the great issue.

The Income Tax law of 1894 had been condemned by the Republicans, Joseph H. Choate in particular, viewing it, with horror, as "communistic in its purposes." He thought it could be defended "upon principle as communistic, socialistic--what shall I call them--populistic as ever had been addressed to any political assembly in the world." Mr. Justice field, speaking for the United States Supreme Court, which had ruled adversely as to its constitutionality, said: "the present assault upon capital but the beginning of a war between the poor and the rich."

Free Silver was viewed by conservative men as "a measure of confiscation and repudiation; an effort of the debtors to pay their obligations with money worth fifty cents on the dollar; the climax of villainies openly defended; a challenge to law, order and honor."

There were, however, many radicals in the country, many men who had suffered severely in the financial panic of 1893. Both Republicans and Democrats had been alarmed by the defections from their ranks to the Populists, and although McKinley had voted in Congress for free silver, he declared populism to be a "sudden, dangerous and revolutionary assault upon law and order."

Cleveland's term had been as especially difficult one; and he seems to have incurred the displeasure of very many of the leading Democrats. Re-nomination was beyond the bounds of possibility; indeed, even a motion to commend the Cleveland administration was voted down angrily in the Democratic Convention in 1896. The Radicals were in control. At this time, if at no other, Cleveland and Hill, saw eye to eye; and both were in a hopeless minority. Hill, at Chicago, protested vehemently against the radical platform submitted, and other Gold Democrats saw communism itself in the free coinage of silver--"the confiscation of one-half of the credit of the nation for the benefit of debtors." However, the Silver Democrats swept all before them after Bryan made his memorable "Crown of Thorns" speech in convention. As the Republicans had thrown down the gauntlet on the gold standard, Bryan could ignore those of his own party who saw only ruin in free silver, and concentrate his oratorical fire upon the Republicans. "We defy them," he declared. "We shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them: 'You shall not press upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.' "Bryan carried twos-thirds of the convention with him; whereupon the New York delegation and 108 other Gold Democrats took no further part in the convention. At the fifth ballot, Bryan, who indeed has only come to the convention as a contest delegate, was given the nomination for President. Arthur Sewall, of Maine, was the nominee for Vice-President.

The two major convention brought divisions in both parties, the silver republicans gathering for a convention of their own, and resolving to Support Bryan, while the Gold Democrats also convened, under the chairmanship of Roswell P. Flower, of New York, and chose a candidate of their own, General John M. Palmer, of Illinois, for President. The Socialist Labor party nominated Charles H. Matchett, of New York. The Populists could find no more suitable candidate than William Jennings Bryan, who had been hailed as "America's Tiberius Gracchus."

As the time of election drew near, a large number of the leaders of the Gold Democrats of New York weakened, an a last concluded that party regularity was of chiefest importance. So it came about that the Silver Democracy ruled the State conventions, Hill and Tammany and all except the Democratic nominee for Governor "taking everything back," and rallying behind Bryan. Even the candidate for Governor expressed a readiness to do so. Unfortunately, he, John Boyd Thacher, had committed himself to the gold standard a few days before the second State convention and the State committee thought he had thereby weakened his chances of election. So Thacher was asked to withdraw, and Wilbur F. Porter, who had been nominated for Lieutenant-Governor was advanced a step. The few immovable Gold Democrats of New York met separately, and nominated Daniel G. Griffin for Governor.

Confusion was not so chaotic among the State Republicans. Frank Sweet Black, their choice for Governor, was the least known of the fourteen who sought the nomination; but Republicans were at least unanimous on one point, they were all for the gold standard. The polling on election day demonstrated that New York, in common with the country, was not yet willing to place the Government in the hands of radicals. Black was elected Governor of New York by a plurality of more then 200,000. #12 and the State gave an even greater plurality to McKinley, the voting being almost two to one in favor of the Republicans. The voice of the East clamoring for sound money conditions, was still able to drown that of the West and south. The latter, having less to lose, wanted silver; but the popular vote was McKinley, 7,035,638; Bryan, 6,467,946.

So ended one of the most bitterly fought political campaigns of American history. Bryan, who had been flitting from place to place, addressing millions with matchless eloquence, was permitted to flit away, while McKinley, who had sat upon his own porch throughout the heat of the campaign, seated Republicans so firmly in Washington that for fourteen years hereafter that party remained in control of both Congress and Senate.

Almost as dominate were Republicans to be in the New York State Legislature. In Governor Black's first year, there were 115 Republicans in the Assembly out of a total strength of 150. Early in 1897 the State Legislature used its Republican majority to send Thomas C. Platt to the National Senate. There he remained for two terms of six years. Chauncey M. Depew became his colleague in the Senate in 1898. David B. Hill was the minority candidate against Platt in 1897.

New York had had such a vital part in the election of McKinley that the President had hastened to show his gratitude. Cornelius N. Bliss was given the portfolio of the Interior Department, Theodore Roosevelt became Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Chauncey M. Depew was offered the post of Ambassador to Britain, an honor which he gladly accepted but which he was destined not to have--owing to the misquoting of some of his remarks--General Stewart L. Woodford went to Spain as Minister of the Court at Madrid, General Horace porter was given diplomatic responsibility at Paris, and finally Andrew D. White went to Berlin as Ambassador. Depew was offered the German post, after President McKinley had become aware of the way in which the distinguished New Yorker had been tricked out of the English post. Depew had no desire to go to Germany, so the appointment was given to White.

The outstanding legislative event of 1897 was the enactment of a new charter for the creation of the Greater City of New York. Parties busied themselves during the summer to fight for political control of this immense new municipal area; and the even quite overshadowed other State elections of that year. Robert A. Van Wyck, a judge of the city court, was the Democratic candidate; the Republicans were represented by General Benjamin F. Tracy; and the Citizens' Union nominated Seth Low, a former mayor of Brooklyn and then president of Columbia University. Low might have been the Republican candidate had he waited until after the Republican convention, but he was suspicious of the attitude of Senator Platt--not without good reason, it seems. Many Republicans urged Platt to bring about a fusion, and accept the Citizens' Union nominee as the Republican candidate, but on October 7 the New York "Herald" quoted Plat as saying: "I would rather see the Tammany ticket elected than to have Seth Low as Mayor." A mayor who could not be controlled by party was of no use to republican leaders; and, as they could not handle the spoils of office, they would prefer to see the other "regular" spoilsmen--the Democrats--feast themselves. So Tammany had their way, Van Wyck being elected mayor, by a plurality of more than 800,000 over Seth Low.

The victory for the Democrats in no way indicated a turn of the political tide; it was governed merely by local conditions of the moment. Republicans were still in almost unshakable control of the State, and four years later Seth low, as the republican candidate for Mayor, defeated the Democratic candidate, Edward M. Shepard.

Roosevelt, the "Rough Rider"--the political events of 1898 were governed largely by the events of the Spanish War, so suddenly begun and so quickly and gloriously won. Black was a strong Governor, but the "Rough Rider," Theodore Roosevelt, was a more picturesque figure. Moreover, Governor Black had been too faithful a Republican, too intensely partisan, to be the most desirable candidate. Platt had been somewhat shocked at the strength of the Independent Republicans. Choate had opposed him for the Senatorship, and although able to command only seven votes against 142 cast for Platt, the latter was beginning to realize that he himself had been the principal recruiting agent for the Independent Republicans. Its ranks had been strengthened by his own dictatorial attitude as to Greater New York and by Governor Black's "regularity" in the dispensing of State patronage. Black looked forward confidently to re-nomination, and with a quiet assurance that ultimately he would become a presidential factor.

The Republican State convention concurred with Platt in thinking that another candidate might be more effective in drawing back the independent Republicans to regularity. They had the Rough Rider in mind. Roosevelt would have been an attractive candidate, regardless of his war record. His political service had been good, his personality has been strong even before the war; but now the hero of San Juan was the man of the hour. Had Black been the standard-bearer of the Republicans in the State elections in 1898, it is quite possible, indeed, that the Democrats would have carried the State.

So Roosevelt came into the deliberations; and although Platt did not incline very enthusiastically to him, and Black's manager's confidently predicted that Roosevelt's name would not even come before the State Convention, the organization a length became convinced that the Rough Rider was the logical man to head the state ticket, if a hitch which Roosevelt himself had been responsible for in the spring of that year, could be removed. It appears that Roosevelt, when Assistant Secretary of the Navy, had declared that he was no longer a voter in the State and so was ineligible for State office. However, Elihu Root presented skillful arguments to show that Roosevelt was eligible. These convinced the convention and Roosevelt became the nominee of the Republicans by a vote of 753 against 218 that were cast for Black. Lieutenant-Governor Woodruff accepted the re-nomination.

The Democratic Convention was, in the main, a tussle between Hill and Croker. The latter finally gained the advantage, securing the nomination of Augustus Van Wyck, brother of the mayor of New York, many delegates casting their votes for Augustus in the belief that they were voting for the mayor, Robert.


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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