The History of New York State
Book XII, Chapter 9, Part 3

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam


However, a greater champion of reform was in the field against Dix in 1874. Samuel J. Tilden, who had carried the war against the Tweed "Ring" until the corrupted judiciary had been swept from the bench, was to be the Democratic standard bearer. Charles O'Conor acknowledged that Tilden had been the leader of the forces that had routed the Tweed "Ring". As to the impeachment of the Tweed judges, O'Conor said: "that was all Tilden's work and no one's else. He went to the Legislature and forced the impeachment against every imaginable obstacle, open and covert, political and personal." #21 Dix was a man of seventy-six years, somewhat out of favor with the electorate and only half-heartedly supported by his leaders. Tilden, just sixty, was in the full vigor of his mature manhood, popular with all honest citizens, and appreciated by most Democratic leaders who had the best interests of their party at heart and were not personally jealous of him. Conkling, who in 1873 declined appointment as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court because he preferred a seat in the Senate and the pleasure of controlling the Republican party in his home State, had little use for Dix. Indeed, he would have liked to see Tilden take his place--but, of course, as a Republican. Had Tilden not been a determined man it seems quite possible that Republican anglers might have hooked him. Certainly, the opposition that developed in his own party was discouraging. Tilden had done more to reform the public service than any man in the State, but certain politicians did not want so drastic a reformer. The Tweed "Ring" had been broken, but there was another--the Canal "Ring." Politicians who were benefiting by the manipulation of canal funds would be glad to see in office a less vigilant executive than either Dix or Tilden. "Honest John" Kelly, who had succeeded Tweed as the Tammany chief, supported Tilden, though Havemeyer, Mayor of New York, charged Kelly with pocketing $84,482 "by other than legal methods" while sheriff. "I think," said Havemeyer, "you were worse than Tweed, who made no pretensions to purity, while you avow your honesty and wrap yourself in the mantle of purity." Kelly, on the other hand, claimed that "Tammany is the only reform party in existence here today." so it was hard for the average voter, who gave politics only incidental thought at any time, to know the honest public servant from the corrupt, but there were very few who did not know that Tilden's had been the big correctional stick. So they gave their votes to him in such number as to torn a Republican plurality of 55,451 in 1872 into a Democratic plurality of 50,317 #22 in 1874.

Samuel J. Tilden--Tilden signalized his entry into the Governorship by exposing the Canal "Ring" in March, 1875. These corrupt contractors and officials had filched from the State more than a million dollars; and although all but two of those implicated were Democrats the Democratic Governor did not hesitate. Arrest followed arrest. Tilden knew no party and spared no guilty person.

The political reaction was alarming to Republicans. Democrats, who had been almost broken by Tilden in 1872, were being swept back by him wit such alarming force that Republicans chances in the State were lower than they had been for many years. the plan of the National administration to educate the populace into favoring a third term for General Grant was being shot to pieces by the returning Democrats.

The exposure of corruption was not limited to New York State. Even in the National Administration there had been much corruption, the Whiskey "Ring" having as chief conspirator one of Grant's own cabinet ministers--Secretary Bristow of the Treasury Department--and his own private secretary was implicated. "Great as are the frauds of Tammany," said Charles A. Dana, "they sink into insignificance not only beside those of the carpet-bag governments of the South, but still more besides those committed by the Republican Administration at Washington." #23

Conkling was hoping to be a candidate for President inasmuch as General Grant had declined to stand for a third term. Conkling was one of those most alarmed by the rising popularity of Tilden. He worked actively to defeat the Governor's party in the State election in 1875; but the returns only added to the strength of Tilden. John Bigelow, of Ulster, became Secretary of State, defeating the Republican candidate, Frederick W. Seward, by nearly 15,000. Tammany was ousted by the Morrissey faction, known as the Irving Hall Democrats.

So the Democrats of the empire State had satisfactorily reestablished themselves, and, for one year, a Democrat, Francis Kernan, had been seated in the United States Senate. Conkling had hoped that Edwin D. Morgan, former Governor, would succeed Senator Fenton; but Kernan received eighty-eight votes and Morgan only sixty-eight. Thus, for the first time in almost thirty years the Democrats of New York had representation in the National Senate.

Although Conkling was still at the head of his party in New York his party was not functioning very successfully, and the future was even darker. The Conkling managers had contrived to secure a majority of the delegates to the Cincinnati convention in 1876, and across the road from the New York delegation headquarters was strung a banner which read: "Roscoe Conkling's nomination assures the thirty-five electoral votes of New York." James G. Blaine, of Maine, who showed no flag, and had no paraders, was given 285 votes and Conkling only 99 votes in the first ballot. At the sixth balloting Conkling's name was dropped altogether, and Blaine stood second to Rutherford B. Hayes, of Ohio, who became the party nominee for President.

William A. Wheeler, of New York, was the Vice-Presidential choice, and a very good one it was. The Conkling group had little to do with Wheeler's nomination; indeed, he had to look outside his own delegation for support, and in any case, he would not have cared for Conkling's support. There was nothing in common between them. Wheeler was a man of blameless life, unostentatious, and known more by his steadiness of character then by spoken principles. He had been the unanimous choice of the lawyers who convened to amend the Constitution in 1867, and as permanent president of that convention Wheeler had done well, but he could never take kindly to Conkling. Once Conkling said to him: "If you will join us and act with us there is nothing in the gift of the State of New York to which you may not reasonably aspire." "Mr. Conkling," replied wheeler, " there is nothing in the gift of the State which will compensate me for the forfeiture of my own self-respect." #24 In the doings of the Cincinnati Republican convention of 1876, therefore, Conkling could find little that was cheering.

The Democratic convention was held at St. Louis. It resulted in the nomination of Samuel J. Tilden, of New York, for President, this being decided on the second ballot, which gave Tilden 534 votes, and the next highest, Thomas A. Hendricks, of Indiana, only 60 votes. The latter, however, was the unanimous choice for Vice-President. Among those New Yorkers who worked hard in convention to defeat Tilden was John Kelly, the Tammany head. However, Kelly's opposition was futile; Tilden was no longer merely a State celebrity, his fame had spread far and wide, and Democrats throughout the United States recognized in him the most successful Democrat of the period of reconstruction.

In the State conventions, both Conkling and Tilden failed to carry their favorite into nomination for the Governorship. Conkling suggested Alonzo B. Cornell, but the Republican delegates preferred either William Maxwell Evarts (the brilliant New York lawyer who, in 1868, had spoken for four days in defending President Johnson before the United States Senate, sitting as a court of impeachment, his great effort perhaps turning the one vote by which the President escaped impeachment) or Edwin D. Morgan, who had been Governor of New York during the opening years of the Civil War. The choice fell upon Morgan, who was opposed by Lucius Robinson, the nominee of the Democrats. William Dorcheimer, of Buffalo, had had the support of Governor Tilden, but he could get no nearer than nomination as Lieutenant-Governor.

Governor Tilden made no political speeches during his campaign. Nevertheless, he was indefatigably campaigning. Indeed, he as his own campaign manager, and it is doubtful whether any man could have done better. How it came about that Tilden, who was given a majority of the popular vote, came to be rejected by the Electoral Committee is a story too devious and lengthy to spread here. The popular vote was: Tilden, 4,284,757; Hayes, 4,033,950. In the electoral commission Tilden received one vote less than Hayes. Roberts gives a terse account, which may be quoted. He writes: "New York gave its electoral votes to Mr. Tilden by a majority of 32,742. The story of the contest over the choice of President belong to national history rather than to that of a single commonwealth. In the dispute over Louisiana, Florida and South Carolina, Mr. Tilden exhibited the secrecy, the diligence, and the persistence which had given him success in the re-organization of railroad corporations and his direction of the scrutiny of returns left no point unchallenged. With the eye of a detective and the acumen of a special pleader, he sought out every flaw on the side of his adversaries, and he held to his own claims with a tenacity which never relaxed. He never formally advised or approved of the Electoral Commission, although in conference with some friends he omitted to object to the bill establishing it, and left them to believe that he had his approval. His position on the subject has thus been matter of discussion among his intimate followers. He refused to take the counsel of those who called for protest by arms or in the courts, but he never recognized Mr. Hayes as president, notwithstanding the choice of the electors, the declaration of the returns and the formal action of Congress and the Electoral Commission. This contest gave to Mr. Tilden a peculiar position before the country. About him was thrown some of the glamour with which devoted followers have in other lands enwrapped pretenders to the chief executive position; and visitors at his home in Gramercy Park or at Greystone, sought him for counsel and influence, and with sincerely and affection gave him the title of 'sage.' He was never again a candidate for office. His name was presented for president in 1880, but he wrote a letter of declination, and the suggestion and the declination were repeated in 1884.

"His career in larger measure than in most cases the features of his individual character. He sat in the constitutional conventions of 1846 and 1867, and was a member of Assembly in 1846 and 1872. Indefatigable and successful as a lawyer in the class of cases to which he devoted himself, he was studious also in politics of details rather than of broad principles. A disciple of Van Buren and still more of Silas Wright, especially in stringent management of financial affairs, he adhered to the Democratic party and within it overthrew rivals, some of them chiefs in corruption, and asserted his individuality over the organization and its platform. Without the eloquence or popular graces of Horatio Seymour, a man of the closet rather than of the forum, his mastery of the politics of New York was superior to that of any other Democrat of his generation, perhaps greater in its individual; grasp and force than that of any other man since DeWitt Clinton flourished in the plenitude of his power. At his death, August 4, 1886, National and State honors we paid to his services and his character." #25

Lucius Robinson was the successful candidate for the Governorship in 1876, to succeed Tilden. Robinson received a plurality of 35,460. #26

William m, Evarts, who was the chief Republican counsel in the Tilden-Hayes case before the Electoral Commission, was not forgotten by president Hayes. Evarts' defense of President Johnson in 1868 had carried the latter through the impeachment proceedings by one vote; it won for Evarts the Attorney-Generalship. Evarts' effort for Hayes made the latter president by one vote in 1877; and it won for the capable New York lawyer the Secretaryship of State. Evarts' contention before he Electoral Commission was that Congress had no right to question the electoral return of any State, if properly and officially presented, but as usual, Evarts had much more than this to say. Evarts never halted for want of a word; some of his speeches lasted four days. On this occasion under notice, not all of those present cold hold their attention closely upon his words for all the time that Evarts was speaking. A Democratic Senator, noticing that Bancroft, the historian, was nodding his head, remarked, half in sarcasm, half in humor: "History sleeps while Fiction speaks." His humor was touched with impatience; as a supporter of Tilden he would have been happier had Evarts framed his points in few words.

After all, it seems that the eloquence of Evarts had little to do with the result. Partisanship was the factor that made Hayes President. Senator Conkling, for instance, had been most prominent in carrying through the bill which established the Electoral Commission,, but he did not serve upon it. He seems to have been convinced that the vote of Florida rightfully belonged to Tilden, yet when the Louisiana vote was taken Conkling was absent. New York politicians had failed to prevent the nomination of Tilden, but the barred his way to the White House.

The Hayes Administration was somewhat colorless. Doubt as to his right to the Presidency prejudiced many, in all probability. New Yorkers, in particular, sympathized with Tilden. A stubborn minority of Republicans leaned toward the Democrats, the division being obvious at the Republican State convention in 1877. Resolutions hostile to the National Government were moved, and an amendment, declaring the title of Mr. Hayes to the Presidency to be "as clear and perfect as that of George Washington," was supported by one one-fourth #27 of the delegates. At this convention Conkling also uttered venomous thoughts which did not increase the number of his friends.

Not only in Republican ranks there was serious division. "Honest John" Kelly still carried a tomahawk, looking for Tilden, and at the State Convention Tammany was represented in such strength that Tilden's hold upon New York Democracy was broken. Nevertheless, the convention denounced Tilden's defeat by Hayes as "due to fraud."

The Democrats won the State in 1877, Kelly's nominee, Allen C. Beach, being elected Secretary of State by a majority of 11,264 votes over John C. Churchill, the Republican candidate.

In 1878 the Republicans were more fortunate, thanks to the Greenbackers, who polled a surprisingly large vote, drawn more from the Democratic strength than the Republican. New York had had somewhat conspicuous part in the Greenback movement in 1876, for the Presidential candidate of that party then was a New Yorker, Peter Cooper, but in 1877 the candidate of that party--United States Treasurer Francis E. Spinner--had only received 977 votes. However, John J. Junio, the Labor Reform candidate, was given 20,282 votes. The industrial depression of that winter drew these parties together, and in 1878 the Greenback-Labor Reform candidate for judge of the Court of Appeals--former Secretary of State Gideon J. Tucker--was given 75,133 votes. This gave the Republican candidate, George F. Danforth, the judgeship, with a plurality of 34,662 over the Democrat, George R. Bradley.

There were no other offices to be filled in that year, as Governor Lucius Robinson had been elected for a term of three years. The change of the legislature from Democrat to Republican was most fortunate for Senator Conkling, whose Senatorial term would terminate in January, 1879. He was re-elected, though the Democrats rallied strongly behind Lieutenant-governor Dorsheimer.

The Democratic protest did not affect Conkling, but it removed at least one injustice. New York and Kings were growing rapidly in population, but not in Senatorial representation. A bill was passed in Governor Robinson's last year remedying this.

Lucius Robinson was the first Governor elected for a term of three years under an amendment to the Constitution. Another distinction was also his, he as the first to sir in the new Capitol. The Legislature of 1879 was the first to assemble in the legislative chambers of the new Capital. Although more than four times the original estimate of cost had been spent in its erection, the original plans had not even yet been fully met. Critics, of course, found ammunition ready at their hands, and did not hesitate to sue it; but the average New Yorker was proud to think that the new Capitol would be, when completed, "the most costly edifice on the continent." It did not bring Governor Robinson under criticism; indeed, he had been a very efficient Governor, and deserved the re-nomination he got in 1879, but he was not given another term. In the three-cornered fight of that year, the Republican candidate, Alonzo B. Cornell, slipped into office.

Robinson owed his defeat to Tammany, whose candidate, John Kelly, took 77,566 votes that would otherwise have gone to Robinson.

Cornell had held a federal off ice in New York City, and had been removed by President Hayes, a the same time, in 1877, as the President removed two other federal officeholders, Chester A. Arthur and George H. Sharpe. New York Republicans had resented this, and made up their minds to care for them if the President would not. They kept their word. Cornell became governor and Arthur was soon to become Vice-President.

Arthur had gone about his way as Collector of Customs in a quiet, inoffensive way. He had conducted his office in a straightforward, honorable way, but had not been able to shake the department loose from the political influences that dumped on to its payroll an army of civil servants whose only claim for employment was recompense for certain political services rendered. President Hayes thought that Theodore Roosevelt, who, perhaps, showed an aggressive personality like that later manifested by his illustrious son and namesake, who became President, might do better than Arthur. So Roosevelt was installed and Arthur resumed his law practice.

Conkling Throws Away His Sceptre--that the Governorship had been won by Cornell pleased no one more than Conkling. Cornell had been his lieutenant for many years; and to reward a loyal henchman is ever a pleasure. It is doubly so when benefit accrues also to the giver. The National consequences and possibilities of the Cornell victory (or to be more correct, of Conkling over Hayes) especially pleased Conkling. "He had put into the highest State office a personal adherent whom the Administration had stigmatized by dismissal." He had shown that there were stronger men in the country than president Hayes. In thinking of Presidents, past and present and, more particularly, of those of the future, might it not occur to some of the more alert party leaders that another Presidential star--Conkling--had come dazzlingly into the political firmament? The New Yorker was confident that it would. However, for the present, Conkling was happy in striving to focus the attention of Republicans and national delegates upon another star--one that had been longer in brilliant sight. True, this other star--General U. S. Grant--had reigned twice over the planetary system of politics; if re-nominated, it would give Grant the chance of a third term as President. The chance was remote; nevertheless, Conkling saw an advantage in presenting the name of former President Grant to the convention. In case the delegates should turn away from his choice, might they not see in himself, in Conkling of New York, the logical candidate. It was an alluring prospect for the Senator, just on the eve of attending his first national convention.

At the State convention to chose delegates-at-large for the National convention, Roscoe Conkling was one of the four chosen. The others were Alonzo B. Cornell, Chester A. Arthur, and James D. Warren. In due course, they proceeded to Chicago with the district delegates, and at the proper moment Conkling presented Grant's name to the convention. It was a masterful effort, an opponent, Brandegee of Connecticut, referring to the "unmatched eloquence" of Conkling. A friendly newspaper summed up his speech thus: "It had the warmth of eulogy, the finish of a poem, the force and fire of a philippie."

Not even the prestige of Conkling, added to his eloquence, could bring Grant the nomination. The General led all candidates on the first ballot, being given 304 votes, twenty votes more than had been cast for Blaine. It seemed most likely that all other candidates would soon drop out, but this did not happen. The ballots piled high, without changing the positions of the principals much. The thirty-fifth ballot registered 313 for Grant, and 257 for Blaine. Of the seven names on the list, Garfield's, of Ohio, was fourth, with fifty votes. The next ballot, however, was the last, Blaine and Sherman's following going over almost wholly to Garfield, making the final vote: Garfield, 399; Grant, 306.

Conkling was bitterly disappointed. "The convention has nominated a candidate, but not a President," he remarked. In the hope of placating Conkling, of vindicating Arthur, and of gathering all possible New York support for Garfield, Chester A. Arthur was given the Vice-Presidential nomination on the first ballot, but this minor triumph did not remove Conkling's resentment. Indeed, he did his utmost to dissuade his friends from supporting Garfield, and would have nothing to do with Arthur. Conkling flatly refused Sharpe's request to put Arthur in nomination.

At the Democratic convention, which met at Cincinnati, well-known New York names were presented, both Samuel J. Tilden and Horatio Seymour gaining a few votes, though both declined the honor. General Winfield Scott Hancock, of Pennsylvania, became the Democratic nominee for president; and William H. English for Vice-President. The Democratic platform called the notice of the people to "the great fraud of 1876-777, by which, upon a false count of the electoral votes of two States, the candidate defeated at the polls was declared to be President, and for the first time in American history the will of the people was set aside under a threat of military violence. . . . ; the Democratic party, to preserve the country from the horrors of a civil war, submitted for the time, in firm and patriotic faith that the people would punish this crime in 1880, This issue precedes and dwarfs all others. . . . ."

Apparently, the voters saw other issues--the Greenback issue, for instance. The Greenback vote was not very strong in New York in 1880, but the National vote for Weaver, the Greenback candidate, was 307,426; and as most of these votes were of former Democrats, the Republicans had again to thank the Greenbacks for victory. The New York vote for Garfield was 555,544, the Democratic candidates only 543,511. The popular vote throughout the country was 4,449,953 for Garfield and 4,442035 for Hancock. New York State cast its full Electoral vote for Garfield, who received 214 votes again Hancock's 155 votes. Conkling recovered from his convention shock in time to campaign with General Grant in New York State for Garfield and Arthur. The Republican victory assured Republican control of the State Legislature, and made certain the election of a Republican to take the place of United States Senator Kernan, whose term was almost at an end.

New York State in 1880 witnessed the triumph of "Boss" Kelly over Tilden, though after the Democrats had gone to defeat the Brooklyn "Eagle" bemoaned "one-man control." "Bosses and thorough organization are incompatible" declared the paper. "The success of organization depends upon reason. The success of the boss is due to underhand arts."

Even victorious Republican New York was soon to dethrone its own more capable dictator. Roscoe Conkling had had many jarring jolts in the past, but none that had jarred him as painfully as the nomination by President Garfield in 1881 of William H. Robertson--one of the delegates who had opposed Grant in the National convention--for the office of collector of the port of New York. Conkling would not hear of his appointment. Both of the Senators from New York, indeed, insisted that the President follow their own list in the dispensing of Federal patronage in New York. The President was not unwilling to take a cue from Conkling in all other appointments than the collectorship; he wished that to go the Robertson. Nothing could budge him from this position, and Robertson was appointed and confirmed, much to the dismay of the New York Senators. Thomas C. Pratt, the junior Senator from New York, had only been in the National Senate for a few months, but he was incensed at the "humiliation" that the President had brought upon Conkling and himself. He suggested to his fellow-Senators that they both resign. They would be sent back, of course, with clearer instructions; their resignations would be very dramatic and effective gestures that would bring the President into a less stubborn state of mind. So, against his better judgment, the old veteran of politics, Conkling, was influenced by his impetuous, inexperienced junior; and one morning Governor Cornell was surprised to find before him the resignation of both Senators. Alas! the news did not stagger them as palpably as it had the Governor. Indeed, there were many New York Republicans who quietly worked up a sigh of relief when they heard that at last Conkling was willing to hand over to others some part of the direction of Republican interests in New York. The President was undoubtedly President, and William H. Robertson was unquestionably well fitted for the collectorship and, what is more, had been appointed. The Governor had advised Conkling not to withhold confirmation of Robertson. Why should the arbitrary senior Senator stir up dissension in the national capital because he could not et his own way? So thought many Albany Legislators. So when the New York Legislature went into caucus to elect Senators, the two ex-Senators most concerned found that they themselves had stirred up such dissension among Republicans at home that at the first ballot, Conkling received only 39 of 105 Republican votes. Platt received only twenty-nine.

A long tussle followed. Voting began on May 31, and their work did not end until July 22, twenty days after the President had been assassinated. Only July 1, the day before President Garfield went to his death, Platt withdrew his name, for he saw that he could not command more than twenty-eight names; but Conkling held on tenaciously until the fifty-six ballot, only 22, when he too saw that he could not muster more than twenty-eight supporters. Warner Mills had, on the 16th, been elected to Platt's seat, and on July 22 Elbridge G. Lapham gained Conkling's seat.

All Republican factions were delighted. The party seemed united again. "I hope we shall nevermore hear the words Stalwart, Featherhead, Halfbreed," said State Senator Pitts. To Conkling, however, the situation must have been excruciating. He, the dictator of New York, had voluntarily thrown his sceptre away, fully expecting that docile subjects would rush to hand it back to him; but he had had to beg for the return of it, and it had been denied him. He had drawn down his own curtain, and perhaps was not sorry that he had it to hide behind. He buried himself in law practice in New York City. He died as result of exposure during the terrific blizzard of 1888.

The State elections in 1881 went to the Republicans. They were united, happy in their Governor and pleased to think that New York Republicanism was also represented in the White House. The Democrats, however, were wrangling bitterly.

The Democrats attributed the failure of General Hancock to the selfish opposition of John Kelly of Tammany. Mayor Cooper began the attack upon Kelly by refusing to reappoint him Comptroller of New York City. They tried to "reorganize him out of Tammany," but having failed, his opponents, in April, formed another Democratic body, it was known as the County Democracy; and at convention time this body secured recognition as the regular Democratic organization. In October, the County Democracy had an enrolled membership of 26.500. The convention opened on October 11, at Albany. John Kelly did not attend, but Tammany presented itself, and claimed regularity, but Daniel E. Manning was in control, and the convention report on contested seats was against Tammany.

The Republicans had me a week earlier, and had chosen a strong ticket, nominating Joseph B. Carr, of Rensselaer, for the Secretaryship of state; Ira Davenport, of Steuben, for comptroller; Judge Leslie W. Russell, of St. Lawrence, for Attorney-General; James W. Husted, of Westchester, for Treasurer; Silas Seymour, for engineer and Surveyor; and Francis M. Finch for judge of Court of Appeals. The Democratic nominations for the respective offices were William Purcell, George H. Lapham, Roswell A. Parmenter, Robert A. Maxwell, Thomas Evershed, and Augustus Schoonmaker. The only Democrat elected was Maxwell--to the Treasurership. All the Republicans except Husted gained substantial majorities. Nevertheless, for the first time since 1869, the Republicans lost control of both Assembly and Senate. The democrats were "coming back." the only solace that Republicans could see in the situation was that troublesome Tammany held a balance of power and that the Tammany chieftain, Kelly, was at odds with the regular Democrats.


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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