United States presidential election, 1888

United States presidential election, 1888

Infobox Election
election_name = United States presidential election, 1888
country = United States
type = presidential
ongoing = no
previous_election = United States presidential election, 1884
previous_year = 1884
next_election = United States presidential election, 1892
next_year = 1892
election_date = November 6, 1888

nominee1 = Benjamin Harrison
party1 = Republican Party (United States)
home_state1 = Indiana
running_mate1 = Levi Parsons Morton
electoral_vote1 = 233
states_carried1 = 19
popular_vote1 = 5,443,892
percentage1 = 47.8%

nominee2 = Grover Cleveland
party2 = Democratic Party (United States)
home_state2 = New York
running_mate2 = Allen Granberry Thurman
electoral_vote2 = 168
states_carried2 = 17
popular_vote2 = 5,534,488
percentage2 = 48.6%


map_size = 350px
map_caption = Presidential election results map. Blue denotes states won by Cleveland/Thurman, Red denotes those won by Harrison/Morton. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes allotted to each state.

title = President
before_election = Grover Cleveland
before_party = Democratic Party (United States)
before_color = FF3333
after_election = Benjamin Harrison
after_party = Republican Party (United States)
after_color = 3333FF

The United States Presidential Election of 1888 was held on November 6, 1888. Incumbent President Grover Cleveland received the greatest number of popular votes, but Republican challenger Benjamin Harrison's 233 electoral votes topped Cleveland's 168 to win the election. Just 12 years earlier, in the election of 1876, the same thing had happened where the President-elect had failed to win the popular vote. It would not happen again until the election of 2000, 112 years later. [Gaines 2001.]


Republican Party nomination

Republican candidates

Democratic Party nomination

Democratic candidates

Other nominations

The Prohibition Party ticket of Clinton B. Fisk and John Brooks captured nearly a quarter million popular votes as the prohibition movement gained steam. Another group, the Union Labor Party, was formed with Alson Streeter as their nominee. The Union Labor Party garnered nearly 150,000 popular votes, but failed to gain widespread national support.

General election


Cleveland set the main issue of the campaign when he proposed a dramatic reduction in tariffs in his annual message to Congress in December 1887. Cleveland contended that the tariff was unnecessarily high and that unnecessary taxation was unjust taxation. The Republicans responded that the high tariff would protect American industry from foreign competition, guaranteeing high wages, high profits, and high growth. The argument between protectionists and free traders over the size of the tariff was an old one, stretching back to the Tariff of 1816. In practice the tariff was practically meaningless on industrial products, since the United States was the low-cost producer in most areas (except woolens), and could not be undersold by the less efficient Europeans. Nevertheless the tariff issue motivated both sides to a remarkable extent.

Besides the obvious economic dimensions, the tariff argument also possessed an ethnic dimension. At the time, the policy of free trade was most strongly promoted by the British empire, and so any political candidate who ran on free trade instantly was under threat of being labelled pro-British and thereby losing the swing Irish-American voting bloc. Cleveland neatly neutralized this threat by pursuing punitive action against Canada (which was still viewed as part of the British empire) in a fishing rights dispute.

Harrison was well funded by party activists and mounted an energetic campaign by the standards of the day, giving many speeches from his front porch in Indianapolis which were covered by the newspapers. Cleveland adhered to the tradition that presidential candidates did not campaign, and forbade his cabinet from campaigning as well, leaving his 75 year old vice presidential candidate Thurman as the spearhead of his campaign.

Blocks of Five

One of the most notorious electoral frauds was perpetrated for this election in Indiana. William Wade Dudley, Treasurer of the Republican National Committee, wrote a circular letter to Indiana's county chairmen telling them to "Divide the floaters into Blocks of Five, and put a trusted man with the necessary funds in charge of these five, and make them responsible that none get away and that all vote our ticket."

The Murchison letter

A California Republican named George Osgoodby wrote a letter to Sir Lionel Sackville-West, the British ambassador to the U. S., under the assumed name of "Charles F. Murchison". "Murchison" described himself as a former Englishman who was now a California citizen and asked how he should vote in the upcoming presidential election. Sir Lionel wrote back and indiscreetly suggested that Cleveland was probably the best man from the British point of view.

The Republicans published this letter just two weeks before the election, where it had an effect on Irish-American voters exactly comparable to the "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion" blunder of the previous election: Cleveland lost New York state and the presidency and Sackville-West was sacked as British ambassador. [ [Butterfield 1947 p. 253] and [Shenkman 2004] ]


Cleveland was defeated. He actually led in the popular vote over Benjamin Harrison (48.6% to 47.8%), but Harrison won the Electoral College by a 233-168 margin, largely by virtue of his 1% win in Cleveland's home state of New York. Had Cleveland won his home state, he would have won the electoral vote by a count of 204-197 (201 votes then needed for victory). Note that Cleveland earned 24 of his electoral votes from states that he won by less than 1% (Connecticut, Virginia, and West Virginia).

Cleveland thus became one of only four men (Andrew Jackson in 1824, Samuel Tilden in 1876, and Al Gore in 2000) to clearly win the popular vote but lose the presidency. As Frances Cleveland and the ex-president left the White House, she assured the staff that they would return in four years, which they did.

Source (Popular Vote): Leip PV source| year=1888| as of=July 27, 2005

Source (Electoral Vote): National Archives EV source| year=1888| as of=July 31, 2005

In popular culture

In 1968 the Michael P. Antoine Company produced the musical film, "The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band" which centers around the election of 1888 and the annexing and subdividing of the Dakota Territory into states (which was a central issue of the election).

ee also

* American election campaigns in the 19th century
* History of the United States (1865–1918)
* History of the United States Democratic Party
* The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band
* History of the United States Republican Party
* Third Party System



Primary sources


econdary sources

; Books:* cite book| last=Butterfield| first=Roger| title=The American Past: A History of the United States from Concord to Hiroshima, 1775–1945| publisher=Simon and Schuster| location=New York| year=1947:* cite book| last=Jensen| first=Richard| title=The Winning of the Midwest: Social and Political Conflict, 1888–1896| year=1971:* cite book| first=H. Wayne| last=Morgan| title=From Hayes to McKinley: National Party Politics, 1877–1896| year=1969:* cite book| first=Joanne R.| last=Reitano| title=The Tariff Question in the Gilded Age: The Great Debate of 1888| year=1994:* cite book| first=Mark Wahlgren| last=Summers| title=Party Games: Getting, Keeping, and Using Power in Gilded Age Politics| year=2004; Journal articles:* cite journal| first=James L.| last=Baumgarden| title=The 1888 Presidential Election: How Corrupt?| journal=Presidential Studies Quarterly| volume=14| month=Summer| year=1984| pages=416–27:* cite journal| first=Brian J.| last=Gaines| title=Popular Myths about Popular Vote-Electoral College Splits| journal=PS: Political Science and Politics| volume=34| month=March| year=2001| pages=70-75; Web sites:* cite web| last=Shenkman| first=Rick| year=2004| url=http://hnn.us/articles/3593.html| title=Who Played the First Dirty Tricks in American Presidential Politics?| work=History News Network| accessmonthday=April 4 | accessyear=2005

External links

* [http://geoelections.free.fr/USA/elec_comtes/1888.htm 1888 popular vote by counties]
* Wrong way elections [http://www.RangeVoting.org/FunnyElections.html table] at the [http://www.RangeVoting.org Center for Range Voting]
* [http://www.msu.edu/~sheppa28/elections.html#1888 How close was the 1888 election?] - Michael Sheppard, Michigan State University


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