I was in the city this past Friday to attend some work-related meetings. There was a gap between the two functions and with time to kill I walked up the block to the New York Public Library on 42nd Street. I started searching a few of the old newspaper databases more or less at random when I stumbled upon a small article in the April 18, 1872 Baltimore Sun. It described a meeting held at the Cooper Institute in New York City at 7:00 pm the evening before. The Friends of Grant were holding a rally for the re-election of the president. Grant was running against newspaperman Horace Greeley. What made the 1872 election so interesting was that it exposed a schism within the Republican Party that never fully healed, despite the fact that the Party of Lincoln held on to national power for most of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
It was fitting, and probably not coincidental, that the Friends of Grant were meeting at Cooper Institute; it was there in February 1860 that Lincoln had given the address that launched him to national prominence. In attendance that spring evening in support of Grant twelve years later were such heavy hitters as Henry Ward Beecher, Thurlow Weed, Peter Cooper, shopping magnate A.T. Stewart, Thomas Nast, Roscoe Conkling, and Theodore Roosevelt Sr.
What made the election so emotional was that Greeley had once been a passionate advocate for Lincoln, the Party, and the Union cause. After the war however he grew frustrated with the way the country was going; he even helped raise Jefferson Davis’s bail. Greeley’s defection, if that’s what it was, cost him. In a drawn out process he was nearly expelled from the Union League Club. He of course lost to Grant in November 1872 and died died later that same month. In a reconciliationist gesture Grant attended Greeley’s funeral.
That is all fascinating enough, but the undercurrents are even more intriguing. Just five years later Senator Conkling became involved in a bitter dispute to keep Theodore Roosevelt Sr. from becoming the head of the U.S. Custom House in New York during the Rutherford B. Hayes Administration. Other subplots were also in play. In 1872 Carl Schurz supported Greeley. Four years later Schurz returned to the fold and supported Hayes. He was rewarded with an appointment as Secretary of the Interior. In 1884 he and other Mugwumps would support Grover Cleveland over GOP candidate James Blaine. Theodore Roosevelt Sr. was gone by this time, but his son held his nose and stayed with the Party and Blaine. Schulz supported Bryan over Roosevelt in 1900.
Too often people jump from the assassination of Lincoln to the murder of McKinley and the rise of Theodore Roosevelt. That is a major disservice to ourselves and the people who struggled with the complicated issues facing the nation in the years after the Civil War.
(image courtesy of New York Public Library; permalink: http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?3905312)