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WAS NEW YORK'S VOTE STOLEN?

BY WILLIAM GORHAM RICE AND FRANCIS LYNDE STETSON



Can the electoral vote of New York State be stolen?
Did such a theft occur in 1884? Was the will of the people
then criminally perverted and did Democracy come into
power at Cleveland's first election with a fraudulent title
to the Presidency?

These questions arise for the reason that doubt of the
honesty of the declared result of the Presidential vote of
New York in 1884 has been announced recently by a writer
of considerable reputation. Even if not supported by evi-
dence, a suspicion of this kind put forth by responsible
authority is not unlikely to have some weight when in the
future the story of our own times comes to be written.
Especially may this occur if the allegation remains uncon-
troverted and secures without challenge a place in the
record of the present. A statement expressing such a
doubt seems, therefore, to deserve consideration at this
time and to warrant reply from representatives of those
who had close association with the first election of Mr.
Cleveland and direct knowledge of the events of that cam-
paign.

It is true that immediately after that election a few bitter
partisans of minor consequence and some subordinate office-
holders, who through undisturbed occupation for twenty-
four years had come to look upon government place as a
private perquisite, indulged in a recreation perhaps fairly
to be characterized as " swearing at the Court." Some
newspaper writers, too, whose election predictions had
gone wrong, and other men who had made wagers and lost,
apparently found mitigation of their disappointment in
claiming that there were frauds in the count. Where these



80 THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW

fraud- were they did noi attempt to specify, but consoled
themselves with vague and un« I. Thhm 1 accusations. After
a little time, however, virtually all these accusers ad-
mitted fair defeal and the trustworthiness of the returns
showing Cleveland's election was accepted by unprejudiced
and carefully informed men throughout the country. In
the State of Now York where the issue particularly arose
and where all the facts were best known there was a uni-
versal conclusion that a truthful result had been declared.
Though generally conversant with all that has been writ-
ten aboul Mr. Cleveland, I had never seen this charge of
dishonesty as to the declared vote of New York supported
by name until the publication of an article entitled " Elec-
tion Superstitions and Fallacies " by Edward Stanwood,
in the Atlantic Monthly for October, 1912. Mr. Stanwood
is a well known writer whose reputation as a publicist has

I n largely established by his History of the Presidency.

II.' is also the author of a Tariff History of the United
S lairs, written from the protectionist point of view, it is
line, but esteemed upon the whole accurate even by those
who are adverse to the protectionist theory. Mr. Stanwood
presented something more than vague and unsubstantial
accusation and, accordingly, on October 8th, I wrote him:

Dkar Sir,— Tn the article "Election Superstitions and Fallacies" . . .
yon say, "there is a strong probability at least that he (Blaine) did actu-
ally have a plurality of the votes honestly cast in that State (New York)."
Will you kindly refer me to the evidence which has led you to this con-
clusion T

i was well acquainted with tin' election procedure in tin 1 State of New
York at that time, and T have never seen evidence to make me doubt the
absolute accuracy of the count (of 1884), and until your statement I had
not supposed that such count was questioned by any well-in formed man.

Yours very truly,

William Gorham Rice.

Mi-. Stanwood, on October 11th, replied:

My DEAB Sii:. T am unable to present any definite information to justify
my statement that the vote of Ww York was fraudulently counted for Mi-.
Cleveland in 1884. In the nature of things such information, properly u,
he termed evidence, is impossible. Bui I am surprised that you should
think that the count was not "questioned hy any well-in formed man." for
it was most emphatically questioned by many. To my certain knowledge
it wa< questioned by Mr. Blaine himself, hut he was well aware that there
was no way in which it could he investigated, and he would not have sanc-
tioned an investigation if there had been a way to make it.

You probably do not know that I was, all my life, intimately connected

0if|
Afttfao



WAS NEW YORK'S VOTE STOLEN? 81

with Mr. Blaine, as a cousin of his wife, as a LVllow-townsman, as seere-
iaiv of the Republican State Committee of Maine when he was the chair-
man, and in many other ways, and that I wrote his biography for a volume
in the American Statesman series. I venture to append the remarks I
made in that volume on the result of the election (page 291) :

" Xew York was counted for Cleveland, hut there were then, and are
now, few Republicans cognizant of the facts who doubt that a plurality of
votes was actually cast for Mr. Blaine. It was openly charged at the time,
and commonly believed by Republicans, although Democrats warmly
denied it, that in many precincts of New York City the votes for Butler
were counted for Cleveland. The conviction, a few years later, of the un-
scrupulous boss of a town near New York, on a charge of falsifying elec-
tion returns, confirmed in their opinion those who held the view that Blaine
was really elected."

That, of course, is neither evidence nor an approach to evidence; but it
does at least — so I think — justify the sentence from my article which you
quote. The facts that the counting was in the hands of Mr. Blaine's
opponents; that the opportunity to falsify the result existed; that such
falsification had been practised on other occasions; and that there were
many men in charge of the counting who were not above making false re-
turns, all these things combine to suggest at least that when a national
election could be carried by a reversal of 575 votes, the suspicion is not
unreasonable. Yours truly, Edward Stanwood.

Before Mr. Stanwood 's and other similar accusations
are taken up in detail and the process is considered by
which the result of the election in question was ascertained
in New York State, the situation there will be better compre-
hended by recalling' some incidents of the Presidential cam-
paign in 1884 which I have elsewhere related.

It was Grover Cleveland's courage and rectitude as shown
in his public acts as Mayor and Governor that led to his
first nomination for President. He drew to his support pro-
gressive-minded men from all parts of the country 7 ", many of
whom previously had had no identification with, or even
had been actively in antagonism to, the Democratic party.
Opposed to him was James G. Blaine, who had long been
conspicuous in public affairs, who had been Speaker of the
House of Representatives, and who had secured the nomina-
tion after many years of aspiration and of devoted effort
on the part of ardent admirers. At the close of his nation-
wide speaking tour, just before Election Day, Mr. Blaine
had passed through New York City. He was there long-
enough, however, to receive a clerical delegation whose
spokesman, addressing him as the opponent of " Rum,
Romanism, and Rebellion," had met with neither immediate
rebuke nor contradiction.

vol. cxcix. — no. 698 6



82 THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW

As Assistanl Secretary to Governor Cleveland 1 had
direel knowledge of his campaign, and it bo happened thai I
was particularly associated with the events of and Lmmedi
ately following Election Day. That day generally cud- the
Presidential campaign, bul it was nol so when the first ex-
tended control of national affairs by the Republican party
ceased. In l vs 4, after a campaign perhaps unequaied in
party heat from beginning to end — and in which the lasl
week had been particularly exciting because of the incidenl
referred to abov< — when the polls had closed interest sud
denly intensified, and flamed up and centered upon the vital
question of which candidate had carried New York State.
The election there, it clearly appeared, was close, phenome-
nally close. A few hundred votes either way would deter-
mine it. To which side would the balance go? If in the one
direction, Democracy after its hum- exclusion from power
would be triumphant in the nation. If in the other, Repub-
licanism would remain dominant. At once remembrance of
the Tilden-Hayes controversy became vivid. Again the coun-
i iy was confronted with the dangers of a disputed title to the
Presidency. Again the possibility even of civil war wa- in
men's minds.

Mr. Cleveland, after easting his vote in Buffalo early on
Election Day, had returned to the Executive Mansion at
Albany. In the evening with a few intimate friends gathered
about him he received the returns there. Congratulatory
telegrams began to pour in soon after the polls closed, but
while these de-patches and friendly newspaper bulletins
were claiming New York State for him by many thousands,
few satisfactory detailed figures were received. There was
no telegraph wire at the Executive Mansion, and even the
telephone early went out of commission that night in a
rain-storm which as the hours progressed became almosl
a deluge. Messengers were the only means of contact with
the outside world. In this situation I went to the Albany
Argus newspaper office and from the working press wire
there began before long to gel fairly exact, though frag-
mentary, returns. Assembling these in partial totals, I soon
reached a conclusion which was at variance with the then
general opinion that New York State had given a large ma-
jority for Mr. Cleveland. My conclusion was based upon
percentages of comparative gain over other years as shown
by the exact figures from scattered election districts both



WAS NEW YORK'S VOTE STOLEN? 83

in cities and in rural communities. "While the drift seemed
constantly and surely favorable to Mr. Cleveland, it was so
slight that I was satisfied his majority would not be over
2,000. This rather startling conclusion I wrote out, with
condensed figures sustaining it, and sent it by special mes-
senger to the Governor's Secretary, Colonel Lamont, who
was with Mr. Cleveland at the Executive Mansion. The
situation immediately became the subject of careful con-
sideration there by the four or five men who had been in
particularly close touch with the contest in New York State,
and soon after midnight we sent the following telegrams to
two or more prominent Democrats in virtually every countv
of the State:

The only hope of our opponents is in a fraudulent count in the coun-
try districts. Call to your assistance to-day vigilant and courageous
friends, and see that every vote cast is honestly counted. Telegraph me
at once your estimate, and let me hear from you from time to time until
actual figures are known. Daniel Manning.

Mr. Manning was the Chairman of the Democratic State
Committee, but he was not at the Executive Mansion, and
his name was used without consultation with him. In fact,
he knew nothing of the telegram until replies began to come
in. Later telegrams to citizens of the highest standing
urged them to go to the Clerk's office in their respective
counties, to remain there until returns were filed, and then
to obtain certified copies of such returns and to send these
copies by special messenger to Albany. Gradually semi-
official returns were collected at the Executive Chamber
in Albany, and Mr. Cleveland's assured majority in the
State was more accurately known there than anywhere else.
The exact majority determined finally by the State Canvass-
ing Board in the following December was 1,047.

When our Executive Chamber tabulation of detailed re-
turns was finished, and Mr. Cleveland was satisfied that tho
totals told the truth, he sent this telegram, November 6th,
to a friend:

I believe I have been elected President, and nothing but grossest fraud
can keep me out of it, and that we will not permit.

But it was not until later in the week when the Manager
of the Western Union Telegraph Company at Albany de-
livered into Mr. Cleveland's own hands a message received



34 THE NORTB AMERICAN REVIEW

over ;i special wire thai the situation was relieved of doubt.
Thai me >sage was in these words :

Go I land, — T heartily congratulate you on your election.

All co at your administration as Governor has been wise

itive, and in the larger field as Presided 1 feel thai you will <1<<
still better, and thai the vasl business interests of the country will he
entirely safe in your hands. -I . Gould.

Coming from the mosl conspicuous of liis opponenl V sup-
porters from one who was the head and editor of the
-tou}) of interests whicb had continued to claim thai oppo-
nent's election, ii satisfied Mr. Cleveland thai the contest
was over and the victory won.

How the call of the telegram of Election nighl was obeyed,
mid how implicitly the canvass <>f the vote deserves to be
trusted, is told in pages following by Air. Stetson, who
largely organized and directed the special protective nieas-
which were continued until the declaration of the vote
of New York State. It was the prompt, intelligent, and de-
voted efforts of the group of men >>t' which lie was one
thai preserved inviolate and unsullied for the Democracy
(if the Union a victory in what may well l>e considered the
I important election of recenl years. Defeat in 1884
assuredly would have seriously weakened the vitality of
historic Democracy as a party in the United Slates. Suc-
cess in L884 established thai party anew, and as a sequence
broughl into effective relationship a body of younger men
of high political ideals whose matnrer association had no
small influence in the Democratic success of 1D12.

This preliminary pari of the history of the Presidential
(■(Hint of L884 in New York sinte, \ believe, cannol be con-
clude.] better than with the words concerning the Stanwood
letter spoken to me late in October, 1012, at Princeton, by
Mrs. Cleveland: " You and I know," she said, " the Presi-
dency would have possessed no interesl for Mr. Cleveland
had he fell there was the remotesl lain! upon his title."

Wii.i.i \.m (!oi;n km "Rice.

TT

The tl group of men " referred to by Mr. "Riee as wateh-
ing the canvass in the Citj of New Fork was assembled un-
der the authority of the following letter to me from the
Chairman of the Executive Committee of the National Pom-
ocratic Committee under date of Thursday, November 6th:



WAS NEW YORK'S VOTE STOLEN? 85

Dear Sir.— In view of the fact that the Democratic electoral ticket
in the State of New York has been chosen by a narrow majority, which
may ] ossibly be disputed by the Republicans, and sought to be reversed.
1 have the honor to request that yon will take steps to organize a com-
mittee of the bar to guard the rights of the people before the boards
of canvassers throughout the State, and thus secure an honest count. 1
venture to urge prompt action and to appeal to the patriotism of the bar.
which has never yet failed to assert and protect the liberties of the people.

If yon consent to act, kindly meet me at my room. No. 71, Fifth
Avenue Hotel, at 8 p.m. Yours very truly,

A. P. Gorman*.
C. Ex. C.

In response to an appeal on the basis of this letter fifty
or more Democrats and Independents eminent at the bar of
New York immediately offered their services, and during
the next ten days devoted themselves to the supervision of
the count throughout the State. Their energies did not
relax until upon November 16th the New York Tribune con-
ceded the election of Mr. Cleveland.

My own part was at the Hoffman House headquarters,
where I was in charge, under the direction of William C.
Whitney, having the continuous assistance and advice of
Roscoe Conkling, aud the occasional counsel of Carl Schurz
and James C. Carter, all being in constant touch with the
situation and informed as to all that was going on. They
were all impressed, and so declared themselves, with the
obvious fairness and frankness of the procedure and with
the manifest determination of all that, whatever the conse-
quences, this election should be decided according to the
vote actually deposited in the boxes. That such was the
result, and that Mr. Cleveland actually and honestly carried
the State of New York by more than 1,000 plurality, I have
not the slightest doubt, and I know that my opportunities
for knowledge were better than those of Mr. Stanwood, and
also better than those of Senator Hoar, or of any of the
anonymous cynical Senators quoted by him in his Autobiog-
raphy (Vol. I, p. 408), as follows:

1 suppose it would hardly be denied now by persons acquainted with
the details of the management of the Democratic Campaign, at any rate
I have heard the fact admitted by several very distinguished Democratic
members of the Senate of the United States, that the plurality of the
vote of Xew York was really I'm- Mr. Blaine, and that he was unjustly
deprived of election by the fraud at Long Island City by which votes
cast for the Butler Electoral Ticket were counted for Cleveland.

The pre-election campaign, of course, was under direction



86 THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW

of the National Committee, comprising several Democratic
Senators, bnl neither these Senators nor any one else had
authentic information, excepl from or through me and my
associates, as to the details of the postelection canvass, and
I deny absolutely and unreservedly that " the vote of X«-w
STork was really for Mr. Blaine " and thai lie was unjustly
deprived of election by fraud either " ai Lnn^ Island City,"
the one locality specified by Senator Hoar, or " in many
precincts in New York City," as charged by Mr. Stanwood,
who candidly admits that at the time " Democrat warmly
denied it."

Twenty years after by Senator Hoar and thirty years
after by Mr. Stanwood is rather late for the reproduction
of these unfounded charges, and it may be fortunate that
there are yet remaining some who are able to demonstrate
that they are unfounded. To this demonstration I shall
now address myself.

For the purposes of convenient consideration the single
specification of Senator Hoar and the several insinuations
of Mr. Stanwood may be combined and classified as follow- ;

(1) That the counting was in the hands of Mr. Blaine's
opponents.

(2) That Butler votes were counted for Cleveland [a) in
many precincts of New York City, (b) in Long Island City.

(3) Thai an unscrupulous boss of a town near New York
was convicted a few years later of falsifying election re
turn-.

These are the three and the only three points on winch
either Mr. Stanwood or Senator Hoar rests his charge.

1. As to Mr. Stanwood's first point that "the counting
was in the hands of Mr. Blaine's opponents ":

This certainly was not so as to the country districts, nor
was it so as to the New York City districts.

In every New York City district there were four election
inspector-, of whom two were Republicans and two were
Democrats. But of these Democrats most, if not all, were
nominated by the Tammany organization, which had been
bitterly opposed to the nomination of ('lex-eland and was re-
ferred to in Genera] Bragg's famous declaration, " But
most of all, we love him for the enemies that he has made."
The Chief of the Bureau of Elections was John J. O'Brien,
a partisan Republican. The Police Board was hi partisan,
under the control of a. Tammany-Republican combination



WAS NEW YORK'S VOTE STOLEN? 87

which at that very time was in full operation ousting Joel
W. Mason, a conservative Republican, so as to put in John
McClave, more satisfactory to both machines. To any one
acquainted with the local political situation in New York
in the autumn of 1884 the suggestion that the election
machinery was in the hands of " Mr. Blaine's opponents "
(a phrase which is meaningless unless intended to mean
Mr. Cleveland's friends) is utterly absurd.

The Cleveland managers were in great anxiety as to the
purposes and the conduct of this Tammany-Republican com-
bination, and its control of the election machinery in New
York City, and, as presently will be seen, they took efficient
measures to ascertain and to guarantee the accuracy of the
official canvass, notwithstanding the anti-Cleveland control.

The country conditions were even more perilous to Mr.
Cleveland; that is, upon the theory of Mr. Stanwood in his
letter, that the counting was in the hands of the friends
of Mr. Cleveland.

Of the sixty New York counties, forty-six were for Mr.
Blaine, giving him 68,423 plurality over Mr. Cleveland. Be-
sides New York, Kings, and Westchester, Mr. Cleveland
carried eleven counties. In these eleven Cleveland rural
counties were 397 election districts as against 1,766 districts
in the forty-six rural counties for Mr. Blaine, who would
have been elected by a change averaging less than one vote
in each Blaine district. Naturally, in view of the memories
of 1876, much alarm was felt by the Cleveland friends at
Albany who sent out the call in Mr. Manning's name, " The
only hope of our opponents is in a fraudulent count in the
country districts," and at our New York headquarters,
where we collected as splendid a body of young lawyers as
ever assembled and sent them out two by two to watch
the canvass in every doubtful county.

Similar precautions were taken by the Republicans, as
printed in the Tribune of Monday, November 10th:

The Committee have made preparations to have the canvass closely
watched in every county of the State. Careful inquiry will be made into
the matter of votes cast for Butler or St. John electors being counted
for Cleveland.

Never was a canvass watched more closely on both sides,
nor one conducted more fairly than that of 1884 in all the
counties of New York. This was recognized at the time bv



THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW

both the State and the National Republican Committees. In
the Tribune of November 8th the State Committee declared
thai it did nol make any wholesale charges of fraud, but
stated simply thai " the canvass will be watched with can'."
and on the 9th the National Committee announced that

The Republicans are taking the i Ful and thorongh

to ascertain errors, if any have been made, and frauds, if any have been
d, in the returns of the late election in the State of New York.

This supervision and these measures by both Republican
Committees, fully awake and forewarned, never eventuated
; m any charge whatever. This certainly would not have
been the case had there been even plausible grounds upon
which to challenge the perfect accuracy of the official can-
3. 11 was a lack of votes, doI a theft of votes, that lost
the State to Blaine. As Secretary W. E. Chandler said to
al the close of Cleveland's Inauguration Parade,
"That's all very fine, but T wish that we had had one
thousand more votes in New York."

Out of a like disappointment Mr. Blaine's kinsman, parti-
san, and biographer has permitted to emerge a cruel impu-
tation upon the fairness of this election in the State of New
York, unworthy of his own high character, and refuted upon
even slighl examination of the events and the contempo-
raneous records of 1884.

2. The charge thai the Butler votes were counted for
Cleveland (a) in many precincts of New York City and (&)
in Long Island City :

(a) As to the New York City canvass as charged by Mr.
Stanwood, the firsl suggestion of this kind was broughl to
'•n Thursday, November 6th, by my old time friend Tal-
cotl Williams, then connected with the Press of Philadel-
phia, from which city he had come over to New York, sin
eerely believing thai such a transposition of Butler votes
had been made 1<> Cleveland to the detrimenl of Blaine,
whom the Press was supporting with ardor. I told him thai

there was no reason to believe thai there had 1 n any Buch

transposition, but thai I would starl an investigation, which
I proceeded to do through a distinguished committee
selected by me. The resull of my action is reported in the
Tribune of Saturday, November 8th:

V( terday a self-appoi of Cleveland men, consistir

Aaron .7. Vanderpoel, General F. C. Barlow, A.lber1 Stickney, and Charles



WAS NEW YORK'S VOTE STOLEN? 89

P. Miller, insisted upon the opening of the election returns filed with the
Bureau of Elections. Judge Barrett ordered the returns opened, under
Sec. 1878 of the Election Law of 1882, eh. 410.


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Online LibraryFrancis Lynde StetsonWas New York's vote stolen? (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 2)