Political Clubs in Michigan Election Campaigns: A Comparison of the Pingree and Griffin Campaigns
Sych, Lawrence, Michigan Academician
This paper compares the use of candidate-centered political clubs in the campaigns of Hazen S. Pingree and Robert P. Griffin. Locally organized Republican Party clubs to advance national party interests in the 1888 elections were introduced by James S. Clarkson. In Michigan, Detroit reform mayor and gubernatorial candidate Hazen S. Pingree transformed the political party club into a candidate-centered organization in 1896. Pingree used local Pingree Gubernatorial Republican Clubs to mobilize his supporters, defeat his party's political machine, and capture the gubernatorial nomination. Later statewide candidates emulated Pingree's methods by creating similar candidate-centered (as opposed to party-centered) clubs. More recently, Republican Congressman and U.S. Senator Robert P. Griffin used "Griffin Clubs" to recruit and mobilize supporters to help his nomination and general election campaigns, the last in 1978. The findings presented here show that these candidate-centered political clubs are remarkably simi lar in organization and activity over time. Club functions, moreover, are not supplanted by the recent use of mass media campaigns. However, clubs became more important as a grassroots fundraising mechanism after campaign finance reforms in the early 1970s.
PARTY MACHINES AND POLITICAL CLUBS
In the late nineteenth century, political party organizations, often called "machines," were thought to be at their pinnacle of strength. (1) Michigan's Republican Party, under the leadership of U. S. Senator James McMillan, was typical of such machines. It was organized in a hierarchical structure of closely allied local party organizations glued together by the promise and distribution of patronage. McMillan, who also chaired the state Republican Party, used postmaster and customs office jobs to extend his influence throughout Michigan as these were plentiful in both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Locally elected officials, in turn, dominated their own party machines using local patronage appointments. (2) To acquire campaign money, state party machines often assessed candidates a "contribution", the amount of which varied by office. In 1894, McMillan explained to the new state party chairman, "the Senators were assessed $1,000 each, the Congressmen $500 each, the Governor $1,000 and each of the State Offi cers according to the salary of the office. Then a certain sum has always been collected from the warden and officers of the prisons and from private individuals like (Russell A.) Alger, yourself and other men throughout the State who are able to chip in." (3) As the campaign approached, the party hired but a few state headquarters workers and relied on patronage office holders to provide the labor for polling voters and mobilizing them for the general election. Party workers focused most of their energy toward mobilizing voters in the final weeks of the campaign during October and November. This pattern of short campaigns with intense activity by party workers also characterized the party's nomination processes that consisted of a complex system of local caucuses and county and state conventions.
Political party control over nominations illustrates the strength and stability of its machine-like character. Quietly held caucus elections with low voter turnout insulated the machine from partisan reformers and dissidents. (4) The patronage jobholder mustered select loyal partisans to vote for candidates anointed by state, regional and local party leaders. Employers often brought their employees to the caucus and supervised their voting. (5) Moreover, local party leaders scheduled caucuses at times and places in the interest of limiting rank and file participation. In sum, party leaders conducted caucuses in ways that strengthened their control over candidates.
Partisans began to form political clubs during the latter half of the nineteenth century. In Detroit, Republicans formed the Michigan Club and the Alger Club, named in honor of Michigan Civil War general Russell A. Alger. (6) By 1887, about 300 Republican Party-related clubs operated in various states. Later that year, as part of the 1888 presidential campaign, National Republican Party Chairman James Sullivan Clarkson organized these existing clubs in a new National Republican League at a national convention called for this purpose. Nearly 1,500 delegates from clubs in 23 states and territories met in New York City in December of 1887 to create a new form of political organization that would strengthen the Republican Party. (7)
Delegates formed a federated system of club organizations collectively named the National Republican League. State and territorial leagues, created at the same time, acted as the statewide umbrella organizations for locally organized Republican Clubs. Enthusiastic delegates went home to successfully organize over 6,500 clubs enrolling over one million members by August 1888. (8)
Democrats quickly followed suit and organized their own clubs. The Democratic State League of Pennsylvania, for example, opened the 1888 campaign with a thousand simultaneous meetings in all parts of the state. By that year's November general election, nearly 10,000 Republican and Democratic clubs had formed across the United States. Political clubs became a new organizational force throughout the country, "supplementing and in some cases practically superseding the regular party machinery." (9)
POLITICAL CLUB FUNCTIONS
Political clubs broadened the party's base primarily by dispensing vast amounts of campaign literature and enrolling party followers. They mobilized voters for the general election by holding rallies, parades, and meetings. Clarkson created and developed political clubs to strengthen both his party and its allied newspapers so as "to be a full-time advertising and educational force, superior in flexibility to the old party organizations." (10) As the first President of the Republican National League, he established 22,000 active clubs with nearly three million members within two years. (11) Clarkson explained his innovation this way:
[The] idea was to make every Club a sort of academy of instruction for its neighborhood where all good hooks bearing on important public and political questions should be gathered, where an open arena of debate should be maintained throughout the year at least one night in the week, wherein anyone, Democrat, Free-trader or otherwise, might come and ask any question, where an open door for recruits should be kept open, and through which the circulation of party papers should be stimulated until every Club had made the presence of some sort of a Republican paper in every family in its territory an actual fact.
Just as importantly, Clarkson saw to it that the clubs were sent a stream of party-sponsored and subsidized published works that would re-invigorate the intellectual dimensions of the party. To gain as broad a distribution area as possible, these publications were translated into various languages so as to appeal to the large settlements of foreign-born voters who were most comfortable reading about critical issues in their native languages. In these ways, the club offered party workers a method of person-to-person contact that effectively recruited members and adherents over an extended period of time.
Clarkson preferred the club method to what he viewed as a habitual waste of money in conventional political campaigns.
[The short campaigns conducted] only in the last few weeks before election, which is always in the busy time of year when people read but little, and after every voter has practically made up his mind as to the party he will support, was unwise and wrong... I have never seen such useless and criminal waste of money as has been constantly wasted in all political parties in this country. The millions of dollars spent in Presidential campaigns are worse than waste, saying nothing of the corruption possible and probably under the hurry and confusion of a campaign. For my part I believe that all money used in a campaign for any other purpose than reaching voters and informing them and convincing them is not only wasteful but wrong, and …
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Publication information: Article title: Political Clubs in Michigan Election Campaigns: A Comparison of the Pingree and Griffin Campaigns. Contributors: Sych, Lawrence - Author. Journal title: Michigan Academician. Volume: 34. Issue: 2 Publication date: Summer 2002. Page number: 143+. © 2008 Michigan Academy of Science Arts & Letters. COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group.
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