Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Ulysses S. Grant, Illinois, and the Election of 1880

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Ulysses S. Grant, Illinois, and the Election of 1880

Article excerpt

Chicago and the state of Illinois have a reputation for making presidents. In 1860, at the Republican National Convention in Chicago, the campaign managers of dark horse candidate Abraham Lincoln forged entry tickets for use by his supporters, who packed the galleries of the convention hall and provided vocal encouragement to the delegates to vote for Lincoln. In 1960, Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley received credit as a "king maker" when he pulled from Chicago as many voters as possible, both living and dead, to help carry Illinois for John F. Kennedy. And, in 1992, Bill Clinton needed a big win in the Illinois primary to cement his front runner status in his race for the Democratic nomination for president. What is less known about Chicago and Illinois, however, is that their voters also have been known to stop a candidate's presidential ambitions. This is what happened in 1880, when former President Ulysses S. Grant's quest for a third term came crashing to a halt in Illinois.1

A native of Ohio, Ulysses S. Grant moved to Galena, Illinois in 1860. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Illinois Governor Richard Yates gave Grant a commission as a colonel of the 21st Illinois Infantry. Yates made the appointment on the advice of Grant's congressman, Elihu B. Washburne. Grant quickly moved up the ranks during the war, eventually becoming the commander of all the Union armies and a hero in the North. Throughout his rise in the ranks, Grant was protected in Washington by his friend Washburne from potentially fatal gossip and criticisms. After the war, Grant moved back to Galena and Illinois proudly proclaimed him as one of its own. However, Grant was not to stay in Galena for long. In 1868, the Republicans nominated the war hero and former Democrat for president of the United States. Grant easily won election in 1868 and again in 1872; but, although he was personally honest, his administration was marked by several scandals. When Grant stepped down from the presidency in 1877, his star had been tarnished.2

Two months after leaving the White House, Grant left for a two-and-a-half year around-the-world tour with his wife and a small entourage that included newspaper reporter John Russell Young. Young's articles on Grant's tour received extensive play in the media and he eventually published a best-selling book entitled Around the World with General Grant (1879). When Grant returned to the United States in 1879, he received a hero's welcome. His popularity led him to consider running for president again.3

The political landscape in 1880 had changed since Grant had left office. Grant's successor, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, had won the White House in a contested election that had to be decided by the United States House of Representatives. In exchange for the White House, Republicans brokered a deal with southern Democrats that ended Reconstruction. No longer would federal troops patrol the South. This meant that federal troops were not available to help ensure AfricanAmerican participation on Election Day in 1880. Grant had won several southern states in 1872 with the help of freedmen voting. In 1876, southern states gave a solid electoral vote majority to Democrat Samuel Tilden over Hayes and it was only when Congress overturned the electoral vote in three southern states that Hayes was elected president. In 1880, most persons believed that the South's 138 electoral votes would go solidly to the Democratic candidate, meaning that the Republican candidate would have to win 185 of the North's 231 electoral votes to win the presidency.4

Hayes announced early that he would not seek a second term to the White House, setting in motion several candidacies for the Republican nomination for president. By the spring of 1880, Grant and Senator James G. Blaine of Maine, who had unsuccessfully sought the nomination in 1876, were the front runners for the nomination. Grant was buoyed by his war popularity and recent international trip but hurt by his lackluster performance as president and by strong anti-third term sentiment. …

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