Political Clubs in Michigan Election Campaigns: A Comparison of the Pingree and Griffin Campaigns

By Sych, Lawrence | Michigan Academician, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Political Clubs in Michigan Election Campaigns: A Comparison of the Pingree and Griffin Campaigns


Sych, Lawrence, Michigan Academician


INTRODUCTION

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. …

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