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Murder of a President | Clip

Machine Politics

Factions in the Republican party were breeding corruption, so Garfield worked to nominate James Blaine to combat the machine politics of the Stalwarts. But when Garfield delivered his speech to the Republican Convention to back Blaine, the crowd chanted that it was Garfield they wanted for president instead.


Narrator: By 1880, the inequalities of capitalism were so vast that they threatened democracy itself. Government was infected by cynicism and corruption.

For Republicans like James Garfield, equality of opportunity was still a central tenet of their creed. But another faction was coming to dominate the party. Known as the Stalwarts, they coveted the spoils of the new economy and championed what was called "machine politics," a system of kickbacks and patronage that made it hard for ordinary people to get ahead. The Stalwarts wanted former president Ulysses S. Grant to be the party's candidate once again. Although Grant was personally honest, his first two terms had been rife with corruption, and the Stalwarts wanted more of the same. Despite the opposition of men like Garfield, Grant was favored to win the nomination. Grant's main opponent was James Blaine, a charismatic senator. There was bad blood between the Grant and Blaine factions, which was on full display during their nominating speeches.

Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: By the time the nominating address for Grant was finished, the Stalwarts are all shouting for Grant, it's reverberating through the hall, and Garfield has to give his speech on behalf of Sherman. He got up and he started to talk about, 'Where is the real heart of this convention. It's not here, with all these powerful men. It's in each home, where Americans are quietly and calmly thinking about the future of this country.'

Narrator: As Garfield was delivering his address to the delegates, he shouted, "And now gentlemen of the Convention, what do we want?" From the midst of the crowd came an unexpected answer: "We want Garfield!"

Candice Millard, Author, Destiny of the Republic: Garfield tries to protest and he says, "What, you know, you -- I'm not even a candidate, you know? You can't nominate me without my agreement," and he's immediately gaveled down.

Narrator: For three days and 33 ballots, the convention was deadlocked between the Grant and Blaine factions. Then, on the 34th ballot, exhausted delegates began switching their votes to Garfield.

Kenneth D. Ackerman, Writer: Garfield had been a congressman for 16 years. He had personal contacts with, probably literally most of the people in the room. And they all knew him as a moderate, open-minded, intelligent person. He was someone that they trusted.

Narrator: Two ballots later, an astonished Garfield found himself the Republican candidate for president.

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