United States presidential election, 1884

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The 1884 election saw the Republican and Democratic parties every evenly matched. Both parties used "army" style campaigns designed to maximize turnout of their loyal supporters. Few men were independents, but an informal group of "Mugwumps" emerged to protest the Republican candidate, James G. Blaine. Although charges were never proven about Blaine, he had an aura of corruption after two decades of high positions in Congress. His Democratic opponent Grover Cleveland represented honesty and reform, though his political experience was slim.

Republicans discovered a way to counterattack on the reform issue when they found that Cleveland, a bachelor, was paying child support payments to an unwed mother. (Several men could have been the father, but Cleveland accepted responsibility.)

Blaine was making inroads into the Irish Catholic vote, normally 95% Democratic. Late in the campaign a Protestant minister introducing Blaine at a meeting denounced the Democrats as the party of "rum, romanism and rebellion." That is, as the party of saloons, Catholics and the Confederacy. Democrats broadcast the slur and Blaine did not make gains among Catholics.

Cleveland carried the critical state of New York, and won a very narrow victory.



  • Summers, Mark Wahlgren. Rum, Romanism and Rebellion: The Making of a President, 1884. (2000), 326pp; the standard scholarly history online edition