The Front Porch Campaign


Long before the arrival of the band and the veterans, who had formed in the public square according to the program, McKinley was obliged to mount a chair on the front porch and respond to the calls of the multitude on the lawn and street. He made another speech when the parade arrived. He passed through the kitchen to address a deputation from Alliance, which stormed the back door. A special train (brought a monster delegation from Massillon. As twilight fell, four thousand arrived from Akron. Villagers poured in from Carrollton, Osnaburg, and Minerva, and at ten o’clock the proud citizens of Niles, McKinley’s birthplace, paid their respects. Between five o’clock and midnight more than fifty thousand people heard McKinley speak, and it was claimed that he shook hands with most of them.

When the Major at last retired to rest, the pandemonium in Canton was unabated. An arc light on McKinley’s lawn illuminated a scene of devastation. The grass was trampled. The iron fence was broken. Shrubbery, geranium beds, and rosebushes lay in ruins. Strewn across the wreckage, a dozen rifled purses bore witness that pickpockets, as well as honest citizens, had found cause for rejoicing in Canton’s rise to national importance.

McKinley had received 661½ votes in the final ballot, while Speaker Thomas Reed of Maine, his nearest competitor, had 84½. A motion to nominate by acclamation was quickly carried, and the delegates wound up their proceedings by nominating Garret A. Hobart of New Jersey for the Vice Presidency. He was a rich corporation lawyer and businessman, scarcely known to the country, but influential in the Republican party in his state; and he had been Mark Hanna’s choice for the nomination. Hanna had carried everything before him. He had managed a political canvass as though it were a business enterprise. His astounding success was saluted by the cheers of the convention, and by his selection as chairman of the national committee. Hanna was a new wonder in the political firmament—the boss of the Republican bosses.

When Hanna presently ran down from Cleveland to Canton, he had a glimpse of the turmoil with which McKinley was surrounded. The candidate was making speeches every day. He greeted parading workers from the protected industries of Ohio and adjacent states. He beamed on the big contingent from the new tinplate mill at his birthplace, with its banner, “From Niles to the White House.” To all and sundry, in speeches and friendly greetings, McKinley appeared as a tariff candidate, standing on a tariff platform. His references to “good money” and “full dollars” were as secondary and indefinite as though the admission of the gold standard had never been written into the Republican platform.

The declaration had produced an unfavorable reaction in many parts of the Middle West, and Hanna’s reports led him to conclude that he was going to have a fight on his hands in the Mississippi Valley. He intended to get his work of education on the money question started before his summer holiday; but he did not look forward to a difficult campaign. For a short time after the St. Louis convention, the Republican nomination seemed tantamount to election.

As the Democratic convention gathered in Chicago in July, it did not seem a formidable assemblage. The division on the money question had cut deep. As the party had disintegrated, it had been infiltrated with Populist sentiment. In many parts of the South and West, by a process of burrowing from within, the third party had taken over the Democratic organization, making common cause with its candidates. The inflationists were expected to wrest control of the convention from the conservative elements; but, though they were numerically dominant, they had no outstanding leaders. In the headlines of the city press and in the confabulations of political sages, no importance was attached to the youthful ex-congressman, recently engaged as a lecturer and newspaper writer, who was a member of a contesting delegation from Nebraska. William Jennings Bryan was scarcely known to the East. His fame lay in the small communities and scattered farms of the West and South. He had traveled about, preaching free silver; and he had also taken an active part in an organization of silver Democrats, who planned to capture the party’s national convention. Their political ideas were strongly tinctured with Populist tenets. Bryan, demagogue and evangelist, was their natural leader.