My life has not been the same since Grover Cleveland stole the election from James G. Blaine in 1884. It was a close campaign, “marred,” according to Wikipedia, “by exceptional political acrimony and personal invective,” something quite unusual in American political history. Cleveland, it turned out, had sired an illegitimate child, while Blaine had some unfortunate issues with a few railroad bonds. This led partisan zealots to call a man, long known as the plumed knight, “the continental liar from the state of Maine.” This was not good for the brand. Nobody got a majority. Spoilers from the Prohibition and Anti-Monopoly parties combined for almost 3% of the total vote, and the election itself came down to New York, which Cleveland (who just happened to be governor) carried by 1,047 votes out of 1,171,312 cast. That’s less than one one hundredth of one percent.
Ah, we have witnesses to the nefarious activities that took place in New York City’s heavily Irish neighborhoods, where Tammany Hall ruled with an iron fist, doling out jobs and liquor in exchange for votes – where the air was rife with stories of men literally rising from the dead to cast a vote for Cleveland.
Blaine gracefully accepted his narrow defeat, as that was the custom in those days, and Cleveland went on to govern well. I don’t think it occurred to Blaine that he had another option. He had devoted his life to government and to a political system in which he believed – and 19 years after Appomattox, he also knew how fragile that system could be.