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THE BLAINE-CLEVELAND MUDSLINGERS OF 1884 James G. Blaine’s persistence in pursuit of his party’s presidential nomination finally paid off in 1884. The dashing Maine politician, blessed with almost every political asset except a reputation for honesty, was the clear choice of the Republican convention in Chicago. But many reform-minded Republicans gagged on Blaine’s candidacy. Blaine’s enemies publicized the fishy-smelling “Mulligan letters,” written by Blaine to a Boston businessman and linking the powerful politician to a corrupt deal involving federal favors to a southern railroad.

Could Cleveland restore a measure of respect and power to the maligned and enfeebled presidency? Cleveland was a man of principles, most of them safely orthodox by the standards of his day. A staunch apostle of the hands-off creed of laissez-faire, the new president caused the hearts of businesspeople and bankers to throb with contentment. He summed up his political philosophy in 1887 when he vetoed a bill to provide seeds for drought-ravaged Texas farmers. “Though the people support *Neither candidate had served in the Civil War.

The price of gold plunged, and scores of honest businesspeople were driven to the wall. A congressional probe concluded that Grant had done nothing crooked, though he had acted stupidly and indiscreetly. The infamous Tweed Ring in New York City vividly displayed the ethics (or lack of ethics) typical of the age. Burly “Boss” Tweed—240 pounds of rascality—employed bribery, graft, and fraudulent elections to milk the metropolis of as much as $200 million. Honest citizens were cowed into silence. Protesters found their tax assessments raised.

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