A Very Different Democratic Party: The Democratic Platform of 1880


– 12 August 2015 –

Barzillai “19th Century” Bozarth:


For the election of 1880, the last one in which I had the privilege to participate, the Democratic Party nominated Winfield Scott Hancock, a former Union general who favored states’ rights, against the Republican congressman from my state of Ohio, James Garfield.

Bad blood remained between the two parties because the Republicans had snatched victory from the election of 1876 despite contesting twenty electoral votes that the Democrats would, without doubt, have mostly won.  Democrats in Congress agreed to a compromise in which the Republicans would end Southern reconstruction in exchange for taking all twenty contested electoral votes, thus securing an unjust victory for Rutherford B. Hayes.

The election of 1880 was also very close, with only a few thousand votes separating the two candidates out of more than nine million cast.  I myself voted for Hancock despite Garfield representing my Congressional district in northeastern Ohio.  However, Garfield clearly won the electoral votes necessary to secure the presidency.  It didn’t serve him well, however, as he was killed by an assassin’s bullet just six months after taking office.

It is interesting to compare the party platform of the Democratic Party of 1880, which I generally supported, to the Democratic Party of today, which I now find abhorrent.

In 1880, the Democrats opposed the centralization of federal power and Chinese immigration, while favoring sound currency and civil service reform.  Their platform that year was remarkably succinct.

The Democrats of the United States, in Convention assembled, declare:

1. We pledge ourselves anew to the constitutional doctrines and traditions of the Democratic party as illustrated by the teachings and example of a long line of Democratic statesmen and patriots, and embodied in the platform of the last National Convention of the party.

2. Opposition to centralization and to that dangerous spirit of encroachment which tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create whatever be the form of government, a real despotism. No sumptuary laws; separation of Church and State, for the good of each; common schools fostered and protected.

3. Home rule; honest money, consisting of gold and silver, and paper convertible into coin on demand; the strict maintenance of the public faith, State and National, and a tariff for revenue only.

4. The subordination of the military to the civil power, and a general and thorough reform of the civil service.

5. The right to a free ballot is the right preservative of all rights, and must and shall be maintained in every part of the United States.

6. The existing administration is the representative of conspiracy only, and its claim of right to surround the ballot-boxes with troops and deputy marshals, to intimidate and obstruct the election, and the unprecedented use of the veto to maintain its corrupt and despotic powers, insult the people and imperil their institutions.

7. We execrate the course of this administration in making places in the civil service a reward for political crime, and demand a reform by statute which shall make it forever impossible for a defeated candidate to bribe his way to the seat of the usurper by billeting villains upon the people.

8. The great fraud of 1876-77, by which, upon a false count of the electoral votes of two States, the candidate defeated at the polls was declared to be President, and for the first time in American history, the will of the people was set aside under a threat of military violence, struck a deadly blow at our system of representative government. The Democratic party, to preserve the country from the horrors of a civil war, submitted for the time in firm and patriotic faith that the people would punish this crime in 1880. This issue precedes and dwarfs every other. It imposes a more sacred duty upon the people of the Union than ever addressed the conscience of a nation of free men.

9. The resolution of Samuel J. Tilden not again to be a candidate for the exalted place to which he was elected by a majority of his countrymen, and from which he was excluded by the leaders of the Republican party, is received by the Democrats of the United States with deep sensibility, and they declare their confidence in his wisdom, patriotism, and integrity, unshaken by the assaults of a common enemy, and they further assure him that he is followed into the retirement he has chosen for himself by the sympathy and respect of his fellow-citizens, who regard him as one who, by elevating the standards of public morality, merits the lasting gratitude of his country and his party.

10. Free ships and a living chance for American commerce on the seas, and on the land no discrimination in favor of transportation lines, corporations, or monopolies.

11. Amendment of the Burlingame Treaty. No more Chinese immigration, except for travel, education, and foreign commerce, and that even carefully guarded.

12. Public money and public credit for public purposes solely, and public land for actual settlers.

13. The Democratic party is the friend of labor and the laboring man, and pledges itself to protect him alike against the cormorant and the commune.

14. We congratulate the country upon the honesty and thrift of a Democratic Congress which has reduced the public expenditure $40,000,000 a year; upon the continuation of prosperity at home, and the national honor abroad, and, above all, upon the promise of such a change in the administration of the government as shall insure us genuine and lasting reform in every department of the public service.

Leave a comment


  1. Reblogged this on Brittius.


  2. How bad must Reconstruction have been if the Dems were willing to give up the Presidency to end it!


    • I think you know better than I do. I’m thinking that the South made the right decision. If a Democratic president had ended reconstruction, it might have inflamed the passions of the North against the South all over again. Because it was the Republicans’ idea, the South were able to restore white rule to their states for another seventy-five years.

      Liked by 1 person


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