“The Blaine and Butler Combination”

August 23, 1884

Thomas Nast

“The Blaine and Butler Combination”

Irish Americans; Labor; Presidential Election 1884;

Blaine, James G.; Butler, Benjamin;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

We hope Butler will catch him this time, if he makes any promises.

Thomas Nast drew several cartoons for Harper’s Weekly during the 1884 presidential campaign that featured Republican nominee James G. Blaine and Greenback-Labor nominee Benjamin Butler in tandem.  Here, Butler enters the room as Blaine tries to avoid him by climbing out the window.  Unlike most nineteenth-century presidential nominees, Blaine and Butler took to the stump personally, covering much of the same ground as they courted the vote of workingmen, especially Irish-Catholics.  

The Irish-Catholic vote was an important part of the Democratic coalition in the late-nineteenth century, particularly in the urban North.  Irish-Catholics were repelled by the Republican Party faction that backed the prohibition of alcohol, state-mandated Sunday closing of businesses, and denial of public funds to parochial schools.  By the mid-1880s, though, the divisiveness of the education issue had dissipated somewhat.  

In 1884, Blaine believed that he could make inroads into the Irish voting bloc by criticizing British policies toward Ireland, by appealing to workingmen through the issue of tariff protection, and by capitalizing on Democratic presidential nominee Grover Cleveland’s alienation of Tammany Hall, long associated with the New York Irish.  Given the expected (and actual) closeness of the election, New York was crucial to each nominee.  Furthermore, the Blaine camp spread rumors that Cleveland was an anti-Catholic bigot, and emphasized the fact that Blaine’s mother was an Irish-Catholic.

Meanwhile, Butler's popularity with Irish Americans and workingmen made him a threat to draw votes away from the Democratic Party.  Democratic leaders offered him promises of patronage and a possible cabinet position if he turned down the Greenback-Labor nomination.  Butler rejected the Democratic overtures because he could not abide the views of Democratic nominee Grover Cleveland.  

The Republicans, on the other hand, wanted Butler to enter the presidential race, and offered to support his campaign with $5,000 per week until the election.  (Democrats were secretly funding the campaign of the Prohibition Party nominee, John St. John.)  In August, Butler accepted the Republican offer and the Greenback-Labor nomination, and then set out on the campaign trail where he attracted large, enthusiastic crowds.  He soon asked for more money from the Republicans, but they refused.

On November 4, 1884, 78.5 percent of the American electorate cast ballots for president, a figure down only slightly from the turnout in 1880.  The election in New York State was so close that the results were not known until several days after the polls closed. In the end, Cleveland narrowly won his home state of New York and, hence, the presidency, 219-182 in the Electoral College, and 48.5%-48.26% in the national popular vote.  Butler received only 1.8%.

Robert C. Kennedy

“The Blaine and Butler Combination”
February 22, 2024

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