“Plucked Too Soon”

June 28, 1884

Thomas Nast

“Plucked Too Soon”

New York State, Government/Politics; Presidential Election 1884;

Cleveland, Grover; Flower, Roswell;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

"'Twas but a faded Flower."

The decision of the New York State Democratic Convention to endorse Governor Grover Cleveland for the 1884 Democratic presidential nomination inspired cartoonist Thomas Nast to caricature Cleveland's losing rival, Roswell Flower, as a faded flower.

Flower was from a working-class New York family, and labored at a series of jobs in his youth before landing a patronage job as assistant postmaster in Watertown, New York.  In 1869, he moved to New York City to manage the estate of his millionaire brother-in-law, Henry Keep.  In 1873, Flower opened a stock brokerage, and his keen business sense made him wealthy.  He was active in Democratic politics, affiliating with Tammany Hall and developing a close friendship with Governor Samuel J. Tilden, the Democratic Party's 1876 presidential nominee.  In 1881, Flower won a seat in Congress by defeating his Republican opponent in New York City's Eleventh District by 3,000 votes.  He used his new position to push for larger veterans' pensions, and then kept his pledge not to seek reelection.

Early in 1882, Flower and General Henry Slocum were the leading Democratic candidates for governor.  In an effort to quell criticisms that he was the pawn of business interests, Flower sold his stock and resigned from railroad boards.  But in September, the nomination went to Grover Cleveland, the reform mayor of Buffalo, on the third ballot.  As governor, Cleveland proved to be popular with most Democrats as well as reform-minded Republicans (like Nast), but was a pain in the side of Tammany Hall.  

In 1884, Tammany Hall picked Flower as the candidate who could wreck Cleveland's bandwagon for the Democratic presidential nomination.  It was crucial that the governor get the endorsement of his home state, which had produced three of the past four Democratic nominees and had the largest number of electoral votes in the nation.  On July 7 in Syracuse, the delegates to the New York State Democratic Convention endorsed Cleveland and, nearly as important, decided to abide by the unit rule at the national convention (casting all its votes for Cleveland).  At the Democratic National Convention, Cleveland won the presidential nomination on the first ballot, and in the general election that fall edged out Republican James Blaine to capture the White House.

The next year, Democrats unanimously nominated Flower for lieutenant governor, but he declined for business and personal reasons.  In 1888, though, he returned to the U.S. Congress, where he chaired the Congressional Campaign Committee and served on the powerful Ways and Means Committee.  He continued to support generous veterans' pensions, attacked the Republicans' high tariff policy, and helped defeat an attempt to impose federal oversight of elections (aimed at protecting the black vote in the South, the bill worried many urban politicians).

In 1891, Flower won the New York governorship by a comfortable margin over his Republican rival, Jacob Fassett.  As governor, Flower expanded the state's quarantine facilities during a cholera epidemic, signed the first state dog-licensing law in the nation, legalized timber cutting on forest preserves, established a women's reformatory, prevented destruction of New York City's old city hall, and reluctantly signed a public works bill during a nation-wide economic depression.  

In 1892, Flower opposed Cleveland's bid for a third presidential nomination, but endorsed the former president after the Democratic Convention nominated Adlai Stevenson of Illinois for vice president.  Flower decided not to seek a second gubernatorial term and left the office in January 1895.  The next year, he bolted the Democratic Party after it nominated William Jennings Bryan for president.  Flower chaired a national convention of breakaway Democrats who supported the gold standard and nominated Senator John Palmer of Illinois for president.

In private life, the wealthy Flower was generous with his money.  He donated funds for construction of a hospital in Manhattan (Flower Fifth Avenue Hospital) for teaching student physicians and treating the poor free of charge.  He endowed a library at Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine.  He and his brother, Anson, paid for a new edifice for Trinity Episcopal Church in Watertown.

For more information on the presidential election of 1884, visit HarpWeek's Presidential Elections website

Robert C. Kennedy

“Plucked Too Soon”
February 22, 2024

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