The Nation

Author: Ebenezer Hannaford  | Date: November 20, 1884

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Change of Party (1884)


. . . HARPER’S WEEKLY is no doubt right in saying that the ultimate effects of Cleveland’s election cannot yet be foreseen—so multitudinous and diverse are the interests through which these effects will ramify. But it seems to me impossible not to feel that its effects on the future of the Republican party depend in no minor degree on the course of the Republican leaders and the Republican press during the next six, or at most twelve, months. Among the many "lessons of the election" is not this an obvious one, that the American people are ready to smooth out and iron down "the bloody shirt," do it up with care and camphor, and put it away in the back closet of party politics? Not that the nation’s heart for one moment throbs less true to the Union or the cause of universal freedom than it did twelve, sixteen, or twenty years ago, but simply that the plain, practical men who make up (as may they long continue to make up) the great mass of our voters, have come to regard the settlement of the war issues as safe beyond the possibility of undoing; and, further, to require of political parties that their aspirations and endeavors "fall in" with the soul of Capt. John Brown, and keep marching on.

That this, at any rate, is the attitude of mind in which most Independent Republicans find themselves, the morning after victory, is, I think, very certain. They are satisfied that in no shape whatever is the principle of secession any more an issue in American politics than the

"peculiar institution" is a factor in American industry or a problem in American sociology. With all their heart they believe in progress—a movement straightforward, that is, and not round and round in a circle, like the wheelings of a hunted ostrich, or the wanderings of some lost wretch in a snowstorm. They have their convictions, and the "courage of them" too. Nobody crusades more vigorously than they. But it is against the living hordes of despoiling infidels that they demand to be led, not against those elder evaporated infidels, the mummies of the Pharaohs.

In forecasting the future of the Republican party no one can with reason shut his eyes to two things. One is that for the party to forfeit permanently the confidence of its "Independent" element would be a fatal blow to its every prospect of recovered ascendancy. The other is that the influential and steadily increasing class of voters in question can never be rallied around the ghost of a dead past. They will, as heretofore, fight in the front rank, but they will insist on being placed face to face with existing verities, real issues, living questions. The party that leaves them the most free, and gives them the best opportunity for working out what they believe to be their own and the country’s salvation, is the party they will support, the party which their decisive vote will place or maintain in power.

Will that party be the Republican? Will its doctors of the law and Talmud-wise scribes be able to discern the signs of the times? Is it capable of "rising on stepping-stones of its dead self to higher things"? I, for one, shall await the unfolding of its plans and policy in the new sphere of "the opposition" with solicitous interest.

Meanwhile, what shall we say to the Mumbo-Jumbos of journalism in New York, in Chicago, in Cincinnati, who are still loudly mouthing "the Solid South" and "the Rebel yell," as though these outworn catch phrases embodied the profoundest and the saintliest of human wisdom, instead of being, in their present application, little better than mere gibberish? This much at least: "Such veteran Nimrods in the field of politics as you are, ought to show more skill. You should better know the habits of your game. They are too old birds, these Independents, to be caught with chaff from a thrice-beaten sheaf, or frightened by a scarecrow rigged out in their own discarded feathers."

November 20, 1884 (New York) XXXIX 435.

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Chicago: Ebenezer Hannaford, The Nation in American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1903), Original Sources, accessed July 24, 2024,

MLA: Hannaford, Ebenezer. The Nation, Vol. XXXIX, in American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, Vol. 4, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1903, Original Sources. 24 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Hannaford, E, The Nation. cited in 1903, American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. , The Macmillan Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 24 July 2024, from