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THE CONVENTION OF 1896
By the first of May, 1896, Mark Hanna had every reason to believe that the nomination of Mr. McKinley was assured. A majority of the delegates were known to be favorable to his selection. It only remained to make assurance doubly sure by securing an organization of the Convention favorable to its prospective candidate. Such an organization was the more necessary because the fight in the South and elsewhere had resulted in the election of several contesting delegations, and it was important that those favorable to Mr. McKinley should be seated. As a matter of fact the greater victory included the less. His prospective triumph assured him the control of the National Committee. By virtue of this control definite plans were made for the organization of the Convention, the nomination for Vice-President and the several planks of the platform. A slate was prepared; and the candidate himself in cooperation with certain of his friends drew up a tentative draft of the statement of true Republican principles and policies.
The Convention assembled at St. Louis on Monday, June 15. So far as the slate was concerned, the program was carried through without a hitch. The temporary chairman was Mr. Charles W. Fairbanks of Indiana, the permanent chairman, Senator John M. Thurston of Nebraska. The Committee on Credentials paid no attention to any contesting delegations except those from Delaware and Texas, and in both cases the McKinley delegates were seated. Thus the result became more than ever a foregone conclusion, although a show of resistance continued. Thomas B. Reed, the only other serious candidate, was placed in nomination by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, but considerable as Mr. Reed's services had been to his party and his country, he remained a sectional candidate. As it was, Mr. McKinley obtained almost as many votes in New England as Mr. Reed obtained in all the rest of the country. The two wealthiest and most populous states in the Union made their better citizens blush by presenting candidates who had less than no claims for consideration. The candidate from Iowa, Senator Allison, was negligible outside of his own state. Mr. McKinley's name was placed before the Convention by Senator-elect James B. Foraker in a speech which was the more impressive because of the source from which it came. Mr. McKinley received 661£ votes on the first ballot against 844 for his closest rival, Mr. Thomas B. Reed. Sixty-two of the Reed delegates came from New England, and the rest chiefly from the South. Mr. McKinley had the Middle West and the West, with the exception of Iowa, almost solidly behind him, and he had made serious inroads upon the strength of his opponents in their own particular bailiwicks. His triumph was so decisive and overwhelming that no outsider could realize how much effort and contrivance had been spent upon making it irresistible.
Inasmuch as Ohio had furnished the head of the ticket, the vice-presidential nomination, according to the prevailing practice, ought to go to some doubtful Eastern state. New York can usually claim the office under such conditions; but in the present instance sound reasons could be urged why its claims could be ignored with impunity. The bitter opposition which Mr. Thomas C. Platt had made to McKinley's nomination had created a good deal of personal ill-feeling; and as a consequence there was no candidate from New York upon whom Republicans from that state could agree. But the consideration which probably had most weight was the fact that with the word "gold" already inserted in the platform New York could hardly be called a doubtful state. On the other hand, the adjoining state of New Jersey submitted an eligible candidate in Mr. Garret A. Hobart, who had done much to strengthen the Republican party in his own neighborhood. Mr. Hobart was well known to Mr. Hanna, and in all probability his nomination had been scheduled for some time. It was practically announced early in June. He was a lawyer and a business man with an exclusively local reputation; and if he did little to strengthen the ticket he did nothing to weaken it. He proved to be a useful coadjutor both during the campaign and after the election; and he subsequently exercised more influence in the counsels of the administration than is usually the case with the occupant of the vice-presidential chair.
In all the foregoing respects the Convention proved to be a perfectly manageable body, which submitted good-naturedly to the will of its conquerors. But in one essential matter it proved to be far less manageable, and its rebellious independence in this respect made havoc of all the carefully laid plans of Mr. McKinley and Mr. Hanna. Their hands were forced in relation to the most important plank in the platform. The candidate had to accept a new definition of Republican policy in respect to the currency — and one which in its effect might well change the whole nature of the campaign. The man who had been nominated as the High Priest of Protection found his favorite policy converted into comparative insignificance and himself forced to assume a precise and vigorous attitude in relation to a question which he had always preferred to leave vague and ambiguous. Instead of running on an issue with which his whole political career was associated, he was forced to run on an issue upon which his own record was equivocal, and which in his opinion gravely compromised the success of his candidacy.
A great deal of controversy has arisen about the way in which the word "gold" was inserted in the currency plank of the Republican platform of 1896. A number of different claimants have insisted upon their individual responsibility for its insertion. Among others Mr. Thomas C. Platt asserts without blushing that the honor chiefly, if not exclusively, belongs to him. In his "Autobiography" (p. 310) he declares that "in 1896 I scored what I regard as the greatest achievement of my political career. That was the insertion of the gold plank in the St. Louis platform." In his account of the matter he admits that Senator Lodge and certain friends of Mr. McKinley, such as H. H. Kohlsaat, Myron T. Herrick, Henry C. Payne and William R. Merriam, may also have contributed to the result, but if the assertion quoted above be taken as literally true, the real hero of the incident must be Mr. Thomas C. Platt. He has admitted it himself. On the other hand, Mr. Kohlsaat declares no less emphatically that he, more than any other single individual, was responsible for the appearance of the magical word. Another equally vigorous claimant is Mr. James B. Foraker. He was the chairman of the Committee on Resolutions, and he asserts emphatically that no matter what palaver may have preceded the final decision, the Committee, of which he was chairman, was really responsible both for the general wording of the plank and for the actual insertion of "gold" before the phrase "standard of value."
Notwithstanding these conflicting claims and the more or less conflicting evidence upon which they are based, the several accounts agree upon certain fundamental facts; and a fairly complete story of what actually occurred can be pieced together, which derives nothing from controverted testimony. There will remain certain minor ambiguities and conflicts of evidence, which may be partly explained by the failure of certain witnesses to take account of events which had occurred without their knowledge on other parts of a complicated and confused field of action. In spite of these minor conflicts, some of which I shall attempt to explain, a sufficiently complete story can be told, which includes no incidents which are not intrinsically probable or which are not confirmed by more than one witness.
Undoubtedly Mr. McKinley himself wanted to subordinate the currency issue to that of protection. His own record in relation to legislation affecting the standard of value had been vacillating. He was a bimetallist, and had stood for the use of both gold and silver in the currency of the United States without inquiring too closely whether the means actually used to force silver into circulation had or had not tended to lower the standard of value. His personal political prominence had been due to his earnest and insistent advocacy of the doctrine of high protection, and he feared that if the currency issue were sharply defined, the result would necessarily be (as it was) a diminution in price of his own political and economic stock-in-trade. Considerations of party expediency reenforced his own personal predilections. His party was united on the issue of protection. It was divided on the currency issue. There were "silver Republicans," and they all came from a part of the country in which he personally was very popular. The sentiment in favor of a single gold standard was strongest in New England and the Middle States, which were more or less opposed to his nomination. If he had favored unequivocally a single gold standard, his candidacy would have been weakened among his friends, while his opponents would have merely shifted their ground of attack. Not unnaturally he proposed to evade the issue by standing for "sound money" without denning precisely what sound money really was.
Mark Hanna's personal attitude was different from that of Mr. McKinley. He was enough of a banker to realize that the business of the country was suffering far more from uncertainty about the standard of value than it was from foreign competition. Mr. William R. Merriam tells of certain interesting conversations which took place in August, 1895, on the porch of Mr. Hanna's house overlooking Lake Erie, between himself, Russell A. Alger, Mr. Hanna and Mr. McKinley, in which both the political and economic aspects of the prospective campaign issues were thoroughly discussed. In these conventions Mr. McKinley was, in Mr. Merriam's own phrase, "obsessed" with the idea of the tariff as the dominant issue of the coming campaign. Mr. Hanna, on the other hand, was, in Mr. Merriam's words, "in favor of committing the Republican party to gold, as the sole basis of currency, and he was anxious and willing to lend his aid to the furtherance of this policy."
Inasmuch as Mr. McKinley was the candidate, his views prevailed. Throughout the whole preliminary canvass the currency issue was evaded. The State Conventions, in which the candidate's personal influence prevailed, declared for sound money and the coinage of silver in so far as it could be kept on a parity with gold. Conventions such as that of Wyoming instructed their delegates for McKinley, while declaring at the same time for the free and unlimited coinage of silver. Mr. Hanna as the manager of the campaign realized how much Mr. McKinley's ambiguous attitude on the currency was helping the canvass in the Western States, and he probably desired as much as McKinley did that any more precise definition of the issue should at least be postponed until after Mr. McKinley's nomination was assured. In no event would he have insisted upon any opinion of his own in respect to an important matter