Rallying the Troops: The Business of the Campaign

[Advertisement of torches from The Adams & Westlake Man'fg Co. Chicago.  1880]

Campaigns were a blend of orchestrated and spontaneous events. Mobilizing "the base" and getting out the vote were primary objectives. Hence rallies and marches to demonstrate strength as well as canvass books, to keep tabs on eligible voters and which way they may be leaning. In addition to printed pamphlets, newspapers were also critical in shaping public opinion. We can get a glimpse behind the scenes in two letters from the Priddy Collection. One from Stephen B. Elkins, a member of the Republican National Committee, to Charles Emory Smith, at the time the editor and publisher of the Philadelphia Press, a Republican newspaper, encouraging him to identify Cleveland and the Democrats as tools of English commercial interests. This approach was certainly adopted and the Democrats were associated with dangerous "free trade." 

The appeal in the other letter evidently came to naught, but it is exceptionally interesting. It was written by one Ed. M. Shakespeare, a "colored" printer in Tallahassee, who asks Blaine for help in establishing a campaign newspaper. As far as we know, nothing came of this, and the only campaign paper we've been able to identify is The Plumed Knight (San Antonio). Shakespeare's appeal is important evidence of African American support for the Republicans, though tragically, the gains freedmen made during Reconstruction throughout the South were rapidly eroding as Bourbon Democrats resumed control.

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July 28, 1884

My dear Smith: In conversation with a very intelligent gentleman just returned from London, I was forcibly struck with the necessity of our fixing on the Democratic party, as at present organized, the appellation of the British Free Trade party. This gentleman tells me that England is very fearful of Blaine's election and wants to prevent it if posssible, on the ground of his great ability and his power to restrain her from extending her commercial supremacy in this hemisphere. I think you had better in every way possible (and not only you but our press generally) carry out this idea and name them the British party. It is a volume in itself. The British object to Mr. Blaine because he is so "intensely American." They say this means too much. The French, on the contrary, my friend tells me, are for Mr. Blaine.        Very truly &c,      S.B. Elkins

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Tallahasee, July 2d, /84

Mr. Blaine

Sir: I wrote you a letter a few weeks since, thinking if you did not comply with my wishes that you would favor me by answering it to the contrary. All we want in Florida is a little help and we can carry her successfuly for you in Nov. We need a first-class paper publisherd here at the capitol of the State. Our State Convention meets here in this city (Tallahassee) on the 24th inst. and then I will boom my paper up for you as our next President. Sir: If you cannot help me, you will oblige by answering this second letter.

I will sign


Ed. M. Shakespeare

A Colored Printer

Rallying the Troops: The Business of the Campaign