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Republican Philadelphia

GOP Convention of 1872 in Philadelphia


You would expect to hear harmony at the glorious Academy of Music in Philadelphia, the site of the 1872 convention.

Ulysses S. Grant

Indeed, it was so. Only the sweet sound of party harmony wafted from the grand concert hall when the GOP gathered there on June 5, 1872, to nominate President Ulysses S. Grant for a second term.

Of course, there were plenty of Republicans who could no longer stomach the stench of corruption, nepotism and ineptitude that polluted the Grant Administration. But these naysayers did not come to Philadelphia.

Horace Greeley

Those determined to dump Grant created a party organization called the Liberal Republicans. They gathered in Cincinnati in May, and after much dissension and six ballots chose New York Tribune publisher Horace "Go West Young Man" Greeley — a sure loser — as its presidential candidate. Staunch Republicans would refer to the rebel group as "The Cincinnati Sore Heads."

Later the Democrats met in Baltimore determined to elect anyone but Grant. In one of the strangest presidential conventions ever, the Democrats endorsed Greeley and the Liberal Republican platform during a convention that lasted only six hours.

One wit declared the Grant-Greeley contest was the choice between "hemlock and strychnine." Another said the choice was between "a man with no ideas [Grant] and a man with too many ideas."

Since there was no question that Grant would be the unanimous choice of the delegates, the Philadelphia convention was mostly about pageantry and spectacle.

The Public Ledger described preparation "on a grand scale" several days before the convention opened. Torchlight parades were the order of the day, and the Academy of Music both inside and out was decorated to the rooftop.

Convention at Academy of Music

The entire facade of the building was covered by flags. Flags, colorful pennants, and lush flora decorated the surrounding streets and businesses.

Describing the interior of the Academy, the Ledger said, "the general design is to convert the building into a beautiful flower garden with rare exotics, fragrant flowers and shrubbery." There was a giant floral arch at the rear of the stage. The entire place was festooned with colorful banners, bunting, flags and portraits of Grant, Lincoln, Washington.

A "grand promenade concert" was held at the Academy on the second night of the convention "in order to afford the ladies and others unable to obtain admission during the convention an opportunity to examine the decorations of the Academy."

Every hotel and boarding house room in the city was filled. Businesses seized the opportunity to make a buck. One newspaper advertisement proposed: "Delegates to the Convention. On Arriving in the City are Invited to Drive Immediately to the Finest Clothing House of John Wanamaker & Company to Examine our Beautiful Establishment."

The convention helped usher in the age of modern communications. The outside world was kept up to minute on the proceedings by telegraph operators inside the Academy for both the Western Union and Pacific and Atlantic companies.

Scores of reporters sat in the orchestra or on a raised platform on the stage. The Evening Bulletin noted "the novel but not unpleasing sight of a number of ladies" among the working press.

A large, "clamorous crowd" assembled well before the doors opened at 10:30 a.m. on the first day. Police, who were instructed to be extra polite, were praised by the press for keeping things cool.

Academy of Music Hall

Delegates sat in the downstairs parquet; ticket-holding members of the public sat in the galleries. All joined in a hardy sing-along as the orchestra struck up the old Civil War tunes, including "Rally Round the Flag," "Marching Through Georgia," and "John Brown's Body."

The three-days convention featured a lot of wonderful, windy oratory. Enjoying the speeches of famous orators seemed to be a major source of entertainment in the pre-radio/television era.

The party quickly passed a somewhat progressive platform without debate. However, the gathering was not without its political maneuvering and intrigues. There was a strong move to dump scandal-tainted Vice President Schuyler Colfax of Indiana in favor of Sen. Henry Wilson of Massachusetts. In a close battle — fought mostly in private — Wilson emerged with the nomination.

Acceptance speeches from the candidates were not yet an integral part of the conventions. Grant was in Washington, so the delegates focused their enthusiasm on a portrait of the great general on horseback.

Here is how a reporter for the Public Ledger describes the pandemonium following the nominating speech for Grant:

"A scene of the wildest excitement followed the speech. The spacious Academy was crowded with thousands of people filling every nook. The vast assemblage from stage, parquet and tier upon tier of galleries rose and the deepening cheers shook even the solid walls of the Academy.

"A perfect wilderness of hats, caps, hands and handkerchiefs waved to and fro in a surging mass as three times three [cheers] shook the dome from the thousands of voices.

"It was a scene that no language can describe nor artist's brush place upon canvas. The band appeared to catch the prevailing enthusiasm and waved their instrument as though they were flags.

"Amid cries of 'Music!' 'Music!' the band struck up Hail to the Chief. As the majestic strains of the music came floating down from the balcony a good life-size equestrian painting of Grant came down as if by magic filling the entire space of the back scene, and then the enthusiasm knew no bounds."

Susan B. Anthony

A delegation of feminists came to town led by Susan B. Anthony to lobby for woman's suffrage. According to the Evening Bulletin, Anthony was violently opposed to Democrat Greeley whose newspaper editorials were anti-female.

Victoria Woodhull

The GOP platform did include a bland, non-committal bow to the women. "The Republican Party is mindful of its obligations to the loyal women of America for their noble devotion to the cause of freedom. Their admission to wider fields of usefulness is viewed with satisfaction, and the honest demands of any class of citizens for additional rights should be treated with respectful consideration."

The newspapers did take note — with sarcastic humor — of eccentric Victoria Woodhull, candidate of the Equal Rights Party for president of the United States with abolitionist Frederick Douglass as her running mate. A fascinating personality, Woodhull was a clairvoyant, spiritualist, advocate of free love, social reformer, newspaper publisher and the first female stockbroker. Of course, she couldn't vote and the party was not permitted on any ballot.

GOP Convention of 1900 in Philadelphia >