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CHAPTER XXII
POLITICAL PARTIES and ELECTIONS
Michigan was not a State when this town was settled, and for the local elections in the first few years there was little or no division politically. At the first town election in 1834, there were offices for all the voters present, and for some of them two apiece. In those days the local officers worked for the public good with small or no salary. For a considerable number of years, and until the establishment of a local Board of Supervisors, Rix Robinson as a representative of this region in county councils, was wont to travel on foot to Kalamazoo, bearing his own expenses, for the small pittance of $1.50 per day. At the time of the Presidential election in 1836, Michigan had three electoral votes, though her admission as a State was not then consummated. Grand Rapids had no newspaper, and the fervor of local political patriotism was expanded principally in talk. Yet in Kent county 54 votes were cast for Van Buren and 7 which in the returns were classes as 'scattering.'

The Anti-Masonic party flurry had subsided, and voters at this time were aligned in two parties, Democratic. and Whig. This town was almost wholly Democratic, and town and county voted nearly unanimously for Stevens T. Mason for first Governor of the State.

Grand Rapids was the voting place for all the region west and north, then attached to Kent county for judicial purposes, and in 1837 people came here from Muskegon and Grand Haven to vote. They came up the river by steamboat, and on landing formed in procession and marched to the polls at the Bridge Street House (then called Kent Hotel). Samuel Baker ("Big Baker," height 6 feet 7 inches) headed the line carrying a flag; followed by Rix Robinson and his five brothers, and L.G. Baxter, all tall men. Alanson Cramton officiated as bugler. In an address to the pioneers at Muskegon, August 16, 1888, Thomas D. Gilbert said:

I well remember making the journey from Grand Haven to Grand Rapids in 1837, to cast my first vote at the election that enrolled Michigan in the sisterhood of States. I do not think Muskegon was re-presented in the boatload of about fifty Democrats and three Whigs who attended that election. Stevens T. Mason, the first Governor of Michigan, was elected by an over whelming majority; but three years later we (that is the Whigs) had the pleasure of burying the other side out of sight, with old Tippecanoe at the head of the ticket.

At the first village election in 1838, the highest number of votes cast was 141; in several subsequent years the vote was light at local elections, and the records, therefore, do not indicate the full number of actual votes. In 1843 the highest given any candidate for Trustee was forty-four. In 1844 the Democrats had a small majority in the county. The Whigs elected Sheriff and Register, and the Democrats the rest of the county in that year was 1,072. In 1845 the highest vote cast at the village election was 145; on the question of license for liquor selling, 141 votes were cast. In the township the Democrats had an average majority of 40. In the spring of 1845 the vote of Grand Rapids Township was 362, nearly evenly divided between the Democrats and Whigs. In the county the Democrats elected the majority of the Supervisors.

At the first and second village elections the Whigs had begun to show some strength, but there was little of the excitement of party spirit until the Presidential election of 1840, when as above intimated the tables were nearly turned, the vote of the county being 319 Whig to 320 Democratic. In that year, of the 'Tippecanoe and Tyler too' canvass against Van Buren, party spirit ran high, and the local enthusiasm and excitement were about as great here as in other parts of the country. Log cabins, hard cider and coon skins on the one side, and roosters and hickory poles on the other, were the favorite party emblems during the canvass. Delegations from all the country round came in to village mass meetings, eating houses were crowded tables in the open air were bounteously loaded, and johnny cake and cider and whiskey were disbursed freely. A local Liberty Party organization was formed in 1841, which nominated James Ballard as candidate for the State Legislature, and gave him sixteen votes; while 661 votes were cast for George W. Dexter, Democrat, and 428 for William B. Hawks, Whig, in this Representative district, comprising the counties of Kent, Ionia and Ottawa, and northward. This Liberty Party was a plant of rapid growth, and from it sprang the Free Soil party of 1848 and 1852, and the Free Democratic party, holding a distinct and fast growing organization until finally merged in the Republican party in 1854.The canvass of 1844 was substantially a repetition of that of 1840, with somewhat less of popular enthusiasm, though quite as rabid in newspaper warfare. Among the Democratic political couplets of the time was this:

"Those sheets what have the biggest lies in,
Go strong for Clay and Frelinghuysen."

The canvass of 1848, coming just after the close of the Mexican war, was also a lively one, in which at the election the Whigs had a plurality in Grand Rapids of 24 votes. The

Whigs held a mass meeting on the public square, which was addressed in behalf of their national ticket by Zachariah Chandler, of Detroit. October 24 a similar Democratic mass meeting was held in the same place, and addresses by Charles E. Stuart, of Kalamazoo, and a free dinner was given at the National and the Rathbun House to attendants from out of town. Those were very enthusiastic gatherings, and much larger than had ever before been assembled here. The Free Democrats held a convention at the Court House, October 28, and nominated candidates for county officers. The first city election ran rather strongly upon party lines, as had also the village election of the previous month, April 1, 1850, in both of which the Whigs were victorious, and about which the Enquirer (Democratic) indulged in the following comments, April 3, 1850: Monday, being the first of April, the Whigs in this town were served a regular trick, were fooled by a victory, in the election of their whole ticket by an average majority of 15, excepting two constables. We shall soon be organized in and about these precincts under a city charter, and thus shall oust these Whig officers, :just as easy."

Again, May 15, after the City election, the Enquirer remarked: We have got a City Charter; the Whigs have had an election under it; now let us see the use of it; its benefit; now let's see the exercise of the more efficient authority it has been represented as possessing, and has been promised to wield. The Democracy, ever and instinctively jealous of incorporated and largely aggregated powers, have in a sincere desire for the public good opposed no hindrance to the Incorporation, nor any to the organization under it; quietly letting the Whigs get their charter and elect their chosen men under it; and now will await with patience and hope the vast improvement and increase of municipal prosperity, health and happiness, these gentlemen have undertaken to produce by this particular political machinery. Tune:---"Paddle your swift canoe."

The canvass of 1852 was a warm one locally as well as generally. The Whigs held a mass meeting October 2, on the public square, addressed by Z. Chandler and other speakers. October 14, a Democratic mass meeting was held at the same place. During the speech the platform broke down under the weight of the people upon it, which raised a shout from the Whigs in the outskirts of the crowd. A lumber wagon with a tall hickory in it was drawn upon the ground, in which General Cass took his stand and finished his address. Both of these were large meetings for those days, above five thousand people being present upon each occasion. Early in this year, the Free Democrats, at a meeting held in the Public Hall, perfected a local organization, and issued a declaration indorsing the Pittsburg Free Democratic platform, and declaring in favor of: 1. Freedom of the public lands to actual setters, except the cost of survey and transfer. 2. Limitation of the quantity of land to be acquired by one person or family. 3. Natural and equal rights to all, regardless of color or clime. 4. A free elective franchise. 5. The enactment of no laws, either by Congress or State Legislature granting special privileges. 6. Free schools. 7. The Maine Law. The election of 1852 having resulted disastrously to the Whigs, the Democrats were correspondingly elated, and the Eagle newspaper (Whigs), which had grudgingly supported the ticket of its party, while "spitting on the platform," retired in disgust and suspended publication for a time. In the following spring, it surprised its patrons by reappearing with the legend at it head: "A Independent Democratic Journal."

There was a comparative lull in politics until 1854, when a large meeting of Free Democrats was held in the Public Hall, at which Lovell Moore, Erie Prince, Albert Baxter, William H. Stewart and Alanson St. Claie were appointed delegates to the Free Democratic State Convention, held February 22, at Jackson. This was the forerunner of the mass convention held "under the oaks," at the same place, July 6, 1854, when and where the Republican party was organized and named. In the spring of that year the Whigs and Free Democrats in the city united, and won by majorities ranging from 47 to 115. The "Old Guard Whigs." deeming themselves "out in the cold," nominated a city ticket and polled something over a hundred votes. In this its first endeavor, the Republican party carried the State of Michigan, and has held it from that time to the present (with the exception of the Governor for one term--that of 1883 to 1885). It (1854) was also the first year in which the Democrats had failed to carry Kent county. Over this result great was the exultation of the Republicans, while the feeling of the Democrats may be illustrated from the following expression of the Enquirer after the election: "We recommend the Fusionists to make the most of their majority-rejoice, hurrah, throw up your caps and when they come down stamp on them, laugh at the Democrats, fire the cannon, shout, eat oysters, imbibe, pocket the stakes, and do all other things that victors may of right do, and we will not complain, for the day of your rejoicing will soon be at an end. So go it while you're young, for very soon you can't." In the same issue was the following wail: "Fanaticism has succeeded, and the black flag of Abolitionism, Proscription waves in triumph over the State."

The political struggle of 1856 was a very warm contest, and the canvass one of unusual enthusiasm. The Republicans in that year introduced the custom of organizing companies, with officers and regular drills, they were uniformed in light-colored caps and capes, in which their young men delighted to parade. They erected a "Fremont tent" for their meetings, and the Democrats had their "wigwam." Both parties held large mass meetings, and made excursions with long processions to meetings out of town. The "old line Whigs" kept up the show of an organization with a "club" attachment. At the fall election the Republicans carried the city by a bare majority of four for Fremont, but they had a jubilee over their State and county victory, letting loose their enthusiasum in the blowing of tin horns, and parading with torches through nearly all the streets in the city. On Saturday evening following, the Democrats had their turn, exulting over the Buchanan victory in the Nation. Some excesses were indulged in, such as smashing windows blinds and tearing down fences, but in general their jubilation found vent in noise. About this period in our political history the badinage of the newspapers, "illustrated with cuts" and occasional caricatures, was often amusing, the rooster with head and plumage erect, the cannon and the star spangled banner were popular pictures for display by both parties.

In the spring of 1860 parties in the city were very nearly evenly balanced. The Republicans elected the Mayor and the majority of the Council, and the other officers were divided. The general canvass of that year, the memorable Lincoln and Douglas contest, was here as everywhere in the country conducted with a great deal of earnestness and popular enthusiasm. Mass meetings and fervid speeches were frequent, and large political processions in the city. The canvass of 1864 was much imbued with the war feeling, and a sort of military ardor pervaded most of the political conventions and public gatherings. A similar feeling prevailed in political circles in 1868, though the war had passed, owing to the candidacy for President of the General who had led the Union Army to victory, and to this was added the excitement of a heated discussion of the policy of an unlimited issue of United States Treasury notes, in liquidation of public indebtedness, from which what is known as the Greenback or National party took its rise. Following this, or nearly cotemporaneous with it, came the Prohibition party, and then the Labor party, into the complications of political rivalries, strifes and elections. In State and local politics, fusions or alliances between the National, Labor Union, and Democratic parties, have several times given to the combination a strength nearly equal to that of the Republican party, and in some localities greater.

The woman's rights movement, as it is familiarly called, took organized form in this city April 1874. Upward of one hundred citizens, of both sexes, united in a call for a meeting to form a Woman Suffrage Association. It was held April 27, in Luce's Hall, and the "Grand Rapids Woman Suffrage Association" was then organized--S. L. Withey, President; Richmond Fisk, Jr., Recording Secretary; Harvey J. Hollister, Treasurer. Shortly afterwards a county society was formed, of which E.L. Briggs was President. The association has been kept up, and the advocacy of the policy of granting the right to vote to woman, has been steadily pushed by it ever since. It cannot properly be classed among the political parties in the sense of being composed of voters. It was active in procuring the passage of the law giving suffrage to women in school elections. It is now superseded or supplanted by the Equal Suffrage Association, whose officers are: President, Mrs. C. B. Hodges; Vice-Presidents, Mrs. Phobe Whitfield, Mrs. E. B. Ketcham; Recording Secretary, Mrs. I.E. Stone; Corresponding Secretary, Mrs. M. E. Bedell. In elections of local officers, of town, city or county, it not infrequently happens that personal preference and local questions at issue, rather than party affiliations, determine the result. Hence the following statements of votes given on State and National tickets will represent most nearly the numbers of voters in, and the relative local strength of the political parties:

VOTES FOR PRESIDENT
 
YEAR
CANDIDATE
CITY COUNTY
1836 Van Buren, Democrat 54
Scattering 7
1840 Harrison, Whig 349
Van Buren, Democrat 320
1844 Clay, Whig 476
Polk, Democrat 564
1848 Taylor, Whig *183 653
Cass, Democrat *159 768
Van Buren, Free Soil *70 337
1852 Scott, Whig 285 1226
Pierce, Democrat 341 1519
Hale, Free Soil 48 166
1856 Fremont, Republican 705 2931
Buchanan, Democrat 701 2516
1860 Lincoln, Republican 921 3647
Douglas, Democrat 625 2540
1864 Lincoln, Republican 813 3398
Douglas, Democrat 823 2966
1868 Grant, Republican 1447 5412
Seymour, Democrat 1136 3839
1872 Grant, Republican 2142 5917
Greenley, Dem. and Liberal 1356 3089
O'Conor, Democrat 98
Black, Prohibition 14
1876 Hayes, Republican 3840 7403
Tilden, Democrat 2447 5678
Cooper, Greenback 1101 2055
Smith, Prohibition 3
1880 Garfield, Republican 3840 8313
Hancock, Democrat 2339 5115
Weaver, Greenback 1507 3037
Dow, Prohibition 58
1884 Blaine, Republican 4378 9007
Cleveland, Democrat 3605 6902
Butler, Greenback 1591 2755
St. John, Prohibition 273 1040
1888 Harrison, Republican 6604 12810
Cleveland, Democrat 7005 11865
Fisk, Prohibition 385 1242

*Township of Grand Rapids

 VOTE FOR GOVERNOR

                                                                    CITY  COUNTY

1841--John S. Barry, Democrat.............................. ........ 338
 --Philo C. Fuller, Whig.................................. .......... 209
 --Jabez S. Fitch, Liberty................................ .......... 7

1843--John S. Barry, Democrat............................ .......... 405
 --Zina Pitcher, Whig..................................... .......... 246
 --James G. Birney, Liberty............................ .......... 16

1845--Alpheus Felch, Democrat......................... ......... 500
 --Stephen Vickery, Whig............................. ......... 433
 --James G. Birney, Liberty........................... ........ 42

1849--F.J. Littlejohn, Whig................................. *162 646
 --John S. Barry, Democrat.......................... *151 744

1851--Townsend D, Gidley, Whig....................  149 613
 --Robert McClelland, Democrat................  180 748

1852--Zach. Chandler, Whig............................. 291 1,240
 --Robert McClelland, Democrat................  344  1,543
 --I.P. Christiancy, Free Soil.......................  35 128

1854--Kinsley S. Bingham,Republican...........  375  1,540
 --John S. Barry, Democrat........................  374  1,493

1856--Kinsley S. Bingham,Republican...........  704  2,946
 --Alpheus Felch, Democrat.....................  738  2,596

1858--Moses Wisner, Republican.................  874  3,112
 --Charles E. Stuart, Democrat..................  927  2,813

1860--Austin Blair. Republican.......................  910  3,721
 --John S. Barry, Democrat........................  693  2,643

1862--Austin Blair, Republican........................ 661  3,090
 --Byron G. Stout, Democrat...................... 758  2,625

1864--Henry H. Crapo. Republican..................  814 3,046
 --William M. Fenton, Democrat................  830 2,976

1866--Henry H. Crapo, Republican.................. 1,017  4,067
 --A.S. Williams, Democrat.........................  824 2,698

1868--Henry P. Baldwin, Republicam............... 1,432 5,392
 --John Moore, Democrat........................... 1,140 3,834

1870--Henry P. Baldwin, Republican............... 1,270 3,841
 --C.C. Comstock,Democrat........................ 1,520 3,616

1872--John J. Bagley, Republican.................... 2,147 5,893
 --Austin Blair, Dem.and Liberal............... 1,389 3,236
 --William M. Ferry, Democrat.................. 25  100

1874--John J. Bagley, Republican...................  1,921  4,608
 --Henry Chamberlain,Democrat.............. 1,880  4,494

1876--Charles M. Croswell, Republican........ 2,140 7,402
 --William L. Webber,Democrat............... 2,240  5,764
 --Levi Sparks,Greenback.........................  1,112  2,062

1878--Charles M. Croswell,Republican.........  2,140  5,691
 --O.M. Barnes, Democrat........................ 809  1,633
 --Henry S. Smith, Greenback..................  2,626  6,076

1880--David H.Jerome,Repuiblican...............  2,312  7,877
 --F.M. Holloway, Democrat.................... 2,769 5,624
 --David Woodman, Greenback............. 1,369 2,933
 --I.W.McKeever, Prohibition................  13 68

1882--David H. Jerome, Republican............. 2,657 6,320
 --Josiah W. Begole, Fusion.................. 4,036 8,181
 --D.P. Sagendorph, Prohibition............  74 371

1884--Russell A. Alger, Republican............ 4,265 8,843
 --Josiah W. Begole, Fusion.................. 5,212 9,684
 --David Preston, Prohibition................ 307 1,166

1885--Cyrus G. Luce,Republican................. 3,759  7,763
 --George L. Yaple, Fusion..................... 4,776  8,670
 --Samuel Dickie, Prohibition.................  423  1,531

1888--Cyrus G. Luce, Republican................  6,631 12,798
 --W.R. Burt, Democrat..........................  6,967 11,816
 --A.B. Cheney, Prohibition..................  385  1,283

*Town of Grand Rapids

CITY AND COUNTY TOTAL VOTE

The following statement of votes cast, in the city and county, in the various years mentioned, furnishes an indication of the comparative increase in voting population: Total vote in 1852-city, 674; county, 2,911. In 1868-city, 2,583; county, 9,251. In 1876-city, 7,388; county, 15,139. In 1884-city, 9,847; county, 19,704. In 1888-city, 13,994; county, 25,917.

VOTES IN THE STATE-THIRTEEN YEARS

YEAR OFFICE  REP.  DEM. GRE'CK PRO
1876 President  166,901  141,695 9,060  --------
1876 Governor  165,926  142,492 8,297  --------
1877 Supreme Court  112,653  85,748 ------  --------
1878 Governor  126,280  78,503  74,355  --------
1879 Supreme Court  132,213 126,270 ------ --------
1880 Governor 178,941 137,671  35,122  --------
1880 President 185,190 131,301  34,895  --------
1881 Supreme Court  127,436 72,730  33,256  12,774
   Fusion
1882 Governor 149,697 154,268 ------  5,854
1883 Supreme Court  119,870 127,376 ------ 13,467
1884 Governor 190,840 186,887 ------ 26,207
   Dem.
1884 President 192,669 149,835  41,490  18,403
   Fusion
1885 Supreme Court  138,694 168,615 ----- -----
1885 Regents  138,350 155,743 -----  14,708
1886 Governor  181,474 174,042 ---- 25,184
  Dem.
1887 Supreme Court 170,749 139,940  32,396 18,568
1887 Regents  172,354 142,104  27,651 18,773
    Labor
1888 Governor 233,595 216,450 4,388 20,342
1888 President 236,370 213,404 4,542 20,942
 


Document Source: Baxter, Albert, History of the City of Grand Rapids, New York and Grand Rapids: Munsell & Company, Publishers, 1891. (Name Index)
Location of Original: Various.
Transcriber: Barbara Jones
URL: http://kent.migenweb.net/baxter1891/22politics.html
 
Created: 16 August 2000[an error occurred while processing this directive]