The Shitty 1872 Candidacies of David Davis (Illinois), Joel Parker (New Jersey), and Charles O’Conor (New York), Labor Reform Party. Sorta.
Quick Bios: Really quick cuz there’s three of them: David Davis was a fairly enormous man, a lawyer, and a bodyguard for Lincoln during the Civil War. Coincidentally, Lincoln nominated Davis for the Supreme Court, where he served until being elected Senator of Illinois (one of only a few folk to quit the SCOTUS and work for another branch). Joel Parker, a hairy gent lacking only a mustache, was a lawyer and got elected twice as Governor of New Jersey, including the months leading up to the 1872 Presidential Election. Charles O’Conor, a grim neck-bearded fellow, was a South-sympathizer during the Civil War. He was, you guessed it, a lawyer; among his many famous cases was his turn as Jefferson Davis’ senior counsel during the Confederate leader’s indictment for treason.
Background to the 1872 Election: Let’s not beat around the bush here. American politics in the 19th Century was vastly different to today’s version. Back then, the Democrats (the world’s oldest party) were the force of the South: white-nationalist, slave owning, pro-business types. When the Republicans were formed from the ashes of the Whig Party, they ruled the North with a platform of anti-monopoly, anti-slavery, and (most glaring) big government. The Republicans instituted the first ever personal income tax, for Christ’s sake: your very first tax-hiking villain is none other than Abe Lincoln. It’s safe to say shit ain’t like that now.
Floundering below these behemoths were a myriad of smaller parties, often following a one-issue platform touted by some ideologist. Still other parties, like the Labor Reform Party featured in this post, were kind of the BuzzFeed of 1800’s politics: they had no real platform or substance of their own, but aggregated off the other smaller, content-producing parties. Such aggregator parties would nominate candidates from other small parties in hopes of creating a winning coalition.
This coalition strategy has a number of success stories on the local, state, and even Congressional levels. But it was only successful on the Presidential level once, and it took four years of bloody Civil War to make it viable: Abraham Lincoln, the incumbent Republican President, joined forces with the anti-slave wing of the Democrats to create the National Union Party. That’s right, elephants and donkeys linked arms. Lincoln’s second term Vice President (and eventual successor) was a hand-picked Democrat, Andrew Johnson. Talk about insane in today’s eyes! But then, we don’t have battles happening outside our front doors, resulting in the deaths of nearly one million soldiers and civilians. In such a case, you could imagine at Dem/GOP coalition being a thing.
Anyway, the Labor Reform Party was formed in 1870 with an eye on uniting smaller parties and ousting President Ulysses S. Grant in the 1872 election. They failed on a monumentally shitty scale.
Shittiness of Their Candidates in the 1872 Election: Originally the Labor Reform Party mahoffs wondered if they should even put someone up for President. After much debate, it was decided to wait and see who the biggest small-fish Party, the Liberal Republicans, would choose. Discord among the Labor Reformers led to a national convention with many ballots. The eventual winners were: David Davis, the likely candidate from the Liberal Republicans, and Joel Parker, the Democratic Governor of New Jersey.
The first hiccup in this ticket came when Horace Greeley, a publishing magnate with a major New York City paper under his wing, scored the Liberal Republican nomination out from under David Davis’ enormous feet. The Labor Reform Party wanted no part of Greeley, through the Democrats did; in an astounding move, the big-party Dems made the small-party Liberal Republican ticket their own.
David Davis had not accepted the Labor Reform Party’s nomination just yet. He’d hoped to get the Liberal Republican nod first, and could combine the two parties’ power. Without the one, he simply bailed on the other: in a telegram, Davis told the Labor Reform Party he was withdrawing from the race. Joel Parker, who would not even have the backing of his own Democratic Party, much less the two little guys, did likewise.
The Labor Reform fellows stood on the election stump with two eggs on their faces, one for each candidate who’d bailed. All was not lost, they said, calling another convention. This time they joined up with the Straight-Out (or Bourbon) Democrats, a movement of pro-business, anti-regulation rich guys. Their nominee was Charles O’Conor, a big-name NYC lawyer.
Thing is, O’Conor took a look at the prospects, and decided to say no to their offer.
The Labor Reform Party once again stood de-pantsed before the political world. As it was far too late to nominate someone else, they simply went with O’Conor in spite of his rejection. I wonder what O’Conor would’ve done had he won. He didn’t, of course: he only managed 18,000 votes. President Grant won re-election in a landslide.
Conclusion: So, so many people would love to be President. Go to any bar and two or three dudes will gladly tell you how they’d fix things. So many other political and ideological folks would love to just run, to just have a chance, to just have their views put out there and their faces in the media. The Labor Reform Party was so shittily pathetic that all three of their nominees wanted no part of such glory. All of them thought it over and said, “Eh … no thanks.”
Now there’s some shitty candidates for President of the United States!
This series started with William Howard Taft, then Daniel Webster, then Thomas E. Watson, and will conclude next week. For my list of Four Presidents Who Actually Got Shit Done, click here. To support me, buy my books. To insult me, a popular place to start in my last name. It rhymes with “cock.”