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Monday, April 21, 2008

Horace Greeley chimes in on Clinton vs. Obama

Historian David Kaiser this week compares Hillary Clinton to Richard Nixon, arguing that she is not the friend to her party that Nixon was to his. Kaiser also includes a fascinating quote by Horace Greeley (at right, in one of the two sculptures of him in New York City, this one at City Hall Park), writing about the Whig convention of 1840, where William Henry Harrison was chosen over the more partisan Henry Clay.

Kaiser means to imply that because Harrison's consensus nomination was wise, an Obama nomination would be wise too, but in my reading there are greater parallels if you consider Obama to be Clay and Clinton to be Harrison; Harrison won the big party stronghold states (today New York, California, Michigan, Massachusetts) and swing states (then and now Pennsylvania, Ohio). Clay's greater delegate support going into the nomination came largely from his victory in states usually carried by the other party in the general election (as Obama's delegate support does). And without backroom party negotiations that were never made transparent to the public, the establishment's mainstream candidate might have been bested by an outsider with more grassroots support. I think Kaiser, who supports Obama (as I do), is wrong to think this anecdote suggests the party should unite around him.

Here's Greeley:
The sittings of the Convention were protracted through three or four days during which several ballots for President were taken. There was a plurality though not a majority in favor of nominating Mr Clay but it was in good part composed of delegates from States which could not rationally be expected to vote for any Whig candidate On the other hand delegates from Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana said, "We can carry our States for General Harrison but not for Clay." New York and New Jersey cast their earlier for General Scott but stood ready to unite on General Harrison whenever it should be clear that he could be nominated and elected and they ultimately did so. The delegates from Maine and Massachusetts contributed powerfully to secure General Harrison's ultimate nomination. Each delegation cast its vote through a committee and the votes were added up by a general committee which reported no names and no figures but simply that no choice had been effected until at length the Scott votes were all cast for Harrison and his nomination thus effected when the result was proclaimed.

Governor Seward who was in Albany (there were no telegraphs in those days), and Mr Weed, who was present and very influential in producing the result, were strongly blamed by the ardent uncalculating supporters of Mr Clay as having cheated him out of the nomination. I could never see with what reason. They judged that he could not be chosen if nominated while another could be and acted accordingly. If politics do not meditate the achievement of beneficent ends through the choice and use of the safest and most effective means I wholly misapprehend them.
It's easy to compliment your own beneficent ends, safety and effectiveness when it's your guy on top.

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