Tuesday, August 19, 2008

1892: Racial Politics in Transition

As I've noted in earlier posts, Minneapolis, twin city to St. Paul, the site of this year's Republican convention, hosted the 1892 Republican National Convention.

Iric Nathanson has written an article entitled "African Americans and the 1892 Republican National Convention, Minneapolis" that has been published in the Summer 2008 edition of Minnesota History magazine.

He reports that there were "116 black delegates to the Minneapolis convention -- about 13 percent of the full body" who "still considered themselves players in Republican Party politics".

The convention eventually renominated the incumbent president, Benjamin Harrison. But there was some support for dumping Harrison in favor of Secretary of State James G. Blaine, who had been the party's presidential nominee in 1884. Blaine resigned from Harrison's Cabinet three days before the 1892 convention began.

Nathanson mentions African American leaders who were prominent in supporting both Harrison and Blaine. There was apparently no united front on the part of the black delegates in favor of either candidate.

As an aside, the future was bright for neither candidate. Harrison lost the general election in a rematch against Grover Cleveland. And Blaine died the following January, before he would have taken office had he won the election, according to the rules in effect at that time.

The story is not so much the strength of African American influence at that convention, but rather the decline in that influence, as compared to the era immediately following the Civil War. African Americans had been elected to Congress as Republicans, as early as the 1870s.

Nathanson notes the presence in Minneapolis "of John R. Lynch, a [black]Mississippi delegate who had been chairman of the Republican convention that nominated Blaine for president in 1884." But in 1892, a bid by John M. Langston a black delegate from Virginia, to be named temporary chairman was defeated, in part because of Langston's strong support of Blaine.

Meanwhile, credentials challenges were being brought against African American delegates from southern states. Nathanson notes that "the credentials committee" seated "an all-white Alabama delegation in place of a mixed delegation of blacks and whites".

I admit to having oversimplified the question of African American political rights in the south, when I described the post-Civil War two-party system in this post. Those rights were not completely shut down immediately at the end of Reconstruction but, by 1892, that process was underway.

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