Winfield Hancock presidential campaign, 1880

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Winfield Scott Hancock for President
Campaign U.S. presidential election, 1880
Candidate Winfield Scott Hancock
United States Army (1844-1886)
William Hayden English
U.S. House of Representative from Indiana (1853-1861)
Affiliation Democratic Party
Status Lost general election

After serving one term as U.S. President, Rutherford B. Hayes announced that he would not seek re-election in 1880. Thus, the 1880 election ended up being fought between Republican James A. Garfield and Democrat Winfield Scott Hancock—an election which Garfield ultimately won.[1]

The Democratic nomination fight

A photo of Winfield Scott Hancock.

After winning control of both houses of the U.S. Congress in 1878, Democrats felt that the American people were ready to elect a Democrat as U.S. President for the first time in 24 years. Initially, 1876 Democratic candidate and former New York Governor Samuel J. Tilden was the frontrunner for the 1880 Democratic nomination; however, his health combined with the opposition of Tammany Hall leader John Kelly caused Tilden to decide not to run in 1880.[2]

With Tilden's withdrawal, other Democrats sought to acquire the nomination for themselves. Senator Thomas Bayard of Delaware sought the Democratic nomination, but his hard-money views alienated soft-money supporters while his initial support of Southern secession during the American Civil War made him vulnerable to Republican attacks. Meanwhile, House Speaker Samuel J. Randall sought the Democratic nomination, but was unwilling to campaign for it (and was also hurt by the fact that Tilden refused to endorse him). Meanwhile, 1868 Democratic nominee and former New York Governor Horatio Seymour resolutely rejected the idea of once again being the Democratic Presidential nominee.[2]

While there were other candidates for the 1880 Democratic nomination, they were unwilling to attract large-scale support for their candidacies. Thus, ultimately the Democratic nomination fell to former Union general Winfield Scott Hancock. Hancock was acceptable to all factions of the Democratic Party, had a reputation for integrity,[3] and had no negatives to him--something which made him a strong choice for his party. Thus, Hancock was able to win the Democratic nomination with 705 delegates on the second ballot at the 1880 Democratic National Convention. Meanwhile, former Indiana congressman William Hayden English was selected as Hancock's running mate.[2]


The 1880 Democratic platform was purposely vague in order to hold the party together as well as to avoid alienating any voters.[2] During the campaign, Hancock and the Democrats attacked James A. Garfield, the 1880 Republican Presidential nominee, for his involvement in the Credit Mobilier scandal as well as for his alleged support of unlimited Chinese immigration as evidenced by the forged Morey letter (a letter which Garfield publicly denied authoring).[2][4][5] Meanwhile, Republicans attacked the Democrats by associating them with secession and the Confederacy as well as for their (alleged) support for low protective tariffs (meanwhile, the Republicans emphasized their own support for a high protective tariff).[2] Indeed, Hancock was hurt when he, on October 8, 1880, said that "the tariff question is a local question"; while he meant that the voters should decide this issue through their elected representatives in Congress, he was nevertheless attacked for his alleged ignorance of this issue.[2][6] Meanwhile, while Hancock's character wasn't directly attacked by the Republicans, they nevertheless attacked his lack of political experience and circulated partisan rumors about how he allegedly plotted to overthrow President Lincoln during the American Civil War and about how he had allegedly engaged in corrupt business practices while being stationed in Louisiana during Reconstruction.[6][7]


Garfield ended up winning the popular vote by less than 0.1% (less than 10,000 votes)[4] and the electoral vote by a 214 to 155 margin. The fact that Garfield was able to win New York, Indiana, and Connecticut (all of which voted for the Democrat Tilden in 1876) allowed him to defeat Hancock and to win the 1880 U.S. Presidential election.[8][9] While the Morey letter helped Hancock narrowly win both California and Nevada, it wasn't enough for him to win the U.S. Presidency.[7][8]


  1. ^ "Elections: 1880 Overview, Page 1". HarpWeek. Retrieved 2017-09-18. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Elections: 1880 Overview, Page 2". HarpWeek. Retrieved 2017-09-18. 
  3. ^ "Catalog: Reminisces of Winfield Scott Hancock by his Wife". Budden Brooks. Retrieved 2017-09-21. 
  4. ^ a b Laskow, Sarah (2017-03-13). "The Enduring Mystery of James A. Garfield's Immigration Scandal". Atlas Obscura. Retrieved 2017-09-21. 
  5. ^ Gyory, Andrew (2004-10-24). "The Phony Document that Almost Cost a President His Election (No, Not the CBS Bush Guard Memo)". History News Network. Retrieved 2017-09-21. 
  6. ^ a b "On This Day: July 31, 1880". Retrieved 2017-09-21. 
  7. ^ a b "Elections: 1880 Overview, Page 3". HarpWeek. Retrieved 2017-09-18. 
  8. ^ a b "Elections: 1880 Overview, Page 4". HarpWeek. Retrieved 2017-09-18. 
  9. ^ Leip, David. "1880 Presidential General Election Results". Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Retrieved 2017-09-18. 
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