This looked like Cleveland had it in the

This lesson will explore the events and scandals of the election of 1884. It will define the term ‘mugwumps,’ while also describing the supposed indiscretions of Cleveland and Blaine.


The election of 1884 earned a special place in history for two reasons. First, it saw a Democrat win the White House for the first time in over 25 years. Second, and a bit more fun, there was quite a lot of mudslinging and scandal! Let’s meet the opponents.On the Democrat’s side stood Grover Cleveland.

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As the mayor of New York City and then Governor of New York, Cleveland spent the early 1880s fighting against the entrenched political machine of New York. For this, he earned the reputation of a reformer who wasn’t afraid to shake up the status quo. With this reputation, the Democrats saw him as the perfect guy to lead their party to the White House.Making the Democrats even more positive about the election, the Republicans were still reeling from the 1881 assassination of the Republican President Garfield and the less-than-stellar performance of his successor, President Arthur.

James Blaine

With all this stacked against the Republicans, the Democrats looked like they had a real shot! All Cleveland had to do was beat James Blaine, the 1884 Republican candidate for president.

Now, the fact that Blaine had a financial scandal in his past made the Democrats feel even better about their chances.When a group of Republicans actually refused to support Blaine because of the scandal, the Democrats were giddy with excitement. Known as mugwumps, these Republicans actually threw their support to Cleveland, a Democrat! With this, it looked like Cleveland had it in the bag! However, thanks to a good old fashioned scandal, the election hung in the balance!


During most of the election season, Blaine campaigned hard, while Cleveland took it rather easy. After all, the presidency seemed right within his grasp, with very little effort required.

Unfortunately for him and his Democratic cronies, this all changed when the Republicans accused him of fathering a child out of wedlock.Of course, nothing shakes up an election like a sex scandal! When paternity is involved, it’s even juicier! Celebrating their good fortune over Cleveland’s indiscretions, the Republicans even made up a cheer that went something like, ‘Ma, Ma, Where’s your Pa?’ With the streets and newspapers buzzing with gossip, Blaine began gaining ground. However, about a week before the election, Blaine made his own blunder!On the campaign trail, Blaine decided to visit a Protestant church. While he sat quietly, the Protestant minister railed against the mugwump Republicans who had abandoned Blaine. He harshly rebuked them for aligning with rum, Romanism, and rebellion.

Of course, everyone knew these words were just code for Irishmen, who were usually Roman Catholics, who happened to enjoy their alcohol.

Cleveland Victory

Now, when you’re trying to win a presidential election in the 19th century, you needed New York City. Therefore, insulting Irish Catholics, who made up a large part of the city’s population, was a really, really poor decision! It didn’t matter that Blaine didn’t say the words; he didn’t stand up and defend the Irish against those words.

In the end, this silence proved fatal for his chances.Despite the paternity scandal, Cleveland won New York. This win helped him beat Blaine in the Electoral College. Yes, he only won the popular vote by less than half a percent! However, Cleveland and his Democratic buddies went happily to the White House chanting, ‘Ma, Ma, Where’s your Pa? Gone to the White House, Ha! Ha! Ha!’

Lesson Summary

The election of 1884 pitted Democrat Grover Cleveland, former mayor of New York City and Governor of New York, against James Blaine, the 1884 Republican candidate for president. From the beginning, the election overflowed with scandal. The Republican, James Blaine, had been previously implicated in a financial one.

This caused Republicans known as mugwumps to support Cleveland. Adding to their woes, the Republicans still shook from the assassination of the Republican President Garfield.However, when the Democrats’ man, Cleveland, became embroiled in a paternity scandal, it looked like the Republicans had a shot at the White House! Unfortunately for the Republicans, their hopes were dashed when Blaine sat silently as a Protestant minister railed against the Irish as well as the mugwumps who had abandoned Blaine.Due to his silence, many believe Blaine lost New York. In the end, Cleveland squeaked by Blaine and took the White House.

Learning Outcomes

Following this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Recall the positions and chances of Grover Cleveland and James Blaine going into the election of 1884
  • Define mugwumps
  • Describe the scandals that occurred during the election season and how those scandals impacted the election
  • Recall the ultimate outcome of the election

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