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Election of 1888

Election of 1888


The presidential election of 1888 was a significant event in the history of the United States. It was a close and controversial election that had far-reaching consequences for the country. In this article, we will explore the election of 1888, its historical context, and its impact on American politics and society.

Background and Historical Context

The election of 1888 was held during a period of significant change and transition in the United States. The country was recovering from the Civil War and Reconstruction era, and the Westward expansion of the nation was in full swing, with the last states, Montana, Washington, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Idaho, joining the Union between 1889 and 1890.
The United States was also experiencing significant industrial and economic growth, with new technologies and industries transforming the country’s economy. These changes created new opportunities but also brought new challenges, including significant economic inequality and social unrest.

Political Climate

The political climate of the United States during the election of 1888 was also marked by significant polarization and division. The two major political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, had very different visions for the country’s future.
The Democrats, led by Grover Cleveland, the incumbent president, were focused on protecting individual rights, promoting civil liberties, and addressing the economic and social challenges facing the country. The Republicans, led by Benjamin Harrison, were focused on promoting economic growth, expanding the country’s industrial and economic power, and increasing America’s prestige and power on the world stage.
The election of 1888 was characterized by a highly partisan and controversial campaign, with each side making strong appeals to their base of support and attacking their opponents’ policies and character.

The Candidates

Grover Cleveland, the Democratic candidate, was the incumbent president, having won the election of 1884. He was known for his commitment to civil liberties, his opposition to corruption and excessive government spending and his support of a limited government. However, he was also criticized for his handling of the economy and his unpopular position on tariff reform.
The Republican nominee, Benjamin Harrison, was a former U.S Senator from Indiana, and the grandson of former President William Henry Harrison. Harrison was known for his support of protective tariffs, his commitment to promoting economic growth, and his reputation for being a strong and decisive leader. He was also criticized for his lack of experience in national politics and his ties to big business.

Issues of the Election

The election of 1888 was primarily focused on economic and policy issues, including tariff reform, civil rights, and the expansion of the country and its power. The two candidates had very different visions for the country’s future, and their policies reflected those differences.

Civil Rights

Civil rights were also a significant issue in the election of 1888, particularly the rights of African Americans who were facing increasing threats of discrimination and violence in many parts of the country. Cleveland and the Democrats were more committed to protecting civil rights, while Harrison and the Republicans tended to focus more on economic issues.

Tariff Reform

Tariff reform was another significant issue in the election of 1888, with both parties proposing changes to the tariff system. The Republicans were advocating for higher tariffs to support American industry, while the Democrats favored lower tariffs to promote economic growth.

Campaigns and Results

The campaign for the election of 1888 was marked by intense partisanship, with both sides attacking their opponents’ policies and character. The campaign was also characterized by a significant amount of mudslinging and negative campaigning, which led to further polarization and division.
Ultimately, the election of 1888 was won by Benjamin Harrison, who secured victory in the electoral college but lost the popular vote. Harrison won 233 electoral votes, while Cleveland won only 168. However, Cleveland won a larger percentage of the popular vote, securing 48.6 percent to Harrison’s 47.8 percent.

Impact of the Election

The election of 1888 had significant consequences for American politics and society. Harrison’s victory led to an expansion of American power and prestige, with the country becoming more active in international affairs and asserting its dominance in global economic and political matters.
The election of 1888 also had significant implications for economic policy in the United States. The Republicans, with their commitment to high tariffs and protectionism, were able to push through significant economic reforms in their four years of office, which led to increased economic growth and expansion.


The election of 1888 was a significant event in the history of the United States, marked by partisan division, controversy, and significant policy and economic implications. While the election has faded from the national memory, it played a crucial role in shaping American politics and society during a critical period of transition and change. The election of 1888 serves as a reminder of the vital role of electoral politics in shaping the direction of the country and its future.

The election of 1888, only 12 years after the scandal of the election of 1876 with Rutherford B. Hayes, was another problematic and disputed election. The Republican candidate for this election was Benjamin Harrison, while the Democratic candidate was the incumbent President, Grover Cleveland. Benjamin Harrison was from Indiana, while Grover Cleveland was from New York.

In the election, Benjamin Harrison had a strong advantage over Grover Cleveland for a number of reasons, ranging from the fact that Benjamin Harrison was a Civil War soldier with a good record who was popular with former Union soldiers, to the fact that Grover Cleveland had made numerous enemies during his time in office, primarily for having tried to end a lot of corruptive practices.

This election was fairly tame, compared to the election of 1876, but it was significant because it represented one of the only times in American history that a presidential nominee lost the election, but won more popular votes than his opponent.

Grover Cleveland won 5,534,488 popular votes, while Benjamin Harrison won 5,444,892 popular votes. But Harrison won 65 more electoral votes than did Cleveland, which was more than enough to win the election for Benjamin Harrison. The only two times previous to this that a candidate had won the popular vote, while not winning the election, were the election of 1876 and the election of 1824.

This election was perhaps the least contested of all those three, however, as the 1876 election was wracked with controversy and dispute and behind-the-scenes dealings, while the election of 1824 was decided against Andrew Jackson by the House of Representatives, even though Andrew Jackson had won both more electoral votes and more popular votes because Jackson had not won an absolute majority.

The election of 1888 did not feature any of the vicious campaign tactics that characterized the election of 1876, and it did not feature the dispute of the election results after they came back, either. Though there was some possible manipulation in that Tammany Hall, a political machine which Grover Cleveland had stood against, might have been responsible for Cleveland losing New York, in the end, the election was considered fair and legal.

Benjamin Harrison successfully won 36 more votes from New York by edging out Grover Cleveland by a margin of popular votes less than 1%; those 36 electoral votes would have equated to a 72 vote swing and would have won Grover Cleveland the election. As it stood, Grover Cleveland only came as close as he did in the electoral race because the race was so close in popular votes; he won 24 of his electoral votes from states where he won only 1% more popular votes than did Benjamin Harrison.

This election, while an oddity in American history for being an election in which a candidate who won more popular votes did not win the Presidency, was still a perfectly legitimate election and it stands out as such amidst the other elections of the same nature, such as the election of 1876, or the election of 2000.