In the period that followed, the two parties differed little in their programs. Each party had numerous almost irreconcilable factions, and each avoided taking any real stand on controversial issues, which were generally left to lesser political groups such as the Granger movement and the Greenback party. The Republicans favored a protective tariff and the Democrats a tariff for revenue only, but even this traditional distinction was not rigidly kept. However, the Republican tariff policy was the work of leaders of the new industrial capitalism, whose influence in party councils began to be strongly felt under Grant.
The Republican "old guard," led by Roscoe Conkling, while failing to secure a third nomination for Grant in 1880, nevertheless temporarily blocked the presidential aspirations of James G. Blaine. Another ex-Union general, James A. Garfield, was nominated and was elected over a Democratic general, Winfield S. Hancock. Assassinated shortly after taking office, Garfield was succeeded by Vice President Chester A. Arthur.
In these postwar elections, the party, always supported by the Grand Army of the Republic, denounced all Democrats as former Copperheads and claimed to have alone saved the Union. But "waving the bloody shirt," as this type of propaganda was styled, was not enough to elect Blaine in 1884. The reform wing of the party, led by Carl Schurz, deserted Blaine for the conservative Democrat Grover Cleveland, who was elected. This defection by the mugwumps illustrated the lack of real issues between the two parties; it was the man and not the party that counted. Benjamin Harrison defeated Cleveland in 1888 but lost to him in 1892. The growing Populist party, with its radical program, had a peculiar position in those elections, receiving in each section of the country the support of the party not in power.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.