It was said that the Republicans of 1888 fervently embraced the belief that their America was a “huge profit-sharing concern” which distributed dividends to its special business interests, the mainstay of their ability to remain in power. The Fifty-first Congress soon became known as the “Billion Dollar Congress,” and Speaker Thomas Reed presided over “the auctioning of immense sums and of public privileges greater still.” The conservative hand of Southern leaders in Congress was a distant memory, and the Republican merger of government and corporations continued unabated – despite the short interval of Grover Cleveland.
Selling Cabinet Positions to Pay Election Expenses
“From his very youth, before the war, Benjamin Harrison had joined the Abolition Republicans who had risen in the West, and . . .” won their way to political power as a party of the people.” His Republicanism was intensely partisan and orthodox, and he could shut his eyes, puritan that he was, to the irregularities of “venal” Indiana’s Organization politics, through whose grades he had climbed steadily to the senatorship, the governorship, and the White House.
The work of the war, the success of the Republican party, the system of [tariff] Protection, and the sacredness of great property interests all became part of Harrison’s militant Calvinist creed. His conservatism and the fact that he came from the West . . . had made him the choice of the convention managers in 1888. Another son of Indiana commented:
“The late President Benjamin Harrison had the exclusive distinction of having served the railway corporations in the dual capacity of lawyer and soldier. He prosecuted the strikers [in 1877] in the federal courts . . . and he organized and commanded a company of soldiers during the strike . . . Ten years later he was elevated to the presidency of the United States.”
Nevertheless it was not thinkable that this stubborn, self-controlled man of pure life, who had long taught a Bible class on Sundays, would comfortably tolerate new Whiskey rings and Star Route frauds. Yet [party bosses] claims upon him could not be ignored.
Harrison brooded silently for long weeks over the problems raised by the disposition of cabinet posts in [his] Administration, his debts to the party chieftains, and his fear of them.
“When I came into power I found that the [Republican] party managers had taken it all to themselves,” Harrison once said in an intimate talk at which Theodore Roosevelt was present. “I could not name my own Cabinet. They had sold out every place to pay for the election expenses.”
Harrison bowed before [Secretary of State James G.] Blaine’s dreadful power over the party but] held him at a distance, and marked the limits of his influence. The rest of his Cabinet Harrison [saw filled with] distribution among the regional bosses. Some lesser offices, on the other hand, were filled according to a nepotistic system, by which persona followers and a goodly number of relatives were installed as sort of a personal bodyguard.”
(The Politicos, 1865-1896, Matthew Josephson, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1938, pp. 436-439)