Date of Graduation
Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
The electoral upheavals of 1894 and 1896 resulting in Republican Party dominance within West Virginia and around the nation were not just a sudden occurrence. They resulted, in part, because voters in key border states shifted their votes from the Democratic to the Republican Party. West Virginia's Republican Party had the greatest success in maintaining its long term influence after 1896 despite the fact that since 1872 it enjoyed little success. To build up to triumph in 1896 took a quarter century of painstaking work that started after electoral disaster in 1870. That election, the first since West Virginia removed restrictions on former Confederates, brought Democrats into a position of dominance. This dissertation tells the story of how West Virginia's Republicans rebuilt their party between 1872 and 1896.;Nathan Goff, a Union Army major during the Civil War, used the same methods as other party authorities around the country. He used his talent for public speaking and access to federal patronage to mobilize and reward the faithful as much as possible. State Republican newspapers battled their Democratic counterparts in conflicts over not only issues of the day, but also anger over measures taken during the Civil War. Goff's work helped to restore a working party organization in the 1870s, but did not put West Virginia Republicans into a position to return to competitiveness, much less power. Money, manpower, and organization do not ensure success without a relevant message.;The Republican Party across the country started to fashion a more appealing vision after the difficult Grant and Hayes Administrations. They advocated sound money and a protective tariff as cornerstones of national prosperity more often during the 1880s. Goff emerged as a national spokesman for protectionism at the same time as the Second Industrial Revolution started strongly transforming West Virginia's economy. However, national economic conditions in this decade did not result in massive movement towards the Republican cause. Instead, the country experienced partisan deadlock. West Virginia Republicans made gains during this decade. In 1888, Goff came very close to capturing the office of governor. The Democratic legislature successfully counted out enough votes to seat the Democratic nominee, but the results demonstrated a shift in party power.;Goff would not be able to take West Virginia Republicans to their eventual triumph. The year 1888 also saw Goff unseated as party chief by the nationally known Stephen Benton Elkins. Elkins built up a fortune in land speculation, railroads, and other ventures. Along the way, he married the daughter of former Senator Henry Gassaway Davis, a prominent West Virginia Democrat and industrialist. Elkins brought a new kind of leadership style to West Virginia Republican politics. He concentrated on building a stronger and more effective party organization more than relying on personal appeal in speeches and debates. Elkins was exceptionally good at keeping divisive issues and potentially conflicting personalities from interfering with party goals.;The economic crisis that gripped the nation during the election year of 1894, a time of plummeting production and employment figures, made the Republican economic vision more appealing to voters. Grover Cleveland and his party did not seem to have the answers to the problems that many faced. West Virginia's Republican organization built by Elkins was able to take full advantage of the national party campaigns. They did not simply convince West Virginians to vote for Republican candidates, but to trust the party to direct state affairs for the next generation. This dissertation helps to put West Virginia's Republican Party experience into a national perspective while also explaining why the state shifted into the GOP column so strongly after 1896. Leadership, message, and the choices made by voters all play into this dramatic political shift.
Smoot, Stephen A., "Iron and the Bloody Shirt: Leadership in the West Virginia Republican Party 1872--1896" (2011). Graduate Theses, Dissertations, and Problem Reports. 3463.