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204 13 “I Don’t Want to Be Minister to England or Anywhere Else” For a man with no interest in pursuing political jobs, Robert Lincoln lived a remarkable life of public service. There were two main reasons for this. First, citizens and politicians all were exuberant at the idea of the son of Abraham Lincoln entering politics and perhaps even continuing where his father left off in the White House, and so their encouragement of his political advance was relentless. Second, Robert held a deep respect for the duty of a man and an American citizen to set aside his personal preferences and accept public service when called upon by the people. This notion of civic duty—­ instilled by his parents, his New England schooling, and his overall Victorian values system—more than anything else is what ultimately led Robert from local to regional to national and even international political responsibilities. Along the way, he was more than once urged—and quite nearly drafted—into running for president himself. Robert Lincoln’s political emergence occurred in late 1876, when he campaigned in support of Republican Rutherford B. Hayes for president. The GOP had changed somewhat since the days of Robert’s father. The party still believed in its policies of transforming the south and protecting southern black citizens, but as Reconstruction dragged through its tenth year, Republicans began to lose interest in actively governing the southern states. The scandals of President Ulysses S. Grant’s administration and the Democrat gains in the 1874 congressional elections caused Republicans to begin championing civilservice reform. But the main focus of the party turned to economic issues. The financial Panic of 1873 and its ensuing (and ongoing in 1876) depression caused the Republicans to focus more on fiscal responsibility and to support American businesses to a greater degree through federal tariffs and other subsidies. Out chapter thirteen 205 on the stump, the party of Lincoln continued to brand all Democrats as traitors who caused the late war and criminals bent on pillaging the public coffers. Robert Lincoln was an ardent Republican—not merely because it was the party his father helped to found but because he truly believed in the principles for which it stood. His active support for Hayes and the entire national Republican ticket in 1876 was out of the belief that Republican policies were best for the country, while Democrat policies were likely to destroy it. But as with so many politicians, the true catalyst for Robert’s transformation from political observer to active participant was a local issue. For years, Democrats had controlled Chicago city elective offices. They won their jobs through intimidation and voter fraud and practiced shameless and well-known corruption while in office. The citizens of the city, however, were never sufficiently outraged to mount a serious electoral challenge to the party incumbents, despite the increased taxes and the decreased public spending. Abraham Lincoln characterized corruption in government as “the bane of our American politics” and said that “he could not respect, either as a man or as a politician, one who bribed or was bribed.”1 Robert Lincoln felt the same and had watched for years as the politicians in his town of South Chicago promulgated corruption and stole elections. As one newspaper wrote, “Since 1872, these elections, whose importance has not been appreciated, have been turned over to the rabble, the regular political parties only once entering the field.”2 According to the Chicago Times, this held true in 1876: “If there is a pimp, a sneak thief, a blackleg, a highway robber, or a confidence man in the city who did not help to swell the ranks of that mongrel, leprous, lecherous, treacherous gang [of Democrats], it was because he overslept himself.”3 On April 4, 1876, the elections for North, South, and West Chicago occurred to choose the town supervisors, assessors, collectors, and clerks. The previous year, the four positions in South Chicago went to Democrats who won by ballot stuffing, then shamelessly engaged in corruption, embezzlement, bribery , and personal aggrandizement. Their greed left the town near bankruptcy and yet collecting increasing amounts of personal taxes. Both Democrat and Republican newspapers urged voters to oust the “bummers,” as they were called, in 1876; and the voter turnout was the largest in years. The Democrats attempted to threaten and physically prevent Republicans from voting in at least one precinct, but their efforts failed, and the early predictions were of a large Republican dominance...


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