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The Opinion of the Fourth Man

October 10, 2019

It was Sunday April 16, 1876.  Congressman James Garfield and three of his dinner companions were speculating as to who would be the Republican nominee for President that year.  Two thought the current Treasury Secretary would be selected.  Garfield favored his good friend, former Speaker of the House James G. Blaine.  The fourth man offered a third opinion.

When they predicted the Democratic nominee, they came up with four different opinions.  One predicted Thomas F. Bayard, who would seek the nomination in 1876, 1880, and 1884 without success.  One predicted Winfield Scott Hancock, who would not become the nominee until 1880.  Another predicted Thomas A. Hendricks, who became the 1876 Vice Presidential nominee for the Democrats.  Garfield predicted David Davis, who, along with Bayard and Garfield would become associated with the Electoral Commission of 1877.  Perhaps Garfield thought the Democrats would choose Davis because he had changed his party affiliation in 1870 to Liberal Republican and then to nonpartisan in 1872.

Garfield recorded all the above predictions in his diary and commented: “This exhibits an unusual uncertainty existing in the public.”  He did not record who made what prediction except for his own.

The Democratic Convention was two and a half months in the future, and the Republican Convention was two weeks after that.  None of the predictions mentioned thus far were correct, but the fourth man did correctly predict the Republican nominee.  Rutherford B. Hayes would be the Republican standard-bearer in 1876.  He would also become President, but in late 1876 and early 1877 there was a great dispute as to whether he had actually won the election.


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