Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion – And The Election That Got Away

Republican presidential candidate James G. Blaine

In late October 1884 Republican candidate James G. Blaine seemed all but certain to win the presidency.  With the election only one week away, he was campaigning in New York City, wooing the vital Irish Catholic vote to secure New York State and its many electoral votes.  Everything was going his way until a Presbyterian minister named Rev. Samuel Burchard, speaking at a pro-Blaine event that evening, denounced the Democrats as the party of “rum, Romanism, and rebellion.”  Translation: the Democratic party was controlled by boozers (“rum”), Catholics (“Romanism”), and ex-Confederates (“rebellion”). When Democratic newspapers across the country ran the phrase as a banner headline the next day, Blaine’s campaign suffered a mortal would from which it could not recover. Blaine soon denounced Burchard’s intemperate words, but it was too little too late.  Thrown on the defensive, his campaign never recovered.   In one of the closest elections in American history, Cleveland carried New York by a mere 1,149 votes and the national popular vote by just two tenths of one percent.   How many Irish Catholic votes Blaine lost due to Burchard’s bigoted remark will never be known, but it was surely enough to cost him the election. Democrat Grover Cleveland, despite having been outed during the campaign as the father of an illegitimate child, won New York state and the election.