The Men Who Wanted to be President 1868 to 1884

The White House

From 1868 to 1884, five men from the Democratic and Republican parties who won the nomination only to lose in the General Election.

The period after the end of the Civil War, saw the Republican Party become the dominant force in the United States Presidential Politics. In the five elections for the White-house between 1868 and 1884, a Republican nominee was only to lose once.

Horatio Seymour – Democrat -1868

Seymour was the former Governor of New York State, and was very reluctant to have the Presidential nomination. It was a rather nasty campaign with Seymour facing the hero of the Union from the Civil War, General Grant. The Republicans, although not Grant himself, accused Seymour and his party of treason during the Civil War. Grant’s victory was closer in the popular vote than in the Electoral vote, winning it by only 310,000 votes, although in the Electoral College it was a mini-landslide 214 to 80.

In 1874 he turned down the chance to run for the Senate, and in 1880 another chance for the Presidential nomination. He died in February 1886 at age 75, just a month after his wife.

Horace Greeley – Democrat & Liberal Republican -1872

Greeley had made his name as newspaper editor and owner. He had supported the Republicans and the Civil War. After the election of Grant in 1868, he had slowly become disillusioned by the Republicans and formed his own party, the Liberal Republicans, he was chosen as the nominee and chose Governor Gratz-Brown as his running-mate. Then to the shock and surprise of most people, when the Democrats held their convention they accepted the Liberal Republicans policies and endorsed Greeley and Brown as their nominee’s. Grant won an easy victory, winning 286 Electoral votes to Greeley’s 66, and by over 763,000 popular votes. Days after the election, his wife died and he suffered a metal breakdown. He died a broken man, aged 61, just 24 days after election and before Electors could vote. The majority of his votes went to other Democrats.

Samuel Tilden – Democrat – 1876

Tilden who like Seymour eight years before had been Governor of New York State when he received the nomination. What followed was the most disputed Presidential Election in history. He received a quarter of million more votes than the Republican candidate Rutherford Hayes. It was clear the day after the election, he had 184 Electoral votes to Hayes’s 165, just a single vote short of victory. Twenty Electoral votes across four states were in dispute, in South Carolina, Louisiana, Florida and Oregon. He needed only one, Hayes all of them. He was convinced he had won the Election, and Hayes that he had lost. The fight for the disputed 20 votes lasted from November 8th 1876 to March 2nd 1877. After a bitter and long drawn out fight, Tilden agreed to a deal where he accepted Hayes’s victory in return that all Federal troops be removed from the Southern states, thus ending Reconstruction in the South.

His health declined after 1877, he had never married and died a recluse at his home in Greystone, New York, in August 1886 when he was 72 years old.

Winfield Scott Hancock – Democrat – 1880

Hancock had been one of the most successful Union Generals of the Civil War, after after the war had been the military Governor of Texas and Louisiana, and had been praised for his even-mannered administrations. He faced Ohio Congressman James Garfield, after President Hayes declined a second term. The differences between the two parties where few this time around, and Hancock lost one of the closest elections in terms of the popular vote, just 9,070 votes (0.09%). The Electoral college was a larger win for Garfield 214 to 155. The election was decided by Indiana and its 15 Electoral votes which Garfield won by just 6,642 votes.

Hancock showed no bitterness in his defeat and attended Garfield’s inauguration. He carried on as military commander of the Atlantic seaboard and in 1881 became President of the NRA. His last public appearance was to President Grant’s funeral in 1885. He died in February 1886, still in command just five days before his 62nd birthday.

James Blaine – Republican – 1884

Blaine had been a Congressman from Maine from 1863 to 1876. He had been Speaker of the House from 1869 to 1876. He had ran for the Republican nomination in 1876, but failed. With the election of President Garfield he served as Secretary of State under Garfield and Arthur. He received the nomination in 1884 on the second ballot. His dubious reputation for bribery and corruption, although never actually proved, did cause many in the party to support the Democratic Candidate New York, Governor Grover Cleveland. Despite this the election was a close one, then on October 29th Blaine, with the urging for this campaign team was at a meeting of pro-Blaine Protestant clergyman when the Rev. Samuel Burchard, ended his speech saying that the Democrats stood for “Rum, Romanism and Rebellion”. Blaine made no reference to the remarks, but within hours they where in the public domain. By the time Blaine disavowed them, it was far too late. Those comments by Burchard cost Blaine thousands of Irish-American votes in New York. The election came down to New York and its 36 Electoral Votes which Blaine lost by just a 1,149 votes, and thus the election, 182 to Cleveland’s 219. Cleveland had carried the popular vote by 57,579 votes.

After the election he wrote his memoirs, before serving again as Secretary of State under President Harrison from 1889 to 1892. He died in January 1893 from a heart-attack when he was 62 years old.

Blaine was the only non-incumbent Republican nominee to lose a presidential election between 1860 and 1912, and only the second Republican Presidential nominee to lose at all, the first being John C.Fremont 28 years earlier.


  1. Paul F. Boller, Presidential Campaigns, From George Washington to George W. Bush, Oxford University Press (2004)
  2. US Election Website