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Politics in the Age of Industry

An essential balance existed between the Republicans and Democrats in the decades immediately after Reconstruction. The fact that only two Democratic presidents were elected belies the existence of closely matched parties. New England was solidly Republican with the exception of Connecticut, which was nearly equally split. Republican strength spread into Pennsylvania and New York, but was weak in New York City and other urban areas where immigrants congregated in large numbers. The South was accurately dubbed the "Solid South" — meaning solidly Democratic. The horror and deprivation of the Civil War and Reconstruction were still fresh in many minds; Republicanism was equated with Northern aggression and domination. Politicians invoked images of the "lost cause" and the glorious "stars and bars" in much the same way Republicans "waved the bloody shirt." The West became increasingly Democratic during the 1870s and 1880s. The key to the presidency (and all the patronage that flowed from it) was found in the "swing states" of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and (sometimes) New York. Many of the nominees came from these states in a calculated effort to gain the hotly contested electoral votes. Political bosses, such as Roscoe Conkling and Thomas Platt of New York, enjoyed influence far beyond the confines of their states or districts. Republicans of this era employed an election tactic known as "waving the bloody shirt." Candidates, especially when combating corruption charges, would remind voters that the Republican Party had saved the nation from rebellion. During the 1870s, voters were repeatedly reminded that the Democrats had been responsible for the bloody upheaval, an appeal that attracted many Union veterans. Republican and Democratic political platforms remained remarkably constant during the years before 1900.