James Weaver, the First To 'Run' in a Presidential Race





[HNN Editor: This headline, from the Post, is misleading and contradicts the article itself, which makes no claim that Weaver was the "first" to literally run (perhaps walk is the better word) for the presidency. As Gil Troy notes in his estimable,
See How They Ran: The Changing Role of the Presidential Candidate, William Henry Harrison was the first candiate to actively campaign for president by venturing out on the hustings.]

In the early hours of July 5, 1892, before an enthusiastic convention of radical farmers and their allies in Omaha, a 59-year-old Civil War veteran from Iowa made a solemn pledge that helped give birth to the modern presidential campaign.

Gen. James B. Weaver at various times had been a Democrat, a Republican, a three-term U.S. representative and the presidential candidate of the short-lived Greenback Party. In Omaha, he had just won the nomination of the People's Party. Looking out over the assembled Populist delegates, Weaver predictably declared his fealty to the party's platform in the campaign ahead against Republican President Benjamin Harrison and the Democratic nominee, former president Grover Cleveland.

More notably, Weaver vowed to campaign on his own behalf for the White House. "I wish to make you here and now a promise that if God spares me and gives me strength, I shall visit every state in the Union and carry the banner of the people into the enemy's camp," he declared to the convention.

Such a promise hardly seems unique today, but in the 1800s it challenged prevailing political custom. Difficult though it may be to believe in this era of nonstop, multi-year campaigning, presidential candidates of the period usually avoided soliciting votes in person because -- in a textbook example of 19th-century hypocrisy -- they were not supposed to appear too eager to hold the highest office in the land.



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