First, I want to thank Gini Webb of Geneabloggers for asking me to do an interview with her on the Geneablogger website. I'm very flattered to be asked, and had alot of fun contemplating her questions. Also this morning, I've been looking through the results of our local elections. Yeah, I enjoy politics, I'm Irish aren't I? Along with that, I've been thinking about Grandpa O'Hora
That the Irish loved politics is no secret, they were in fact represented at the very beginning of the United States; one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence was Charles Carroll, himself an Irish Catholic. So it came as no surprise that my great-great-grandfather, James O'Hora from County Carlow who became a citizen in 1855, took an active interest in the politics of his adopted country. He was a staunch Democrat, as were about 90% of Irish Catholics, who saw the Democratic Party as more sympathetic to the common man. They further resented the opposition’s support of the temperance movement.
In June of 1884, James was chosen to represent Shortsville at the Democratic County Convention to be held at City Hall in Canandaigua, New York. He had come a long way since he signed his naturalization papers with an X. He was now able to both read and write, and had become a respected member of his community.
The period from 1840 to 1890 in America has been called the golden age of parties. The major political parties would never again be as strong as they were during that period. Electioneering in the 19th century was as much a social event as a political one; torchlight parades, rallies, barbecues and other community wide festivities were employed to keep enthusiasm high. It worked too, voter turnout was between 70 and 80 percent for presidential elections.
Voting methods also contributed to party loyalty. The secret ballot was yet to come; prior to the late 1890’s each party printed their own ballots which listed only their candidates and were of a different color than the opposition’s. When casting ones vote, these were deposited in a box in full view of all present, any defections to the opponent's side would have been readily obvious.
At the convention held in Canandaigua that year, James and his fellow representatives elected delegates who were for Samuel Tilden and Senator Thomas Hendricks, both from the previous election year’s ticket. In an instance that mirrors the 2000 presidential elections, Democrats believed that the presidency had been stolen from Tilden when the Electoral College Commission awarded all disputed electoral votes to his opponent, Rutherford B. Hayes. Tilden’s health prevented him from accepting the nomination however, and Grover Cleveland was chosen to run against the Republican candidate James Blaine.
The race was a very close one, quite likely decided by an incident that took place a week before the election. Blain had attended a Protestant church meeting at which the minister made the inflammatory statement, “We don’t propose to identify with the party whose antecedents are rum, Romanism, and rebellion.” Clearly a swipe at Democrats and Catholics, Irish Catholics in particular, it was widely reported in the press and his failure to distance himself from that bigoted remark cost Blaine the New York State electoral votes and ultimately the election itself. Though Cleveland and Hendricks carried the day by a very narrow margin of only .3 percent Grandpa must have been pleased and proud to have been a part of that process.