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The 1878 Grand Council elections took place on 15 February 1878, for the purpose of choosing the Eighth Grand Council of the Confederation of North America. These were the first elections since the separation of Northern Vandalia and Southern Vandalia in 1877, and the first in which no party gained a majority of the seats.

Fellows

Joseph Fellows of Indiana.

Incumbent Governor-General Herbert Clemens of the Conservative Party announced at the party's January 1878 convention in Michigan City that he would not serve for a third term. He was able to secure the Conservative nomination for Governor Joseph Fellows of Indiana, who dedicated himself "to the continuation of the prosperity we have enjoyed for the past decade." Although the Conservative Party appeared strong, two of its core groups of supporters, urban workers and Negroes, were switching to the more radical People's Coalition. Nevertheless, the mood at the Conservative convention was optimistic.

The opposite mood prevailed at the Liberal Party convention in Philadelphia. The party had been out of power for ten years, a time which had seen a steady stream of revelations concerning the corruption of its last Governor-General, Kenneth Parkes. N.C. Governor Victor Astor was just as corrupt, as was former Indiana Governor Claude Baldwin. Councilman John Runk of Georgia was handsome, well-spoken, and had a reputation as a reformer, but as a protégé of the late pro-slavery spokesman John Calhoun, Runk could not hope to win the votes of Negro voters or their white allies. The convention finally settled on Councilman John McDowell of Manitoba, who had a reputation for honesty and a record as a competent legislator.

McDowell4

John McDowell of Manitoba.

The nine-year-old People's Coaltion met in New York City for a wild, disorderly convention that the New York Herald described on 4 January 1878 as "a combination circus -- revival meeting -- German wedding -- Irish wake, managed by people who are novices at this sort of thing, and attended by some of the strangest characters ever to be seen in C.N.A. politics." Nathaniel Teller of Northern Vandalia claimed that it would be undemocratic for the convention to choose a nominee for Governor-General, and the convention adopted the plan of Edward Dietrich of the Northern Confederation that each confederation would run its own candidate for Governor-General, and if necessary the Coalition could hold a second convention after the election to determine which man would be the new Governor-General.

The election campaign of 1878 was notable for its high level of political violence. Several Coalition candidates in the Southern Confederation were attacked and beaten, the Coalition's Indiana headquarters was burned to the ground, and William Richter, the leader of the Consolidated Laborers Federation, was kidnapped and held hostage, and the union warned that he would be killed if the P.C. won control of the Grand Council. By the time the election was held, the Coalitionists were retaliating in kind against the older parties.

The wave of political violence shocked voters, and the result was a repudiation of the older parties as the Coalition's share of the Grand Council rose from 10 seats to 39, while the Liberals fell from 63 seats to 62, and the Conservatives from 77 seats to 49.

1878 Grand Council elections
Confederation Conservative Party Liberal Party People's Coalition
Indiana 10 9 10
Manitoba 2 9 2
Northern Confederation 7 28 10
Northern Vandalia 5 5 1
Quebec 6 1 6
Southern Confederation 13 7 9
Southern Vandalia 6 3 1
Total 49 62 39

Although none of the parties had a majority of the seats, the Liberals' plurality made McDowell the obvious choice for Governor-General. Members of all three parties sought to craft various deals to give McDowell a majority, but he refused to make any concessions to either the Conservatives or the Coalition. "Let each man vote his conscience," he said. The Grand Council went through seven ballots before a sufficient number of councilmen from the other parties switched their votes to McDowell.

Grand Council votes for Governor-General, 1878
Ballot Fellows (C) McDowell (L) Ruffin (PC) Teller (PC)
First 49 62 20 19
Second 49 62 30 9
Third 49 62 39 0
Fourth 49 62 39 0
Fifth 45 74 30 1
Sixth 46 73 28 3
Seventh 37 89 12 12


One of the ten Coalitionists elected in the Northern Confederation was Scott Ruggles, who would be the Coalition's nominee in the 1883 Grand Council elections. Another was Matthew Ruffin, who was the Coalitionist candidate for Governor-General from the N.C. Teller won a seat from Northern Vandalia, and was the Coalitionist candidate for Governor-General from that confederation.


Sobel's source for the 1878 Grand Council elections is William Harris's The Bloody Ballot: The C.N.A. Elections of 1878 (New York, 1943).


C.N.A. Grand Council Elections
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