Ohio History Journal

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The Politics of Sinophobia: Garfield,

the Morey Letter, and the Presidential

Election of 1880


Looking backward from the 1890s and ruminating on the almost

dozen presidential contests with which he had been familiar, Charles

Francis Adams, Jr., reflected, "So far as the country as a whole is

concerned, the grand result would in the long run have been about

the same whether at any particular election"-with the exception of

1864-"the party I sympathized with had won the day or whether

the other party had won it." Brother Henry was even more cynical

of Gilded Age government. "The political dilemma was as clear in

1870 as it was likely to be in 1970 .... Nine-tenths of men's

political energies must henceforth be wasted on expedients to piece

out-to patch-or, in vulgar language, to tinker-the political

machine as often as it broke down."1

While the Adamses compared their age's politicos with the sages

of George Washington's era, our generation is inclined to recall a

less Olympian leadership. And when we soberly consider how our

future increasingly rests on decisions made in Teheran and Riyadh,

invidious phrases like "piece out," "patch," and "tinker" may not

seem so unreasonable. Philosopher-presidents charted inspirational

voyages for early America's "chosen people"; henceforth simply

keeping the Republic's ship of state afloat could be triumph enough.

Possibly this explains why historians now seem less inclined to

ridicule as "ineffectual" America's 1865 to 1901 presidents.2 A cen-



Professor Ted C. Hinckley teaches history at San Jose State University and is

now on the State Historic Resources Commission of the California Department of

Parks and Recreation.



1. Edward Chase Kirkland, Charles Francis Adams, Jr. 1835-1915: The Patrician at

Bay (Cambridge, Mass., 1965), 169; Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams: An

Autobiography (Boston, 1961), 280-81.

2. As Robert Kelley notes, "The politics of the Gilded Age, like that of every other

period, have their own inner validity and reality." The Shaping of the American Past

(Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1978), 442. H. Wayne Morgan admonishes scholars to take the