Letter Written by Gen. Fitzhugh Lee to Gen. Winfield S. Hancock – Election of 1880


    Gen. Fitzhugh Lee, between 1870 and 1880             Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock c. 1880



Letter Written by Gen. Fitzhugh Lee to Gen. Winfield S. Hancock - Election of 1880 – This letter, nicely framed with accompanying images of Gen. Lee and Gen. Hancock, is dated Nov. 4, 1880 and was sent from Stafford County, Virginia. It states the following:

“My Dear General,

The Pledge made to you in my Richmond letter has been redeemed – Virginia’s Electors on the Sequester ticket will her 11 Electoral votes for you. You have no friend, North, South, East or West who regrets more than I do the general result. We attribute that result to the artful misrepresentation of the tariff question, and the malicious, false statement as to a derangement of the business interests. The contest developed your true character. You have no cause personally to regret the triumph of party over nationalism. My daughter wants your photograph with the autograph. We have plenty former but not the latter. Yours as ever, Fitzhugh Lee.”

Former Confederate Gen. Fitzhugh Lee, nephew of Gen. Robert E. Lee, was a pre-war friend of Gen. Scott; both went to West Point and both served in the U.S. Army in the West, prior to the Civil War. This rare letter, written by Gen. Lee, in an attempt to console Gen. Scott, after Scott lost the Presidential election of 1880, as the Democratic Party’s candidate, to James A. Garfield. A key element in the defeat of Gen. Scott, in the race against Garfield, was the exploitation, by the Republicans, of a Democratic platform statement, that Gen. Lee alludes to in this letter, regarding tariff issues. The Presidential election of 1880 took place on November 2, 1880; this letter was written within two days of that election. This is an extremely rare letter, describing the immediate aftermath of a pivotal American Presidential campaign, pitting two Civil War, Union participants of note against each other, written by a former Confederate General, to a friend and political ally, a former Union General and the losing candidate in the 1880 election.

 Fitzhugh Lee (1835–1905)

Fitzhugh Lee was a Confederate general during the American Civil War (1861–1865) and governor of Virginia (1886–1890). The nephew of Robert E. Lee, “Fitz” Lee commanded the cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia during the last months of the conflict. Neither an innovative tactician nor an astute strategist, he achieved modest success during his Confederate service. Thirty years after the war, he became a national hero thanks to his well-publicized promotion of American interests as United States consul general in Havana, Cuba, on the eve of the Spanish-American War (1898). At the time of his death he was hailed as “Our Dear Old Fitz,” a celebrated symbol of postbellum reconciliation.

By 1875, financially secure as a result of an inheritance, Lee was able to indulge noncommercial interests and hobbies. He contributed articles on his war service and that of his famous uncle to the Southern Historical Society Papers. In later life he published a biography, General Lee (1894), that remains a helpful source of information on Robert E. Lee’s family background and military career.

In 1874, after serving in various civic organizations including as ex officio president of the Lee Monument Association, he ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the General Assembly. Three years later he failed to gain the nomination of the Conservative Party (a fusion of Democrats and moderate Whigs) for governor of Virginia. In 1885—his statewide popularity enhanced by high-profile speaking engagements as a paid employee of the Richmond-based Southern Historical Association—he won not only the nomination of the renamed Democratic Party but also the general election. His margin of victory was quite narrow: 16,000 votes out of 290,000 cast.

Winfield Scott Hancock (February 14, 1824 – February 9, 1886)

Winfield Scott Hancock (February 14, 1824 – February 9, 1886) was a career U.S. Army officer and the Democratic nominee for President of the United States in 1880. He served with distinction in the Army for four decades, including service in the Mexican-American War and as a Union general in the American Civil War. Known to his Army colleagues as “Hancock the Superb”, he was noted in particular for his personal leadership at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. One military historian wrote, “No other Union general at Gettysburg dominated men by the sheer force of their presence more completely than Hancock.” As another wrote, “his tactical skill had won him the quick admiration of adversaries who had come to know him as the ‘Thunderbolt of the Army of the Potomac‘.” His military service continued after the Civil War, as Hancock participated in the military Reconstruction of the South and the Army’s presence at the Western frontier.

Hancock’s reputation as a war hero at Gettysburg, combined with his rare status as a prominent figure with impeccable Unionist credentials and pro-states’ rights views, made him a potential president. His noted integrity was a counterpoint to the corruption of the era, for as President Rutherford B. Hayes said, “… [i]f, when we make up our estimate of a public man, conspicuous both as a soldier and in civil life, we are to think first and chiefly of his manhood, his integrity, his purity, his singleness of purpose, and his unselfish devotion to duty, we can truthfully say of Hancock that he was through and through pure gold.” When the Democrats nominated him for President in 1880, he ran a strong campaign, but was narrowly defeated by Republican James A. Garfield.

Election of 1880

Democratic convention

Hancock’s name had been proposed several times for the Democratic nomination for president, but he never captured a majority of delegates. In 1880, however, Hancock’s chances improved. President Hayes had promised not to run for a second term, and the previous Democratic nominee, Tilden, declined to run again due to poor health.Hancock faced several competitors for the nomination, including Thomas A. Hendricks, Allen G. Thurman, Stephen Johnson Field, and Thomas F. Bayard. Hancock’s neutrality on the monetary question, and his lingering support in the South (owing to his General Order Number 40) meant that Hancock, more than any other candidate, had nationwide support. When the Democratic convention assembled in Cincinnati in June 1880, Hancock led on the first ballot, but did not have a majority. By the second ballot, Hancock received the requisite two-thirds, and William Hayden English of Indiana was chosen as his running mate.

Campaign against Garfield

Hancock-English election poster

The Republicans nominated James A. Garfield, a Congressman from Ohio and a skillful politician. Hancock and the Democrats expected to carry the Solid South, but needed to add a few of the Northern states to their total to win the election. The practical differences between the parties were few, and the Republicans were reluctant to attack Hancock personally because of his heroic reputation. The one policy difference the Republicans were able to exploit was a statement in the Democratic platform endorsing “a tariff for revenue only.” Garfield’s campaigners used this statement to paint the Democrats as unsympathetic to the plight of industrial laborers, a group that would benefit by a high protective tariff. The tariff issue cut Democratic support in industrialized Northern states, which were essential in establishing a Democratic majority.In the end, the Democrats and Hancock failed to carry any of the Northern states they had targeted, with the exception of New Jersey. Hancock lost the election to Garfield. Garfield polled only 39,213 more votes than Hancock, the popular vote being 4,453,295 for Garfield and 4,414,082 for Hancock. The electoral count, however, had a much larger spread: Garfield polled 214 electoral votes and Hancock only 155.

The frame measures as follows: 18.25” x 17”; the letter measures: 8.75” x 7”



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