Excerpts from accounts of the Washington, D. C., 1879 convention,
about a presidential race between J. Edson Briggs and J. Austin
Fynes: "Briggs never stepped out of his way to make a friend. He
was incapable of flattery or guile. The youth who grasped his
hand knew at once whether he was liked or disliked....
"Fynes differed in many respects. He never hesitated to confess
his desire for the presidency, his personal participation in the
campaign and his determination to win.
"Arriving in Washington, Fynes had only three supporters. Aware
of this, most everyone ridiculed his chances. But Fynes was a
giant, a politician, a Herculean amateur demagogue. He gained
friends where Briggs made enemies. He mingled freely with all,
spent money promiscuously, joked, laughed, chatted. Sympathy
then began to take the place of ridicule."
There were charges of bribery, bought votes (one delegate claimed
he was offered $5). Some boasted Fynes had brought $300 to buy
the convention. This was never proven, but some Fynes supporters
may have been overexuberant.
"Briggs was invited to take the chair. Innocently did he fail to
realize the impropriety of remaining or the propriety of vacating.
Fynes moved the proxy votes be rejected and the convention elect
the officers. Briggs rejected the motion on constitutional
grounds and was rewarded by an appeal in which Fynes' supporters
was so vociferous that many could not gain recognition.
Eventually the appeal was not sustained.
"A recess was taken to allow the committee time to count the
proxy votes.The report the committee made was ludicrous, if not
remarkable. It had been given a full hour to count the votes,
but reported that more time was needed and even hinted that the
task could not be performed during the week. A motion to throw
out the proxy votes was repeated, and prevailed. The few
on either side dissenting were powerless. There was every
indication that the country-at-large was in favor of Briggs.
"Briggs occupied the chair, almost unconsciously. No obstacle
remained in the way for the convention to elect the officers.
No sooner had Briggs been nominated for the presidency when it
was moved to close the nominations. The excitement became
intense. Fynes grew pale and was unable to conceal his
agitation. Many of his friends arose excitedly and gesticulated
wildly but protestingly. But the motion received no second.
Fynes and Arthur J. Huss were then nominated." The vote: Briggs,
17; Fynes, 12; Huss, 3; Oswald L. Williams, 1. Total, 33.
Necessary to elect, 17.
"The tellers communicated the result. Silence following the
count was broken by cheers for Briggs amid intense excitement.
A sharp dialogue occurred between Fynes and Williams. It is
said unpublishable words passed, but all remarks were drowned by
the hue and cry for reconsideration or another ballot."