Mapping the battleground states of the 1888 presidential election

[Thomas Campbell-Copeland], THE BATTLE-GROUND OF THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. New York: Harper & Brothers, Oct. 6, 1888.
Supplement extracted from Harper’s Weekly, pp. 762-768. Each page with one or more maps printed in black and red. Gently toned, one edge rough where excised from periodical, but very good.

A fascinating set of thematic maps previewing the battleground states in the 1888 presidential election, which pitted incumbent Grover Cleveland, a New York Democrat, against Indiana Republican Benjamin Harrison.

The maps were published as a supplement to the Oct. 6, 1888 Harper’s Weekly, accompanying an article of the same title (not included here) by journalist and statistician T. Campbell-Copeland. The goal, per the author, was “to illustrate concisely, for purposes of rapid and easy reference during the pending Presidential, Congressional, Gubernatorial, and State legislative contests, the past record and present political tendency of each State and Territory throughout the Union”, and to do the same at a county-by-county level for each of the battleground states. (p. 754) The supplement thus begins with a map of the United States, presenting state-by-state election results from 1872 through 1884. This is followed by maps of Indiana, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, Michigan, California and West Virginia, the seven states thought to be in play in 1888.

Each map is absolutely crammed with information, and the format is rather complex. Here is a description of the United States map cribbed from an on-line exhibition at the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center:

“The stack of bars in each state each represent a prior election year (1872, 1876, 1880, 1884, and 1888) and each is colored to show which party held the presidential majority (black for Republican, red for Democratic). The last bar in each state represents 1888, the year the map was published, and the legend suggests that the reader can fill in each bar with the correct color once the returns are completed.

“In addition to the colored bars, this map uses dots to convey even more information. The black and red dots above the bars indicate which party holds the Governor’s seat; the dots below the bars show which party holds the majority in the State Senate and House. The dots with another smaller dot on top are to indicate the party affiliation of the current state senators, and state representatives are indicated by colored dots in the northeast corner of each state boundary.” (Garrett Dash Nelson et al., Bending Lines: Maps and Data from Distortion to Deception)

The description applies to the state maps as well, though on these the unit of analysis is at the county level.

Campbell-Copeland’s work was a very early effort to map voting patterns at a granular, county-by-county level, possibly preceded only by a map in Scribner’s Statistical Atlas (1883) depicting voting patterns in the 1880 election. However Campbell-Copeland’s work added new layers of complexity by including results from multiple elections and other offices in addition to the Presidency. Frankly I find the format of his maps confusing, but perhaps I am slow on the uptake. In fact the supplement seems to have been a great success, as the Harper’s Weekly for October 20 includes an announcement that “to supply the continuous demand [for the supplement]… an extra edition has been prepared, and orders will be promptly filled.” (Harper’s Weekly, Oct. 20, 1888, p. 790.

In the end, Harrison won the Electoral College and the Presidency, despite gaining just 47.8% of the popular vote as against Cleveland’s 48.6%. Campbell-Copeland’s identification of seven battleground states was only partially on target: In Connecticut (Cleveland), Indiana (Harrison), New York (Harrison), and West Virginia (Cleveland) the margin in the popular vote was under 2%. However, Harrison comfortably in California and Michigan, while Cleveland did likewise in New Jersey.

Thomas Campbell-Copeland
I have been able to scavenge only bits and pieces of biographical information on Campbell-Copeland, and absolutely no background for his professional involvement in journalism, statistics and statistical mapping. He was born in England, where in the early 1880s he served as Colour-Sergeant in the 2nd Battalion Royal Highlanders, during which time he authored The Colour-Sergeant’s Pocket-Book for the Year 1882, “a remarkably unique and serviceable little production”. He emigrated to the United States in 1883, and an announcement in the Baltimore Sun for Sept. 27, 1886 announces him as the “editor and proprietor” of The Weekly Budget, “devoted to general news, reminiscence, anecdote and incident”. The paper seems to have been short-lived, but over the next few years I find reprinted around the country articles by Campbell-Copeland on a range of subjects such as the Panama Canal, cholera, and life in Simla, India.

In June 1889 he was appointed Statistical Expert of the Census Office. At time he is described as “of New York”. By 1889 he had moved to New York, and in that year his handbook The Ladder of Journalism: How to Climb It was published. Also in 1889 he was hired as a “Statistical Expert” by the U.S. Census, where he quickly rose to the position of Chief of the Division of Wealth, Debt and Taxation. His career at the Census was however controversial and brief, possibly because of a feud with his boss, and/or the furor that erupted when the press got wind that he was an English native and had not sought American citizenship. He resigned his post in 1891 and returned to the private sector, later authoring a number of works on American politics and contributing his statistical expertise to the 16-volume Encyclopedia Americana (New York, 1904). Beyond that, his life and career are a blank.

In all, a fascinating piece of political Americana offering for its time a relatively sophisticated analysis of voting patterns.