Mapping the battleground states of the 1888 presidential election

T[homas] Campbell-Copeland], ‘“The Battle-Ground of the Presidential Election[:] Illustrated in a Series of Charts Showing the Political Complexion of the United States by States, an of the Doubtful States by Counties.” [in:] Harper’s Weekly vol. XXXII no. 1659 (Oct. 6, 1888). New York: Harper & Brothers, Oct. 6, 1888.
Folio, 745-768pp. Disbound. Each page of the Campbell article with one or more maps printed in black and red. Gently toned, spine fragile, otherwise excellent.

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 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 “doubtful” (i.e., battleground) states. (p. 754)

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 limited biographical information on Campbell-Copeland, and found 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, and for the census of 1890 he was tasked as a “special agent” to take on the subject of “local [i.e., county] indebtedness”. His preliminary report on the subject, released in May 1890, received a great deal of press around the country. The final report included statistical maps using shaded dots to indicate the indebtedness of each county. A two-part scandal ensued, due to both accusations that he had improperly released census data to the Democratic Congressional Committee for campaign use, and that he was English-born and not yet a naturalized citizen. (See for example the Anthony [KS] Journal for Oct. 17, 1890, p. 1)

This was apparently not career limiting, as he was promoted to Chief of the Division of Wealth, Debt and Taxation, though he resigned from the Census in July 1891: “His next undertaking will be on his private account, the preparation of a large and important volume, mainly statistical, for one of the leading publishing houses in New York.” (The Times-Tribune [Scranton, PA], July 23, 1891, p. 4)  He went on to do work for Appleton’s Cyclopedia and authored The American Colonial Handbook (1899) and, with Paul F. Mottelay, The Soldier in Our Civil War. He is named as the “Expert Statistician” on the title page of the 16-volume Encyclopedia Americana (New York, 1904). The rest of his life and career is a blank.

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