The Democrats finally won
Madera County Historical Society
The Republican banner that stretched across Yosemite Avenue in 1890 should not lead one to believe that Madera was a GOP stronghold. Indeed, just the opposite was the case.
In November of 1884, Grover Cleveland was elected to the Presidency of the United States, the first Democrat to be so honored since 1856, and his party was jubilant. Joyous celebrations proliferated throughout the nation, but none like the one thrown in Madera.
Most of the nation’s Democrats waited until the votes were counted before throwing a victory party. Madera, on the other hand, led by the quintessential Democrat, Russel Perry Mace, held its triumphant observance two months before the election!
The little burg of Madera had been born under a Republican President in 1876, and the numerous Democrats in the fledgling village had to “endure” another Republican victory in the election of that year. Likewise, in 1880, a Republican, James A. Garfield, was elected, and once more Madera was found to be out of step with a majority of the nation’s electorate. Local Democratic leaders were bitterly disappointed, especially Captain R.P. Mace.
The Captain, a Democrat of long standing, braced himself for the ‘84 election. As a member of the County Central Committee, he was not going to sit idly by and allow his new hometown to be swept into the arms of James G. Blaine, who had defeated President Chester A. Arthur for the Republican nomination. Mace decided that 1884 would most assuredly be the year of the Democrats, and he laid plans to arduously contend for his party’s candidate, Grover Cleveland.
Mace was clearly in friendly territory. Madera was overwhelmingly Democratic and all he had to do was to maintain the momentum that was already present. So confident was Mace of a Cleveland victory in November, that he decided to celebrate in Madera in September!
Aided by fellow Maderans, P. McNeil, Mark Anderson, J. M. Dunlap, and Conrad Breslin, Mace prepared the town for the pre-election victory observance. When the trainload of Fresno Democrats, who at Mace’s urging had come to join in the festivities, arrived at the depot, they found Madera ready for the occasion.
It was a “merry crowd of ladies and gentlemen” who assembled on the platform of the Madera station, although their journey across the San Joaquin River and the Fresno Plains had not been exactly a luxury excursion.
The Fresnoites had chartered only one car, which could hardly have contained the 150 loyal Democrats who sought to make the trip. Some of them had “bubbled over into the caboose,” while others spilled out onto the “wheat laden platform cars.” Nevertheless, Madera’s visitors were met by “that sterling, time-tried, worthy, and honorable gentleman,” R.P. Mace, who welcomed them to the pre-election party.
A brass band escorted the Fresno Democrats across the street to the hotel where they were joined by their Madera counterparts. Mace had prepared roast turkey for the occasion toward which the crowd revealed a predictable affinity. In addition, the wine flowed freely from the bar of the hotel throughout the day and evening, and the “air was rendered fragrant by the delicate perfume of choice Havanas.”
Throughout the day, Democrats from Madera and Fresno, using the Mace Hotel as headquarters, strolled up and down Yosemite, extolling the virtues of Cleveland and proclaiming the soon to come emancipation from Republican rule.
By evening time, the farmers had come into town, and the pre-election victory celebration took on a new fervor. Bonfires blazed and fireworks illumined the avenue as the crowd gathered around the front of the Yosemite Hotel to listen to Democrats extend premature congratulations to Grover Cleveland.
Harry Dixon was the main speaker. The former county clerk of Fresno County loathed the Republicans, and in this he was joined by the vast majority of Maderans, including the corpulent Captain Mace. Madera’s most prominent innkeeper shared both Dixon’s southern sentiments and his espousal of the Democratic cause.
Madera’s political prognosticators proved to be right on the money in 1884. Cleveland was elected, and the Madera Democrats had four years to enjoy the fruits of Democratic labor. For Captain Mace, however, his enthusiasm for national politics never again approached the zenith of the ‘84 election.
In the contest of 1888, Republican Benjamin Harrison unseated the President, and although Cleveland recaptured the office in 1892, he never excited his Madera supporters like he had done eight years before.
Today, as folks walk down Yosemite Avenue between D and E streets, they pass an important historical site. It has been 136 years since Madera pioneers marched up and down that very same street to hail prematurely the advent of the national transfer of power.
Now here we are, contemplating a similar political event and wondering if history will repeat itself. Will the Republicans retake the White House in 2024 as they did in 1888?