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Democrats take Madera and the nation

Courtesy of the Madera County Historical Society

Although the Republicans stretched a banner across Yosemite Avenue, it didn’t help their chances in the election of 1884. Grover Cleveland won that year, and Maderans were ecstatic.


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 town of Madera had been born under a Republican President in 1876, and the numerous Democrats in the fledgling little town 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 incensed, 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 Cleveland’s election that he scheduled a victory celebration in Madera in September, two months before the election!

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.” 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 county 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.

Having once introduced a resolution in the California State Legislature urging the federal government to defy hard line Republicans and pardon Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, Mace had always voted the Democratic ticket.

Madera’s political prognosticators of 1884 proved to be right on the money. 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 enthused his Madera supporters like he had done eight years before.

Today, as one walks down Yosemite Avenue in downtown Madera between D and E streets, an important historical site is traversed. More than 130 years ago, Madera pioneers marched up and down that very same street to hail prematurely the advent of the national transfer of power.

Yosemite Avenue was indeed the stage upon which the drama of a town and a nation was played. One wonders what the next act will produce?


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