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Political clubs in Michigan election campaigns: a comparison of the Pingree and Griffin campaigns.


This paper compares the use of candidate-centered political clubs in the campaigns of Hazen S. Pingree and Robert P. Griffin. Locally organized Republican Party clubs to advance national party interests in the 1888 elections were introduced by James S. Clarkson. In Michigan, Detroit reform mayor and gubernatorial candidate Hazen S. Pingree transformed the political party club into a candidate-centered organization in 1896. Pingree used local Pingree Gubernatorial Republican Clubs to mobilize his supporters, defeat his party's political machine, and capture the gubernatorial nomination. Later statewide candidates emulated Pingree's methods by creating similar candidate-centered (as opposed to party-centered) clubs. More recently, Republican Congressman and U.S. Senator Robert P. Griffin used "Griffin Clubs" to recruit and mobilize supporters to help his nomination and general election campaigns, the last in 1978. The findings presented here show that these candidate-centered political clubs are remarkably simi lar in organization and activity over time. Club functions, moreover, are not supplanted by the recent use of mass media campaigns. However, clubs became more important as a grassroots fundraising mechanism after campaign finance reforms in the early 1970s.


In the late nineteenth century, political party organizations, often called "machines," were thought to be at their pinnacle of strength. (1) Michigan's Republican Party, under the leadership of U. S. Senator James McMillan, was typical of such machines. It was organized in a hierarchical structure of closely allied local party organizations glued together by the promise and distribution of patronage. McMillan, who also chaired the state Republican Party, used postmaster and customs office jobs to extend his influence throughout Michigan as these were plentiful in both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Locally elected officials, in turn, dominated their own party machines using local patronage appointments. (2) To acquire campaign money, state party machines often assessed candidates a "contribution", the amount of which varied by office. In 1894, McMillan explained to the new state party chairman, "the Senators were assessed $1,000 each, the Congressmen $500 each, the Governor $1,000 and each of the State Offi cers according to the salary of the office. Then a certain sum has always been collected from the warden and officers of the prisons and from private individuals like (Russell A.) Alger, yourself and other men throughout the State who are able to chip in." (3) As the campaign approached, the party hired but a few state headquarters workers and relied on patronage office holders to provide the labor for polling voters and mobilizing them for the general election. Party workers focused most of their energy toward mobilizing voters in the final weeks of the campaign during October and November. This pattern of short campaigns with intense activity by party workers also characterized the party's nomination processes that consisted of a complex system of local caucuses and county and state conventions.

Political party control over nominations illustrates the strength and stability of its machine-like character. Quietly held caucus elections with low voter turnout insulated the machine from partisan reformers and dissidents. (4) The patronage jobholder mustered select loyal partisans to vote for candidates anointed by state, regional and local party leaders. Employers often brought their employees to the caucus and supervised their voting. (5) Moreover, local party leaders scheduled caucuses at times and places in the interest of limiting rank and file participation. In sum, party leaders conducted caucuses in ways that strengthened their control over candidates.

Partisans began to form political clubs during the latter half of the nineteenth century. In Detroit, Republicans formed the Michigan Club and the Alger Club, named in honor of Michigan Civil War general Russell A. Alger. (6) By 1887, about 300 Republican Party-related clubs operated in various states. Later that year, as part of the 1888 presidential campaign, National Republican Party Chairman James Sullivan Clarkson organized these existing clubs in a new National Republican League at a national convention called for this purpose. Nearly 1,500 delegates from clubs in 23 states and territories met in New York City in December of 1887 to create a new form of political organization that would strengthen the Republican Party. (7)

Delegates formed a federated system of club organizations collectively named the National Republican League. State and territorial leagues, created at the same time, acted as the statewide umbrella organizations for locally organized Republican Clubs. Enthusiastic delegates went home to successfully organize over 6,500 clubs enrolling over one million members by August 1888. (8)

Democrats quickly followed suit and organized their own clubs. The Democratic State League of Pennsylvania, for example, opened the 1888 campaign with a thousand simultaneous meetings in all parts of the state. By that year's November general election, nearly 10,000 Republican and Democratic clubs had formed across the United States. Political clubs became a new organizational force throughout the country, "supplementing and in some cases practically superseding the regular party machinery." (9)


Political clubs broadened the party's base primarily by dispensing vast amounts of campaign literature and enrolling party followers. They mobilized voters for the general election by holding rallies, parades, and meetings. Clarkson created and developed political clubs to strengthen both his party and its allied newspapers so as "to be a full-time advertising and educational force, superior in flexibility to the old party organizations." (10) As the first President of the Republican National League, he established 22,000 active clubs with nearly three million members within two years. (11) Clarkson explained his innovation this way:

[The] idea was to make every Club a sort of academy of instruction for its neighborhood where all good hooks bearing on important public and political questions should be gathered, where an open arena of debate should be maintained throughout the year at least one night in the week, wherein anyone, Democrat, Free-trader or otherwise, might come and ask any question, where an open door for recruits should be kept open, and through which the circulation of party papers should be stimulated until every Club had made the presence of some sort of a Republican paper in every family in its territory an actual fact.

Just as importantly, Clarkson saw to it that the clubs were sent a stream of party-sponsored and subsidized published works that would re-invigorate the intellectual dimensions of the party. To gain as broad a distribution area as possible, these publications were translated into various languages so as to appeal to the large settlements of foreign-born voters who were most comfortable reading about critical issues in their native languages. In these ways, the club offered party workers a method of person-to-person contact that effectively recruited members and adherents over an extended period of time.

Clarkson preferred the club method to what he viewed as a habitual waste of money in conventional political campaigns.

[The short campaigns conducted] only in the last few weeks before election, which is always in the busy time of year when people read but little, and after every voter has practically made up his mind as to the party he will support, was unwise and wrong... I have never seen such useless and criminal waste of money as has been constantly wasted in all political parties in this country. The millions of dollars spent in Presidential campaigns are worse than waste, saying nothing of the corruption possible and probably under the hurry and confusion of a campaign. For my part I believe that all money used in a campaign for any other purpose than reaching voters and informing them and convincing them is not only wasteful but wrong, and must go out of fashion. (12)

By 1894, Clarkson claimed that the "National Committee itself has no more organization that if the party did not exist, -- I mean as to detail, searching every neighborhood, watching and conserving every element, and the year round struggling to gain our share of the new voters and to secure converts from the ranks of the opposition." (13) Instead, the Republican National League of Clubs represented the strength of the party.


The Michigan Republican League's instructions on the "Work of Republican Clubs" illustrated how organizers put Clarkson's emphasis on recruitment and education into Practice. (14) After establishing a permanent headquarters accessible to members during the day and evening, the club should be made "the center of political activity in the neighborhood, and the common school where the voter can receive his political education." The club should "invite to membership every person who sympathizes with the Republican party, and who intends to support its candidates" as well as "see that every Republican joins the club."

To help educate its members, the club must "supply the clubroom with the best political literature" and "see that every member takes and reads as least one Republican newspaper, and especially stimulate the circulation of your local party papers." These reading materials would be supplemented by club-sponsored addresses from prominent visitors, member-read papers or addresses, and by "the fullest and freest discussion on Republican lines of all political subjects, as discussions of this character strengthen the party." Clubs should operate as forums and "permit every member to have his say. Free speech is one of the cardinal principals of the Republican party."

Most importantly, the Michigan Republican League called for participation in both the nomination and general election campaigns. It instructed clubs that "the individual member should exercise his right to a voice in the party's councils at the party caucus or primary--the foundation stone of our political institutions." Moreover, members were exhorted to "see that all Republicans attend the caucus and primary meetings," that every Republican in one's precinct is registered, and "that every Republican votes early on election day." Some critics called the club efforts at voter mobilization less effective than those of the machine, and point to the depressed turnout in 1892 over that of 1888. (15) However, it was precisely the political club's call to action at the caucus ballot box that made it such a useful device to Hazen S. Pingree, Detroit's nationally known Republican reform mayor who lost his first bid for the Michigan Republican gubernatorial nomination in 1892. John T. Rich gained the nomination and we nt on to win the governor's chair.


Pingree used political clubs in a failed second bid for the nomination in 1894. Yet like most studied failures, it taught Pingree important and valuable lessons about potential club advantages in a nomination battle. In an attempt to deny Rich re-nomination to a second term, Pingree and other Republican leaders organized the One Term Club in June, about five weeks prior to the state convention. (16) Club Secretary Frederick E. Farnsworth, Pingree's long-time business acquaintance and city assessor, explained to one supporter:

We have nothing to say against Governor Rich or his candidacy. He has made a good Governor, but there are plenty of good men in Michigan who are entitled to this honor, and we think now is a good time to inaugurate this movement. You are well aware of the candidates now in the field; they are good. (17)

The club strategy targeted Republican officeholders and county party leaders across Michigan. Its slogan, "One Term and an Old Soldier in 1894," highlighted both Rich's convention statement about desiring only one term and his lack of military service in the Civil War. Club organizers encouraged Republican leaders who supported the appeal to put One Term Club adherents on caucus-selected county delegations to the state convention. If enough One Term Club delegates at the convention could deny Rich his renomination on the first ballot, other candidates including Pingree could battle over the prize.

One Term Club records reveal a vigorous letter writing campaign to party leaders, and its correspondence claimed that almost every county delegation contained at least one club supporter. After a close defeat in St. Clair County, Rich's home district, club leaders purportedly received evidence of county delegate manipulation. (18) Rich and the machine, according to the club, purchased convention delegate proxy votes to guarantee Rich his re-nomination. On the eve of the Grand Rapids convention, Pingree announced that he possessed this evidence and, with the entire Wayne County delegation, he boycotted the convention. Rich went on to victory both at the Grand Rapids convention and in the general election in November, winning by 100,000 votes. In the end, Pingree found that he could not rely on disaffected party leaders to win him committed delegates. The popular Detroit mayor would have to bypass the party leadership and appeal directly to Republicans in their local caucuses. The concept of a Pingree Club had arrived.


Pingree's 1896 campaign took the Michigan League Republican Club model of education and advertising and infused it with a call for members to "take the caucuses" on his behalf. The candidate-centered Pingree Gubernatorial Republican Club provided the requisite organizational base from which he contested state and local machines in local caucuses and county conventions. Pingree, a millionaire shoe manufacturer, used his own capital to finance the clubs in order to provide both a medium for his message and a method of mobilizing campaign laborers. (19)

Pingree's campaign and its club movement accelerated in earnest in January 1896. By April, Mayor's Secretary and Pingree Club organizer Robert Oakman wrote that the club movement was "growing like wild fire" and over four hundred clubs had organized in every region of the state. (20)

Pingree Clubs served two functions: communication with and mobilization of voters. Pingree communicated with potential caucus voters via the club and circumvented the local Republican machines to get his message directly to club leaders and members. Moreover, the Pingree Club provided him with a two way conduit for communications for gathering political intelligence from across the state.

Pingree also used his club to mobilize potential voters and instruct them on how to gain caucus victories and win county convention delegates. Pingree Clubs allowed him to challenge the machine at a grass roots level. Attention is turned first to the club's communication function, followed by an analysis of the Pingree campaign's mobilization efforts.


Contemporary observers noted the 1896 Pingree campaign's many innovations. In April, the Detroit Free Press pointed this out.

The Pingree workers have made many innovations in the manner of running a gubernatorial campaign, such as forming clubs, distributing speeches, etc., all calculated to make the "machinists" tired. (21)

One such innovation, the "canned speech," was a printed copy of one of the mayor's many addresses on selected issues to supporters. These speeches often went unreported by machine-supported newspapers whose editors opposed Pingree's gubernatorial bid. Pingree distributed thousands of canned speeches to club members. In mid-March, The Detroit Tribune reported:

Mayor Pingree keeps eight of the city's clerks busy sending his speeches through but the state. Yesterday the force was removed from the city hall to the Michigan Exchange building. City Hall Engineer McMinn and Record Clerk Walter B. Cole were the generalissimos of this small army at the city hall. (22)

Canned speeches informed Pingree supporters of the Mayor's position on topics ranging from taxation to good roads. For example, Oakman wrote in response to a Huron County club member's taxation question:

I have known for some time what the sentiment in your locality is, and I believe that Mayor Pingree comes nearer representing it than any of the candidates so far mentioned for the Republican nomination for Govemor. If you look up the literature we sent you and read the speech made by Mayor Pingree in Traverse City, I think you will agree that the Mayor is on the right track on the questions which you referred to. (23)

Organizers also rewrote these topical speeches as campaign articles for publication by the few newspaper editors sympathetic to Pingree. Immediately prior to Mayor Pingree's spring visit to Ishpeming, for example, Oakman wrote to a publisher:

Brooker is pleased to know that you will print the Pingree article on Saturday and says that it will be very opportune as the Mayor speaks there on Monday. (24)

In these ways, the club provided Pingree with direct channels to local opinion leaders and countered the opposition press.

Pingree's campaign managers used information gleaned from club members when they allocated campaign resources like buttons, streamers and banners, literature, and most importantly, Mayor Pingree's time. His travel plans, appearances, and even train stops were often developed in response to club requests and their assessments of public support. (25) When Pingree traveled on one of his speaking tours, clubs often relayed schedule information down the railroad line so as to time train arrivals and departures to maximize his speaking time and the number of listeners. In a May interview Pingree recounted his recent speaking tour in central lower Michigan:

You don't get any sleep. Hardly ever get to bed before 2 in the morning, and usually they call us before 6. Sometimes we have two meetings a day besides talking along the route. The railroad men are all with us, and they'd telegraph when they saw us on the train, so that when we arrived at the next station there'd be a crowd waiting for a speech. The engineer usually pulled out, and would get ahead of his time ten minutes or more, so that there would be enough time to talk to the meetings. It is hard to talk more than once in the same day in one place. I do not like to repeat, and it is pretty hard to think up a new speech for every time you get on the platform. (26)

Organizers encouraged clubs to draw supporters to sites of Pingree visits and speeches, where the candidate directly communicated with potential caucus voters. In one instance, Oakman informed a Croswell supporter that "Mayor Pingree is booked to speak at Lexington in the near future and I trust that as many of you as can comfortably load yourselves into wagons will go there and hear him." (27) Regarding a planned Pingree visit, Oakman asked William Brown of Mancelona, Antrim County to "also organize surrounding townships, so when Pingree comes he can take in quite a portion of Antrim at one time." (28) If sufficient numbers warranted, Pingree's managers had him extend his visit to nearby places.

Club members provided vital political information to the Pingree campaign. From across Michigan club officials regularly corresponded with and often visited campaign headquarters to relay information about local Pingree support, his opponents' tactics, and timing of caucuses and conventions. Initially Oakman made vague requests for information from supporters, as when he asked in an early April letter: "What is the prospect for securing the delegation from your County? This and any other information which you may deem of service in Mayor Pingree's campaign will be gratefully received." (29) As the campaign matured, so did Oakman's information requests. By mid-May he was making detailed requests for township delegate maps, assessments of strength and opposition, and names of club members in addition to just those of the officers. To a Shiawassee supporter, Oakman wrote:

We have found it a great help to have before us a map of each county, showing the number of delegates each township is entitled to in the county convention, and estimate of the Pingree strength, etc., and the only way we can secure this information is through our friends. Will you not therefore at your early convenience send us, as far as you are able, a list showing the number of delegates which will be elected in each township, and whether the township is Pingree or Anti. This information will be of great assistance to us. (30)

In counties where Oakman successfully organized several city and township clubs, he inquired about Pingree's status and that of his opponents from a number of supporters to cross-check his information. Records show a quick one-day turn around time in answering correspondence from the field, especially when time pressure built up around caucus and convention dates. As the campaign intensified, clubs used the telegraph to speed important messages to headquarters. (31)

To mount a strong challenge, the Pingree campaign needed critical information on the timing of township and city caucuses and county conventions. A county's Republican Party organization initiated the process when it decided when to call its convention to select delegates to the state nominating convention. Once a county convention was called, local township and city Republican Party organizations individually and independently called their own caucuses to select their delegates. (32) The Pingree campaign needed to win these delegate contests across literally hundreds of townships and city wards. Moreover, as a Detroit-based insurgent working against his patty's machine, Pingree possessed limited information on out-state local caucus and convention schedules. His clubs gave him the means to monitor caucus and convention calls. Oakman's closing comments to a Huron County supporter was typical of his request for advance notice:

Do you not think it would be a good idea to begin drumming our Pingree forces together and get ready for the caucus. I would like very much to hear from you as soon as you get intimation of when your county convention and caucus will be held, together with such advice and suggestions as you think best to give us. (33)

After the early county battles, Oakman refined his requests to include asking for copies of caucus and convention notices published in the local newspapers.


Pingree Clubs organized and mobilized the Mayor's supporters to achieve the ultimate goal of electing Pingree delegates to the state nominating convention in a number of ways. First, the Pingree campaign recruited local club organizers. Oakman asked Pingree admirers who wrote of their support for the Mayor to form clubs in their hometowns. Campaign staff mailed supporters Pingree Club start-up packages that included such items as blank forms, Pingree lithographs, Pingree buttons, banners, literature, and sample club resolutions. In accompanying letters, Oakman typically exhorted members:

[We] strongly urge you to organize the Pingree men of your town into a club. You cannot imagine how nicely it works. There are now over 400 Pingree Clubs in the State all working to the same end, viz: the election of Pingree men as delegates at the Republican caucuses to be held from now on. Do not be too sure that the voters who favor Mr. Pingree will do as good work without organization as they would with it. It is easy to organize a club and when you have done so you will find you are in much better position to do effective work than you were before. (34)

To an Ida supporter, Oakman wrote, "There is nothing like organized effort to insure success. Organize your club at once and let us know what we can do to help you." (35)

In other cases, Oakman sent "cold call" letters to persons thought to be sympathetic to Pingree. For example, Oakman wrote to one Bronson man:

Dear Sir: Your name has been suggested to us a worthy representative and citizen who would be willing to undertake a little work in your locality in behalf of the nomination of Mayor Pingree as the Republican candidate for Governor, and I have taken the liberty of sending you an equipment such as is necessary in the organization of a Pingree Club. If you can see fit to do us this great favor kindly let us know of the prospects in your town for the election of Pingree delegates, and if a club is organized kindly send us the names of the officers for our mailing list. We have the heartiest assurances from all parts of the State that a large majority of voters are strongly in favor of the nomination of Mayor Pingree, and the club movement is growing so large that the number of such organizations now approaches the 400 mark. Thanking you in advance for any kindness you may think proper to confer upon us, I remain, Yours truly, Robert Oakman Mayor's Secretary. (36)

On many occasions these efforts paid off with the creation of a club. Once the club movement caught on, some supporters specifically requested materials to help organize clubs in their hometowns. In one case, T. R. Smith of Lawton asked Oakman for help in setting up a Pingree Club, and he also provided the names of eight other Pingree supporters in Van Buren County villages willing to organize clubs. (37) Oakman responded quickly to establish a Pingree presence in a county where the campaign previously had none. (38)

The Pingree Club's ultimate goal was to educate and mobilize supporters to secure Pingree delegates in local caucuses. The campaign's written correspondence emphasized this; printed in red at the bottom of its letterhead and club petitions was the notice: "If you are for Pingree, or for any other candidate for Governor, ATTEND THE CAUCUSES and suggest to others the propriety of attending" (Emphasis in originals). (39) Oakman consistently addressed the caucus and how club members could win them. In a letter to an Elmira supporter, he noted, "In the clubs we secure our strength. Voters are instructed, and interested to attend the caucuses and work concertedly to the end that only Pingree men are chosen as delegates." (40) Oakman's response to supporters at the Soldier's Home in Grand Rapids targeted their caucus participation, "I am pleased to know that the old soldiers take so much interest in Mayor Pingree's campaign, and trust they will all do their duty at the caucuses, as that is where the work must be don e if Mr. Pingree is to be the next Governor of Michigan." (41) He instructed a Bay City club officer, "It would be a good plan to have the club meet often and regular so as to keep up the interest, and see to it that it is understood among the members the necessity of attending the caucuses." (42) Oakman warned the Applegate Pingree Club President, "As there are will doubtless be many schemes on foot to defeat the Mayor at the caucuses, perhaps by electing delegates to the county convention at the caucuses called for another purpose, it would be well to instruct your people to attend all republican caucuses and see to it that none but good men are selected for delegates." (43) To a Shiawassee County club officer, Oakman advised,

I trust your club will grow in proportion as many clubs now organized throughout the State have done. You should direct your efforts toward interesting the voters of your township in attending all Republican caucuses held from now on and as far as possible endeavor to put only Pingree men on guard. (44)

Third, Pingree needed mobilized supporters pledged to his candidacy and he accomplished this in two ways: club resolutions and campaign buttons. Alma's club typified those adopting resolutions of Pingree support. Over three hundred people gathered in early April to form a club, formally enroll as members, and elect officers. It was an eclectic crowd "made up of all shades of political faith, populists, democrats and prohibitionists joining republicans in pledging support to him." Their pledge took the form of an adopted resolution:

Resolved, That Hazen S. Pingree's loyalty to the principles of Republicanism and the Republican party having never been questioned, we, as citizens of Alma, pledge ourselves to use every honorable means to secure his nomination, and hearty support, should he be nominated on the Republican ticket. (45)

The Pingree Club's standard resolution of support, as published in the West Bay City Independent, specifically mentioned the caucus:

Resolved, That we, the undersigned, do hereby agree and pledge ourselves to sustain Hazen S. Pingree by our votes at the caucuses and at the election, for governor of the state of Michigan, firmly believing that the burdens of the state require to be adjusted so as to be evenly upon all citizens, in a spirit of strict justice under a constitution invidious to none and giving equal rights to all... (46)

Similarly, to reinforce a supporter's connection to Pingree's candidacy, the Pingree Club capitalized on another campaign innovation of 1896: the campaign button. A small lapel button of about one inch in diameter, it was produced with a celluloid Pingree picture and a label that read "For Governor Hazen S. Pingree." While other candidates also used buttons, including Pingree's main opponent Aaron T. Bliss, Pingree funneled tens of thousands of them to his clubs for mass distribution. A campaign button visibly identifies the wearer as a candidate's supporter and communicates their personal loyalty. A Chicago reporter noted that "strangers who visit Detroit are much impressed with the fact that nearly everybody wears a Pingree button. This means that the people are almost a unit in favor of the popular mayor for governor." (47) The Pingree camp routinely provided clubs with dozens, and in some cases hundreds, of buttons at a time.

Once clubs selected potential delegates, some prepared for the caucus by preprinting ballots with a slate of delegate names. Organizers had to supplement this maneuver with knowledge of meeting operations, or the caucus could be lost as was the case in Gratiot County's Arcada Township.

The Pingree men were out in full force, with a cut and dried plan that they were sure would sweep everything before it. They had prepared a neatly printed list of delegates, and all that was necessary, in their opinion, was to hand these ballots around, and their men would be elected. Subsequent events, however, proved that the "best laid plans of mice and men oft gang awry." (48)

Pingree's supporters were unprepared for voter challenges, became "rattled," and did not succeed in getting enough of their number to the meeting. The ten elected delegates were "all pronounced Bliss men." (49)

Fourth, the Pingree Club movement used both ideology and issues to broaden his coalition by inclusion of non-Republicans. As a consequence, the campaign often made contradictory appeals to supporters in different parts of the state, especially regarding the Money Question that was such a large part of the 1896 presidential campaign. Pingree frequently claimed that the money question was irrelevant to him because it was a federal and not a state question. (50)

Pingree's nomination theme instead dealt with regulating and taxing railroads and otherwise limiting corporation involvement in government. His motto, "equal rights for all, special privileges for none" (51) echoed throughout Pingree's appeal for county convention support from several Shiawassee County delegates:

In asking your support as delegate to the Shiawassee County convention to be held May 26th, I do so under the impression that I have so defined my position in relation to public matters as to commend it to the people generally as well as to the rank and file of the Republican party. I desire justice to all, but I do not think we are receiving justice from the railroad companies as they interfere with the equal distribution of taxation. There are 110 miles of railroad in your county and there is not one cent of your county taxes paid by them.

In all fairness to the people whom you represent there should be a more equitable adjustment of taxation than that which now prevails and this I say frankly is my aim and object as we should have equal right for all and special privileges for none in practice as well as theory. It is becoming more and more difficult to procure proper legislation for the many for the few have too long held the power of government. You no doubt are conscious of this and as much now depends upon you, and as you realize the conditions I trust that you may act in accordance with the consciousness. (52)

Regardless of their staunch Lincoln-Republican principles, Pingree club organizers and Pingree himself did not deter non-Republicans from joining the campaign. Oakman wrote to one supporter, "Of course, as you say there are many Democrats who would like to vote for Mr. Pingree and I know of no way of preventing them from doing so. However, Mr. Pingree is a candidate for the nomination on the Republican ticket and from all appearances he is quite likely to get it." (53)

Pingree was indeed victorious. His machine opponents misjudged the efficacy of Pingree clubs to deliver convention delegates in numbers sufficient to launch a serious bid for the nomination. Prior to balloting, Mayor Pingree won two key floor fights which gave him a plurality of delegates. The Mayor led Bliss by 53 votes on the first ballot and, after striking deals with candidates for other statewide officers, surged to victory on the fourth ballot. (54) Pingree went on to win two terms as Michigan's governor (1897-1901) and died shortly after he left office.


Nearly seventy years later, U. S. Congressman Robert P. Griffin from the Ninth District in Michigan's northern Lower Peninsula created Griffin clubs to help him achieve nomination and general election victories. In May of 1966, Michigan Governor George Romney selected Rep. Griffin to fill a vacant U. S. Senate seat. Griffin continued to use the clubs in his Senate campaigns of 1966, 1972, and 1978. In a 1972 post-election analysis, Griffin's administrative assistant Robert Smalley noted the importance of the club: "From the outset of Senator Griffin's campaign it was decided that a neighborhood grass roots organization would be the most essential element of a successful campaign." (55)

A comparison of the Pingree and Griffin Clubs shows remarkable similarities in their functions. This is striking because Griffin campaigned at a time when candidates relied extensively on mass-media to communicate with voters. By using clubs, Griffin instead highlighted personal contact with supporters with positive results in both his nomination and general election campaigns. Given the difference in both time and campaign styles, how did Griffin's club assist his campaigns in ways similar to those of Pingree's club?


First, Griffin Clubs provided the candidate with an image of widespread and grass roots popularity in his fight against a potent opposition party. Whereas Pingree fought his own party's machine, Griffin carefully portrayed himself fighting a strong political organization composed of the Democrats' Liberal-Labor coalition. Since the late 1940s, popular Governor G. Mennen "Soapy" Williams and the Democrats enjoyed political momentum and several statewide electoral victories. (56)

In this scenario, Big Labor's political muscle dominated Michigan elections and underdog Robert P. Griffin willingly took it on by appealing to "grassroots" supporters. In a 1978 solicitation letter to Oakland County Republicans, Griffin wrote, "From experience we know that grass roots support in Oakland County is a real key to a winning campaign. Without such support it would be impossible for any Republican to wage a winning race in Michigan" (emphasis added). (57) Griffin clubs provided Griffin an edge in his fight against the Democratic Party because as Smalley reported in 1972, "Significantly, there was and is no effective Republican organization in Michigan to undertake this kind of effort. The Party has been deeply in debt since 1970, and has virtually no strength at the state, county or local level." (58)

Griffin's campaign organizers set membership quotas for individual counties with the intent of illustrating Griffin's statewide personal popularity and giving it tangible expression as an organization of neighborhood clubs. They announced growing membership rolls with increasing club counts to the media on a periodic basis to impress upon the public that a groundswell of popular support spontaneously emerged across Michigan. A September 1966 press release noted that membership passed the 20,000 mark, and over 100 "grass roots" clubs organized "in nearly every major city, congressional district or county in Michigan, each with its own chairman and staff." (59) About a month later, another press release claimed that membership topped 40,000 members. Noting that more than 75% of his campaign contributors donated through the Griffin clubs, Senator Griffin claimed, "We've got something better that the President's (Lyndon Johnson) $1,000 Club." (60) Moreover, clubs cultivated an image of these things occurring at a grass roots level where voters could observe them in their neighborhoods.

Organizers reinforced this by subdividing county or city clubs into neighborhood "headquarters," each with a "neighborhood chairman." In an Oakman-like letter to these chairmen, State Campaign Director Peter Fletcher informed them that "you will be the principal line of communication between the Griffin Campaign and the voters in your area, and your home should act as the Campaign Headquarters for your Neighborhood... The Neighborhood Chairman Concept is the most effective methodology yet devised to put Michigan's political machinery back into the hands of the people. It is especially well suited to Senator Griffin's style of person to person campaigning." (61) Organizers found that "the visibility of this mechanism in target precincts is prticulary (sic) critical. We will encourage more than one location in such precincts. Visibility is the name of the game. The same applies to particularly heavy traffic areas." (62) Smalley's post-1972 election analysis described how "in a large number of selected priority precincts we developed a network of neighborhood headquarters in which Block Chairmen took on the task of contacting every voter, distributing material house to house, and on election day making sure that pro-Nixon and pro-Griffin voters went to the polls." (63) Its success in the 1972 campaign compelled organizers to adopt the neighborhood headquarters concept for the 1978 campaign.


Following Clarkson and Pingree before him, Griffin used the club as a conduit for his campaign literature. Both Pingree and Griffin sought to categorize their club members into groups like farmers, veterans, and youth, and tailor campaign literature to each segment. Griffin's organizers planned bimonthly and quarterly membership mailings throughout the Senator's term to be intensified as the election season approached. Club members received regular campaign updates and newsletters so as to make them feel a part of the Griffin Campaign. (64) As "a grass roots neighbor-to-neighbor organization," it effectively served as a source of locally based workers to drop campaign literature in their neighborhoods. Moreover, Club chairmen and members also served as ground level sources of political intelligence. Club instructions, for example, encouraged them to routinely forward relevant local newspaper clippings to Griffin headquarters, and to send names of high school seniors for congratulatory letters from the Senator . (65)

Griffin clubs also served as bases from which to schedule campaign events featuring appearances by Griffin family members. In his 1972 letter to Griffin Club Chairmen, Scheduling Committee chairman Philip Van Dam pointed out that "an essential ingredient of every successful campaign is an efficient scheduling operation so that each of the Senator's campaign visits produces maximum results." (66) To this end he requested club chairmen help by surveying possible activities in their counties every week or two and passing this information on to headquarters. "Such a procedure," Van Darn explained, "would allow a continuous monitoring system of activities occurring in your county. With this input, the Senator can be scheduled into activities that have been carefully chosen and scrutinized by the campaign staff." (67)


A statewide formation of local clubs permitted Griffin to challenge his opponents by scheduling large campaign events in Democratic strongholds like Wayne County. For example, his March 5, 1972 pancake breakfast at a Detroit American Legion Post targeted blue-collar Democrats. (68) The local Griffin Club workers mailed breakfast announcements to 20,000 homes and hand delivered another 135,000 notices to homes all in an area within a couple miles of the post to reach an estimated 435,000 people. A low-cost pancake breakfast served up by their U.S. Senator had certain appeal to working and middle class families, even if they themselves did not attend it.

At events like pancake breakfasts, county fair appearances, and literature drops at plant gates, Griffin sought to broaden his coalition by appealing to nonRepublicans. The Griffin Club invited "all kinds of people--from different neighborhoods and ethnic groups--Democrats, Independents, and Republicans -- to join with us." (69) Each club's Advisory Committee gave non-Republicans a place in the campaign at the county and congressional district levels. This "'umbrella' committee, that is, broadly representative of the various groups within any given area" ... would ... "offer a means by which the campaign can bring together diversified interests on behalf of the Senator." Club organizers "anticipated that this committee would encourage its own expansion, irregardless (sic) of political affiliation." (70) In fundraising organizers noted "Again, the Griffin Club is not to be limited to Republicans. We are looking for contributors from all segments of the community and fully expect to find plenty of Democrats who intend to support the Senator." (71)


Griffin challenged Democrats by promoting his party's principles, and this was most clearly symbolized by the Griffin Club and its crest, the "Griffin." Club letterhead displayed a drawing of a griffin and described it as: "In Greek mythology, the Griffin (with head and wings of an eagle and body of a lion) guarded the gold of the realm and therefore became a symbol of vigilance." (72)

Club organizers also created a Griffin lapel pin and used it as an inducement to get individuals to enroll as members in local Griffin clubs. Enrollees who also signed up fixed numbers of other members received either a silver or gold pin. Gold lapel pins were used to reward small campaign contributions in amounts as small as five dollars. (73) The lapel pin visibly committed an individual to their candidate. Wearers publicly identified themselves as supporters, and were thus much more likely to actively work and vote for Senator Griffin. In a letter to potential members, Senator Griffin acknowledged the accumulative financial benefits of thousands of small contributions from people joining Griffin Clubs. "But even more important," he wrote, "as each new member signs up, he or she becomes a committed supporter--with a personal investment and a stake in the outcome of the election. After signing up and pledging support, many GRIFFIN CLUB members are then ready and willing to serve as volunteers in other phases of our campaign" (Emphasis in original). (74)

Finally, like Pingree, Griffin used signed petitions to further his candidate image. Unlike Pingree, Griffin also needed petition signatures from registered voters in each Michigan county to get his name on the primary election ballot and used club members to help acquire them. In 1978, they helped Senator Griffin collect over 23,000 signatures to reinforce an image of widespread grassroots popular support of his reelection bid. (75) Pingree, as noted earlier, needed to achieve electoral victories in local caucuses that did not require petition signatures. Nonetheless, Pingree club organizers used petition-like signature rolls when enrolling members in an effort to solidify supporter sentiment with a reinforcing action. In an important way, a person's signature enrolling oneself in a Pingree Club or to support Senator Griffin's primary nomination helped bind the person to the respective campaign.


Campaign finance represented a significant difference between Pingree's and Griffin's use of their political clubs. Pingree, a millionaire shoe manufacturer, funded most of his campaigns out of his own deep pockets, although he was helped by "contributions" from members of his mayoral administration and perhaps by his campaign manager, Alpena lumber baron Albert Pack, who also ran a controversial Detroit street car company. (76) Griffin, a less prosperous candidate than Pingree, faced different financial challenges and sought to address them to a great extent by his Griffin clubs. In 1978, Griffin Club members paid dues of $10 each, and county chairmen had large quotas of members to recruit. Projected club revenues of $113,000, augmented by additional revenue from various regions, collectively represented a large percentage of total campaign revenues. (77) Pingree, by comparison, never solicited dues norsought to generate campaign contributions from club members.


Other than this difference stemming from campaign finance rules changes, Hazen S. Pingree and Robert P. Griffin organized and used candidate-oriented political clubs to achieve electoral victories in much the same way. Significantly, Pingree's club use represented a candidate-centered campaign at the peak of political party machine strength. Pingree's club-supported victory came well in advance of election reforms like the direct primary and developments in mass-communication media that are thought to contribute to the use of candidate-centered campaigns. Continuation of this kind of club use by Griffin is significant precisely because the advances in mass media-based campaigning prior to and during his time in Congress and the U.S. Senate make it appear as a throwback to the days of old. Regardless of its electoral advantages in gaining a primary ballot position and campaign fundraising, the Griffin Club movement looks like a personal political machine compared to that of a typical modern mass media based ca mpaign. Ironically, Griffin's losing 1978 Senate reelection campaign may be attributed in part to its relatively greater emphasis on mass media use to the neglect of grassroots club activity common to earlier Griffin campaigns.

(1.) Paul S. Hermson, Congressional Elections: Campaigning at Home and In Washington, 3rd ed. (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2000).

(2.) Arthur Chester Millspaugh, Party Organization and Machinery in Michigan Since 1890, Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science, Series XXXV, no. 3 (Baltimore, 1917), 17-18.

(3.) James M. McMillan to Dexter M. Ferry, Sr., 28 May 1896, Dexter M. Ferry Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

(4.) Hazen S. Pingree, Facts and Opinions, or Dangers that Beset Us (Detroit: F.B. Dickerson, 1895), 90-94.

(5.) The St. Johns News, 22 April 1896, 1; The Durand Signal, 28 May 1896, 1.

(6.) Proceedings of the First Annual Meeting of the Michigan Club, (Detroit: Detroit Tribune, 1886); J. A. Matthews, The Alger Republican Club: Our Trip to Washington, Including a Synopis of the Organization, History and Object of the Alger Republican Club (Detroit: J.A. Matthews, 1889).

(7.) Appleton's Annual Cyclopedia and Register of Important Events of the Year 1888. New Series, Vol. XIII. (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1889), 780-81.

(8.) Ibid.

(9.) Ibid.

(10.) Walter Dean Bumbam, Critical Elections and the Mainsprings of American Politics (New York: W. W. Norton, 1970), 72-73.

(11.) James Sullivan Clarkson to Welker Given, 18 August 1894, James Sullivan Clarkson Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

(12.) Ibid.

(13.) Ibid.

(14.) Michigan League Flier, 1892, Box 1, Robert A. Oakman Papers, Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University (hereafter cited as OP). See also National Republican League Flier "Organization and Education for Republican Restoration and Prosperity, 1894-1896," Junius E. Beal Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

(15.) Walter Dean Burnham, Critical Elections and the Mainsprings of American Politics (New York: W.W. Norton, 1970), 72-73.

(16.) Detroit Tribune, 14 June 1894, 1.

(17.) Frederick E. Farnsworth to Willard A. Smith, 13 July 1894, One Term Club Letterbook, Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University.

(18.) Frederick E. Farnsworth to Josiah E. Just, 28 July 1894, One Term Club Letterbook, Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University.

(19.) Oakman to Louis H. Riedel, 1 June 1896, Box 2, OP.

(20.) Oakman to John A. Tabor, 1 April 1896; Oakman to George M. Fenn, 1 April 1896, OP.

(21.) Detroit Free Press, 12 April 1896, 1.

(22.) Detroit Tribune, 19 March 1896, 1.

(23.) Oakman to Mr. A.H. Moses, 11 July 1896, OP.

(24.) Oakman to J.D. West, 2 April 1896, OP.

(25.) C. D. Joslyn to Hazen S. Pingree, 2 May 1896, OP.

(26.) The Durand Signal, 7 May 1896, 1.

(27.) Oakman to W.H. Jaynes, 10 April 1896, OP.

(28.) Oakman to William Brown, 8 April 1896, OP.

(29.) Oakman to Judd C. Weeman, 7 April 1896, OP.

(30.) Oakman to Eugene Harris, 15 May 1896, OP.

(31.) See Oakman to P. W. Shute, 20 May 1896; Oakman to John Wait, 22 May 1896; Oakman to C.C. DeCamp, 22 May 1896; Oakman to H.O. Babcock, 23 June 1896; Oakman to M.O. Platts, 26 June 1896, OP.

(32.) George N. Fuller, Michigan: A Centennial History of the State and its People, Vol. 1. (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1939) 396-98.

(33.) Oakman to Albert Klein Schmidt, 3 July 1896, OP.

(34.) Oakman to C.F. Smith, 2 April 1896, OP.

(35.) Oakman to John Martin, 2 April 1896, OP.

(36.) Oakman to Chas. Walker, 1 April 1896, OP.

(37.) Oakman to T.R. Smith, 3 April 1896, OP.

(38.) Oakman to H. J. Prentice; M. Wiggins; E. S. Rockafellow; Harry Waters; Chas. Hempstead; John Mutcher; J. H. Long; John Collins, 3 April 1896, OP.

(39.) Robert S. Oakman to Theodore M. Joslin, 27 April 1896, Box 2, Theodore M. Joslin Papers, Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University (hereafter cited as JP). Pingree Club Petitions, n.d., Box 2, JP.

(40.) Oakman to E.T. Armstrong, 1 April 1896, OP.

(41.) Oakman to Charles A. Bissonette, 2 April 1896, OP.

(42.) Oakman to John Sheppard, 2 April 1896, OP.

(43.) Oakman to John Mugan, 2 April 1896, OP.

(44.) Oakman to John Wade, 3 April 1896, OP.

(45.) Alma Record, 3 April 1896, 1.

(46.) West Bay City Independent, 24 March 1896, in Hazen S. Pingree Scrapbooks, Gubernatorial Politics, Vol. 2, Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library.

(47.) The Chicago World, 29 February 1896, in Hazen S. Pingree Scrapbooks, Gubernatorial Politics, Vol. 1, Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library.

(48.) Alma Record, 31 July 1896, 1.

(49.) Ibid.

(50.) William Livingstone, Livingstone's History of the Republican Party (Detroit: Winn and Hammond, 1900), 541.

(51.) John F. Hogan, The History of the National Republican League of the United States (Detroit: n.p., 1898), 6. See also H. S. Pingree To the Officers and Members of the Pingree Republican Gubernatorial Clubs, 28 April 1896, JP.

(52.) Hazen S. Pingree to F.M. Shepherd, 23 May 1896, OP.

(53.) Oakman to E.M. Carroll, 13 April 1896, OP.

(54.) The Detroit Tribune, 4-6 August 1896, 1.

(55.) Robert M. Smalley to Clark MacGregor, 15 November 1972, Box 5, Robert P. Griffin Papers, Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University (hereafter cited as GP).

(56.) Michael Barone, Grant Ujifusa, and Douglas Matthews, The Almanac of American Politics 1976 (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1975), PP. 395-396; See also John H. Fenton, Midwest Politics (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966), 11-24.

(57.) Robert P. Griffin to Oakland County Republicans, n.d., Box 5, GP.

(58.) Smalley to MacGregor, 15 November 1972, GP.

(59.) Press Release, 23 September 1966, Box 5, GP.

(60.) Press Release, 20 October 1966, Box 5, GP.

(61.) Peter Fletcher to Neighbors for U.S. Senator Bob Griffin, undated, Box 5, GP.

(62.) Griffin Club Handbook, undated, 17, Box 5, GP.

(63.) Smalley to MacGregor, 15 November 1972, GP.

(64.) Andy Flintermann to All Griffin Regional, District and County Chairmen, 9 August 1972, Box 5, GP.

(65.) James DeFrancis to Robert P. Griffin, 23 February 1971, Box 5, GP.

(66.) Philip Van Dam to Griffin Club Chairmen, 30 June 1972, Box 5, GP.

(67.) Ibid.

(68.) Pancake Breakfast Folder, Box 5, GP.

(69.) Griffin Club Handbook, undated, p. 1, Box 5, GP.

(70.) Ibid., 16.

(71.) Ibid., 17.

(72.) For example, see Robert P. Griffin to William Tait, 19 June 1978, Box 5, GP.

(73.) Griffin Club Handbook, undated, p. 19, Box 5, GP.

(74.) Robert P. Griffin form letter, 17 April 1978, Box 5, GP.

(75.) Robert P. Griffin to William Tait, 19 June 1978, Box 5, GP.

(76.) William Livingstone, Livingstone's History of the Republican Party (Detroit: Winn and Hammond, 1900), 540-41.

(77.) 1978 Griffin Campaign Budget, Box 8, GP.
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Author:Sych, Lawrence
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