1871 Massachusetts gubernatorial election

The 1871 Massachusetts gubernatorial election was held on November 7, 1871. Incumbent Republican Governor William Claflin did not run for a fourth term in office. He was succeeded by Republican U.S. Representative William B. Washburn, who defeated Democrat John Quincy Adams II.

1871 Massachusetts gubernatorial election

← 1870 November 7, 1871 1872 →
Nominee William B. Washburn John Quincy Adams II Edwin M. Chamberlain
Party Republican Democratic Labor Reform
Popular vote 75,129 47,725 6,848
Percentage 54.92% 34.89% 5.01%

County results
Washburn:      40–50%      50–60%      60–70%      70–80%      80–90%

Governor before election

William Claflin

Elected Governor

William B. Washburn

Republican nomination





  • Harvey Jewell, Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives (withdrew Sep. 17)[1]
  • George B. Loring, Chairman of the Massachusetts Republican State Committee and former State Representative from Salem (withdrew at convention)
  • Alexander H. Rice, former Mayor of Boston and U.S. Representative (withdrew at convention)





Through July, Benjamin Butler denied that he was a candidate for governor and George B. Loring appeared to be the early favorite, owing to strong support in the state's rural and agricultural communities.[3] Butler entered the race soon after, placing two candidates from the Northeast in open opposition to the Claflin administration.[2]

By August, Governor Claflin had unequivocally ruled out a fourth term, and his reformist supporters primarily went to Harvey Jewell or Alexander H. Rice in the east or William Washburn in the west.[2] Washburn, though the last candidate to enter due to his loyalty to Claflin, was considered the strongest; he had unanimous support in the four western counties and northern Worcester County (led by his House colleagues Henry L. Dawes and George F. Hoar) and the support of many temperance and reform advocates in the east.[2] He was also the second choice of many Jewell or Rice supporters.[2]

In the days leading to the convention, Butler was the most active candidate on his own behalf, with the other candidates and their supporters generally aligned against him.[4] In pre-convention credentials rulings, Butler won delegations from the 6th ward of Boston, from Athol, and from Milford. Despite this, Butler was still expected to be fifty votes short of a majority.[4]

On the night before the convention, Butler delivered a speech denouncing the press and comparing his treatment to the Passion of Jesus. He endorsed President Grant, though his speech was followed by a supporter alluding to Butler as the "future Chief Magistrate of this country."[4] His opponents focused on organizing into a united bloc against Butler.[5]



The party convention was held at Mechanics' Hall in Worcester on September 27.

As the delegates entered the convention hall, Butler made a grand entry, marching to the edge of the platform and acknowledging the cheers of his supporters before elbowing through the crowd. His entrance caused a great deal of confusion among the delegates, which Butler was seen to relish.[5] Loring, as party chair, called the convention to order and was elected temporary chair. He took the opportunity to deliver a speech professing loyalty to the Republican Party and President Grant.[5]

At the start of business, Butler moved that the galleries "be thrown open to the people, to whom they rightly belong, that they may observe the action of their delegates." The motion, seen as a test of strength, passed 524 to 437 to the cheers of Butler supporters.[5] Henry L. Dawes then presented a resolution to give contested delegates the right to vote until the credentials committee made a final determination; Butler denounced the resolution as unprecedented and unfair, launching into a campaign speech against machine control of the party. Dawes and Butler began a series of back-and-forth insults and barbs until the resolution was finally referred to the Committee on Credentials.[5]

George Frisbie Hoar, an avowed supporter of Washburn,[4] was elected permanent chairman and president.[5] Loring then surprised the convention by withdrawing his name from consideration; most took this as an indication of unity among anti-Butler forces, but some Butler men attempted to lobby Loring supporters.[5] Soon after, Alexander Rice withdrew and delivered a speech imploring the delegates to "act as Republicans," taken to be an anti-Butler gesture.[5]

By 5:30 p.m., the Committee on Credentials had failed to report, and Butler moved that they issue a partial report so that voting could commence. The move was rejected, but an adjournment until 7 p.m. was achieved, taken as a victory for the Butler forces.[5] When the convention reconvened, most of the committee's report was accepted unanimously.[5] However, the vote on the credentials of delegates from Boston's Ward Six went to anti-Butler forces by 607 to 460. Butler attempted to impeach the conduct of the vote but failed.[5]

The vote was taken and announced at 12:30 a.m.:

1871 Massachusetts Republican Convention[5]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican William B. Washburn 643 57.62%
Republican Benjamin Butler 464 41.58%
Republican George B. Loring 8 0.72%
Republican Alexander H. Rice 1 0.09%
Total votes 1,116 100.00%

Butler delivered a concession speech, criticizing his opponents but declining to challenge Washburn, noting that he would not "bolt" the ticket as his opponents had threatened. He pledged to continue his campaign within the Republican Party.[5]

The party platform embraced "strict adherence to those principles that have preserved the Union, secured freedom and equality before the law to all classes, and diminished the burdens of the people by an honest and economical administration of the Government." It celebrated the 1868 national party platform, endorsed the Ulysses S. Grant administration, and labeled itself the party of progress and reform with the "great mission... to blot out class distinction on American soil."[6]

Washburn formally accepted his party's nomination in a letter to Hoar dated October 17.[7]

General election



1871 Massachusetts gubernatorial election[8][9]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Republican William B. Washburn 75,129 54.92%  2.02
Democratic John Quincy Adams II 47,725 34.89%  2.62
Labor Reform Edwin M. Chamberlain 6,848 5.01%  9.58
Prohibition Robert Carter Pitman 6,598 4.98% N/A
Write-in 336 0.25%  0.12
Independent Benjamin F. Butler 157 0.12% N/A
Total votes 136,793 100.00%

See also



  1. ^ "MASSACHUSETTS: Withdrawal of Harvey Jewell as a Candidate He Urges the Necessity of Union in the Republican Ranks". The New York Times. September 18, 1871. p. 5. Retrieved January 20, 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d e "The Canvass for Governor in Massachusetts". The New York Times. August 17, 1871. p. 5. Retrieved January 20, 2022.
  3. ^ "Gubernatorial Prospects in Massachusetts". The New York Times. July 30, 1871. p. 6. Retrieved January 20, 2022.
  4. ^ a b c d "MASSACHUSETTS: Arrival of the Members to the Republican State Convention Chances of the Respective Candidates Important Decision by the State Central Committee". The New York Times. September 27, 1871. p. 5. Retrieved January 20, 2022.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Massachusetts: Exciting Session of the State Convention at Worcester—Butler's Struggle for the Nomination and Inglorious Defeat". The New York Times. September 28, 1871. p. 1. Retrieved January 20, 2022.
  6. ^ "MASSACHUSETTS: Platform Adopted by the Republican State Convention". The New York Times. September 29, 1871. p. 5. Retrieved January 20, 2022.
  7. ^ "MASSACHUSETTS: Hon W.B. Washburn's Letter Accepting the Republican Nomination for Governor". The New York Times. October 20, 1871. p. 5. Retrieved January 20, 2022.
  8. ^ "MA Governor, 1871". Our Campaigns. Retrieved February 28, 2021.
  9. ^ "1871 Gubernatorial General Election Results - Massachusetts". US Election Atlas. Retrieved February 28, 2021.

Further reading