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Stratford’s Presidential Candidate

By David Wright
Town Historian

Stratfords Presidential Candidate

The year 1888, much like 2024, was a very pivotal year in Presidential politics. One Presidential candidate was plagued by scandal. The other was, seemingly, too old to run for office. The outcome of the election was decided by the Electoral College. 

Immigration policy seemed to be on the minds of everyone. International trade issues swirled around the election. Unlike today’s election, however, there were several independent candidates, including Frederick Douglas, the first black person to run for President of the United States. Most unusual, however, was the fact that one of Stratford’s own, James Langdon Curtis, ran for President on the National American Party ticket.

Mr. Curtis was born in Stratford in 1808. Young Curtis was educated in the public schools and Academy at Stratford. At the age of sixteen, with all the ambitions and energies of youth, he moved to New York City to seek his fortune. He soon found a position as clerk in a store and rose so rapidly that at the age of twenty-one he was admitted to partnership in the large importing house of Henry DeGroot & Company. Before many years, he became head of the firm. The business was highly successful and brought him a generous fortune. As a merchant he enjoyed a reputation for integrity, enterprise and business ability that placed him among the leading merchants of his time and gave him the universal respect and confidence of his associates. He early took an interest in military matters and joined the Ninth Regiment National Guards of the State of New York. He was rapidly promoted until he became Colonel of the Regiment.

Mr. Curtis accepted the nomination for Governor of Connecticut by the Labor Party in 1884. His letter of acceptance of the nomination foreshadowed many of the ideas of the American party whose existence began with his nomination for President four years later. “Labor,” he stated in his letter of acceptance, “is the real sinew and backbone of the country. It is the foundation stone of wealth, and it is the true interest of capital to go hand in hand with it. It is the duty of the state and Nation to protect labor by just and proper laws, establishing savings banks, guaranteeing the deposit of every working man, woman or child, so that in sickness or temporary failure of employment, they may feel sure that their previous savings are safe. We are all citizens of the United States … and with the blessing of God, let us have one destiny.

In 1889 Mr. Curtis moved back to his boyhood hometown of Stratford to a home he shared with his daughter Julia and Stratford’s best-known Suffragette, Edith Hastings.  Edith was a sister to Mr. Curtis’ deceased wife. Mr. Curtis died at this home in Stratford in 1903.

You might find it of some interest to read Mr. Curtis’ acceptance speech for his nomination as Presidential candidate from the National American Party in September, 1888.

The New York Times

September 19, 1888

MR. CURTIS ACCEPTS.

“…The evils and dangers which beset our country and have forced into being the American Party have of late years been growing at an accelerated pace, and have rendered the formation of such a party inevitable. It had only become a question of time, and occasion for bringing it out. The fact that one-fourth of our whole population is either foreign born or the immediate children of the foreign born; that the foreign immigration is now 500,000 yearly, and is pouring in upon us in constantly-increasing floods; that it now largely consists, not of the best, but of the most undesirable classes of all nations, who without fitness for any of its duties, are almost immediately incorporated into our political system, vitiating the national blood, introducing into our industrial systems methods before unknown to us, and wholly of foreign importation, which disturb, and sometimes threaten our whole commercial and industrial interests; that against these growing interests neither of the old parties seems inclined to offer any resistance, but on the contrary seems each ready to out-vie the other courting the foreign vote, under the specious pretext of protecting labor, and that to such extent has it gone that this foreign element is already in many places, dictating the laws, taking possession of our schools, and controlling the local governments of the people, abundantly proves the necessity for our American party, and that the time and occasion for its formation has already arrived.

“The remedy for these evils lies, in a large degree obviously in the restriction of immigration and naturalization. Human governments are but societies on a large scale, organized for mutual protection and improvement, and it is as much the right of a Government as of a society to determine who shall be admitted to membership and who shall not.”

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