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Basic Information

In 1884 the Republican Party was split between the Stalwarts, party loyalists; and a reformist wing. The candidate they chose for president was James G. Blaine, a prominent leader of the reformers who had served in both houses of U.S. Congress and as U.S. Secretary of State under James Garfield. But he was also tainted by accusations of corruption and bribery. Many of the reformist wing refused to support Blaine, and instead voted for his Democratic Party opponent, Grover Cleveland.

Charles Anderson Dana, editor of the Republican newspaper the New York Sun mocked these renegades, calling them "little mugwumps", a name derived from an Algonquin Indian word, mugquomp, meaning "important person" or "war leader", imputing them with a sanctimonious, "holier-than-thou" attitude.

One cartoonist re-defined the word to describe a "Mugwump" as a vile bird who sits on a fence with his "mug" on one side and his "wump" hanging over the other.

The Mugwumps tended to come from the elites of the American northeast. Some prominent American figures were Mugwumps, including writers Mark Twain and Henry Adams, cartoonist Thomas Nast, future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, and ironically Union Pacific president Charles Francis Adams, Jr. Theodore Roosevelt came from a family and a social circle which supported the Mugwumps, but he himself supported Blaine, which doubtless secured his political career in the Republican Party.

The Mugwumps have been characterized alternately as snobbish purity trolls, out of touch with the realities of patronage politics; and as idealists, embracing the ideals of 19th Century liberalism.

Cleveland won the election of 1884 by a very narrow margin, the first Democratic victory since the Civil War. And the Mugwumps got blamed.

More recently, in the Harry Potter books, writer J.K. Rowling went back to the original sense of the word, identifying the character Dumbledore as the "Supreme Mugwump" of an international wizarding body.


Game and Story Use

  • In a historical or time travel campaign, the players might find themselves involved in the presidential campaign of 1884
  • In a campaign with political themes, the players might find themselves caught between factions where their preferred side is guilty, or accused, of corrupt practices. Which side will they choose?
  • Or you can go back to the original Algonquin meaning of the word and use it as a title for a person of importance in a society.
  • Or you can actually make it a vile creature, as in the cartoonist's version.
    • It won't be worth very many Experience Points if all it does is sit on a fence. Of course, it might be dangerous if you try prodding it off.
    • Suppose that like Lovecraft's whippoorwills it is attracted to some significant form of activity … perhaps they swarm in times of political dissent.
      • Perhaps, by some form of psychic emanation, they are able to raise the level of conflict in a population or are psychovores, feeding on conflict.
        • Actually, how about they feed on conflict and, if given the chance, will reduce even the most violent conflict to a dull apathy … unfortunately, because they start to swarm as things get worse and worse (due to the growing food supply) people assume that they cause the conflict and tend to kill them…
        • On the other hand, a common animal that reduces the level of conflict in a community is exactly the sort of thing a dictator could find a use for…
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