Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
(?-1899)
BIO
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Editor/Trans.
First Pub. Date
1881
Publisher/Edition
New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
Pub. Date
1899
Comments
Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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GREENBACK - LABOR

II.124.1

GREENBACK - LABOR, or NATIONAL PARTY, The (IN U. S. HISTORY). I. Before the war of the rebellion agriculture was under many disadvantages in the western states and territories. Grain, after the payment of transportation to a market, seldom paid any great profit, and the use of corn for fuel was quite common. During the war the government became a heavy customer of easy access, the mortgages on farms, originally due in gold, were paid in paper at from 50 to 60 per cent. discount, and in 1865 agriculture was at its flood tide of prosperity. All was commonly attributed, however, to the inflation of the currency by the introduction of "greenbacks," and since 1865 there has been a constant disposition among many men of all parties in the agricultural states to recur to the inflation of the currency as a remedy for evils of all sorts, for the loss of the government as a customer, for loss upon crops, or for general financial distress.

II.124.2

—Another influence, closely kindred to the foregoing, is the feeling of many farmers that the bankers, particularly in the eastern states, whom they suppose to hold most of the bonds of the United States, made a hard bargain with the government in the time of its greatest need, and have been trying to make their bargain harder ever since; that, having paid for their bonds in greenbacks worth from 38 to 75 cents on the dollar, they would have been well paid in greenbacks at or near par; that they had influenced congress to give them, in the act of March 18, 1869, more than their due by making all bonds payable "in coin," even when the face of the bond did not specify the medium of payment, and that, when silver began to decrease in value as compared with gold, they had again influenced congress in 1873 to demonetize silver and thus make their bonds payable in gold alone. These two influences, aided by discontent at the exemption of United States bonds from taxation, have been the foundation of the greenback party proper; subsidiary influences only began to affect it after 1876.

II.124.3

—So early as 1868 the proposition to pay in greenbacks that part of the national debt not specifically payable in coin, particularly the 5-20 bonds, had become known as the "Ohio idea." It controlled the democratic convention of that year see (DEMOCRATIC PARTY, VI.), and its leading advocate, Pendleton, was strongly pressed for the democratic nomination for the presidency. For some years afterward democratic state conventions throughout the western states reiterated the Ohio idea in their platforms, but this had generally ceased except in Ohio, before 1871, and disappeared in the coalition of the democratic and liberal republican parties in the following year.

II.124.4

—II. GREENBACK PARTY. The passage of the resumption act of Jan. 14, 1875, committing the government and people to the payment of the debt in specie in 1879, revived the greenback feeling. The proposal of the measure had brought about a greenback convention at Indianapolis, Nov. 25; 1874, which adjourned after indorsing by resolution the three propositions which have been the foundation of all greenback platforms since that time: 1, that the currency of all national and state banks and corporations should be withdrawn; 2, that the only currency should be a paper one, issued by the government, "based on the faith and resources of the nation," exchangeable on demand for bonds bearing interest at 3.65 per cent.; and 3, that coin should only be paid for interest on the present national debt, and for that portion of the principal for which coin had been specifically promised. The development of the new party was checked for a time by the continued adoption by democratic state conventions of the three propositions just mentioned; but it was revived again toward 1876 by the growing likelihood that the democratic nomination for the presidency would fall to Gov. Tilden, of New York, who was not an advocate of the Ohio idea. A national convention of the "independent" party, the formal name of the party at this time, was held at Indianapolis, May 17, 1876, and nominated Peter Cooper, of New York, for president, and Newton Booth, of California, for vice-president. The latter declined, and Samuel F. Cary, of Ohio, was substituted. The platform indorsed the three propositions above mentioned, and demanded the repeal of the resumption act. In the presidential election the greenback candidates received 81,737 popular votes, over half of them in the five states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas and Michigan.

II.124.5

—In the state elections of 1877 the vote of the party rose to 187,095. Greenback state tickets were nominated in most of the northern states, though they had little popular strength outside of the western states—III. GREENBACK-LABOR PARTY, or NATIONAL PARTY. Workingmen's parties have always been occasional features in state and local politics. About 1877 they began to be more general, and the grievances which led to the railroad riots of that year gave them a national importance. In some state elections, as in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, the "labor reform" and "greenback" parties united, and the union was made national by the convention of Feb. 22, 1878, at Toledo, Ohio. This convention recognized the name "national" for the party, which seems to have been first used in Ohio in 1877, but the usual name for the party continued to be "the greenback-labor party." The platform added to the former greenback platform some resolutions in favor of legislative reduction of workingmen's hours of labor and against the contract system of employing inmates of prisons.

II.124.6

—In the state and congressional elections of 1878 the greenback-labor vote suddenly rose to over 1,000,000, and fourteen congressmen were elected by it. The increase, however, was almost entirely due to the fact that the party had become a union of all the discontented elements. Its greatest development was in states like Iowa, Maine and Massachusetts in the north, or West Virginia, Georgia and Missouri in the south, where the dominant party's majority was fixed and large, and where the minority in despair adopted the green-back-labor organization as the only possible means of success. In the north the fusions were of democrats and nationals; in the south they were of republicans and nationals; while in the closely contested and doubtful states the national vote amounted to nothing except as a means of drawing off a small percentage of votes from the democratic or republican party. (See MAINE, DELAWARE, MASSACHUSETTS.) Thus, of the fourteen congressmen above mentioned, five were "republican-nationals," seven "democratic-nationals," and but two "nationals" pure and simple.

II.124.7

—The party's national convention was held at Chicago, June 9, 10, 1880, and nominated Jas. B. Weaver, of Iowa, and B. J. Chambers, of Texas, as its presidential candidates. The latter is said to have declined the nomination, but no substitute was appointed. The platform renewed the former greenback platform, and added various resolutions in favor of the eight-hour law and the sanitary regulation of manufactories, and against Chinese immigration, land grants to railroads, and grants of special privileges to corporations and bondholders. The party's popular vote in the presidential election was 306,867, being about 3 per cent. of the total vote. The number of greenback-labor congressmen was reduced to eight, four from Missouri, two from Maine and one each from New York and Texas.

II.124.8

—The leaders of the party have been Gilbert De La Matyr, of Indiana; Weaver, and Edward II. Gillette, of Iowa; Hendrick B. Wight, of Pennsylvania; and Solon Chase, Geo. W. Ladd, and Thompson H. Murch, of Maine. Of these, Chase has never been in congress; and all the others, except Ladd and Murch, failed to be re-elected in 1880. William D. Kelley, of Pennsylvania, a republican, was usually considered a greenback-labor member until 1880.

II.124.9

—The political principles of the party are peculiar in many respects. Its proposition to pay the debt in that which is not money, but a promise to pay money, was a novelty in American politics before 1868, but will probably be renewed at intervals until the final extinction of the debt. Its opposition to banks is in the general line of the strict construction or democratic party's history (see LOCO-FOCO; DEMOCRATIC PARTY, IV.), and has given it most of its democratic allies. Its proposition that congress should assume the power to reduce workingmen's hours of labor, to regulate their sanitary condition, to reduce railroad freights in regulating interstate commerce, and to impose a graduated income tax, is entirely loose-construction in its nature. It is impossible therefore to specify any distinctive constitutional basis for the party's future. (See CONSTRUCTION, III.)

ALEXANDER JOHNSTON.

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