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What is the Greenback Party?

The Greenback Party, formed in the post-Civil War era, was a political movement advocating for currency backed by government credit, not gold, to stimulate economic growth and aid farmers in debt. Its influence shaped monetary policy debates of the 19th century. How did their legacy impact modern economic thought? Join us as we explore the ripple effects of their revolutionary ideas.
J.L. Drede
J.L. Drede

The Greenback Party was an American political party that was active from 1874 to 1884. Its primary platform to see the government solely control the American monetary system, and it should not be backed by a gold or silver reserve. The party took its name from the greenback currency, a form of paper currency used during the Civil War that was not backed by the federal reserve.

After The Civil War there was debate as to whether the United States should return to a gold and silver-backed currency or keep the greenback system. Backers of the greenback were mostly farmers and the poor who saw potential for the greenback to raise inflation and hopefully help them pay off debts. They organized and formed the Greenback Party in 1874 with this belief as a core part of their platform.

Currency used during the U.S. Civil War that was not backed by the Federal Reserve was referred to as "greenback currency."
Currency used during the U.S. Civil War that was not backed by the Federal Reserve was referred to as "greenback currency."

Efforts by the party to drum up support for the greenback failed, and the Resumption Act of 1875 ordered that the greenback currency be gradually removed from circulation. It also decreed that all legal tender would once again be backed by gold and silver reserves. While there were fears that the cancellation of the greenback note would cause bank rushes and panic over the value of paper money, the transition went smoothly and without major incident. With its major political platform considered to be entirely irrelevant, the Greenback Party changed agendas.

In 1878, the Greenback Party renamed itself to the Greenback-Labor Party, adopting a progressive pro-labor agenda. It supported progressive ideas such as an income tax, the eight-hour work day and the woman's right to vote. The focus away from a pure agrarian party to one that accepted industrial workers helped broaden its appeal. By the time of the 1878 election, it was 1 million voters strong. With the added backing of the working class and continued support of the farming community the independent party earned 14 seats in Congress that year.

Its success was short lived though. As economic conditions improved across America throughout the first half of the 1880s, worker discontent subsided. Without the support of the industrial worker the Greenback-Labor Party was unable to secure votes. Its popularity plummeted, and the election of 1880 saw it garner a scant 300,000 votes for presidential candidate Gen. James B. Weaver. Its 1884 presidential candidate, Gen. Benjamin Franklin Butler, failed in his campaign for the White House as well. After these two successive failure the party dissolved completely. Leaders of the Greenback Party went on to platform for worker's rights and other progressive agendas in both the Union Labor Party and in the Populist Party.

Frequently Asked Questions

What was the Greenback Party and when was it established?

The Greenback Party, officially known as the Independent National Party, was a political party in the United States that emerged after the Civil War. It was established in the 1870s, during a period of economic turmoil, to advocate for the issuance of paper money ('greenbacks') not backed by gold or silver. The party aimed to inflate the currency to relieve debtors and foster economic growth. It gained significant support from farmers and laborers who were hit hard by the Panic of 1873.

What were the main goals of the Greenback Party?

The primary goal of the Greenback Party was to promote the use of paper currency that was not backed by precious metals. They believed this would increase the money supply, combat deflation, and alleviate the economic hardships of the era. The party also supported other reform issues such as an eight-hour workday, government control of railroads, women's suffrage, and the direct election of Senators. Their monetary policy was intended to help farmers and workers by making loans more accessible and debts easier to pay.

How successful was the Greenback Party in American politics?

The Greenback Party experienced limited success in American politics. At its peak, the party elected 15 members to Congress and gained a few state legislature seats. However, it never won a presidential election, and its influence was relatively short-lived. The party's decline began in the early 1880s as the economy improved and other issues took precedence. By 1884, the party had largely faded from the political scene, with many of its members joining the newly formed Populist Party.

Did the Greenback Party have any lasting impact on the U.S. financial system?

While the Greenback Party did not achieve its goal of permanently establishing a currency not backed by gold or silver, it did have a lasting impact on the U.S. financial system. The debates and ideas it brought to the forefront helped shape public discourse on monetary policy. The party's advocacy for an expanded money supply and government intervention in the economy laid the groundwork for future populist movements and influenced the development of progressive economic policies in the 20th century.

Who were some notable figures associated with the Greenback Party?

Notable figures associated with the Greenback Party included James B. Weaver, who was the party's candidate for President in 1880, and Peter Cooper, who ran for President in 1876. Benjamin F. Butler, a former Union General and Congressman, was another prominent member who ran for President as a Greenback in 1884. These individuals were influential in promoting the party's platform and advocating for monetary reform during a critical period in American economic history.

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Discussion Comments

discographer

@turquoise-- I'm guessing so.

There was no way that Greenbacks would last after the Resumption Act was passed. They only lasted as long as they did because labor organizations joined them. And Greenback Party did take the correct stand by adjusting their agenda to gather more supporters. Suffrage and graduated income tax was far from their original platform.

But everyone knew that the Greenback Party had little to offer for the long term. Even if they did, the other parties were far too popular to compete with. I think it's an accomplishment that they even lasted ten years.

turquoise

Is National Greenback Party one of the shortest lasting political parties in American history?

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    • Currency used during the U.S. Civil War that was not backed by the Federal Reserve was referred to as "greenback currency."
      By: macropixel
      Currency used during the U.S. Civil War that was not backed by the Federal Reserve was referred to as "greenback currency."