What is the Greenback Party?

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.

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."

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.

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.

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Discussion Comments


@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.


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

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