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Liberal Republican Party
Founded 1870 (1870)
Dissolved 1872 (1872)
Preceded by Republican Party
Succeeded by Republican Party, Democratic Party
Ideology Egalitarianism, nationalism, modernization
Official colors Pink
Politics of the United States
Political parties

The Liberal Republican Party of the United States was a political party that was organized in Cincinnati in May 1872, to oppose the reelection of President Ulysses S. Grant and his Radical Republican supporters. The party's candidate in that year's presidential election was Horace Greeley, longtime publisher of the New York Tribune. Following his nomination by the Liberal Republicans, Greeley was also nominated by the Democratic Party. Greeley was seen as an oddball reformer with no government experience and a long record of vehement attacks against the very Democrats he now called on for support. He was defeated in a landslide.

The Liberal Republican Party vanished immediately after the election. However, historians suggest that, by loosening the allegiance of liberal elements to the Republican Party, the Liberal Republicans made it possible for many of these leaders to move to the Democratic Party. The others returned to the GOP.


History of the party

Liberal Republican campaign poster

The party began in Missouri in 1870 [1] under the leadership of Carl Schurz and spread nationwide. It had strong support from powerful Republican newspaper editors such as Murat Halstead of the Cincinnati Commercial, Horace White of the Chicago Tribune, Henry Watterson of the Louisville Courier-Journal, Samuel Bowles of the Springfield Republican and especially Whitelaw Reid and Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune.

The Liberal Republicans thought that the Grant Administration, and the president personally, were fully corrupt. More important they thought that the goals of Reconstruction had been achieved. These goals were first the destruction of slavery and second the destruction of Confederate nationalism. With these goals achieved the tenets of republicanism demanded that federal military troops be removed from the South, where they were propping up corrupt Republican regimes. Many of the original founders of the Republican party and leaders of the Civil War joined the movement, including its nominee Horace Greeley, Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, Cassius Marcellus Clay of Kentucky, and Charles Francis Adams of Massachusetts. The party platform demanded "the immediate and absolute removal of all disabilities imposed on account of the rebellion" and local self-government for the southern states. It regarded "a thorough reform of the civil service as one of the most pressing necessities of the hour."

The Liberal Republicans believed in civil and political rights for African-Americans and argued that goal had been achieved. Now, they said, it was time for "amnesty", which meant restoring the right to vote and hold office to ex-Confederates.[1] A key Radical goal was to oust the ex-Confederates from power as a worthwhile goal for Reconstruction.

Thomas Nast's caricature of the Cincinnati Convention from Harper's Weekly, April 13, 1872.

The Liberal Republican Party fused with the Democratic Party in all states except for Louisiana and Texas. In many states, such as Ohio, the two parties nominated half of the slate of candidates. Some Democrats supported Charles O'Conor, who ran for President on the Straight-Out Democratic ticket. However, in the state elections held in the fall prior to the presidential election, the LR-D fusion tickets were easily defeated by the Republicans. In the presidential election, Greeley won six states. Greeley died on November 29, 1872, before the presidential electors met on December 4 to cast the electoral votes. The Greeley electors were not able to coordinate their votes before meeting, but their action made no difference in the face of Grant's landslide.[2]

Although the Liberal Republican Party did not survive Greeley's death, several of its reforms materialized in the following decade. Reform Republicans accomplished the nomination and then election of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, who brought Reconstruction to an end and removed some of the more offensive of Grant's appointments. The Liberal Republican call for civil service reform was passed during the administration of President Chester Arthur.


Downey (1967) argues Greeley was not nominated as a result of a crass political bargain imposed against the will of a convention that really wanted Charles Francis Adams. Men like Schurz supported Adams, but were not inexperienced political idealists, and professional politicians neither acted nor voted as a bloc, particularly after the collapse of a boom for David Davis, a collapse engineered by a group of leading reformist Republican editors. Decisive was not the shift of particular votes to Greeley, but the feeling of the delegates that Adams could not win support among Irish workers, the Western masses, or Democratic voters.

Lunde (1978) argues Grant supporters hailed the Civil War as a great triumph which had bound the United States into a united nation, linked not only by sentiment but by rapidly increasing networks of railroads. The Democrats and their Liberal Republican allies feared the war was a tragedy, recoiled against centralization, and sought to recapture the purity of prewar days through reconciliation and respect for the autonomy of the states. Greeley's benevolent image of nationalism was defeated by the centralizing, "blood and iron" concept of Grant.

McPherson (1972) argues that 3/4 of ex-abolitionists favored Grant, although such antislavery Republicans as Charles Francis Adams, Carl Schurz, and Charles Sumner were key supporters of Greeley. Focused on the welfare of the freedmen, abolitionists were appalled by Greeley's formula for cooperation with "better class" southern whites by granting amnesty to all Confederates and adopting a hands-off policy toward the South. They supported Grant in the belief that his southern policy promised the best protection for the African Americans. Most abolitionists believed that, moral suasion having failed earlier, true equality could be achieved only through relentless law enforcement.

Famous Liberal Republicans

Liberal Republican “conspirators” in a political cartoon from Harper's Weekly of March 16, 1872.


  1. ^ Robert W. Burg, "Amnesty, Civil Rights, and the Meaning of Liberal Republicanism, 1862-1872". American Nineteenth Century History 2003 4(3): 29-60.
  2. ^ Most Greeley electors (42 of 66) voted for Thomas A. Hendricks for President. Greeley electors who were Liberal Republicans cast 18 electoral votes for B. Gratz Brown (8 in Missouri, 6 in Georgia, and 4 in Kentucky). Two Greeley electors voted for Charles Jenkins, one for David Davis, and three electors (in Georgia) voted for Greeley, even though he had died. Congress refused to count the three electoral votes cast for Greeley.
  • Baum, Dale. The Civil War Party System: The Case of Massachusetts (1984) ch 8
  • Burg, Robert W. "Amnesty, Civil Rights, And The Meaning Of Liberal Republicanism, 1862-1872". American Nineteenth Century History 2003 4(3): 29-60.
  • Donald, David. Charles Sumner and the Rights of Man (1970).
  • Downey, Matthew T. "Horace Greeley and the Politicians: The Liberal Republican Convention in 1872," The Journal of American History, Vol. 53, No. 4. (Mar., 1967), pp. 727-750. in JSTOR
  • Eyal, Yonatan. "Charles Eliot Norton, E. L. Godkin, and the Liberal Republicans of 1872" American Nineteenth Century History 2001 2(1): 53-74. ISSN 1466-4658
  • Gerber, Richard Allan. "The Liberal Republicans of 1872 in Historiographical Perspective," The Journal of American History, Vol. 62, No. 1 (Jun., 1975), pp. 40-73 in JSTOR
  • Lunde, Erik S. "The Ambiguity of the National Idea: the Presidential Campaign of 1872" Canadian Review of Studies in Nationalism 1978 5(1): 1-23. ISSN 0317-7904.
  • McPherson, James M. "Grant or Greeley? The Abolitionist Dilemma in the Election of 1872" American Historical Review 1965 71(1): 43-61. in Jstor
  • Rhodes, James Ford. History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 to the McKinley-Bryan Campaign of 1896. Volume: 7 ch 39-40. (1920) online edition
  • Ross, Earle Dudley. The Liberal Republican Movement (1910) full text online
  • Slap, Andrew L. The Doom of Reconstruction: The Liberal Republicans in the Civil War Era (Fordham University Press, 2006)
  • Summers, Mark Wahlgren. The Press Gang: Newspapers and Politics, 1865-1878 (1994) ch 15
  • Van Deusen, Glyndon G. Horace Greeley, Nineteenth-Century Crusader (1953) online edition

See also

External links

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