A Greenback party was first established in 1874. It originated in the view that what was needed for economic and social development was the restoration of a non-gold backed paper money, ‘greenbacks’, which had first been circulated during the Civil War. The party opposed the deflationary lowering of prices paid to producers entailed by a bullion-based monetary system and argued that the greenback would be better for business and would support farmers by raising prices and making debts easier to pay. In 1878, the party had made an impressive showing in the elections to the House of Representatives, taking 13 seats in Congress.
From 1878, as it broadened its platform and constituency, the organization took the name Greenback Labor Party, attracting ‘reformers concerned about a variety of other issues, ranging from the anti-monopolist fear of concentrated economic power to women’s suffrage and working conditions in the nation’s factories’. Great hope was held for the 1880 Presidential elections, when it was thought that the party could take advantage of the intense competition between the Democrats, hoping after 24 years to restore themselves to power, and the Republicans. This lead in 1880 to a historically unique, but highly ephemeral, coalition which drew in a wide range of ‘lesser Democratic and Republican politicians interested in some rather mild reform on the one hand and the Socialistic Labor Party on the other [as well as a] wide range of woman suffragists, African American militants, spiritualists, vegetarians, environmentalists and others.’ The promised successes did not eventuate, and though the party continued in some form for a few years, it never re-asserted its earlier position, particularly as the socialists moved on, and the anti-monopoly movement came to provide a focus for those opposed to the main stream republican and Democratic parties.
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