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Greeley Challenges Grant

July 25, 2019

In 1856 Ulysses Grant voted for Democrat James Buchanan, who then became the 15th President.  Two years earlier Horace Greeley had been one of the founders of the Republican Party.  By 1872 Grant was the incumbent Republican President and Greeley was the nominee of the Democrats.  How did this reversal of allegiances happen?

During President Grant’s first term he focused on enforcing the Reconstruction Amendments, destroying the KKK, and elevating the former slaves to full citizenship.  Meanwhile, former allies such as Senator Carl Schurz were trying to shift the agenda from civil rights enforcement to civil service reform.  Schurz bolted the Republican Party and founded the Liberal Republican Party, which then nominated Horace Greeley.  When the Democrats met a few months later, they also nominated Greeley.

In 1872 Grant was obviously well known and still regarded as a great American war hero and as a well-intentioned Chief Executive.  Greeley was also very well-known and had been in the public eye even longer than Grant.  When voters thought about Grant, they knew exactly what he stood for.  With Greeley it was not so easy.

Although he was the celebrated editor of the New York Tribune and had coined the phrase “Go West, young man,” his other opinions covered the spectrum.  Greeley had been against slavery during the Civil War, but he would have allowed the South to secede.  In the 1850’s and during the Civil War he had been an abolitionist, but in 1869, regarding the former slaves, Greeley wrote:  “They are an easy, worthless race, taking no thought for the morrow.”

Greeley’s campaign against Grant was also contradictory.  He tried to portray Grant as simultaneously not having control of the executive branch and exerting too much executive power in order to enforce civil rights.  Grant handed him a crushing election defeat.

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