"A Revival of the Old Organization": Northern Democrats and Reconstruction, 1868-1876

Alexander, Erik Benjamin , Department of History, University of Virginia
Holt, Michael, Department of History, University of Virginia

This dissertation is a study of the northern wing of the Democratic Party between 1868 and 1876, and, more specifically, it examines the relationship between northern Democrats and Liberal Republicans in those years. Chapter 1 examines the Election of 1868, and presents the northern half of the Democratic Party as deeply divided. In that election, moderate Democrats actively promoted the candidacy of Salmon P. Chase for the Democratic Presidential nomination, and the failure of the party to nominate Chase was a linchpin on which that campaign turned. Instead of Chase, the party nominated Horatio Seymour, and Seymour's loss to Ulysses S. Grant persuaded many other Democrats that the strategies they had pursued since 1860 simply were not working, leaving the party open to new strategies.

Chapter 2 discusses the emergence of the Liberal Republicans in 1870 and 1871, and examines the impact their appearance had on northern politics. Willing to consider new strategies after Horatio Seymour's defeat, northern Democrats actively explored an alliance with the Liberal Republican movement. Hence, Democrats adopted the "New Departure" in some form in every northern state Democratic convention between 1871 and 1872 to facilitate that alliance. Chapter 3 then follows the alliance of Liberal Republicans and Democrats as it came to fruition, analyzing the Election of 1872 and explaining the Democrats' nomination of Horace Greeley. Contrary to most interpretations of the Election of 1872, the Democratic-Liberal alliance that year was neither ephemeral nor simply a marriage of convenience, but represented a thought-out strategy on both sides.

Chapter 4 examines the continuation of the relationship between northern Democrats and Liberal Republicans after 1872. Rather than simply disappearing, the Liberal Republicans remained a significant presence in Reconstruction politics, and in the midst of the midterm elections of 1874, the Democratic-Liberal alliance persisted. Finally, Chapter 5 analyzes the Election of 1876, and argues that Democrats emphasized reform during that campaign not only to attack the Republicans' record of corruption under President Grant, but also to attract the support of erstwhile Liberals. A brief Coda considers the place of northern Democrats within the larger trajectory of Reconstruction historiography.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: