Greenback Party

By: Jack W. Gunn

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: September 11, 2020

The Greenback movement was a part of the agrarian unrest of the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The movement had its start in Texas in 1876, when Greenback clubs were organized with the aid of the national Greenback party, which by 1878 had 482 clubs, including seventy for African Americans. The first convention of the Texas Greenback party met in Austin on March 12, 1878, when the delegates did nothing more than state the aims of the party. A convention at Waco on August 7 nominated a full ticket for state offices, with Gen. William H. Hamman of Robertson County as candidate for governor. The platform, which closely followed that of the national party, denounced the law making greenbacks only a partial legal tender and the acts establishing the national bank system, exempting national bonds from taxation, and resuming specie payment for greenbacks. The platform urged the national government to issue greenback money as full legal tender and to redeem treasury notes and bonds with such greenbacks. Other planks of the platform provided that tariffs should be levied for revenue only and demanded the repeal of the "smokehouse" tax law, the convict labor law, the abolition of useless offices, a decrease in public salaries, the establishment of a tax-supported school system, and the curbing of the power of the railroads. In the election of 1878 the Greenback party replaced the Republicans as the second party in Texas by winning twelve seats in the legislature and electing George W. Jones of Bastrop to Congress.

The 1880 convention was held at Austin on June 23; there were 140 delegates, including twenty Blacks. The platform was similar to that of 1878. Hamman was nominated again for governor, but the party had lost strength and he finished third. Only four representatives were returned to the legislature, but Jones was reelected to Congress. The 1882 Greenback state convention met at Fort Worth on June 29 but took no definite action. The delegates met again at Corsicana on August 31; attendance was small. Though no candidates were nominated, the convention called on all Greenbackers to support independent candidates. The Republicans also supported George W. Jones as an independent candidate, and he polled 102,501 votes against John Ireland, who received 150,891. When the Greenback convention met at Waco on August 26, 1884, only twenty delegates were present. No candidates were nominated, and again the Independents were supported. No convention was called in 1886, and with no effort made to revive it, the Greenback party passed out of Texas politics.

The Greenback party had no firm foundation in Texas. It was made up of dissenting Democrats and Republicans who soon went back to their old party ties. Tenants, heavily indebted farmers, and smaller numbers of organized laborers and businessmen interested in specie speculation or expansion of their businesses formed the bulk of the party's voters. Although the Texas party ultimately failed to achieve statewide success, it showed greater strength than in any of the other southern states except Alabama and Arkansas. The principal reasons for its failure were its inability to accomplish the purposes for which it was founded and the sapping of its strength by factions within it. Despite their defeat, the Greenbackers popularized a number of reform issues that gained national attention at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. The crusade of the farmer and the laborer was to be taken over by another third party movement, the Populists (see PEOPLE'S PARTY).

Alwyn Barr, Reconstruction to Reform: Texas Politics, 1876–1906 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971). Roscoe C. Martin, "The Greenback Party in Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 30 (January 1927). Robert P. Sharkey, Money, Class, and Party (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1959). E. W. Winkler, Platforms of Political Parties in Texas (Austin: University of Texas, 1916).

Time Periods:
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Jack W. Gunn, “Greenback Party,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 14, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 11, 2020