Half-Breeds William A. Wheeler (left) and George W. McCrary (right), who coldly betrayed Southern blacks.
Half-Breed was a pejorative term designated for the more moderate wing of the Republican Party from 1877–84 that pushed for a certain degree of civil service reform. A civil service system in the South would effectively bar black Americans from government jobs and stifle economic mobility.
In the rival Stalwart faction, conservatives called them "Half-Breeds" because they advocated allowing former Confederate rebels into the civil service and did little to combat the Democrats' voter suppression of African American civil rights. They were considered only "half Republican" (or "half-hearted Republican," an equivalent to the contemporary term Republican in Name Only, or RINO) due to having helped facilitate the Democratic Party's take over of the South at the end of Reconstruction. However, not all of them wavered on the specific issue of civil rights; Half-Breed leader George F. Hoar, a strong conservative in particular, was a leading advocate of the Federal Elections of 1890 introduced by Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr. Another Half-Breed, Henry W. Blair, pushed for additional federal funding of education to relieve illiteracy among former slaves.
The Half-Breeds were later led in 1880 by corrupt U.S. Senator James G. Blaine of Maine, whose political inclinations aligned more with the Stalwarts on the issue of patronage particularly in the 1870s. The group's main achievement was the passage of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1884, which led to the creation of the bureaucratic Deep State. Under the Pendleton Act, racist civil servants were no longer dependent on the patronage of an elected Democrat official, and were protected from firing when Democrats were voted out of office.
The early Half-Breed leaders were Rutherford B. Hayes and George Frisbie Hoar, and other members included James A. Garfield as well as William H. Robertson. Hoar was among the earliest members of the faction, and his membership was attributed to his sharp disdain towards corruption, evident in his stated reasoning when advocating for impeaching Grant Administration Secretary of War William W. Belknap.
- 1 Background
- 2 Ideology and leadership
- 3 Timeline
- 3.1 GOP campaign, 1876
- 3.2 Hayes presidency
- 3.3 1880 Republican factionalism: Grant vs. Blaine
- 3.4 Battle over New York Collector of the Port
- 3.5 Garfield assassination
- 3.6 Half-Breeds push through Pendleton Act
- 3.7 1884: Half-Breeds and Stalwarts feud with Mugwumps
- 4 Legacy
- 5 References
- 6 Further reading
During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln's policies pertaining to the Union Army were criticized by Radical Republicans as too lenient against the South. This powerful GOP bloc which included H. Winter Davis, Benjamin Wade, Thaddeus Stevens, and Charles Sumner continuously criticized Lincoln for failing to advance as efficiently as possible, and the president's more staunch supporters were the "moderate" Republicans.[note 1]
The "moderate" Republicans Lincoln led were at odds with the Radicals and favored more reconciliatory Reconstruction policies, such as then-representative Blaine. Their ranks would later be joined during the Johnson presidency by some former Radical Republicans who were "reformers," including Sumner, Carl Schurz, Horace Greeley, and Lyman Trumbull.
Republican congressman Thomas A. Jenckes of Rhode Island during the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant introduced legislation pushing for mild civil service reform, which was enacted. Jenckes, who disregarded the plight of Southern blacks facing danger from white supremacist terrorists such as the Ku Klux Klan, left office before the congressional "Half-Breeds" obtained its reputation as a functioning bloc, though can be viewed as a forerunner to the faction.
Ideology and leadership
Although the Half-Breeds had no rigid organization as a congressional bloc and were viewed as merely a group of disgruntled Blaine supporters promoting factionalism, their influence proved to be highly significant. They viewed the term attributed negatively to them as either badges of honor or an identifying mark, similar to the the Democratic Party's embracing of the donkey as their symbol after Jacksonian Democrats were dubbed "jack***es."
When accused of lacking sufficient political loyalty to the Republican Party, Half-Breeds would often accuse Stalwarts of holding excessive allegiance to their associated political machines and patronage. Among the group's ambitions aside from moderate civil service reform included advocating industrial strength, railroad interests, higher protective tariffs, expanding markets abroad, and a business-friendly currency system on the national level.
According to Professor Richard E. Welch, Jr., the Half-Breeds were "party regulars" who "damned" bolters, were not uniformly independent in political nature nor advocates of the spoils system, and more intelligent than personal in comparison to the Stalwarts.
James Gillespie Blaine, who led the faction in 1880, was personally opposed to civil service reform and opposed questionable policies pushed by President Hayes. He emerged as one of its main members largely due to sheer contempt for Stalwart Roscoe Conkling, pertaining to a rivalry dating back to the 1860s.
Many sources published in the contemporary era tend to attribute the leader of the Half-Breeds to Blaine and sometimes even suggest that he himself was a supporter of civil service reform, which is misleading and erroneous. Per the writings of Professor Welch:
|“||By the middle of the Hayes’s administration certain politicians were already representative of the goals and prejudices of Half-Breed Republicanism. Not James G. Blaine—who at this point represented a particular wing of the Stalwarts and became a Half-Breed only with the campaign of 1880—but men like Hayes, Hoar, George Edmunds, William Wheeler, Stanley Matthews, Henry Blair, William Evarts, George McCrary, Henry Dawes, and John Sherman.||”|
—Welch, p. 91
According to metrics that track ideology based on voting records, such as FascinatingPolitics' MC-Index and the DW-NOMINATE system:
- George F. Edmunds ranks "0.274" on the DW-NOMINATE ideology score for the first dimension, and generally held voting records in congressional sessions deemed more liberal than two-thirds of Republican colleagues.
- William M. Evarts is ranked by DW-NOMINATE with "0.284" and held a voting record deemed more liberal than 64% of Republicans during his one-term Senate tenure from 1885 to 1891.
- William A. Wheeler ranks "0.34" on the DW-NOMINATE system for the first dimension, and in general was on par in terms of ideology with the average Republican.
- John Sherman ranks "0.235" on the DW-NOMINATE system, and consistently was more liberal than most Republicans.
- George F. Hoar was strongly conservative and, according to the MC-Index, voted with the political right 89% of the time throughout his long career.
- George W. McCrary ranks "0.304" on the DW-NOMINATE scale and generally was more liberal than three-fifths of Republican colleagues.
- John Davis Long ranks "0.303" on the DW-NOMINATE tracking system and held an overall voting record more liberal than 81% of House Republicans.
GOP campaign, 1876
During the 1876 presidential election, the Republican National Convention nominated Rutherford Hayes and William Wheeler to head the party ticket for the general election. Both Hayes and Wheeler sought to peel away Democrat support from the South by voicing conciliatory tones, attempting to draw support from upper-class old Southern Whigs who eventually joined the Democratic Party when the Whig Party collapsed.
Frederick Douglass asked at the party convention whether delegates would continue to uphold the constitutional rights of blacks, or if they intended to "get along without the vote of the black man in the South." Hayes and Wheeler chose the latter.
The Compromise of 1877 that resolved the controversies and disputes of the 1876 presidential election gave the White House to Hayes over Bourbon Democrat opponent Samuel J. Tilden. Soon after taking office, Hayes abandoned his past Radical Republicanism and along with Secretary of War George McCrary pulled federal troops from the Southern states of South Carolina and Louisiana, all but ensuring a Jim Crow Democrat takeover of the region.
President Hayes also pushed for civil service reform, aligning himself with the Half-Breeds. Seeking to curb the powers of Conkling and the latter's powerful New York political machine, Hayes removed a number of the senator's allies from the state's patronage system.
Setback and rebuke
The Collector of the Port of New York was a highly prized position, as the port functioned as a center of international trade between the United States and other countries. Hayes vainly attempted to wrest control of appointments to the position from the Conkling machine to no avail, twice failing to appoint a like-minded political figure due to the successful congressional blockade initiated by the Stalwarts.
Soon afterwards, Conkling appointed close ally and future president Chester A. Arthur to the post of Collector. Arthur proved to be corrupt, giving away jobs only on the basis of party affiliation with no regard for competence and qualifications. Hayes then investigated the Customs House, and along with John Sherman (the Secretary of the Treasury) removed Arthur from the position.
Half-Breeds join Stalwarts against Hayes
Hayes' decision to remove Arthur from the New York Customs House angered not only Stalwarts but even elicited the criticism of Half-Breeds who questioned the wisdom of the action and had earlier stood side-by-side with the president.
Any remaining hopes of a party renomination for Hayes in the 1880 presidential election depended on support from potential Half-Breed allies. With this needed bolstering evaporating, he faced no chance of becoming the Republican nominee for the race. Some Half-Breeds instead turned their sights to Blaine.
1880 Republican factionalism: Grant vs. Blaine
In the 1880 presidential election, Stalwarts led by Conkling (who previously were steadfast allies of President Grant as Radical Republicans) pushed Grant to run for an unprecedented, non-consecutive third term. A number of loyal Half-Breeds pushed heavily for nominating Edmunds while others supported Blaine. Both the Stalwart and Half-Breed factions were uniformly prioritized in their contempt for the other side, refusing to allow either Blaine or Grant to be the nominee.
The objective of Massachusetts Half-Breed strategists Sens. Hoar and Dawes, in addition to Rep. John D. Long, was to utilize their state's delegation at the Republican National Convention in supporting Edmunds to deny Blaine or Grant from being nominated. Although the state's delegation backed Edmunds, the Vermont senator could not obtain enough votes to be nominated.
Grant, a Civil War Union commander and Radical Republican who never wavered in his advocacy for racial equality and notably accomplished a breakup the First Ku Klux Klan, sympathized with the Stalwarts' frustrations towards Hayes' efforts that stifled equal protection under the law. Blaine was placed in a more difficult position, similarly opposing Hayes' decisions out of concern for the plight of Southern blacks though accepting his standing among the Half-Breeds due to his rivalry with Conkling.
Ultimately, the Republican National Convention selected dark horse candidate James A. Garfield of Ohio to be the party nominee as a compromise, following a compromise between Blaine and Edmunds supporters. Garfield was favorable among Half-Breeds, and attempted to simultaneously garner sufficient support from Stalwarts by vowing to meet the Conkling machine's demands in a party unity effort. With Stalwart Chester Arthur as his running mate, he won the general election over Winfield S. Hancock.
Although Blaine had not been in line with the Half-Breeds for most of the Hayes Administration and particularly did not support civil service reform, he was largely accepted into Half-Breed ranks likely on the shared emphasis of industrial interests and protective tariffs. Although welcomed by Sens. Hoar and Dawes into the faction, Blaine was, however, viewed with skepticism by Edmunds, who indeed never would lend him support.
Battle over New York Collector of the Port
The position of Collector of the Port of New York was regarded as highly prestigious due to its officeholder managing a major center of trade between the United States and other nations. President Garfield nominated Half-Breed William Henry Robertson to the post, angering Stalwart leader Conkling. The latter was furious due to Garfield breaking the precedent of obtaining the approval of the respective U.S. senators before giving anyone a post in their home state.
While the Half-Breeds previously faced setbacks during the Hayes Administration, they ultimately triumphed in the feud over Robertson. Conkling convinced his senatorial Stalwart colleague Thomas C. Platt to both resign under the guise that the New York legislature would immediately re-elect them to their posts. They faced defeat when the legislature under the control of Half-Breeds elected others to fill their seats.
Charles J. Guiteau, a mentally ill office seeker and former Democrat, supported Ulysses S. Grant in the 1880 Republican primaries. Believing that simply backing a Republican would be enough to obtain him a government job due to the spoils system nature. Guiteau prepared a fiery speech to draw out enthusiasm for Grant, only to replace all mentions of him with "Garfield" when the Ohio Republican was instead nominated.
Instead of speaking in front a loud audience that heavily applauded his speech, Guiteau only spoke towards a small puzzled crowd, and continuously begged party leaders in order to be given the opportunity. Absurdly believing that Garfield's ultimate narrow victory was attributed to his speech, Guiteau believed that he was deserving of a high-ranking position. He sought a consulship to Paris and drew harsh irritation from Blaine, who snapped:
|“||Do not ask me about the Paris consulship ever again!||”|
—James Gillespie Blaine, May 14, 1881
Upon realizing that his effort to obtain a position within the Garfield Administration were futile, Guiteau sought to "save" the spoils system by killing Garfield to elevate Stalwart Vice President Chester Arthur to commander-in-chief. also believing it was "God's will." After stalking the president for some time, Guiteau assassinated Garfield on July 2, 1881 with a pistol. When caught at the scene and dragged away, he exclaimed:
|“||I am a Stalwart of the Stalwarts. Arthur is now President!||”|
—Guiteau, July 2, 1881
Delusional under the belief that he would be treated as a hero, Guiteau claimed in his trial when Garfield later died in a hospital:
|“||The doctors [killed Garfield]. I merely shot at him.||”|
Guiteau was found guilty of murdering Garfield, and sentenced to death by hanging. He was executed on June 30, 1882.
Half-Breeds push through Pendleton Act
The assassination of Garfield only damaged the cause of the Stalwarts, and its leader Conkling was blamed over Guiteau's actions. The new president, Chester Arthur, abandoned his past Stalwart roots and switched to support civil service reform, allying on the issue with congressional Half-Breeds.
George H. Pendleton, a liberal Democrat Copperhead and white supremacist from Ohio who previously defended slavery, introduced the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act that would effectively rid the traditional patronage system and in its place install a bureaucratic civil service system. Half-Breeds such as Sens. Hoar and Edmunds were eager to aid the passage of the bill, along with remaining Stalwarts who abandoned their cause and voted for the Pendleton Act.
All Senate Republicans present voted for the Pendleton Act, in addition to all but seven House Republicans. The primary opposition thus came from Democrats who likely voted against it due to the party's Jacksonian roots.[note 2] The legislation passed both houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Arthur.
1884: Half-Breeds and Stalwarts feud with Mugwumps
Half-Breed James Blaine (left) and Stalwart John Logan right).
In the 1884 presidential election, President Arthur found insufficient support for his re-election campaign, and faced a formidable challenge from Blaine. Reformers, including future president Theodore Roosevelt, pushed again to nominate Edmunds. However, the Vermont senator had no intention of seeking the presidency, stating to Hoar in a conversation at some point:
|“||If I know myself I have no desire to be president . . . I would say so in a public letter but I suppose the chances of my nomination are so slight that it might seem ridiculous to decline.||”|
—Edmunds in a conversation with Hoar, 1884
The Republican National Convention ultimately nominated Half-Breed Blaine and former Stalwart John A. Logan of Illinois to head the party ticket. With both factions appeased, the majority of Republicans on both sides actively organized the GOP campaign.
Due to both Blaine and Logan having a record of favoring the spoils system over civil service reform, "reformers" in the Mugwump faction such as political cartoonist Thomas Nast of Harper's Weekly opposed the party ticket and instead supported the Bourbon Democrat nominee, Grover Cleveland. Former Liberal Republican Party figure and RINO Lyman Trumbull, who voted against convicting Andrew Johnson, denounced the Blaine/Logan ticket and stated that their potential victory would lead to "partisanship, abuses, and corruption." The Mugwumps in effect replaced the role of the Half-Breeds as advocates of reform who broke from party traditions.
Logan's presence on the party ticket helped draw enthusiastic support from blacks due to his record of staunchly advocating for civil rights. This included the backing of abolitionist and renowned black leader Frederick Douglass. Most Half-Breeds were skeptical of Logan, though supported the ticket out of party unity; this included Rutherford Hayes, who called the nomination a "blunder and misfortune" though viewed a Democrat victory as a "serious calamity." Half-Breed John Sherman, the brother of General William Tecumseh Sherman, expressed similar sentiment, calling Logan "coarse, suspicious, revengeful" yet voicing support for the GOP ticket.
Not all Half-Breeds supported the ticket; Sen. Edmunds, who believed a true Half-Breed must support civil service reform and thus distrusted Blaine, declined to give the pair any support throughout the campaign. He viewed his Maine colleague as a mere selfish opportunist and refused to support the pair, writing:
|“||It is my deliberate opinion that Senator Blaine acts as the attorney of Jay Gould. Whenever [Allen G. Thurman] and I have settled upon legislation to bring the Pacific Railroad to terms of equity with the government, up has jumped Mr. James G. Blaine musket in hand, from behind the breastworks of Jay Gould’s lobby to fire in our faces.||”|
Stalwart leader Conkling, who by this time retired from political life, still maintained his personal disdain for Blaine to such an extent that even Logan's presence on the ticket did not prompt him to campaign for the pair. When asked to bolster Blaine, he bluntly responded:
|“||I do not engage in criminal practice.||”|
In the general election, the Blaine/Logan ticket lost to Cleveland, particularly failing to carry the state of New York due to a Protestant minister associated with Blaine who attacked the Democrats as the party of "rum, Romanism, and rebellion."[note 3] The remark was seized by Democrats, who riled up Irish Catholics and turn out against the Republicans. Following the results, Grand Army of the Republic leader Mortimer D. Leggett stated:
|“||There would now be no doubt about the result if our ticket had been the other end up.||”|
—Leggett, leader of the G.A.R.
Although not all Half-Breeds disregarded the plight of blacks terrorized by Jim Crow Democrats in the South, their push for civil service reform only perpetuated racial discrimination by the Democratic Party and resulted in the enactment of a bloated bureaucracy that evolved into what is now known as the Deep State. As a bloc, they in effect did less in comparison to their conservative Stalwart colleagues to fight on behalf of blacks, promoting their causes under the guise of "integrity" and "reform" which only harmed the nation in the long-run as the resulting entrenchment of self-serving, corrupt civil servants continues to this day.
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- "Moderate" in this specific context refers to the degree of eagerness in war policy without regard to overall political ideology; Lincoln in this sense was "moderate" in terms of leading the Union during the Civil War even though he was quite conservative on other issues such as economics.
- The spoils system was originally a principle of the Jacksonian Democrats.
- Rum was a reference to saloon keepers, "Romanism" meant Catholicism, and "rebellion" referred to the Confederacy.
- Peskin, Allan (1984). Who Were the Stalwarts? Who Were Their Rivals? Republican Factions in the Gilded Age. JSTOR.