Stalwart Republicans

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Stalwart Republicans



Other members:

Related topics:
New York Sen. Roscoe Conkling, a staunch conservative who led the congressional Stalwarts.
Portrait of Frederick Theodore Frelinghuysen, a New Jersey Stalwart.
Leonidas Houk, a Tennessee Stalwart.
John Logan, an Illinois Stalwart.

Stalwart is a term used to describe the "Old Guard,"[1] conservative[2] wing of the Republican Party during the post-Reconstruction Gilded Age which stood firmly for equal rights for African Americans, opposing Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan. From 1877–81, they opposed efforts to rebuild the Democratic Party in the post–Civil War era with a civil service system that discriminated against blacks, instead favoring the traditional spoils system.[3]

Opposing the Stalwarts were the congressional Half-Breeds, by comparison more moderate Republicans who supported civil service reform in the name of supposed "integrity" and at the expense of civil rights for blacks.[3]

The Stalwarts, whose geographical stronghold was situated primarily in the Northeast,[1] were led by Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York,[4][5] who had helped write the 14th Amendment.[6] Others in the faction included:


The Stalwarts in essence succeeded the powerful bloc of Radical Republicans, who during the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant shepherded the passage of major legislation to combat Democratic Party terrorism, particularly the Enforcement Acts (known as the Ku Klux Klan Act). Not all Radical Republicans would join the Stalwarts, though many prominent members did out of continued sympathy for the plight of Southern blacks.[note 3] Examples include:

It should also be noted that not all Stalwarts had previously been Radical Republicans. U.S. representative Leonidas Houk of Tennessee's second congressional district, who would support Grant in 1880, favored equality for former Confederates from 1866–70 as a circuit judge and refused to hear treason charges.[14]


The Stalwarts were considered a largely conservative faction,[2] and for the most part held the following positions:

  • opposition to civil service reform efforts[2]
  • adamant support for black male suffrage[2]
  • support for Southern carpetbag and black Republican-led governments[5]
  • backing of higher protective tariffs[5]
  • support for "hard money" (money backed by gold) as opposed to "soft money"[5]
  • a tendency to "wave the bloody shirt"[4][5][note 4]

However, not all Stalwarts were necessarily conservative. Benjamin Butler's alliance with the faction was attributed to his staunch pro–civil rights and pro–spoils system stance, though sharply differed with the likes of Conkling on economics, where he increasingly became liberal in his support for greenbacks. John A. Logan, an Illinois Stalwart, wavered on monetary policy and staunchly supported lower tariffs.[21]

According to William G. Eidson in "Who Were the Stalwarts?", the faction were consistently supportive of soft money as opposed to sound money. However, his tracking methodology cherry-picks mostly western Republicans into his grouping method of senators while excluding eastern machine politicians including Roscoe Conkling, who he argues was not a Stalwart leader until 1879 despite leading the opposition towards Hayes during the latter's early presidency.


Hayes presidency

Conkling rebukes Hayes in Port Collector fight

The Collector of the Port of New York was a powerful and prized political position, with the officeholder being able to control a central location of trade between the United States and other nations.[4] New York had for many years hitherto been managed by the powerful patronage machine of Sen. Conkling, and Half-Breeds vied for control.

President Hayes attempted to wrest control of the Port from Conkling to no avail, twice picking his own political acolytes to the post only to have the nominations defeated in the Senate by the New York senator, who successfully rallied Republicans to his side.[4] Conkling then managed to secure the position for close machine ally and future president Chester Arthur.

Hayes and Sherman fire Arthur

Arthur's tenure was marked with corruption and extensive preference of party loyalties over qualifications. He was known to have turned a blind eye to corruption in the New York Customs House,[4] in addition to hiring thousands of Republicans for government jobs simply because they were Republicans.[22]

Following an investigation of the Customs House in 1877,[22] President Hayes and Secretary of the Treasury John Sherman, a Half-Breed, fired Arthur the following year.[4] This decision was criticized even by congressional Half-Breeds, who began to distance themselves from Hayes.[23]

1880: Stalwarts push for unprecedented third Grant term

Oil painting of Grant.

Hayes' actions as president alienated not only congressional Stalwarts, but Half-Breeds as well.[5][23] In the 1880 presidential election, Stalwarts led by Conkling successfully urged former Radical Republican president Ulysses Grant to seek a non-consecutive, third term.[4] Some Half-Breeds coalesced around Maine senator James G. Blaine, who opposed civil service reform[5][note 5] though aligned with the moderate faction with his viewpoints on industrial interests and protective tariffs. Blaine, however, refused to join the Stalwarts due to a personal feud with Conkling.[6]

Donald Cameron, chair of the Republican National Committee and Stalwart supporter of Grant.

Although Grant had previously pushed for some degree of civil service reform as president, he became disenchanted with Hayes' efforts to effectively dismantle the Stalwarts' patronage machines.[4] Conkling, who previously was a close ally to Grant during the latter's presidency, once again became a right-hand man.

At the Republican National Convention, the Half-Breeds' will to block a nomination of Grant matched that of the Stalwarts' opposition towards Blaine.[4][8] Neither of the two had enough support as a result of the factionalism, and the results of the first few ballots signified a deadlock. Half-Breeds then successfully maneuvered to nominate Ohio Republican James Garfield on the thirty-sixth ballot,[5] who was sufficiently favorable in their eyes.[4] This was attributed to Garfield's flexible positions on tariffs and civil service reform while simultaneously sharing the Stalwarts' "waving the bloody shirt" tactics and monetary policy positions.[5]

For the vice presidential pick, Garfield at first proposed nominating Treasury of the Secretary John Sherman, a staunch Half-Breed, Moderate Republican, and supporter of civil service reform who Stalwarts loathed.[4] In an appeal to party unity for both factions to be somewhat pleased, Conkling ally Chester "Chet" Arthur became Garfield's running mate,[8] to the horror of Half-Breeds who pejoratively dubbed him as Conkling's "creature."[5] The pair narrowly would win the general election in November that year.

Conkling and Platt fail to rebuke Garfield

Platt, who along with Conkling resigned from the Senate.

Although Garfield had initially vowed to meet Stalwart patronage demands, he turned his back on Conkling and claimed he never agreed to specific promises. Garfield nominated for New York Collector of the Port William H. Robertson,[4] a Half-Breed who opposed Grant in 1880.[6] This elicited Conkling's fury, as traditionally presidential appointments for a state would first "require" the approval of the respective state's U.S. senators.

Conkling, enraged at Garfield, devised a plan that, if successful, would demonstrate New York Republicans were loyal to him and not the president. He convinced his Stalwart senatorial colleague Thomas C. Platt that they would both suddenly resign from the Senate, under the guise the state legislature would immediately elect them to their posts.[4]

However, the New York legislature, controlled by Half-Breeds, thwarted Conkling and Platt by refusing to elect the pair.[4][5] Conkling subsequently quit politics, though Platt would return to the Senate years after the Stalwarts effectively collapsed. After this point, the term "Stalwart" fell out of designation as a political term.[2]

Garfield assassination, backlash against Stalwarts

A mentally ill and disgruntled former Democrat, Charles J. Guiteau, believed he could easily obtain a high-ranking government post through the spoils system.[4] In the 1880 election, he initially prepared a speech to be given in front of a large crowd in support of Grant, believing the latter would be nominated. After Garfield was picked instead, Guiteau simply replaced all mentions of "Grant" with "Garfield."[4] Subsequent to excessively pleading Republican leaders for a chance to give the speech, he only delivered it to a small crowd that was puzzled rather than roaring with applause.

Charles Julius Guiteau, who shot President Garfield.

Following Garfield's narrow victory, the deluded Guiteau believed the election result was attributed to his speech, and thus believed that he was deserving of a position in the new presidential administration.[4] He sought a consulship to Paris, though faced disappointment upon arriving at Washington, D.C. when he was viewed merely as a nuisance. Blaine, who became Secretary of State, snapped at Guiteau:[4]

Do not ask me about the Paris consulship ever again!

—James G. Blaine, May 14, 1881

Guiteau's realization that the spoils system was faltering following his inability to obtain a government position led to him to believe patronage could be saved by removing Garfield from the White House.[4] He stalked the president for several days before shooting him on July 2, 1881. When caught at the scene (where Blaine and Robert Todd Lincoln was present) and dragged away, Guiteau exclaimed:[4]

I am a Stalwart of the Stalwarts. Arthur is now president!

—Guiteau, July 2, 1881

The mentally ill Guiteau then believed that Garfield's Stalwart successor Chester Arthur would be grateful and "reward" him with a government position, which did not happen.[4] Following Garfield's death after a botched hospital treatment, Guiteau exclaimed in court:

The doctors did that. I merely shot at him.

—Guiteau, 1881

Guiteau was found guilty of the assassination and sentenced to death by hanging.[4]

President Chester Alan Arthur, a Stalwart who signed the Pendleton Act into law.

Arthur signs the Pendleton Act

The newly sworn president, Arthur, was expected by many to act on his Stalwart roots against civil service reform.[5] Congressional Half-Breeds in addition to a number of Jim Crow Democrats led by Ohio senator George H. Pendleton drafted and pushed through the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, which itself only dealt with 11% of federal employee posts though created a Civil Service Commission to dismantle patronage machines over time.[5]

The assassination of Garfield only embarrassed the Stalwarts, whose leader Conkling elicited blame for Guiteau's actions. As the nation turned to support a new era governed in part by a civil service system rather than patronage politics, the vast majority of Stalwart Republicans voted for the Pendleton Act. No Senate Republican voted against the bill,[24] and GOP House opposition came from only seven members:[25]

  • Benjamin F. Marsh (IL–10), Colonel in the Civil War
  • John R. Thomas (IL–18), later a district judge for Indian Territory
  • George W. Steele (IN–11), later a brief governor of Oklahoma Territory in the 1890s
  • Orlando Hubbs (NC–2), a carpetbagger who was relatively pro-civil rights and utilized patronage to benefit political friends[26]
  • James S. Robinson (OH–9), Brigadier General in the Civil War
  • Robert Smalls (SC–5), maritime pilot in the Civil War and former slave
  • William R. Moore (TN–10), conservative businessman, entrepreneur, and namesake of the William R. Moore College of Technology

Arthur ultimately surprised many observers by signing the Pendleton Act into law,[5] which effectively marked the end of machine patronage utilized by Republicans to socially and economically uplift blacks.


  1. 1.0 1.1 American Party Politics. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Stalwarts. Retrieved August 25, 2021.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Matthews, Dylan (July 20, 2016). Donald Trump and Chris Christie are reportedly planning to purge the civil service. Vox. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 4.15 4.16 4.17 4.18 4.19 4.20 4.21 Stalwarts, Half Breeds, and Political Assassination. National Park Service. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 5.12 5.13 5.14 5.15 Weisberger, Bernard A. James A. Garfield and Chester A. Arthur. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 The Remarkable Roscoe: Friend and Nemesis of Presidents (Part I). National Park Service. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  7. Edwards, J. (1889). John N. Edwards: Biography, Memoirs, Reminiscences and Recollections; His Brilliant Career as Soldier, Author, and Journalist; Choice Collection of His Most Notable and Interesting Newspaper Articles, Together with Some Unpublished Poems and Many Private Letters. Also a Reprint of Shelby's Expedition to Mexico, an Unwritten Leaf of the War, p. 132. Google Books. Retrieved May 23, 2023.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 About the Vice President | Levi Parsons Morton, 22nd Vice President (1889-1893). United States Senate via Internet Archive. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  9. Jones, John Pickett (1982). John A. Logan: Stalwart Republican from Illinois. Google Books. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  10. Civil Service Reform: Creating a Merit System for Pennsylvania. Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  11. May 21, 1885. Death of Mr. Frelinghuysen. The New York Times. Retrieved November 8, 2021.
  12. James Garfield (1831-1881). The Latin Library. Retrieved December 22, 2021.
  13. Russell, William H. (1951). Timothy O. Howe, Stalwart Republican. JSTOR. Retrieved November 21, 2022.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Schlup, Leonard (October 8, 2017). Leonidas Campbell Houk. Tennessee Encyclopedia. Retrieved December 22, 2021.
  15. Leonidas Campbell Houk. Prabook. Retrieved August 25, 2021.
  16. Roscoe Conkling Letters. Syracuse University. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  17. Frelinghuysen, Frederick Theodore. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  18. John A. Logan: Stalwart Republican from Illinois, pp. 9–10.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Foner, Eric (1988). Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863, p. 578. Harper and Row, Publishers.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Riddleberger, Patrick W. (April 1960). The Radicals' Abandonment of the Negro During Reconstruction. JSTOR. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  21. John A. Logan: Stalwart Republican from Illinois, p. 27.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Arthur, Chester A. Retrieved December 22, 2021.
  23. 23.0 23.1 The Key Political Issues: Patronage, Tariffs, and Gold. University of Central Florida. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  24. TO PASS S. 133. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  25. TO PASS S. 133, A BILL REGULATING AND IMPROVING THE U. S. CIVIL SERVICE. (J.P. 163). Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  26. Anderson, Eric D. (1988). Hubbs, Orlando. NCPedia. Retrieved December 21, 2021.


  1. While many sources don't list Quay as a member of the Stalwart faction, the Pennsylvania Republican was strongly associated with patronage/machine politics.
  2. It is not known if any documented sources officially list Hubbs as a Stalwart Republican, though his support for patronage and stubborn vote against the Pendleton Act signifies his viewpoints shared that of the faction.
  3. A small number of Radical Republicans joined the Half-Breeds faction, such as George F. Hoar. Those who broke early on tended to ally with the Liberal Republican Party revolt in 1872, such as Horace Greeley and Lyman Trumbull.
  4. This tactic referred to campaigning against the Democrats as the party of the Confederacy and denouncing them for the bloodiness of the American Civil War.
  5. A common narrative goes as follows: "Blaine was the leader of the Half-Breeds who supported civil service reform." This is despite Blaine not taking part in Half-Breed politics during the Hayes presidency, in addition to his opposition to civil service reform despite what the narrative implies.