“The Self-Made Party”
The Party that Butler belongs to, and the Party that he serves.
the Democratic National Convention in July 1884, Benjamin Butler not
only failed to win the presidential nomination, but also received no
votes. The next month, however, the former Republican congressman
accepted the presidential nomination of the Greenback and Anti-Monopoly
Parties (which merged into the Greenback-Labor Party). This
cartoon by Thomas Nast interprets Butler’s penchant for changing
parties as a self-serving, calculated effort to secure political power
for his own ends, rather than for the public good.
The poster on the upper-left announces Butler's Greenback-Labor
candidacy as a confidence game (swindle), and plays on the word
“fusion” (meaning a coalition of political groups agreeing to back a
single candidate or slate) by adding “confusion.”
In reality, though, the candidate’s articulated political
principles were fairly consistent over time.
Butler began his political life
in Massachusetts as a Democrat, voting for the Southern Democratic
presidential nominee, John Breckinridge, in 1860.
As a Union general during the Civil War, he was a War Democrat,
but was elected to Congress as a Republican (1867-75; 1877-79).
In Congress, he endorsed the Radical Republican policies for
Reconstruction and served as one of the House prosecutors at the removal
trial of impeached Democratic president, Andrew Johnson.
(For more information, visit HarpWeek's Website on the impeachment of
Andrew Johnson.) Butler ran unsuccessfully numerous times for governor of
Massachusetts, first as a Republican (1871, 1873, 1874), and then as an
independent (1878) and a Democrat (1879), before being elected to the
governorship by a Democratic-Greenback coalition (1882).
ardent advocacy of labor reform and soft-money made him popular with
working-class voters. For this reason, the Democratic Party tried
to induce him not to enter the 1884 race, while the Republican Party
his campaign. Butler traveled by train
across the North, speaking to enthusiastic crowds. Democrats,
angry at his third-party candidacy, criticized the hypocrisy of the purported
laboring man's candidate riding in a plush railroad car, and threw spoons at him to mock his nickname. Despite the
positive popular reaction he encountered, Butler headed a loose
coalition of various interests, not a well-organized, well-financed
political party. In the November election, he received only 1.8%
of the popular vote, and thereafter retired from politics.
Robert C. Kennedy