James Garfield: Stalwarts and Mugwumps

Like the Republican Party of today, the G.O.P. during the 1880's was extremely divided and in decline.

There was the civil war generation that looked at voting Republican as a moral obligation. Their strategy in the elections over and over was to 'wave the bloody shirt' which meant equating voting democratic as a vote for the confederate sympathizers. This strategy worked well, from Lincoln's assassination well into the Gilded Age. Public anger in the north was insatiable, but only for so long.

There were the 'Mugwumps' who were sort of like the Tea Party. They viewed the single most important issues being civil service reform, returning from the 'greenback' standard to the gold standard of currency and reducing or eliminating tariffs. In short- they wanted to shrink the size of government, avoid inflation and increase free trade. The mugwumps tended to be what you might say was the business class that made their fortune from importing or manufacturing. They had much more political conviction than political savvy.

Another movement within the Republican party was the 'Half Breeds'. They were more moderate and somewhat more modern than the civil war faction. They believed in Civil Service reform, but were not as ideological or economically conservative as the Mugwump faction.

The final group struggling to politically keep all the factions together at all costs were the Stalwarts. They saw political machines as a good tool in staying in power. The Stalwarts gave the 'Half Breeds' their name as an insult to say that they were not putting party first, but the Half Breeds wore it with pride. The Stalwarts were much more concerned with getting their people elected and paying out the necessary bribes in the form of government appointments than they were in any kind of political conviction. They were usually the ones that would broker deals between the various factions.

It's interesting to see the parallels between then and now. It seems our modern day Stalwarts such as Newt Gingrich are losing power to the Mugwumps in the Tea Party. Waiving the bloody shirt these days seems to fall to the cultural warriors in the Republican Party that endlessly rehash their battles with hippies from the 60's to an ever shrinking crowd of retirees.

All revolutions, even Republican revolutions eventually eat themselves.