Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




The Greenback party was the strongest third party movement to make its appearance in Maine during the half-century following the Civil War. The party was founded on debtors demand for an inflated currency during the hard times caused by the Panic of 1873.

The heavy taxation policy necessary to liquidate Maine’s large Civil War debt proved most burdensome to the farmers and other holders of real estate and led many of the agrarians to throw in their political lot with the new party. Many Republicans also joined their ranks when they became disaffected with, the machinations of the Grant and Hayes administrations, nationally, and the so-called Blaine ring in this state. Running on a retrenchment program, pledged to a reduction in the operating costs of the state government, and a more equitable system of taxation, the Greenbackers received strong support from the farming element and some backing from labor, especially from the organized stonecutters along the western shore of Penobscot Bay. The Greenbackers gained few adherents in the more populous urban centers.

The Greenback party joined hands, politically, with the Democrats in the Fusion movement, in an attempt to oust the Republicans from their predominant position in the state government. This combination was successful in 1878, when it won control of the legislature, elected two of five Congressmen, one a union official, and a Democratic Governor.

The Supreme Court invalidated the attempt of the Fusionists to count-out on technicalities certain Republican candidates who they charged had been elected in I879 only by intimidation and bribery at the polls. Their stand was partially vindicated in 1880, when a Greenback Governor, Harris M. Plaisted, was elected and the party’s two Congressmen were reelected. The Republicans retained control of the legislature and the Fusionists lost an opportunity to choose a United States Senator in 1881.

A split developed in the Greenback party when one wing refused to ratify an agreement with the Democrats which provided for a single set of electors on a Fusion ticket for the presidential election of 1880. The Republican victories in 1882 on all levels in the state election spelled an end to the political importance of the Greenback party.

The Democratic party picked up most of the Greenback supporters but enough of the third party members rejoined the Republicans to enable that party to maintain its dominant position in the state for the next thirty years.

The count-out scandal, fusion with the Democrats until its identity was lost, the party split, the poor showing of the Weaver ticket, and improving business conditions caused the rapid decline of the Greenback party in Maine.

The party’s devotion to reform movements is illustrated by the following proposals which it sponsored: The abolition of imprisonment for debt, the adoption of the secret ballot, women’s suffrage, the regulation of railroads, and the adoption of a shorter working day in manufacturing plants. Nationally, and to a lesser extent in Maine, the Greenbackers served as predecessors of the Populists.