The History of Genesee County, MI
Chapter I
Greenback Movement

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Clayton

 

 THE GREENBACK MOVEMENT.

At the election of 1882 a long-established political precedent was overturned. Since the founding of the Republican party in 1854, that party had been successful in electing its candidates to state offices. This year the opposition ticket won, electing as governor Josiah W. Begole, of Flint. The victory was the effect by a fusion of the Democrats with the "Greenbackers," a party which had been steadily gaining strength since 1876. At the election of 1876 the Greenback party gave a total of 8,207 votes for William Sparks, the Greenback candidate for governor, and about this many were cast for the presidential candidate, Peter Cooper, out of a total nation-wide vote of 81,000. In 1878 their candidate for governor in Michigan received 75,000 votes. The purpose of the Greenback party was to defeat the alleged machinations of the monied interests, and save the "greenback," the people's money. This money had come into existence during the Civil War, great quantities of treasury notes, or greenbacks (from the color of the notes), having been authorized by Congress. A total of $44450,000,0000 of these notes had been issued, legal tender for all debts, except customs duties and interest on public debt. This policy helped to stamp in the popular mind the idea that the government could create money, if only the monied interests were not selfishly opposed to it. Along with the demand for more "fiat" money went the "grange movement" among the farmers, who organized to cut out the middle man and to compel the railroads to exact less toll to take their crops to market. In the minds of the "Greenbackers," the republican party, as the dominant party, was playing into the hands of the rich. Their natural allies, regardless of other considerations, would be the opposition party, and the result was the defeat of the Republicans.

Governor Begole was born in Livingston county, New York, January 20, 1815. When he became of age, in 1836, he came to Michigan and settled in Genesee county, where, with his own hands, he aided in building some of the early residences in Flint. Perseverance and energy won him a competency, and at the end of eighteen years he was the owner of a five-hundred acre farm. He was an ardent anti-slavery man, his grandparents having emigrated from Maryland to New York about the beginning of the century because of their dissatisfaction with the institution of slavery. He joined the Republican party at its organization in 1854 and was early elected to various local offices. During the Civil War he did active work in recruiting and furnishing supplies for the army; his eldest son was killed near Atlanta, Georgia, in 1864. In 1870 he was elected state senator, and in 1872 was a delegate to the republican national convention at Philadelphia. As a member of the forty-third Congress he took great interest in legislation to better the conditions of the farmers being a member of the committee of agriculture. His activities along these lines was largely influenced by the fact that he was a practical farmer. The transition from a Republican to a Greenbacker was easy. The high esteem in which Mr. Begole was held by his fellow townsmen despite his defection from the Republican party is well shown in the following extract from the Flint Globe, the leading Republican paper at that time in Genesee county:

"So farm however, as Mr. Begole, the head of the ticket, is concerned, there is nothing detrimental to his character that can be alleged against him. He has sometimes changed his mind in politics, but of the sincerity of his beliefs and the earnestness of his purpose, nobody who knows him entertains a doubt. He has a warm, generous nature, and a larger, kinder heart does not beat in the bosom of any man in Michigan. He is not much given to making speeches, but deeds are more significant of a man's character than words. There are many scores of men in all parts of the state where Mr. Begole is acquainted who had had practical demonstrations of these facts, and whoa re liable to step outside of party lines to show that they do not forget his kindness, and who, no doubt, wish that he was a leader in what would not necessarily prove a forlorn hope. But the Republican party in Michigan is too strong to be beaten by a combination of Democrats and Greenbackers, even if it is marshaled by so good a man as Mr. Begole."

Among the important legislation of governor Begole's administration was the establishment of the northern insane asylum at Traverse City. A bureau of labor statistics was created. A stringent law was passed to prevent insurance companies combining to fix a rate. The labor element showed its increasing strength in a law forbidding the employment o children under fourteen years of age. A compulsory school law required the attendance of children under this age for at least six months every year.

Returning Republican strength, combined with other causes, resulted in the election of Russell A. Alger, in 1884, by a small majority to succeed Governor Begole. He was a native of Medina county, Ohio. During the Civil War, he was promoted rapidly in the army, becoming, after a year of service, colonel of the Fifth Michigan Cavalry in Custer's famous brigade.

During governor Alger's administration the portage lake and lake Superior ship canal was transferred to the general government. The soldiers' home was established at Grand Rapids. The state mining school was established in the copper country at Houghton. A pardon board was created. In 1885 the legislature made provision for the semi-centennial anniversary of the admission of Michigan as a state in the union, to be held at Lansing, June 15, 1886. On the occasion of this celebration notable addresses were made by many prominent citizens and officials, which were printed and published by the state. This volume, including the full proceedings, comprised over five hundred pages and is a valuable and highly interesting collection of historical data.

Governor Alger declined to be a candidate for re-election in 1886, and Cyrus G. Luce, of Coldwater, became his successor. He was a native of Windsor, Ashtabula county, Ohio, the Legislature of 1889 gave considerable attention toe the subject of woman suffrage; the ballot was not given to women generally but a law was passed permitting women in Detroit to vote for member of the school board of the city, which t the time was considered an entering wedge to lead to woman suffrage for all officers. Among other legislation was an act giving counties local option in the matter of prohibiting the sale of intoxicating liquors.

 

History of Genesee County, Michigan, Her People, Industries and Institutions
by Edwin O. Wood, LL.D, President Michigan Historical Commission, 1916

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Deb

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