$1000 Absolute Money Certificate -- 1880 Lampoon of National Greenback-Labor Party.
One of the leading public issues of the immediate post-Civil-War period was related to the nation’s currency.
The heart of the debate centered on an action the government had taken to fund the Union effort in the Civil War. Between 1862 and 1865, the government printing presses issued $450 million in greenbacks, paper notes that were not backed by reserves of specie.
Simply stated, the agrarian and debtor interests wanted to keep the greenbacks in circulation and even urged that more be printed. Such a move would likely generate inflation, which was regarded as a favorable event since it would be easier to pay off debts with “cheap” money.
Tensions were heightened during the depression that followed the Panic of 1873. Farmers and debtors bore the brunt of the economic distress and issued calls for the printing of additional greenbacks and the unlimited coinage of silver. These calls for action were transformed into a political movement in the mid-1870s and, in 1876, into a political party. The National Greenback Party took up the greenback refrain and pledged to fight the National Banking System created by the National Banking Act of 1863, the harmonization of the silver dollar and the Resumption Act of 1875, which mandated that the U.S. Treasury issue specie (coinage or "hard" currency) in exchange for greenback currency upon its presentation for redemption beginning on 1 January 1879, thus returning the nation to the gold standard.
Together, these measures created an inflexible currency controlled by banks rather than the federal government. Greenbacks contended that such a system favored creditors and industry to the detriment of farmers and laborers.
In 1878, a congressional election year, the organization changed its name to the Greenback-Labor Party and supplemented its membership by taking in workers. They received more than one million votes nationwide and elected 14 party members to Congress.
In 1880 the Greenback Party offered a presidential candidate and broadened its platform to include support for a graduated income tax, an eight-hour work day and allowing women the right to vote, and proposed that public lands be given to settlers rather than sold to land speculators. However, the party polled only 300,000 votes, a clear demonstration that the greenback issue had passed its prime. The times had changed: Resumption had been a success, the depression had ended and the Bland-Allison Act had concentrated attention on the emerging issue of the coinage of silver.
Despite its lack of success, the party made a last stab at the presidency, nominating Benjamin F. Butler in the election of 1884. His showing was dismal and the party disbanded. Its members drifted off to the Union Labor Party and the Populist Party.
The Greenback Party made an important contribution to American politics by demonstrating the monetary policy could and should be part of the national debate.
This certificate for “Absolute Money” in the amount of $1,000 was issued from “Swindlersville Avenue,” Washington City on July 24, 1880. It parodies the Greenback movement and Benjamin F. Butler, who is shown at left cranking out greenbacks from the US Mint.
Antique Paper Items
Presidential & Political