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greenback

greenback, in U.S. history, legal tender notes unsecured by specie (coin). In 1862, under the exigencies of the Civil War, the U.S. government first issued legal tender notes (popularly called greenbacks) that were placed on a par with notes backed by specie. By the end of the war such notes were outstanding to the amount of more than $450 million. They had been issued as temporary, and in accordance with the Funding Act of 1866 Secretary of State Hugh McCulloch began retiring them. The hard times of 1867 caused many, especially among Western debtor farmers, to demand that the currency be inflated rather than contracted, and Congress suspended the retirement. George H. Pendleton advanced the so-called Ohio Idea, recommending that all government bonds not specifying payment in specie should be paid in greenbacks. John Sherman, more conservative, was nevertheless willing to let the greenbacks stay in circulation on a redemption basis. The question was warmly debated in 1869 and was ended by a compromise, which left greenbacks to the amount of $356 million in circulation. The law creating them was declared constitutional in the later Legal Tender cases, and the matter rested until the Panic of 1873. The hard-hit agrarians then wanted to inflate the currency with more greenbacks. An inflation bill passed Congress in 1874, but so intense was conservative opposition that President Grant reversed his former position and vetoed the bill. Although the Greenback party worked hard to oppose them, the conservatives triumphed in Jan., 1875, with the Resumption Act, which fixed Jan. 1, 1879, as the date for redeeming the greenbacks in specie. The Secretary of the Treasury accumulated a gold reserve of $100 million, and confidence in the government was so great that few greenbacks were presented for surrender in 1879. Congress provided in 1878 that the greenbacks then outstanding ($346,681,000) remain a permanent part of the nation's currency.

See W. C. Mitchell, A History of the Greenbacks (1903, repr. 1960); D. C. Barrett, The Greenbacks and the Resumption of Specie Payments, 1862–1879 (1931, repr. 1965); I. Unger, Greenback Era (1964).

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Greenback party

Greenback party, in U.S. history, political organization formed in the years 1874–76 to promote currency expansion. The members were principally farmers of the West and the South; stricken by the Panic of 1873, they saw salvation in an inflated currency that would wipe out the farm debts contracted in times of high prices. They were opposed by the conservatives, who managed to get the Resumption Act of 1875 passed. The Greenbackers had in 1874 hoped to capture the Democratic party, but the nomination of Samuel J. Tilden killed that hope, and the Greenback party nominated Peter Cooper as its own candidate for President in 1876. The Greenbackers got only 81,737 votes. In 1878, however, certain labor organizations, embittered by the labor troubles in 1877, united with the advocates of cheap money in the Greenback-Labor party, and the combination party polled over 1 million votes and elected 14 Representatives to Congress that year. The Greenbackers' hopes for 1880 were high, and bidding for wider support they broadened their program by endorsement of woman suffrage, federal regulation of interstate commerce, and a graduated income tax. For the presidency in 1880 the party nominated its most notable figure, Gen. James B. Weaver, but the return of prosperity, the passage of the Bland-Allison Act (1878), and the success of the Resumption Act had allayed the discontent on which the party had grown, and the Greenback-Labor vote declined in 1880 to just a little over 300,000. When the candidate in 1884, Gen. Benjamin Franklin Butler (1818–93), did very badly, the party dissolved. Some members joined the Union Labor party in 1888, but more of them went back to the old parties. Later many Greenbackers, among them Weaver and Ignatius Donnelly, became leading figures in the Populist party.

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greenback

green·back / ˈgrēnˌbak/ • n. 1. inf. a dollar bill; a dollar: the pot she purchased with our last greenback. 2. inf. an animal with a green back, esp. a race of the cutthroat trout found only in Colorado.

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greenback

greenback Paper money issued by the US government during the Civil War. Authorized by Congress as legal tender, they could not be redeemed in gold or coins. A total of US$450 million was issued. In 1878, they became convertible to gold.

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greenback

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