Benjamin Gratz Brown

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Benjamin Gratz Brown

The American politician Benjamin Gratz Brown (1826-1885) served Missouri as senator and governor and gained national prominence in 1872 as the vice-presidential nominee on the Liberal Republican ticket.

On May 28, 1826, B. Gratz Brown was born in Frankfort, Ky. He studied at Transylvania College and the Yale Law School, from which he graduated in 1847, and then settled in St. Louis, Mo., becoming a partner in a law firm. He quickly became involved in Missouri politics as a supporter of Thomas Hart Benton and spokesman for the Benton wing of the divided state Democratic party. Brown served in the Missouri Legislature (1852-1858) and furthered his political career as editor of the Missouri Democrat (1854-1859).

After the election of 1856 Brown's opposition to the expansion of slavery into American territories and to sectionalism, nullification, and secessionism led him to break with the proslavery Democrats and become one of the founders of the Missouri Republican party.

During the Civil War, Brown became a leading Radical Republican and served in the U.S. Senate (1863-1866). Influenced by John C. Frémont, whose drastic antislavery measures he approved, and seeking the support of antislavery German-Americans in St. Louis, Brown advocated a vigorous prosecution of the war and the passage of stringent wartime measures. He opposed Lincoln's moderation and objected to the Emancipation Proclamation because it did not free slaves in Missouri and other loyal border states. In 1864 Brown supported an abortive movement to replace Lincoln with Frémont as the Republican nominee for president. Later he opposed President Andrew Johnson's moderate plan of reconstruction and supported the Radical-sponsored Civil Rights Bill and Freedmen's Bureau Bill.

In 1864, however, Brown began his movement away from the Radical Republicans and in 1866 urged leniency toward former rebels and Confederate sympathizers. After his retirement from the Senate, he helped organize the Liberal Republican party in Missouri in association with Carl Schurz. In 1870 Brown was elected Liberal Republican governor of Missouri. His attempts to attract Democrats into the Liberal Republican party caused a split with Schurz.

In 1872 Brown was instrumental in expanding Liberal Republicanism into a national party, although Schurz quickly assumed leadership. At the Liberal Republican convention Brown threw his support for a presidential candidate to Horace Greeley, securing the vice-presidential nomination for himself. The Liberal Republicans acquired Democratic support but were badly beaten by the regular Republicans. Shortly afterward Brown retired from politics and devoted himself to business and law. By 1874 he had rejoined the Democratic party.

Brown's career reflected the turbulence and political chaos of the years from 1848 to 1877. While many of his political shifts were based on expediency and reflected the transient passions of the times, his commitment to nationalism and his advocacy of liberal reforms provided a measure of consistency beneath his political wandering.

Further Reading

The only full biography of Brown is Norma L. Peterson, Freedom and Franchise: The Political Career of B. Gratz Brown (1965), which is excellent not only in tracing Brown's tortuous career but also in relating Brown to the history of the period. This work can be supplemented by Thomas S. Barclay, The Liberal Republican Movement in Missouri, 1865-1871 (1926), and John V. Mering, The Whig Party in Missouri (1967). □

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Benjamin Gratz Brown

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