US History: The Election Of 1872 – Ulysses S. Grant vs. Horace Greeley

1872: Ulysses S. Grant wants to be a two termer but he got a lot of enemies who don’t want to see that happen… So with all that said, let’s get into it. It’s Ulysses S. Grant vs. Horace Greeley.

Grant’s First Term

President Ulysses S. Grant was widely popular especially with African Americans after the ratification and passing of the 15th Amendment on February 3rd, 1870 which prevented the government from suppressing a person’s right to vote regardless of the color of their skin, race or previous condition of servitude. Grant has also been busy dismantling the first iteration of the Ku Klux Klan after the passing of the Enforcement Act of 1870 with many KKK members being put on trial and later convicted for their heinous crimes.

Because of this and much more, Grant easily won the re-nomination by the Republican Party but this time he would be running for president with a different running mate in the form of Henry Wilson who was a Senator from Massachusetts and a former member of many third parties that ran against the issue of slavery like the Liberty Party and the Free Soil Party.

Despite unanimously winning his party’s nomination, many Republicans were not happy with Grant due in large part to his habit of giving important political jobs to friends and family which made his administration look very corrupt, but it didn’t stop at giving friends cabinets positions it also led to a lot of scandals.

Rapid Corruption

While the late 1860’s and 1870’s are seen as the Reconstruction Era following the events of the Civil War, this period also saw the beginnings of ‘The Gilded Age’, a time in which industrialization and economic wealth are coinciding with large amounts of corruption within the business and political world with Grant’s administration being the catalyst for this corruption or “Grantism” as some may referred to it.

These scandals included businessmen using shady means to corner a large amount of gold within New York to the Attorney General being bribed to not take action against a shady business involved in fraud to a plot in which alcohol distillers and politicians scammed millions of dollars off of recently sold or produced whiskey…and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

By far the biggest scandal to involve the Grant administration at this point in time was The Credit Mobilier Scandal, which saw several government officials being bribed for special favors that would be acceptable to those in charge of the Railroad and Construction companies. Many names were implicated in this scandal with former Speaker of the House turn vice president, Schyler Colfax being one of them which led to him being dropped off the ticket and replaced by Herny Wilson in the 1872 election.

This led to many Republicans refusing to support Grant and led to them creating their own political party to challenge the incumbent president.

The Liberal Republican Party

This new political party was called the Liberal Republican Party and many of its members met to nominate a candidate to challenge Grant for the presidency in the upcoming election.

Names like Charles Francis Adams Sr., Salom P. Chase and David Davis among others were considered but many of them couldn’t get much of the support needed to win, so by the time the party goes to the six ballot they nominate a very unlikely fellow as their candidate.

The Liberal Republicans nominated Horace Greeley who was the newspaper editor of the widely popular, New York Tribune and a former Representative of New York with Benjamin Graetz Brown who was the Governor of Missouri as his running mate.

The Democratic Party decided to adopt the Liberal Republican platform mostly due to the fact that if they nominated their own candidate it would just divide the votes enough for Grant to get re-elected, so they decide to support the Liberal Republican candidates if it means getting Grant out of the White House.

The Liberal Republicans ran on the standard GOP ideas like supporting voting rights for blacks and infrastructure spending, but they’re also supporting ideas like amnesty for the former Confederates and ending military occupation in the South which has allowed African Americans to have their basic civil rights without being threatened or killed by racist white people but their claiming that this occupation needs to end because it’s an overreach of the government.

The Equal Rights Party

While this election saw a number of third parties running, the one I’ll be mentioning is the Equal Rights Party; Now I’m not talking about them because they’re going to do well in this election, in fact they aren’t going to get any electoral votes and even got less than 1% of the popular vote but rather I’m mentioning them for the significance regarding the candidates they ran in this election.

A growing number of females most notably the Women’s Suffrage Movement pushed for women’s rights including the right to vote and this led to the Equal Rights Party nominating a lady by the name of Victoria Woodhull who was the first female in American History to have run for president with her running mate being the legendary abolitionist and writer Frederick Douglass, even though Douglass himself didn’t acknowledge the nomination.
However, Woodhull and some of her family members were arrested days before the election over what the authorities believed was obscene material published in a newspaper, but they would only spend six months in prison before being released.

Even still, this means in 1872 a women ran for president with an African American as her running mate… talk about progressive. So now with that all of the way, let’s talk about the campaigning that’s taking place in this election.


The Liberal Republicans attack Grant for the amount of corruption that was rapid within his administration, however the Liberals don’t have an effective strategy to attack Grant when it comes to using these claims against him and things certainly aren’t helped by the fact that Grant’s team has gotten the financial backing of various corporations and millionaires.

There are also political cartoons that are being used as a weapon with many of them showing Horace Greeley doing deals with the corrupt kingpin of Tammany Hall, William Tweed while in others his seen shaking hands with Abraham Lincoln’s assailant, John Wilkies Booth over Lincoln’s grave and even bailing out the former leader of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis out of prison.

Not only that but they’re also calling out Greeley for all of his stances that his written about throughout his time with the New York Tribune and criticizing the Liberal Republican’s support of amnesty as a support of the KKK and how the removing of military occupation in the South will lead to the same problems African Americans faced before the war.

Horace Greeley’s Misfortunes

As if the negative portrayal of him in the election wasn’t bad enough, Horace Greeley had to deal with things that were way worse than being a horrendous campaigner. The first of these tragedies saw his wife, Mary dying from a lung disease later revealed to be tuberculosis in late October which plunged Greeley into a depression that he was unable to recover from before election day. Stricken by sadness over the loss of his wife and the slanderous cartoons made about him, Greeley returned to the New York Tribune to continue his work as the editor until he discovered that his colleagues at the Tribune were usurping him from his position.

Once Greeley saw he was being squeezed out of the newspaper juggernaut he helped create, his depression worsened so bad that he eventually was confined to a sanatorium where he struggled for quite some time and allegedly told Whitelaw Reid, one of the many usurpers at the New York Tribune: “You Son of a Bitch…You Stole My Newspaper!”

So, as we can see things have not been so good to say the least for Horace Greeley and when the results for this election roll in, it’s going to lead some history being made but for more on, that let’s look at the results.

The Results

Since the last election, the former confederate states have been brought back into the United States meaning that the electoral votes needed to win in this election are 177 or more. As you can see from the electoral map above, Ulysses S. Grant wins re-election in a landslide with 286 electoral votes and 55.6% of the popular vote; Grant became the first Republican president to serve two full terms in office. Grant’s running mate, Henry Wilson became the 18th vice president in U.S. history, however Wilson would die in November of 1875 after suffering from a number of strokes throughout his tenure as VP, in fact Wilson would be one of three vice presidents to die in 1875 with the other two being John C. Breckinridge and Andrew Johnson. Horace Greeley got 66 electoral votes and 43.8% of the popular vote unfortunately many of those votes couldn’t go to him as it was discovered that Greeley died…

That’s right, Horace Greeley passes away on November 29th which was the same day when the electoral votes were being counted and a little over a month after his wife had died making this election the only time in which one of the major candidates died before the electoral process could be finished.

It’s unclear to this day what led to Horace Greeley’s death with some alleging that he died of broken heart following the news regarding his wife and being screwed out of his newspaper empire while others believe it was the drugs that the people in the sanatorium were giving him that ultimately led to his death. Whatever the case may be, his death left the electoral votes he got in this election being pledged to other people thereby making the people who voted for someone else other than the two major candidates “Faithless Electors”.

With Greeley’s passing, most of the electoral votes he got were pledged to four other men:

  • Thoms Hendricks- A former Senator from Indiana got 42 electoral votes
  • Benjamin Graetz Brown- Greeley’s running mate got 18 electoral votes
  • Charles Jenkins- The former Governor of Georgia got 2 electoral votes
  • David Davis- Abraham Lincoln’s campaign advisor and candidate for the Liberal Republicans got only 1 electoral vote

Despite the fact that he died, three electors from Georgia who voted for Greeley still pledge their votes to him although these votes were considered invalid which is why in some cases when you look at the votes he gets in this election, it often says that he got zero.
The Liberal Republican Party would soon collapse after this election with many members rejoining the GOP, but to end things on a positive note when Horace Greeley was buried none other than Ulysses S. Grant himself attended the funeral showing that despite all the mudslinging made about his opponent in this election, the former war hero turned president decided to honor his fallen foe with respect at his final resting place.

So that’s the election of 1872, what series of events this was: corruption, dirty campaigning and a few people died along the way, but if you think things were crazy for this election that’s nothing compared to the controversy and ramifications that results from the election of 1876.

The Election of 1868 of Ulysses S. Grant vs. Horatio Seymour
The Election Of 1868: Ulysses S. Grant vs. Horatio Seymour (

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