Radical Republicans

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Not to be confused with reactionary Republicans, which are essentially the exact opposite.
Tommy Lee Jones Thaddeus Stevens, a Radical Republican

Radical Republicans were the elected officials of the Republican Party during the American Civil War (1861–65) and post-war Reconstruction era. They are most well known for their stance on abolitionism and civil rights legislation, as aimed towards the newly freed slaves of the former Confederacy, which was incredibly radical (hence their name) for mid-19th century America. A number of them also supported other then-radical causes, such as union rights, women's suffrage, and the creation of public schools (a goal of Southern carpetbaggers), but this doesn't apply to all of them. Many also advocated the redistribution of some plantation land belonging to larger, established slaveholders to newly freed slaves as a payment for their time spent in slavery and to provide many blacks with a better means of living in the South. Republicans of all stripes also advocated for "internal improvements," an old-school classically conservative Hamiltonian goal, which in modern parlance would be called tariff-financed government investment in infrastructure and included a transcontinental railroad fiercely opposed by Southerners.

For the most part, the era of the Radical Republicans ended with Reconstruction itself as "Moderates" took over since the Kellogg government episode. In the following century, the Republican party would morph into a different brand they represented when known as the Radical Republicans.

Some Radicals advocated the outright redistribution of some plantation land from Southern economic elites to the poor, former slaves, on a basis of justice emphasizing punishment of Confederates. Congressional Moderates under the lead of John BinghamWikipedia were not favorable, however.

Scandals surrounding Ulysses S. Grant were not taken lightly by reformers. The old "Free Soil" element of the Radical Republicans hostile to spoils system politics, protectionist tariffs, and railroad grants bolted in subsequent formation of the (short-lived) Liberal Republican PartyWikipedia[1] while "regulars" stayed loyal to Radicalism and "Grantism."[2] The Radical Republicans' "regular" element coalesced into the StalwartsWikipedia,[3] known during Rutherford B. Hayes's presidency as the party's conservative[4][5][6] faction loudly hostile towards any effort seeking to weaken civil rights protections and the spoils system.

Modern usage[edit]

The term is also used in modern times to refer to Reagan-era and post-Reagan Republicans - "Goldwater Republicans" - who shifted the party from a generally conservative, i.e., preserving the status quo, position, to one of espousing reactionary politics.[7]


  1. Don't let the name fool you. Their platform endorsed a "speedy return to specie payment," code for sound money. Their liberalism was classical, not modern.
  2. Patrick W. Riddleberger, The Break in the Radical Ranks: Liberals vs Stalwarts in the Election of 1872, pp. 136-57.
  3. Robert E. Dewhirst, John D. Rausch, Encyclopedia of the United States Congress, p. 52.
  4. Kevin F. Kern, Gregory S. Wilson, Ohio: A History of the Buckeye State.
  5. Clare Cushman, The Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated Biographies, 1789–2012, p. 195.
  6. Charles Quince, Rutherford B. Hayes and the Restoration of Presidential Powers, p. 95.
  7. A usage of the term on Huffington Post