THE POLITICAL FLUCTUATIONS OF B. GRATZ
BROWN: POLITICS IN A BORDER STATE,
BY NORMA L. PETERSON*
Missouri politics from 1850 to 1870 were turbulent and changing.
Old parties dissolved, new parties came into being, various coalitions
were formed. This was the situation in the nation as a whole, but
divisions and mergers in the border states were of even greater
complexity.1 The political fluctuations of B. Gratz Brown well
exemplify the instability of American politics during this period.
Brown ran the gamut of political parties: Whig, Benton Democrat,
Republican, Radical, Liberal Republican, and Democrat. With the
exception of three years, he held public office continually from 1852
to 1873, as a member of the Missouri General Assembly, as United
States senator, and as governor. In 1872 he was the Vice Presidential candidate on the Liberal Republican ticket. In addition,
from 1854 to 1859 he was editor-in-chief of one of St. Louis' most
influential newspapers, the Missouri Democrat. Originally a Benton
organ, it too changed its policy from time to time.
Born in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1826, Brown grew up in a strong
Whig environment. His father, an eminent Whig lawyer, served in
the judicial and executive branches of the state government.
Although Bnyvvn often visited his Blair relatives, he assured his
family there was nothing to fear from this exposure to their Democratic ideas. "I scarcely think," he wrote, "that General Jackson
himself, were he to rise bodily from the grave, could win me from
the true cause."2
Upon being admitted to the bar in 1849, Brown left Kentucky
for St. Louis to join the legal firm already established by his cousins,
*Norma L. Peterson received her B.A. degree from Colorado College and her M.A. and Ph.D.
from the University of Missouri. She is now associate professor of history at Adams State College
of Colorado at Alamosa.
JThis complexity is clearly brought out in letters of the Abiel Leonard Manuscript Collection
and the James Sidney Rollins Collection, State Historical Society of Missouri, Columbia; the
Edward Bates Papers, James O. Broadhead Papers, Hamilton Gamble Papers, and George R.
Smith Papers, Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis; the Blair Papers, Andrew Johnson Papers,
and the Robert Todd Lincoln Collection of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, Library of Congress.
2B. Gratz Brown to Orlando Brown, May 9, 1847, Brown Letters, Filson Club, Louisville,