James B. Weaver

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James B. Weaver
James Weaver - Brady-Handy.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Iowa's 6th district
In office
March 4, 1879 – March 3, 1881
March 4, 1885 – March 3, 1889
Preceded by Ezekiel S. Sampson
John C. Cook
Succeeded by Marsena E. Cutts
John F. Lacey
Personal details
Born James Baird Weaver
(1833-06-12)June 12, 1833
Dayton, Ohio
Died February 6, 1912(1912-02-06) (aged 78)
Des Moines, Iowa
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Clarrisa Vinson Weaver
Profession Politician, Lawyer

James Baird Weaver (June 12, 1833 – February 6, 1912) was a United States politician and member of the United States House of Representatives, representing Iowa as a member of the Greenback Party. He ran for President two times on third party tickets in the late 19th century. An opponent of the gold standard and national banks, he is most famous as the presidential nominee of the People's Party (commonly known as the "Populists") in the 1892 election.


Early years[edit]

Weaver was born in Dayton, Ohio. He was the fifth child and eldest son of the 13 children of Abram Weaver (1804–1887) and Susan Imlay (1807–1886). His father was a farmer. His family moved to a farm nine miles north of Cassopolis, Michigan in 1835. In 1842, the Weaver family moved to the Iowa Territory to await the opening of new land on May 1, 1843, when they established a farm four miles north of Bloomfield, Iowa. Five years later the family moved into town when his father was elected Clerk of District Court. In 1853, Weaver accompanied his brother-in-law on a cattle drive overland from Bloomfield to Sacramento, California, returning by way of Panama.

Upon his return Weaver studied law in Bloomfield then later at the Cincinnati Law School. He established himself as a lawyer in Bloomfield. After reading Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, he became active in the abolitionist movement. During this time Weaver met Clarrisa Vinson (1832–1913), a native of St. Mary's, Ohio, who was a teacher in nearby Keosauqua, Iowa. They married on July 13, 1858.

After the start of the Union mobilization in the American Civil War, he enlisted as a private in the 2nd Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment. In 1861 he received a commission as a lieutenant and fought at the Battle of Fort Donelson, Battle of Shiloh and Second Battle of Corinth. Weaver was promoted from lieutenant to major prior to Corinth and to colonel immediately following the battle. By the end of the war, he had been made brevet brigadier general.

Political career[edit]

After the war he became active in Iowa politics as a member of the Republican Party. In 1866 he was elected district attorney of the Second Iowa Judicial District. On March 25, 1867, he was appointed a federal assessor of internal revenue by President Andrew Johnson.

Weaver became increasingly disenchanted with the Republican Party and the presidential administration of Ulysses S. Grant, viewing it as under the control of big business at the expense of farmers and small businessmen. He joined the Greenback Party, which advocated an expanded and flexible national currency based on the use of silver alongside gold, as well as an eight-hour work day, the taxation of interest from government bonds, and a graduated income tax. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1878 on the Greenback ticket and served in the Forty-sixth Congress from 1879 to 1881, but in 1880 was nominated for the presidency instead of re-election to Congress.

Weaver ran again for Congress in 1882, but lost to Republican Marsena E. Cutts. He successfully ran again in 1884 and was re-elected in 1886, serving from 1885 to 1889. During that period, he served as chairman of the Committee on Expenditures in the Department of the Interior from 1885 to 1887 and of the Committee on Patents from 1887 to 1889. When seeking re-election in 1888, Weaver was defeated in the general election by Republican John F. Lacey.

Later years, death, and legacy[edit]

Weaver as he appeared in the early 1890s.

Weaver served as mayor of Colfax, Iowa from 1901 to 1903. He died in Des Moines, Iowa.

The James B. Weaver House in Bloomfield, Iowa is a National Historic Landmark.

Presidential candidacies[edit]

James B. Weaver was twice a candidate for President of the United States.


Weaver was a candidate for renomination in 1880, but he was instead nominated as the presidential candidate of the Greenback Party at its convention in Chicago where he outpolled Pennsylvania congressman Hendrick Bradley Wright. In the 1880 presidential election, he received 314,578 votes, compared to 4,454,416 for Republican James Garfield and 4,444,952 for Democrat Winfield Hancock. Much of Weaver's support came from the Great Plains and rural West, areas where the Farmers' Alliance was strong.

The Greenback Party eventually merged with the Democratic Party in most states, a move that Weaver opposed.


Results showing the percentage of votes cast for Weaver in each county in the election of 1892.

In 1891 Weaver helped found the People's Party, a group commonly known as the "Populists." In 1892 he was the presidential nominee of the Peoples Party at its convention in Omaha and chose a strategy of forming alliances with African Americans in the South. His policy was not well received by Whites in the South and led to violence and intimidation against black voters.

Weaver received such strong support in the West that he become the only third-party nominee between 1860 and 1912 to carry a single state. In one of the better showings by a third-party candidate in U.S. history, Weaver received over a million popular votes, and won four states (Colorado, Kansas, Idaho, and Nevada) and 22 electoral votes. Weaver also performed well in the South as he won counties in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Texas. Populists did best in Alabama, where electoral fraud probably carried the day for Democrats.[1]

Weaver's running mate was James G. Field, a former Confederate general from Virginia whom he selected in an effort to move beyond the era's prevailing bloody shirt politics.

Work with the 1896 election[edit]

In the 1896 election, he threw his support behind Democrat William Jennings Bryan, who supported many of the Populist causes and who subsequently captured the Democratic Party nomination. Weaver had believed that he had struck a deal with Bryan that Tom Watson, who had helped found the Populist Party with Weaver, would be Bryan's running mate. Instead Bryan chose Arthur Sewall, a conservative opponent of trade unions from Maine. As a consequence, many in the Populist Party turned against Bryan and refused to support him in the general election. Bryan was defeated by Republican nominee William McKinley.

The People's Party went into decline after 1896 and soon disappeared; however, many of its core ideas, such as the direct election of United States Senators, a graduated income tax, and the relaxation of the gold standard, were implemented in later decades, the first two by means of the necessary constitutional amendments.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Charles W. Calhoun (ed.), The Gilded Age: Perspectives on the Origins of Modern America. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1995; pg. 295.

Further reading[edit]

  • Thomas B. Colbert, "Disgruntled 'Chronic Office Seeker' or Man of Political Integrity: James Baird Weaver and the Republican Party in Iowa, 1857-1877," Annals of Iowa, vol. 49 (1988), pp. 187–207.
  • Thomas B. Colbert, "Political Fusion in Iowa: The Election of James B. Weaver to Congress in 1878," Arizona and the West, vol. 20 (1979), pp. 25–40.
  • Fred Emory Haynes, James Baird Weaver. Iowa City, IA: The State Historical Society of Iowa, 1919.
  • Mark Lause, The Civil War’s Last Campaign: James B. Weaver, the National Greenback-Labor Party, and the Politics of Race and Section. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2001.
  • Robert B. Mitchell, Skirmisher: The Life, Times, and Political Career of James B. Weaver. Roseville, MN: Edinborough Press, 2008.
  • Robert B. Mitchell, "The Untamed Greenbacker," Iowa Heritage Illustrated, vol. 86 (2006), pp. 106–119.
  • Leland L. Sage, "Weaver in Allison's Way," Annals of Iowa, vol. 31 (1953), pp. 485–507.

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Ezekiel S. Sampson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Iowa's 6th congressional district

March 4, 1879 – March 3, 1881 (obsolete district)
Succeeded by
Marsena E. Cutts
Preceded by
John C. Cook
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Iowa's 6th congressional district

March 4, 1885 – March 3, 1889 (obsolete district)
Succeeded by
John F. Lacey
Party political offices
Preceded by
Peter Cooper
Greenback Party presidential candidate
1880 (lost)
Succeeded by
Benjamin Franklin Butler
Preceded by
People's Party presidential candidate
1892 (lost)
Succeeded by
William Jennings Bryan
Political offices
Preceded by
Mayor of Colfax, Iowa
1901 – 1903
Succeeded by