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John McAuley Palmer (September 13, 1817 September 25, 1900), was an Illinois residentmarker, an American Civil War General who fought for the Union, Governor of Illinois, and presidential candidate of the National Democratic Party in the 1896 election on a platform to defend the gold standard, free trade, and limited government.

Palmer switched political parties throughout his life, starting out a Democrat. He became in turn an anti-Nebraskamarker Democrat (against state sovereignty on slavery), a Republican, a Liberal Republican, returned to being a Democrat, then ended as a Bourbon Democrat. He said, "I had my own views. I was not a slave of any party," and added, "I thought for myself and [have] spoken my own words on all occasions."

Early life and career

Born at Eagle Creek in Scott County, Kentuckymarker, Palmer's family in 1831 moved to Alton, Illinoismarker. They were very poor, but he later worked his way through college. In 1839, he was admitted to the bar in that state. Palmer married Malinda Ann Neely in 1842 and had ten children with her. His early careers included being a lawyer, school teacher, coopering, and selling clocks.

Palmer was a member of the state constitutional convention of 1848. Between 1852 and 1855, he was a Democratic member of the Illinois Senate, but joined the Republican party upon its organization and became one of its leaders in Illinois.

He presided over the 1856 Illinois Republican Convention in Bloomingtonmarker that founded the party in his home state. In 1859 he was the Republican candidate in a special election to a vacancy in the 36th Congress caused by the death of Thomas L. Harris, but he was defeated by John A. McClernand. He later became a Republican presidential elector in 1860, and was one of the leading people who got his friend Abraham Lincoln nominated for the presidency at the national convention in Chicagomarker.

In 1861, he was appointed by Lincoln to be a delegate to the peace convention in Washington. It failed when no compromise could be reached.

Civil War

During the American Civil War, Palmer served in the Union army, rising from the rank of colonel to that of major general in the volunteer service. He enlisted in 1861 and was commissioned Colonel of the 14th Illinois Infantry, serving under his friend John C. Fremont in an expedition to Springfield, Missourimarker, to put down the rebellion in that state. On December 20, 1861, he was promoted to brigadier general and assigned command of a brigade under John Pope.

Palmer took part in the capture of New Madrid and Island No. 10, commanding a division in the latter campaign. Taken ill in the field, he returned home to recuperate and raised a new regiment, the 122nd Illinois Infantry. Taking the field again in September, he was assigned by William S. Rosecrans to command the first division of the Army of the Mississippi in Alabamamarker and Tennesseemarker. On November 29, 1862, he was promoted to major general of volunteers, and was conspicuous in the Battle of Stones Rivermarker, where his division held an important position within the Union lines.

Palmer effectively led his troops during the Battle of Chickamaugamarker in September 1863. He commanded the 14th Corps of the Army of the Cumberland during the Chattanooga Campaignmarker (November 23,–November 25, 1863), and served under George Henry Thomas in the Atlanta Campaignmarker. Palmer's corps was a part of William T. Sherman's March to the Sea and the actions to capture Savannah, Georgiamarker, late in the year. In early 1865, he asked to be relieved of command and was reassigned to command all Federal forces in Kentuckymarker, helping to assert Federal control over the state for the next three years.

Postbellum career

John M.
Palmer
In 1868, he resigned from the Army and was elected Governor of Illinois as a candidate of the Republican Party. He succeeded fellow Republican, General Richard James Oglesby. He was succeeded in turn by Oglesby in 1873. In the Presidential election of 1872, Governor Palmer received three electoral votes for Vice President by electors who had voted for the Liberal Republican Party's Vice Presidential candidate B. Gratz Brown for President after the death of Horace Greeley. In 1890, he was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Democrat and served one term.

1892 Presidential Possibility

In 1892, Palmer was seriously considered as a candidate for the presidency. At first, Palmer was taken up as a “refuge” candidate. Some Chicago Democrats, who were not prepared to accept Cleveland, Hill, or Gorman, were to support Palmer until they could go to the winner. This in itself was a point gained by Palmer and he proceeded to utilize it at once.

In early February 1892, Palmer had a conference with Patrick A. Collins, a former Democratic Massachusetts Congressman. At this conference, the two Democrats concluded a treaty. The purpose of the treaty was to make Palmer the Democratic Presidential candidate and Massachusetts Governor William Russell, Collin’s personal and political friend, the Vice Presidential candidate. It was argued by Collins that Palmer, being a Western Senator of Kentucky stock, would be acceptable to the Southern Democrats. The objection as to Palmer’s age would be met by pointing out that Russell, the youngest of governors, would become President in the event of his death. Russell’s nomination would command the support of New England Democrats.

Before the 1892 Democratic National Convention, Cook County Democrats held a convention and endorsed Senator Palmer for President. In the end, Palmer stood faithful to former President Grover Cleveland and worked to have him nominated. Even though he supported Cleveland, many Illinois Democrats still supported him for President. Palmer was such a serious candidate that he had to go to the Democratic Convention in Chicago to discourage his own nomination.

Rather than running for reelection in 1896, he ran for President.

Defending the Gold Standard

Palmer was the presidential candidate for the National Democratic Party in the 1896 election. The National Democratic Party was a conservative splinter group opposed to the free-silver platform of the regular Democratic Party and its nominee, William Jennings Bryan. His running mate on this "Gold Democratic" ticket, was Simon Bolivar Buckner, Sr., a former Confederate general and governor of Kentuckymarker. The National Democratic Party ticket received the coveted endorsement of the New York Times.

The party arose out of a split in the Democratic Party due to the economic depression that occurred under Democratic president Grover Cleveland. At the 1896 presidential convention, one of Palmer's main Illinois rivals was Governor John Peter Altgeld, who succeeded in getting his own candidate, former Illinoisan William Jennings Bryan, nominated for the presidency. The currency issue dominated the campaign, blurring party lines. Eastern Democrats, unable to accept the party's free-silver platform and unwilling to support McKinley for his tariff views, created their own political party and nominated Palmer as their own candidate.

Palmer opposed free silver, which was a plan to place the value of silver to gold at 16-to-1 ratio, and then to tie the U.S. dollar to that value. Palmer noted that this plan ran contrary to the world market value of silver and gold, which was about 32 to 1. But, with Altgeld and Bryan in control of the Democratic convention, free silver won the day. Palmer believed it would have ruined the American economy, and he ran for president for a third party that was a breakaway group of Democrats. In waging this quixotic campaign, he was a key figure in the "last stand" of classical liberalism as a political movement in the nineteenth century.

Palmer and the other founders were disenchanted Democrats who viewed the party as a means to preserve the small-government ideals of Thomas Jefferson and Grover Cleveland, which they believed had been betrayed by Bryan. In its first official statement, the executive committee of the party declared, the Democrats had believed “in the ability of every individual, unassisted, if unfettered by law, to achieve his own happiness” and had upheld his “right and opportunity peaceably to pursue whatever course of conduct he would, provided such conduct deprived no other individual of the equal enjoyment of the same right and opportunity. [They] stood for freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of trade, and freedom of contract, all of which are implied by the century-old battle-cry of the Democratic party, ‘Individual Liberty’” The party criticized both the inflationist policies of the Democrats and the protectionism of the Republicans.

The 79-year-old Palmer received just under 1 percent of the vote in the election. Most supporters of the ideals of the National Democratic Party probably voted for McKinley because of his support of the gold standard.

Palmer died in Springfield, Illinoismarker in 1900, and was interred in the City Cemetery at Carlinville, Illinoismarker.

John M. Palmer Elementary School, located at 5051 North Kenneth Avenue on the northwest side of Chicagomarker in named in his honor.

See also



References

  • The Personal Recollections of John M. Palmer: The Story of an Earnest Life, published posthumously in 1901.
  • David T. Beito and Linda Royster Beito, "Gold Democrats and the Decline of Classical Liberalism, 1896-1900,"Independent Review 4 (Spring 2000), 555-75.
  • Mostly Good and Competent Men, Second Edition, by Robert H. Howard, revised and updated by Peggy Boyer Long and Mike Lawrence in 1998.



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