ratz Brown was a U.S. senator, governor of Missouri, and vice-presidential
nominee of the Liberal Republican and Democratic Parties in 1872. He was born on
May 28, 1826, in Lexington, Kentucky, to Judith Bledsoe Brown and Mason Brown, a
lawyer. He entered Transylvania University in his hometown, and then transferred
to Yale, from which he graduated in 1847. After graduating from Louisville Law
School, he passed the bar exam in 1849 and began working at the St. Louis law
firm of his cousins, Montgomery and Frank Blair. In 1858, Brown married Mary
Gunn; they had eight children.
Brown’s Kentucky family were slaveowners, but he endorsed gradual
emancipation and the colonization of freed slaves to Africa. Brown joined the
anti-slavery Democratic faction of Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri. In
1852, Brown and Frank Blair bought a St. Louis newspaper (the Morning Signal),
which they renamed the Missouri Democrat. Brown contributed commentary to
the journal, including voicing his free-soil opposition to the expansion of
slavery. In 1854, he became the paper’s editor-in-chief.
Brown entered electoral politics in 1852 with the backing of the antislavery
German community in St. Louis and won a seat in the state legislature. A gunshot
to the knee in an 1856 duel with Thomas Reynolds, the leader of Missouri’s
pro-slavery Democrats, left Brown with a permanent limp (Reynolds was unharmed).
During his tenure in the state legislature, Brown consistently took a firm
free-soil stance, and continued to advocate gradual emancipation and
colonization. In 1858, he was defeated for reelection, and was pressured by
Frank Blair, for unclear reasons, to resign from the Missouri Democrat.
The next year, Brown established St. Louis’s first streetcar railroad company.
In 1860, Brown joined the Republican Party and attended the national
convention in Chicago as a delegate-at-large. He dutifully endorsed Edward
Bates, Missouri’s favorite-son candidate, before switching enthusiastically to
the eventual nominee, Abraham Lincoln of Illinois. When the Civil War began,
Brown became colonel of a regiment of 90-day volunteers. They saw no action, and
he did not reenlist. In August 1861, Brown strongly supported General John C.
Frémont’s emancipation order in Missouri (nullified by President Lincoln). Brown
resumed editorship of the Missouri Democrat, using its pages to encourage
Republicans nominated Brown for the U.S. Senate in 1862, but no candidate was
able to secure a majority in the divided state legislature. Over the next year,
he helped found the Radical Union party in Missouri on a platform promoting
immediate emancipation. In December 1863, Radical Unionists in the state
legislature were finally numerous enough to elect Brown to a truncated four-year
term in the U.S. Senate. In 1864, he and other Radicals backed General Frémont’s
challenge to President Lincoln’s reelection. When Frémont withdrew in October,
Brown supported the president.
Brown did not seek reelection to the Senate in 1866 due to ill health. He
continued to be active in politics, however, calling for a convention of
Missouri Radicals to endorse the policies of universal suffrage (i.e., voting
rights for black men) and universal amnesty (i.e., pardons for all former
Confederates). In 1870, Brown was elected governor of Missouri on a Liberal
Republican platform of universal suffrage (including for women), universal
amnesty, civil service reform, lower tariffs, and an eight-hour day. Democrats
also endorsed his candidacy, thus providing a blueprint for the national Liberal
Republican-Democratic coalition two years later.
In 1872, liberals unhappy with the administration of President Ulysses S.
Grant bolted the Republican Party to hold their own Liberal Republican
convention in Cincinnati. New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley was
nominated unexpectedly for president, and Brown, who had surprised colleagues by
endorsing the controversial editor, was nominated for vice president. The next
month, the Democratic Party also nominated the Greeley-Brown ticket and accepted
the Liberal Republican platform. During the campaign, Brown was ridiculed by
cartoonist Thomas Nast as a nametag on Greeley’s coattail. After defeat in the
November election, Brown returned to the practice of law, and did not
participate in politics except as an observer at the Democratic National
Convention in 1876. He died in St. Louis on December 13, 1885.