The interesting thing about third political parties in America is that they sometimes force into the spotlight issues that might not have otherwise been much talked about.

The interesting thing about third political parties in America is that they sometimes force into the spotlight issues that might not have otherwise been much talked about.
Such is the case with the defunct Greenback Party, which more or less existed between 1874 and 1889. I've been mildly interested in the Greenback Party since learning that Newton County's preeminent antebellum and postbellum gentleman farmer, Mathew H. Ritchey, whose brick home still stands in Newtonia, was the local Greenback candidate for Congress in 1878. All I ever really knew is that they stood for overcirculating paper currency (as opposed to a monetary system backed by gold) and for inflation (a natural result). While true, there is more to the story than that.
Greenbacks was a nickname for the paper, green-inked national notes issued by the United States during the War Between the States as legal tender. They were not backed by an equal value in treasury gold, but by federal bonds. In fact, at one point greenbacks were worth just a little more than half their equivalent value in bullion. At the same time, separate gold-backed currency remained in circulation as well, as part of the dual currency system. Due to the resulting high inflation caused by circulation of non-gold backed paper currency, and a shortage of goods due to the war, creditors felt they were sort of getting the short end of the stick when their loans and debts were paid back to them in depreciated non-gold-backed paper greenbacks, as the value of the dollar repaid was worth less than the value of the dollar that was loaned.
After the end of the war and the resulting financial crisis, the creditors called for a complete return to the gold standard and the removal of non-gold-backed currency from circulation so that they would be repaid in “hard”, gold-backed money from then on out. The debtors, largely represented by farmers and laborers, were against a resumption of a strict gold-backed system and favored printing more unbacked paper notes (unbacked by gold reserves, that is), to generate inflation and make it easier to pay on debts. They saw their opponents as the monied interests and monopolies of the industrial northeast.
Space precludes me from going into much more detail, other than to say this went back and forth in the political arena, punctuated by various financial scares, for almost a decade until organized agrarian and labor forces joined together to form what would become the National Greenback Party in 1874. Most of its members had belonged to the Democratic Party, including Matthew Ritchey, who had been quite prominent in party affairs and had been elected as a Democrat to various local and state offices over the years.
During those early years the Greenbacks elected 21 members to the U.S. Congress, including 14 in 1878. Ritchey wasn't one of them. Ridiculed by local Democratic Party leaders for his switch to third party, Ritchey lost to the Democrat candidate for U.S. Representative, James R. Waddill, of Springfield, by 6,765 votes (or 16.75 percentage points). However, he did come in only 618 votes behind the Republican candidate, Charles G. Burton, of Nevada (this was the 6th Congressional District then, and the boundaries were different).
A continuation of unbacked paper currency, in opposition to the gold standard, wasn't the only platform plank of the Greenback Party, though it was always their main one. In time they also advocated women's suffrage and a graduated federal income tax, both of which later came into being years after the Greenback Party was no more.
The Greenback Party put up presidential nominees in 1876, 1880 and 1884, losing badly each time. The most the party ever got was 3.35 percent of the popular vote in 1880, with no electoral votes. After the last effort in 1884, the Party disbanded a few years later in 1889. Most of its former members were eventually absorbed into the Populist Party.
As for Matthew Ritchey, according to one secondary source, he later supported the Prohibition Party, which opposed the sale and consumption of alcohol, and which is actually still a political party to this day – the oldest political third party still in existence, in fact.
Although the Greenback Party only lasted a short while, it brought monetary policy into the national debate and forced the two major parties to better define their respective positions on the issue. I guess for that it was probably worth the effort.

Wes Franklin writes a column for the Neosho Daily News.