ratz Brown was a senator, governor of Missouri, and vice-presidential nominee
of the Liberal Republican and Democratic parties in 1872. He was born in
Lexington, Kentucky, to Judith Bledsoe Brown and Mason Brown, a lawyer. He
entered Transylvania University in his hometown, then transferred to Yale, from
which he graduated in 1847. After graduating from Louisville Law School, was
passed the bar exam in 1849, then worked in the St. Louis law firm of his
cousins, Montgomery and Frank Blair. In 1858, Brown married Mary Gunn; they had
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 when, backed by the antislavery German
community in St. Louis, he 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, citing 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 the tag on Greeley's coattail. After their 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 in 1885.
Source consulted: American National Biography.