avatarAnthony Eichberger



Redeemers — A Legacy of Moxie & Appetition

The Redeemers (“Baby Grangers” or “Purple Shirts”) forced society’s hand on exploring suffrage, abolition, and hegemonic capitalism

Photo by Felipe Simo on Unsplash

During the second half of last year, I launched my Jigsaw Gens series through which I profiled the eight main generations of the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries. They included, chronologically: Hemingrebels, GI-Gens, Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, GenXers, Millennials, Zoomers, and Alphas.

My current phase of “Jigsaw Gens” is to track the generations who dominated the Nineteenth Century and earlier. So far, I have profiled the Missionary, Stowegressive, and Golden Renegade generations.

So who came before the Golden Renegades?

That would be members of the generation whom I dub the “Redeemers.”

Who They Are

Redeemers were born approximately between 1816 to 1827 — give or take a few years on either end. They cross over between the Transcendental (“prophets” and “idealists”) and Gilded (“nomads” and “reactives”) cohorts as constructed by historians William Strauss and Neil Howe. These kids would grow up to be involved in — or opposed to (or witnessing) — the Redemption movement of the 1870s through 1910s.

This was the oldest generation of crucial Civil War ground soldiers & infantrymen, although there would still be a smattering of older Civil War officers from some older generations. They were society’s most powerful elders throughout Reconstruction and the Gilded Age. Only a cross-section of them explicitly supported the goals of Southern Democrats who’d launched the formal Redemption movement of the late-Nineteenth Century. However, Americans of all ideological leanings sought to “redeem” America’s image according to their own biases and political positions from during and after the Civil War.

Other nicknames for Redeemers could include: Baby Grangers, in order to acknowledge how so many founders and leading farmers from The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry were born into this generation; Purple Shirts, since their involvement in the Civil War arose from the preceding years of polarized opponents clashing on sectarian grounds; Risk-Takers, because of how leaders from this cohort weren’t shy about charging into heated battles (be they military or intellectual) to stand behind their convictions; Auric Earlybirds, seeing how they were the second Gold Rush generation as well as the earliest generation of people who would influence the very beginnings of the Gilded Age; or Dredgers, in reference to how the process of “dredging” was utilized by gold miners in much the same way, metaphorically speaking, Redeemer activists had “dredged” up long-simmering injustices and grievances ignored by America for so long.

These nicknames reflect the historical tumult that caused the Nineteenth Century to shape the centuries that would come afterward — and Redeemers were right in the thick of it!

What They Went Through

As more and more Redeemers were born, anti-British sentiments amongst Americans ebbed and flowed. Some embraced the unity preached by President James Monroe. Others internalized the anti-British, anti-Spanish, anti-Indigenous, anti-Black dogma of Jacksonian devotees. These conflicting worldviews clashed as the Whig Party fell apart and partisanship over slavery intensified (especially after the Dred Scott ruling).

This generation aged into their mid-thirties through their late-forties while the Civil War ravaged the United States. When Redeemers themselves became parents, they had to figure out how to explain to their own children (Golden Renegades and Stowegressives) why all of this was happening. Only two Redeemers ascended to the presidency — the naïve Ulysses S. Grant and the opportunistic Rutherford B. Hayes.

Thus, Redeemers endured a lifetime perpetually jaded by the state of American politics. During their adulthood, they watched two men who’d lost the popular vote — Hayes, as well as Benjamin Harrison — receive the privilege of presidential power. Throughout the second halves of their lives, Redeemers fueled tribalism between Radical Republicans and ancestors to Dixiecrats (the latter of whom would embrace Jim Crow laws) when defining how the paths toward suffrage and equality would be paved.

How They’re Misunderstood

The oldest of the Redeemers were born during “the Era of Good Feelings.” This placed their childhoods in the War of 1812’s immediate aftermath. They had to decide whether to make peace with the British…or continue harboring resentment.

Redeemers’ adolescence and young adulthood was rattled by the Panic of 1837. As they tried to recover, economically, Americans were dragged into the Mexican-American War by their leaders. Such programming further cemented anti-Spanish views as statehood was granted to Florida, Texas, and California in short order. Much of today’s anti-Hispanic, anti-Latine, or anti-Chicano racism can be traced back to this time period of events.

Many of the youngest Redeemers were still starting new families when the Compromise of 1850 further inflamed regional and partisan tensions. This occurred under the shadow of Manifest Destiny. After sacrificing their energy fighting on either side of the Civil War, elderly survivors of their generation would also go on to witness the Spanish-American War of 1898 unfold. For those who’d subsisted this long, they’d watch in awe as Theodore Roosevelt sauntered into power — embodying a modernized incarnation of the frontiersman spirit that Andrew Jackson and Zachary Taylor had previously attempted to wrangle.

Toward the end of their lives, the longest-enduring Redeemers took solace in the idea that — despite the rampant corruption, treason, and betrayal they’d perceived from lawmakers throughout their lives — things might be finally turning a corner for the better.

Why They Matter

As children, Redeemers witnessed an unprecedented four-way U.S. presidential election unfold. In 1824, Jackson won the popular vote against John Quincy Adams, William H. Crawford, and Henry Clay. Yet, none of these men won the Electoral College outright. When the U.S. House of Representatives awarded the White House to Adams, it began a domino effect of political chaos.

The Era of Good Feelings was most definitely over. Federalists and Democratic-Republicans morphed into the pro-Jeffersonian Democratic Party and the Whig Party. A dichotomy of anger and spite persisted as Jackson vetoed one bill after another that emerged from Congress. All of this occurred with American Westward Expansion in the backdrop.

As Texas gained statehood and other U.S. territories debated the legality (and morality) of slavery, Redeemers became key organizers of these factions. Racial emancipation (for Black, Indigenous, & future People of Color) and women’s suffrage pierced the American consciousness even as many White settlers flooded their wagon trains onto the Oregon Trail.

Redeemers broke the dam for America’s internal us-versus-them narratives. Decrying robber barons or making excuses for them. Supporting more immigration from China and Europe or opposing the population influx of the century’s final decades. Promoting equality based on race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, and gender — or upholding privilege for White men at the expense of women and Black and Brown people.

Even as Americans battled over Reconstruction and Jim Crow, the Grangers propelled the scope of U.S. agriculture. Commodity storage, freight costs, postal service, free trade, and gender equality all have the Grange’s influence from the 1870s onward to thank for placing these policy items on the menu. Oliver Hudson Kelley, perhaps the movement’s most visible co-founder, was born into the Redeemer generation.

A vast majority of Redeemers never lived to see the two World Wars. For them, conflict and justice were confined to a transcontinental bubble.

As with every main generational cohort, Redeemers were surrounded by two distinct “microgenerations.”

The “Prospectors” (born approximately from 1811 to 1815) featured the oldest of the Redeemers alongside of the youngest of the Transcendentals. The gold rush and Civil War discord were central to their lives as they weighed the choice between transcendentalism and redemption.

This microgeneration included people such as Harriett Beecher Stowe, Isaac Singer, Wendell Phillips, Horace Greeley, and Emma Stebbins.

“Gilded Architects” (born approximately between 1828 and 1832) consisted of the youngest Redeemers plus the oldest Golden Renegades. They grappled with the impact of warfare on racial equality and international trade, having to decide whether to emphasize performance or negotiation as they mapped out America’s future.

This microgeneration featured historical figures boasting leaders as well-known as Emily Dickinson, Horatio Alger, Sitting Bull, John Pemberton, and Helen Hunt Jackson.

Some of the most renowned Redeemers who’ve epitomized the battles (both physical and cerebral) fought by members of their cohort include the likes of Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Henry David Thoreau, Lew Wallace, and Harriet Tubman.

A list of historical figures who were members of the Redeemer cohort:

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