The Reform League was a political party of the Confederate States, in existence between 1878 and 1893. It contested three presidential elections, but was successful only in one, having John H. Reagan and Simon B. Buckner elected in 1885. Supporters of the league were known as Reformists.


The Reform League was established prior to the 1879 presidential election, in order to provide an effective opposition to the governing National League and its presumptive nominee, P. G. T. Beauregard. The party nominated John C. Brown, the former Governor of Tennessee, with his running mate being Francis T. Nicholls, the serving Governor of Louisiana. Brown had been the driving force behind its creation, largely because of his opposition to the hands-off economic policies of the sitting Nationalist president, Zebulon B. Vance. Nicholls' alignment with the Reformists was more due to his personal dislike of Beauregard (a fellow Louisianan), and the belief his war record was exaggerated. It had been hoped the inclusion of Nicholls on the ticket would help Brown sway Louisiana away from Beauregard, but this strategy proved unsuccessful. Largely relying on his war-time reputation, Beauregard won all but three states – Tennessee, Kentucky, and Texas. The Reformists' cause was hindered by their lack of a formal campaign organization in several states.

During his presidency, both Beauregard and his vice-president, Custis Lee of Virginia, came to be perceived as aloof and elitist. For the 1885 election, the Reform League nominated John H. Reagan of Texas, a sitting senator and former cabinet official. His running mate was Simon B. Buckner, the serving Governor of Kentucky. Reagan and Buckner had similar political beliefs, and had both actively campaigned for the Reform League six years previously, making them almost unanimous choices for the nomination. Brown and Nicholls, the previous nominees, had both been urged to run again, but considered their defeat to be a personal rejection. The National League nominated Edmund K. Smith of Florida, who had been Beauregard's Secretary of State. While well-respected, he had little interest in campaigning for the presidency. At the election, the Reformists retained the three states they had won in 1879, and unexpectedly added four others, gaining a narrow victory.

Reagan's policy ambitions as president were tempered by a largely hostile Congress, although he remained personally respected and well-liked throughout his term. The Reform League unanimously chose Vice-President Buckner as their nominee for the 1891 election, with Augustus H. Garland, the former Governor of Arkansas, selected as his running mate. However, the election was won by John B. Gordon, the candidate of the newly formed Citizens' Party (a populist breakaway from the National League which also attracted support from disenchanted Reformists). Buckner and Garland finished in second place, with the Nationalist ticket of John T. Morgan and Lucius Lamar only winning two states, Alabama and Louisiana. Discomfort at the perceived radical nature of some of Gordon's policies led to the National League and Reform League merging in 1893, forming the new Democratic Party.

Presidential candidates

Successful tickets are highlighted in bold:
  • 1879: John C. Brown (Tennessee) and Francis T. Nicholls (Louisiana)
  • 1885: John H. Reagan (Texas) and Simon B. Buckner (Kentucky)
  • 1891: Simon B. Buckner (Kentucky) and Augustus H. Garland (Arkansas)

See also

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