During the administration of Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881), the Republican Party was split into two factions:
The Stalwarts, the conservative faction, saw themselves as "stalwart" in opposition to Hayes' efforts to reconcile with the South. They opposed all forms of civil service reform, preferring to keep in place the existing patronage system. Among their numbers were many Radical Republicans, Union war veterans and most of the Republican political bosses. The Stalwarts also backed the protective tariff and sought a third term for U.S. Grant in 1880. Roscoe Conkling of New York was the most prominent Stalwart leader.
The Half-Breeds, a term of disparagement favored by the Stalwarts, was applied to the moderately liberal faction of the Republican Party. In the minds of the Stalwarts, the term "Half-Breed" was meant to suggest that they were only half Republican. The Half-Breeds backed Hayes' lenient treatment of the South and supported civil service reform. James G. Blaine of Maine was the leader of this group, but failed to win the party nomination in 1876 and 1880.
The Republican convention of 1880 was deeply divided between Stalwarts and Half-Breeds, but after 36 ballots the convention settled on a "dark horse" compromise candidate, James A. Garfield. Although not closely affiliated with the Half-Breeds, Garfield supported policies of reform that they advocated.
The assassination of Garfield in 1881 by James Guiteau, a crazed Stalwart who declared, "I am a Stalwart of the Stalwarts and Arthur will be President," promptly ended usage of the terms "Stalwart" and "Half-Breed."