Photographic book

The United States in the 1870s


Rutherford Hayes
Rutherford Hayes

In the 1870s Republican rule in the South faltered. After 1872, membership in the Republican Party fell, as terrorist groups used violence and intimidation to diminish black votes and curb Republican support. Mobilizing white votes, Democrats sought to regain control of state governments. Redemption, the Democrats’ term for their return to power, followed swiftly, as the Republican coalition collapsed. Once in office, Democrats dismantled the changes that Republicans had imposed. They rewrote state constitutions, cut state budgets and social programs, and lowered taxes. They also imposed laws to curb the rights of sharecroppers and tenants and to ensure a powerless black labor force. One such law forced debtors to work the land until their debts were paid. By the fall of 1876, Democrats had returned to power in all Southern states except South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana. The presidential election that year ended in a dispute over the electoral votes of these three states. Each party claimed victory. A special electoral commission gave the contest to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes.

But the commission’s decision had to be ratified by Congress. To secure the election of their candidate, Republican Party leaders struck a bargain with Southern Democrats. Republicans vowed, among other promises, to remove federal troops from Southern states. Democrats promised to accept Hayes and treat blacks fairly. Under the Compromise of 1877, Hayes became president, the last federal troops left the South, and the era of Reconstruction ended.

The 1877 bargain ended federal occupation of the South and Northerners’ efforts to ensure the rights of Southern blacks. “Today … the Government of the United States abandoned you,” the Republican governor of South Carolina told his African American supporters, as the last federal soldiers departed.

The Southern Republican Party virtually vanished. Black voting was not completely extinguished, but violence and intimidation caused it to decline.

Southern Democrats had triumphed. They remained in firm control of Southern states without Northern interference. Ex-Confederates, although humiliated by defeat in the Civil War, regained power. But the South was now tied to racial oppression and economic backwardness. The Republicans’ ambitious plan for Reconstruction failed, although it did leave two positive legacies: The 14th and 15th Amendments ensured black rights and gave the vote to black men. To maintain the rights of Southern blacks, however, would have meant a far longer period of military rule—which both Republicans and Democrats of the 1870s wished to avoid—and postponed any hope of national reunion.

Only in the 1960s would the nation begin to confront the consequences of failing to protect the rights of black citizens. In the last third of the 19th century, Americans turned to their economic future—to developing the nation’s vast resources, to wrestling profit from industry, and to the settlement of the trans-Mississippi West. "USA" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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