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Compromise Of 1877 Essay Research Paper AfricanAmericans

Compromise Of 1877 Essay, Research Paper African-Americans may sometimes wonder at the contradictory facts about their history presented in many standard history texts. These texts state that blacks were given the right to vote in 1870, yet the same texts will acknowledge that this right did not really exist for African-Americans until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Compromise Of 1877 Essay, Research Paper

African-Americans may sometimes wonder at the contradictory facts about their history presented in many standard history texts. These texts state that blacks were given the right to vote in 1870, yet the same texts will acknowledge that this right did not really exist for African-Americans until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Similarly, the first public accommodation law was passed in 1875, but history shows that it took 91 years before it was acknowledged and African-Americans were allowed to the full benefits of citizenship.1

It is common knowledge that the American Civil War provided freedom and certain civil rights, including to right to vote, to the African-American population of the nineteenth-century. What is not generally known, and only very rarely acknowledged, is that after freeing the slaves held in the Southeastern portion of the U.S., the federal government abandoned these same African-Americans at the end of the Reconstruction period.2

The Republicans were losing their political clout. By agreeing to what has become known as the Compromise of 1877, the Republicans effectively abandoned the people they had fought so long to free. This was because this compromise between Democrats and Republicans effectively repealed the constitutional strides, which had been made thus far toward offering the black population of the U.S. equality.3

The passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States gave African-Americans recognized rights under the law. However, a national commitment to the civil and political rights of all U.S. citizens without regard to matters of race was destined to last less then a decade.4

There are certain historical facts, which have been lost in the public memory, as certain legends have taken the place of reality. In order to fully understand what happened, it is necessary to comprehend that the Northern states were far from being uniformly the champions of equal rights that is generally indicated by popular belief. By this understanding, that is that the abandonment of African-Americans did not constitute a drastic change of moral position for many people in the North, it is easier to understand their subsequent actions in ignoring the plight of African-Americans in the South after the Reconstruction era.5

An example of one to these overlooked historical facts would be that there were still slaves in the nation’s capital in 1860; and, at that time, the President-elect, Abraham Lincoln, offered, “to support a constitutional amendment to insulate the institution of slavery in the slave states from federal interference.”6

The same President abolished slavery in the South with the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, and it was abolished on a nationwide level in 1865 by constitutional amendment. By statute, African-Americans received the basic civil rights to make and enforce contracts; to acquire, hold, and dispose of property; and to equal applications of criminal laws in 1866. These rights were constitutionalized in 1868. African-Americans did not acquire the right to vote till 1870.7

There was enormous resistance from forces in the South throughout these years, these reforms were not easily instituted; yet, the movement toward real equality ended in 1870. In that year, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts introduced a bill which, had it been passed unchanged, would have abolished racial discrimination and segregation in “public schools, cemeteries, railroads…inns..and the exclusion of citizens from jury service on the basis of race.” Unfortunately, this final triumph of the Reconstruction met with defeat.8

This was because the country, as a whole, not just the South, was tired of the ongoing crusade for civil rights. A representative from Delaware, on the floor of the Senate, even questioned if the Fourteenth Amendment had any illegal or binding force in law. This same representative then made a speech declaring his belief in white superiority.9

The Democratic Party had a specific political agenda. Their goal was to neutralize the Fourteenth Amendment and restore white Democratic leadership to the southern states while finding a legal means to subordinate the African race. In order to accomplish this, the Democrats used a strategy that was a combination of exaggerated loyalty to states’ rights and a “disingenuous denial of the social realities of discrimination and segregation.” This was the basic stance of the Democratic Party in both the 1874 and 1876 elections.10

At that time, the nation was suffering from one of the deepest depression in its history. Only the Great Depression of the 1930s would exceed it. Due to this factor and the general corruption and ineptitude of the Grant administration, the public was ready to repudiate the Republican Party. Sumner’s proposed Civil Rights bill was a central issue. It is not an exaggeration to say that the election of 1874 was the equivalent of a nationwide referendum on whether or not the nation would continue its commitment to civil rights.11

The election of 1874 was a landslide victory for the Democratic Party. Republicans were reduced to just 17 seats in the House of Representatives. The lame duck Congress still controlled by the Republicans passed a watered-down version of the civil rights bill just one month before the Democratic majority took over. A review of the Congressional Record at this time reveals that even the Republicans were beginning to shift their focus away from civil rights and towards economic issues.12

The whole mood of the country had changed. The carpetbagger governments of the Reconstruction era were viewed as utterly corrupt, and the public linked this corruption with the ignorance of black voters and those blacks in office.13

The term “Carpetbagger” refers to unscrupulous Northerners who came South after the Civil War with all of their worldly possessions in cheap bags made from an old piece of carpet. Because of the numerous restrictions placed upon those Southerners who had fought for the Confederacy, these men were able to gain control of state governments. Even people in the North recognized them as being a generally unsavory lot without principles, and the general consensus was that they were fleecing Southerners and the federal government as well. As the carpetbagger state governments were meeting with more and more public disapproval, the tide of public opinion toward African-American suffrage was changing.14

The American Missionary Association, which had been a leader in the movement toward black civil rights up to this time, declared that black suffrage had turned out to be a failure. The New England Freedman’s Aid Society was dissolved as of 1874.15

To be sure, the Republicans had not given up on civil rights entirely. They still had some control in the Senate; they still had the Presidency with some Southern states still in control of Republican administrations. When possible, the Grant administration still had federal troops stationed in the South to protect fragile Reconstruction governments as late as 1875. In 1875, the party platform of the Republicans attested that “the complete protection of all citizens in the free enjoyment of all their rights, are duties to which the Republican Party is sacredly pledged.”16

When the votes were counted in 1875, Samuel Tilden, the Democratic candidate had the majority of the popular vote. However, Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican candidate, had a victory in the Electoral College by a single vote. The situation was as potentially explosive as a keg of dynamite. Many believed that another civil war was in the making, and more people expected violence in 1877, then they did in 1861. A commission was set up to work out a solution.17

By a vote of 8-7, the commission awarded the election to Hayes. The Democrats had control of the House of Representatives, which was charged with the official responsibility of counting the votes. If the Democrats could delay the vote count by filibuster until March 4, Hayes would be unable to take office and the entire country would be thrown into chaos. The Compromise of 1877 averted this crisis at the last second.18

The Democrats in the House would allow Hayes to be elected, but in return the Republicans had to make a number of commitments, which included removing the last of the federal troop support for southern Carpetbagger governments. Furthermore, the Republicans had to agree to fund major public works in the South, and to appoint Democrats to federal positions which were be held by Carpetbaggers.19

With Democratic rule in the South, the door was left open for the subordination of African-Americans. The climate of public opinion had turned against blacks, and many in the North met this subordination with tacit approval. Through legislation, which added restrictions to voter registration that most Southern African-Americans could not possibly meet (such as the common restriction that one’s grandfather must have been a registered voter, in order to register), the Southern states effectively nullified the African-American franchise without specifically repealing any of the pertinent legislation.20

Then, in 1896, a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, Plessy v. Ferguson, opened the way for further legal restrictions on African-American liberty through the infamous “Jim Crow” laws.21

Homer Plessy, an African-American, challenged a Louisiana law, which required railroad passengers to be separated by race. When the Supreme Court upheld this law, it effectively made the “separate but equal” doctrine, which had been taking shape in the South, legal on a nationwide basis.22

Numerous “Jim Crow” laws followed which further established the legal boundaries of segregation between races and effectively subordinated African-Americans to white rule.23

Thus, the South, through legislation, was able to effectively negate the Constitutional advancements, which African-Americans had gained after the Civil War and during the Reconstruction era. A brief period of equality under the law was over, and African-Americans would have to wait close to a century before strides toward equality would be attempted again.

Bibliography

Endnotes

1. Mary-Christine Phillip, “Yesterday Once More: African-Americans Wonder if New Era Heralds,” Black Issues in Higher Education (July 1995): 26.

2. Eric Foner, A Short History of Reconstruction (New York: Harper and Row, 1990), 247-53. Kenneth M. Stampp, The Era of Reconstruction, 1865-1877 (New York: Vintage Books, 1965), 211-12.

3. Kenneth M. Stampp, The Era of Reconstruction, 1865-1877 (New York: Vintage Books, 1965), 210-11.

4. Eric Foner, A Short History of Reconstruction (New York: Harper and Row, 1990), 191-93. Kenneth M. Stampp, The Era of Reconstruction, 1865-1877 (New York: Vintage Books, 1965), 136-37, 142.

5. Michael W. McConnell, “The Forgotten Constitutional Moment,” Constitutional Commentary, No. 1 (Winter 1994): 115-16.

6. Michael W. McConnell, “The Forgotten Constitutional Moment,” Constitutional Commentary, No. 1 (Winter 1994): 116.

7. Michael W. McConnell, “The Forgotten Constitutional Moment,” Constitutional Commentary, No. 1 (Winter 1994): 116-18.

8. Robert C. Byrd, The Senate, 1789-1989: Addresses on the History of the US Senate, Vol.1 (New York: Bernan Associates, 1989), 163.

9. Michael W. McConnell, “The Forgotten Constitutional Moment,” Constitutional Commentary, No. 1 (Winter 1994): 117-18.

10. Kenneth M. Stampp, The Era of Reconstruction, 1865-1877 (New York: Vintage Books, 1965), 193-95. Eric Foner, A Short History of Reconstruction (New York: Harper and Row, 1990), 226-27.

11. Michael W. McConnell, “The Forgotten Constitutional Moment,” Constitutional Commentary, No. 1 (Winter 1994): 118.

12. Eric Foner, A Short History of Reconstruction (New York: Harper and Row, 1990), 222.

13. Michael W. McConnell, “The Forgotten Constitutional Moment,” Constitutional Commentary, No. 1 (Winter 1994): 119.

14. Eric Foner, A Short History of Reconstruction (New York: Harper and Row, 1990), 129-30, 136, 231. Kenneth M. Stampp, The Era of Reconstruction, 1865-1877 (New York: Vintage Books, 1965), 156, 158-59.

15. Eric Foner, A Short History of Reconstruction (New York: Harper and Row, 1990), 223. Michael W. McConnell, “The Forgotten Constitutional Moment,” Constitutional Commentary, No. 1 (Winter 1994): 119.

16. Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, The Reader’s Companion to American History (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1991), 283-84. Michael W. McConnell, “The Forgotten Constitutional Moment,” Constitutional Commentary, No. 1 (Winter 1994): 119.

17. Michael W. McConnell, “The Forgotten Constitutional Moment,” Constitutional Commentary, No. 1 (Winter 1994): 120. Eric Foner, A Short History of Reconstruction (New York: Harper and Row, 1990), 240-42. Kenneth M. Stampp, The Era of Reconstruction, 1865-1877 (New York: Vintage Books, 1965), 186.

18. Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, The Reader’s Companion to American History (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1991), 287.

19. Michael W. McConnell, “The Forgotten Constitutional Moment,” Constitutional Commentary, No. 1 (Winter 1994): 120.

20. Michael W. McConnell, “The Forgotten Constitutional Moment,” Constitutional Commentary, No. 1 (Winter 1994): 121-22.

21. Tad Tuleja, American History in 100 Nutshells (New York: Fawcett Columbine Books, 1992), 163-64.

22. Tad Tuleja, American History in 100 Nutshells (New York: Fawcett Columbine Books, 1992), 164.

23. Tad Tuleja, American History in 100 Nutshells (New York: Fawcett Columbine Books, 1992), 164.

Byrd, Robert C. The Senate, 1789-1989: Addresses on the History of the US Senate, Vol. 1. (New York: Bernan Associates, 1989).

Foner, Eric. A Short History of Reconstruction. (New York: Harper and Row, 1990).

Foner, Eric and John A. Garraty. The Reader’s Companion to American History. (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1991).

McConnell, Michael W. “The Forgotten Constitutional Moment,” Constitutional Commentary, No. 1. (Winter 1994).

Phillip, Mary-Christine. “Yesterday Once More: African-Americans Wonder If New Era Heralds,” Black Issues in Higher Education. (July 1995).

Stampp, Kenneth M. The Era of Reconstruction, 1865-1877. (New York: Vintage Books, 1965).

Tuleja, Tad. American History in 100 Nutshells. (New York: Fawcett Columbine Books, 1992).

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