The Election of 1868 and 1876
The Election of 1868
The Radical Republicans had overreached themselves in their attempt to impeach the president on trumped-up grounds. The Republican Party was now afraid of losing power in Washington. Republican leaders decided that the best thing to do would be to support the candidate who seemed most assured of an easy victory at the polls. This man was none other than Ulysses S. Grant—who had no experience in politics. Like George Washington and Andrew Jackson before him, Grant was popular with the public purely because of his military success. In the end, thanks to the support of African-American voters in the South, Grant won a narrow victory over New York governor Horatio Seymour.
Acknowledging the importance to their party of the new group of voters, Republican congressional representatives proposed the Fifteenth Amendment, which read:
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
The Fifteenth Amendment was ratified in 1870. It caused an unintended schism in the women’s suffrage movement; since it ignored the question of women’s rights, many suffragist leaders refused to support it. This in turn caused anger and resentment among African-American women, who felt that the women’s movement should support the Fifteenth Amendment and then use it as a lever to fight for their own rights.
African Americans took full advantage of what was, for most of them, their first chance to participate in the political process. All former Confederate states were required to write new state constitutions; African-American delegates took part in all these constitutional conventions. Southern African Americans were elected to state legislatures, to the U.S. Congress, and to a variety of state and local offices.
Thwarted in their attempts to restore the prewar status quo, the former Confederate loyalists reacted by forming a terrorist organization called the Ku Klux Klan. Wearing hoods and robes to hide their identities, white men formed mobs throughout the old Confederacy. They attacked and murdered Republican legislators, both white and black. They attacked and killed any African American who crossed their paths, especially those who had won any economic or political success. They burned homes, businesses, churches, and schools belonging to African Americans.
African Americans responded in a variety of ways. They destroyed property that belonged to Klan members. They protected anyone whom they knew was likely to be attacked. They appealed to the federal government for help. Congress passed the Enforcement Acts of 1870 and 1871, allowing the federal government to use military force against terrorist groups and to prosecute the terrorists. Klan membership declined after these acts were passed.
1876: Election and Compromise
Active Republican support for Reconstruction faded as time passed. Republican efforts had been so successful that the politicians felt that their work was completed, and they began turning their attention to the national economy. The Panic of 1873 threw many people out of work. Democrats found new supporters among thousands of small businessmen and small farmers, many of whom blamed Reconstruction projects for the economic depression. In the 1874 elections, Democrats regained the majority of seats in the House of Representatives. Congress did pass the Civil Rights Act of 1875, prohibiting segregation and discrimination in public places such as restaurants, but this was to be the last active federal effort toward Reconstruction.
Seizing their moment of strength and support among the voting public, the Democrats used terrorist tactics, including murder, to prevent African Americans from voting for Republican candidates in state elections. In 1876, the Democrats used similar tactics in support of presidential candidate Samuel Tilden. Tilden won the popular vote, but the electoral votes in four states were disputed, and in the Compromise of 1877, Congress agreed to name Republican Rutherford B. Hayes president in exchange for the withdrawal of federal troops from the South. Without the support of these troops, the last of the Reconstruction governments quickly collapsed. It would take nearly 100 years for African Americans to have their full civil rights recognized again in the South.
Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:
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