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The Compromise of 1877


The Compromise of 1877 between the Republicans and Democrats, occurring in January of that year, was the solution to the contested Presidential election of 1876 and furthermore brought an end to the period of Reconstruction following the Civil War.

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Both Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican candidate, and Samuel L. Tilden, the Democratic candidate, were moderate reformers, and the election was very close. Tilden led in the popular vote, but the count from four states, which represented a total of 20 votes in the electoral college, was disputed. No precedent had yet been set for dealing with contested votes, and tenacious partisanship during Reconstruction intensified the matter. Congress eventually, in January 1877, set up a special electoral commission with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans to decide the disputed votes. The tiebreaker member swayed to the Republican side, and the commission awarded all disputed votes to Hayes, who won the election with 185 electoral votes to Tilden's 184.

The Compromise came about as Democrats in the Senate threatened to prevent the commission from reporting with a filibuster. Republicans negotiated with the Democrats to abandon the filibuster by offering the following: the withdrawal of federal troops from the South, appointment of at least one Southerner to Hayes's cabinet, and economic benefits to industrialize the South. Unfortunately, withdrawal of troops meant the Republicans essentially abandoning the enforcement of racial equality in the South.

The era of Reconstruction was characterized by the attempt to restore the Union after the Civil War, but it was perceived differently by Southerners, Northerners, and African-American former slaves. The South saw it as tyrannical; the North saw it as necessary to prevent the reoccurrence of ante-bellum South; and African-Americans hoped to gain political and economic freedom from the policies of the Reconstruction.

Various political plans were proposed and instituted to deal with the South after the war. The Republicans held the Presidency and Congress, but they could not agree on an appropriate policy. The party was divided into the moderates and conservatives and the radicals. The radical Republicans, led by Representative Thaddeus Stevens (PA) and Senator Charles Sumner (MA), held racial equality and strict retribution as their platform. The moderates were represented by President Lincoln, who proposed a less punitive plan.

Lincoln's 1863 Reconstruction plan required that 10% of the voters in a state needed to pledge allegiance to the Union for the state to be readmitted. The Wade-Davis Bill of 1864, which Lincoln vetoed, required a majority to pledge allegiance and swear the "Ironclad Oath" that they had never borne arms against the Union.

President Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln as a Republican but had been a Democrat until joining Lincoln's ticket, devised a plan was known as "Restoration" which really required nothing from the South to rejoin the Union except some formalities which satisfied his personal thirst for power. Opposed to Johnson's "Presidential Reconstruction" was "Congressional Reconstruction" from the radical Republicans. As a response to the South's instituting Black Codes, the radicals expanded the Freedman's Bureau and proposed the first Civil Rights legislation. The Fourteenth Amendment gave citizenship to black men. Later the Fifteenth Amendment was also passed which granted suffrage to black men. Reconstruction failed, however, to provide economically for the freed slaves.

After Lincoln and Johnson's moderate policies, the Congressional Reconstruction seemed particularly harsh to Southerners. Post-Reconstruction, Southern Democrats began to assert their power.

Edited, Researched and Written by: Jennifer N Harlow
November 10, 1997

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