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The Compromise of 1877

The Compromise of 1877 fixed the commotion that had ascended following the 1876 presidential election. In that election, Democratic candidate Samuel J. Tilden of New York won 247,448 more popular votes than Republican Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio. But the electoral votes in the three southern states of Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina were undecided. For just about four months, from November into late February, pressures stayed high as the question of who was to become the nation’s next president was still not decided.

In January 1877, Congress brought together a 15-member Electoral Commission to resolve the issue of if Rutherford B. Hayes or Samuel J. Tilden had won the contested states. The commission voted 8-7 along party lines to award the votes of all three states to Hayes. As the commission deliberated, members of Congress and others made their own attempts to end the ongoing problem, but no written or formal agreements were established.

During Reconstruction, the period after the Civil War when the South reorganized its political, social, and economic systems to account for the end of slavery, federal troops occupied the South. White Southerners generally despised these troops, and wanted an end to the intervention of the federal government in the South. These troops served to help guarantee African American men’s right to vote, and the Republican-controlled federal government would only end the military placing when states rewrote their Constitutions to recognize the social conscience and voting rights of African American men.

The Compromise of 1877 gave white Southerners their chance to stop the military placing of the South. In the compromise of 1877, Southern Democrats had agreed upon to not block the vote by which Congress had awarded the contested electoral votes to Rutherford B. Hayes, and Hayes will become the president. In return, Republicans had agreed to withdraw all federal troops from actively intervening in the politics of Louisiana and South Carolina (the last two states occupied by these federal troops). Accordingly, within two months of becoming president, Hayes ordered federal troops in Louisiana and South Carolina to return to their bases.

The removal of the federal soldiers from the streets and from statehouse offices had beckoned the end of the Republican Party’s commitment to protecting the civil and political rights of African Americans, and marked a very huge political turning point in American history: it ended Reconstruction.

Another very important part of the Compromise of 1877 was that Republicans agreed to home-rule in the Southern area. Home-rule meaning that the Republican Party would refrain from interfering in the South’s resident affairs, and that white Democrats, many of them are racist, would rule over. Southern Democrats, for their portion, made a pledge that they would “recognize the civil and political equality of blacks.” They did not end up actually carrying through on this promise but instead disfranchised the black men from voting and imposed Jim Crow segregation across the South.

Jim Crow was the name of the racial standing system which operated mainly, but not only in southern and border states, between 1877 and the mid-1960s. Jim Crow was more than a series of very rigid anti-black laws. It was a way of people’s life. Under Jim Crow segregation, African Americans were demoted to the status of second class citizens. Jim Crow was the representative of the legitimization of anti-black racism. Many Christian ministers and theologians taught that whites were the Chosen people, blacks were cursed to be servants, and God supported racial segregation.

In all, with the Compromise of 1877, the Republican Party had abandoned the last trace of its support for equal rights for African Americans in the South. With the taking away of federal troops went any hope of reconstructing the South as a racially-egalitarian society after the end of slavery. As Henry Adams, a black Louisianan, bemoaned, “The whole South — every state in the South—had got into the hands of the very men that held us as slaves.

In the after math of the Compromise of 1877, a few African Americans in some areas of the South continued to vote and serve in government offices into the 1890s, but the Compromise of 1877 marked the very effective end of the Republican Party’s active support of civil rights for black Americans. Southern states had rapidly passed laws subjugating African Americans and implementing racial segregation.

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