Compromise of 1877
The presidential election of 1876 celebrated 100 years since the Declaration of Independence. This election, however, proved so divisive that there were fears of another Civil War. When the dust settled there emerged a tainted president and a South free of Yankee soldiers.
For fourteen years various schemes of reconstruction had been attempted with varying levels of success. Some states had been fully reconstructed and were part of the Union once again without need of federal troops. A few Southern states still had the hated Yankee soldiers. The reason the troops were still there was that they were needed. Every election in these states still had the attendant violence with most of that coming from Night Rider groups trying to intimidate Republican voters.
US army patrols still had a tough time with the Night Riders, though the troops did make things considerably safer. Still, Republican voters were uniformly those singled out for beatings and intimidation. While the legitimate Democratic party condemned these attacks, they were hardly vigilant about stopping it. In Democratic controlled counties the only hope for law enforcement came from federal troops. Republicans lived in fear.
The debate over this “bayonet reconstruction” went like this: Democracy in the South was being stifled by Yankee troops and Republican administrations who were not wanted there. Though there was some support for the troops and Republican administrations, the simple fact was that if you allowed civil rights for all adults in these states, the Republicans would almost always lose. Many Republicans in the North were tiring of the effort to create a viable Republican party in the South. In almost every state where the Redeemers took over, the Republicans went into decline as white Republicans would change parties and black Republicans would have drops in voter turnout. The result was the same: Democrats started winning and kept winning.
To many, the Republican were simply an occupying force which flew in the face of democracy. They were not a true majority party and depended on the soldiers to stay in power and keep Democrats from voting. Democrats retaliated with Night Rider intimidation. It was rather ugly.
All this paled in the anger over the 1876 election. The Democratic candidate clearly won the popular vote and the all-important electoral vote. However, there were disputes over voting in Oregon and South Carolina. A commission was set up to solve the dispute. The commission dominated by Republicans decided that both Oregon and South Carolina had narrowly voted Republican. Republican control over both states contributed to the fortuitous decision of the commission.
Republican Rutherford B. Hayes was declared the President. However, in the backroom dealing over this there was made a significant compromise deal: The Democrats would not make a huge stink about the decision to award the election to Hayes, but the Republicans had to agree to pull the Yankee troops out of the remaining Southern states.
This deal effectively ended “bayonet reconstruction,” and all of reconstruction. As it died, Republicans and Democrats made promises that the civil rights of all Southerners would be respected. Republicans were not to fear the expected Redeemer governments.
For a few years this was the case. However, by the 1880s it was clear that the Yankee troops would never return. As the threat faded, Democratic officials were less likely to investigate and convict those implicated in voter intimidation. This made Democratic victories even more lopsided. Black voter participation (the most important Republican group) began to decline. By the 1880s, the lynching of suspected criminals began again in the South with hundreds happening in some years, however, very few of those lynched were black. This was due to the fear that lynching blacks could bring back the solders.
However, by the 1890s, the redeemer governments began to segregate facilities by race and the lynching of blacks began to accelerate greatly and soon more blacks than whites were being killed without the benefit of a trial. The final “approval” of the redeemer governments came in 1898 when the Plessy v. Ferguson decision legalized segregation with the famous phrase, “seperate but equal.” With that victory segregationists accelerated the separation of the races and soon did not even bother to worry about the “equal” part. Also in the 1890s, the great denial of civil rights to Southern blacks became commonplace as poll taxes, literacy tests and intimidation effectively ended the practice of voting by Southern blacks.
The great experiment of Radical Reconstruction had ended in victory for the South. The idea of making a new south with a native Republican party and full civil rights for blacks was dead
Black Southerners would have to wait until the 1960s to regain those civil rights with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And it would take an unusual alliance of Republicans and Northern Democrats to break a Southern Democratic filibuster to make that happen. That and some pushing from a man named Martin Luther King, Jr.