Key Facts & Summary:
- The Compromise of 1877, determined the disputed 1876 election between the Samuel Tilden the Democrat candidate and Rutherford B. Hayes the Republican Candidate.
- The Democrats concede to a Rutherford B. Hayes Presidency in exchange for the withdrawal of federal troops from the South the granting of home rule in the South.
A contested presidential election
For 1876, presidential election, the Democrats chose their candidate as Governor Samuel B. Tilden of New York while the Republicans nominated Rutherford B. Hayes the Governor of Ohio. Among his campaign promises, the Republican Candidate promised to secure “the blessings of honest and capable local self-government” to the South, which at the time meant that he would ensure minimal application of the unpopular federal government Reconstruction policies.
On Election Day, at first, the Democrats appeared to be in the winning streak, securing the swing votes of Connecticut, Indiana, New York and New Jersey. At midnight Tilden had 184 of the 185 electoral votes he needed to win and was leading the popular vote by 250,000. The Republicans refused to accept defeat and accused Democratic supporters of intimidating and bribing African-American voters to prevent them from voting in three southern states–Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina. As of 1876, these were the only remaining states in the South with Republican governments.
The election in South Carolina was bloody as Supporters of the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wade Hampton, a former Confederate general, had used violence and intimidation to confront the African-American voting majority. A clash between black militia and armed whites in Hamburg in July ended in the death of five militiamen after their surrender. While at Camboy (near Charleston) six white men were killed when armed blacks opened fire in a political meeting. With both sides accusing each other of electoral fraud, South Carolina, along with Florida and Louisiana, submitted two sets of election returns with different results. Meanwhile, in Oregon, the state’s Democratic governor replaced a Republican elector with a Democrat (alleging that the Republican had been ineligible), thus throwing Hayes’ victory in that state into question as well.
Congress set up an electoral commission in January 1877 consisting of five U.S. representatives, five senators and five Supreme Court justices to resolve the dispute. The commission’s members included seven Democrats, seven Republicans and one independent, Justice David Davis. When Davis refused to serve, the moderate Republican Justice Joseph Bradley was chosen to replace him.
As the commission was deliberating over the issues, Hayes’ Republican allies met in secret with the moderate southern Democrats. In February, during a meeting in Washington’s Wormley Hotel, the Democrats agreed to accept Hayes victory and to respect the civil and political rights of African Americans, on the condition that Republicans withdraw all federal troops from South, thus consolidating Democratic control in the region.
Hayes was also required to appoint a Southerner to his cabinet and support a land grant for the Texas and Pacific Railroad, a planned transcontinental line via a southern route. Upon agreeing to the terms, the Congressional Commission voted 8-7 along party lines, awarding all the disputed electoral votes to Hayes, declaring him the winner with 185, against Tilden’s 184.
By the 1870s, support for the reconstruction policies significantly reduced and white supremacy was restored. A series of Supreme Court actions also challenged the reconstruction laws that already had glaring unconstitutionality. The Federal government also failed to observe or enforce the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments guaranteed African American citizenship and the right to vote.
Hayes appointed David Key a Tennessee as postmaster general; he further withdrew federal government troops from Louisiana and South Carolina allowing Democrats control over the entire South. Although, he never made good of his promise to provide a land grant for the Texas and Pacific railroad.
The Reconstruction period came to an end, and the Democrats policy was to not interfere with state affairs and thus never honoured their promise to ensure that the civil and political rights of the blacks were protected. From the 1870s going forth, the southern legislatures passed a series of segregation laws called the Jim Crows laws.