Friday, February 24, 2012

The Election of 1876

The presidential election of 1876 is sometimes considered to be a second "corrupt bargain." Three Southern states had contested vote counts, and each sent the results of two different slates of electors. Since both candidates needed those electoral votes to win the election, Congress appointed a special Electoral Commission to settle the dispute over which slates of electors to accept. After the commission awarded all the disputed electoral votes to the Republican candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Congress voted to accept their report, some dissatisfied Democrats claimed that Hayes or his supporters had made a secret compromise to secure the support of some Congressional Democrats. Most of the items in this alleged "Compromise of 1877" were either never acted on (calling into question whether they were ever agreed to) or had already been the established position of Hayes from the time of his accepting the Republican nomination (hence not a sudden "compromise" at all).

Hayes's detractors labeled the alleged compromise a "Corrupt Bargain" and mocked him with the nickname "Rutherfraud."

The most often cited item in the "compromise" was the agreement to accept Southern "home rule," withdrawing the remaining Northern troops from Southern capitals. This would remove an important tool the federal government had used to enforce that the South would uphold the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, which were intended to protect the rights of African-Americans, particularly their right to vote.

Generally, political support for maintaining these troops had dissipated during Grant's second term, and Hayes had little choice but to accept some form of "home rule." He attempted to do so, as stated in his nomination acceptance letter, by gaining promises from Southern states that they would respect the rights, and especially the voting rights, of the freedmen. On the other political side, the Democratic platform of Samuel Tilden, also promised removal of troops, but with no mention of any attempts to guarantee the freedmen's rights. For a time Hayes's approach had some success, but gradually Southern states moved to build new barriers to their right to vote.

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