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The Compromise of 1877

In the history of the United States, Blacks have been consistently compromised whenever it was advantageous to whites for political power.   Two examples of this were the Three-Fifths Compromise and the Compromise of 1850. 

 In the Three-Fifths Compromise, white slave owners were allowed to count their black slaves three-fifths of a human being for taxation and representation in Congress. This satisfied Southern slaveholders desire to gain more seats in Congress while keeping them from becoming too powerful from gaining whole votes for their slaves.    In either scenario, Blacks were used as pawns in the political process. 

The goal of the Compromise of 1850 was to deal with the issue of slavery in  The Compromise of 1850 included the Fugitive Slave Act, which required citizens to assist in the recovery of fugitive slaves.  It also meant that slaves, who fled above the Mason-Dixon line to find freedom, were no longer safe from capture and re-enslavement. The Fugitive Slave Act was also detrimental to Blacks because it also denied captured runaway slaves a right to a jury trial.  This also put free blacks in jeopardy because a person could be arrested without a warrant and turned over to a claimant without any need for further proof other than the claimant’s sworn testimony. (A Pictorial History of African Americans by Langston Hughes and Milton Meltzer, New York: Crown Publishers, Ltd., 1995, pg. 44)

These two compromises were detrimental to blacks and their cause of freedom, but perhaps the greatest sting of compromise occurred in the Compromise of 1877.  Rutherford B. Hayes- Republican presidential candidate and Samuel J. Tilden Democratic Presidential candidate in 1876 election Tilden won the popular vote, and had 184 of the 185 electoral votes necessary to win. Three states, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida (all Republican controlled states) had disputed votes. These three disputed states held 20 electoral votes, which would decide the Presidency. The dispute was because Republicans argued that the Democrats used physical intimidation and bribery to discourage African Americans from voting.

Democrats wanted to put an end to Reconstruction in the South and saw this as a great opportunity to achieve that goal.  Had they won the Presidency, there was still no guarantee that they would have received enough support in the Republican controlled Congress to end Reconstruction.  Therefore, the Democrats used the situation to their advantage to put an end to Reconstruction.  The Republicans agreed to a compromise of removing the troops from the South in exchange for the presidency. The compromise also stipulated that legislation be enacted to facilitate economic development in the South.

The Republicans were willing to sacrifice Blacks.  Northern states grew tired of the Reconstruction effort and began focusing its attention on the Gilded Age and the Depression of 1873. The Hayes/Tilden turmoil had some Democrats threatening another Civil War.  The Republicans appeared ready to bring closure to the situation and move forward, at the expense of blacks.  Hayes was naïve to think that “the best whites” of the South would honor the Thirteenth, Fourteen, and Fifteenth Amendments in regards to black rights. (The Racial Attitudes of American Presidents from Abraham Lincoln to Theodore Roosevelt by George Sinkler New York: Anchor Books, 1972, pg. 217)

In the end, Hayes became President, federal troops were removed from the South, and blacks were subjected to harsh Jim Crow laws that would strip them of their most basic rights. The words “Liberty and justice for all” did not apply to the millions of Southern blacks that face the end of Reconstruction under Southern white rule.

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