2005-11-17 / Opinions

1877 Compromise aborted reconstruction and deferred civil rights for 91 years


Don’t Fuss ... Let’s Discuss
The African-American Community Forum

My African-American sisters and brothers of Wilkes County, please make a mental note of an old saying: “There are no permanent friends and there are no permanent enemies, just permanent interests.”

The Compromise of 1877 ended reconstruction in the South before its mission was accomplished and the failure of President Ulysses S. Grant to enforce the Civil Rights Act of 1866 are two perfect examples.

The postwar era of the Civil Ware underwent some immediate and radical changes between 1865 and 1877. The ex-enslaved Africans were released from farms and plantations but had no place to go and no money in their pockets or support system.

The Confederate treasury had been depleted by $2 billion. The Southern infrastructure was left in a shambles. There was a 40 percent decline in Southern wealth. The slave owners lost $4.0 billion in human capital assets. President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated. Southern military officers and political leaders had been disenfranchised.

Southern states were under occupation by Union military take-over with authority to enforce African-American suffrage and political equality. President Andrew Johnson’s reconstruction plan superseded Lincoln’s plan. White ex-slave owners were compelled for survival reasons to become landlords and offer enticements to force ex-slaves to become paid laborers (sharecroppers).

The Black Codes of the South were enacted and enforced. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 that gave the new citizens (African American) the same rights as white but was never enforced by President Ulysses S. Grant. African Americans were allowed to vote at the beginning of reconstruction and there were African-Americans elected to political offices. They were expelled from political offices in Georgia by a majority of white Republicans and Democrats who returned to power and joined together on that one issue to get rid of the elected AfricanAmerican politicians, notwithstanding the fact that the white politicians were parties to the conditions for which Georgia was readmitted to the Union. All Southern states ratified the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments and were readmitted to the United States.

Now, we African-Americans should have a clear understanding of that old saying: “There are no permanent friends or enemies just permanent interests.” Perhaps, we can relate this truth to our own personal relationships and experiences within our AfricanAmerican community.

Let us examine the political and economic events that led to the 1877 compromise that caused enemies to become friends once again for the purpose of establishing mutual political and economic interests for the benefit of both sides; except that the Civil Rights of the African-American citizens were sacrificed at that time in order for the 1877 compromise to be consummated.

At the beginning of the 1865 reconstruction period, there was a temporary political vacuum that existed in the postwar South. Confederate military and political leaders were prohibited from participating in the political process. The reconstruction Republican governments filled the void and were able to retain control by depending on the votes of the newly enfranchised African-Americans who were vital to the political process, but that did not mean that they ran affairs.

The postwar era of the Civil War was full of widespread political corruption in the South and North. However, it attracted more attention in the South. Dishonest scalawags and carpetbaggers enriched themselves in state and local governments in the South during reconstruction.

What was a scalawag? It is a derogatory term applied to native white Southerners who supported the federal reconstruction plan and cooperated with the African-Americans in order to achieve their ends. Some were entirely above board, having opposed the Confederacy in earlier times and later wanted a new South to emerge from the rubble. Others cooperated with or served in the Republican governments in order to avail themselves of money-making opportunities.

What was a carpetbagger? It was also a derogatory term applied to Northerners who went South during reconstruction, motivated by either profit or idealism. The name referred to the cloth bags many of them used for transporting their possessions. Despite the negative connotation of the name, many of them were sincerely interested in aiding the freedom and education of the former enslaved Africans.

Meanwhile, the presidential election of 1876 was at hand. Both major political parties were influenced by major scandals and corruption in the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant and they sought to nominate candidates who could win the public trust.

In 1874, the Democratic Party returned to power in the House of Representatives, providing an indication of public discontent with the “Great Scandals” and the endless reconstruction process that got started in 1865. The Democratic candidate for president was Samuel J. Tilden, who had established an outstanding record as the reform-minded governor of New York. Tilden campaigned on the removal of the federal soldiers occupying the South, a position looked upon favorably by supporters in the South.

The Republican candidate for president was Rutherford B. Hayes, governor of Ohio. While the Republican platform called for taking steps to assure African-American equality, he was somewhat skeptical so he attacked Tilden’s questionable health, his financial and political ties to the railroads.

The 1876 election result was that Tilden had won the majority of the popular vote, but there was little agreement on what the electoral results should be. In order to win, a candidate needed 185 electoral votes. Tilden controlled 184 votes and Hayes 165. However, there were 20 votes in dispute in South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida where reconstruction Republican governments were still in control.

Each of those states with disputed votes submitted two sets of electoral ballots, one favoring Tilden, the other Hayes. The Constitution of the United States was silent on such occurrence and offered no remedy. This situation brought about discussion from some quarter that this matter could possibly lead to another civil war. In the end, Congress decided to appoint a federal commission to decide which candidate, Tilden or Hayes, would be the new president.

The national election results were that Samuel J. Tilde, the Democratic candidate, received 4,288,546 popular votes and 184 electoral votes; Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican candidate, received 4,034,311 and 165 electoral votes or 254,235 popular votes and 19 electoral less than Tilden. Twenty electoral votes were in dispute.

An informal agreement between the two parties, sometimes called the Compromise of 1877, was worked out that called for the establishment of a Federal Commission. The commission deliberated and voted 8-7 to make Hayes the new president; even though Hayes received 254,235 less popular votes than Tilden. The commission settled the disputed 20 electoral votes thusly: all 20 disputed votes went to Hayes in that the three states, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida, were still under reconstruction Republican government in 1876. The democrats agreed to accept the commission’s decision provided that the Republicans would agree to these terms: (1) withdraw federal soldiers from their positions in the South; (2) enact federal legislation that would spur industrialization in the South; (3) appoint Democrats to positions in the South; and (4) appoint a Democrat to the president’s cabinet. Once the parties had agreed to these terms, the Hayes’ electors were selected and Hayes was named president two days before the inauguration in January, 1877.

Why did the Democrats give up the presidency that they had probably and legitimately won? Unrecorded events taking place off-the-record and in a smoke filled room are lost to history.

One obvious answer is for sure. For the four million African-American citizens, including 7,953 in Wilkes County, the Compromise of 1877 was a “great betrayal.” The Republican Party efforts to assure civil rights for the African-American citizens were totally abandoned. The white populations in the South and North were more anxious to get on with restoring their way of life and wealth by any means necessary than to be concerned about civil rights for African-Americans, who were then citizens of the United States but had no political or economic power nor leverage to sway either political party to pay attention to their Constitution needs.

There was absolutely no serious move to restore the civil rights of African American citizens until 91 years later, when the Civil Rights Act of 1957 was enacted by Congress. The first Civil Rights Act of 1866 was vetoed by President Andrew Johnson who said that “blacks were not qualified for United States citizenship and that the bill would operate in favor of the colored and against white race.” The Congress overrode the presidential veto and it became law without enforcement.

Meanwhile, Jim Crow Laws, backed up by the Ku Klux Klan terrorist activities, undermined any efforts in the South to enforce federal laws which were applicable to all citizens of the United States. The second Civil Rights Act of 1875 was enacted by Congress to guarantee freedom of access, regardless of race, to the “full and equal enjoyment” of inns, public conveyances and public places of amusement. It was overturned in 1883 by the Supreme Court on the grounds that the act was unconstitutional because Congress had no power to regulate the conduct of individuals and the act was not authorized by the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 is memorable as the last civil rights legislation passed until 1957.

My African-American sisters and brothers, I am sure you have knowledge of the outcome of the 2000 presidential election results between Governor George W. Bush and Vice-President Al Gore. The Supreme Court decided who was going to be the President of the United States, not the votes.

In this article you now know that history has repeated itself, in that, in 1876, the election between Tilden and Hayes was decided by a federal commission, not by the majority votes and the usual electoral votes which under normal conditions go with the majority popular votes. It is a political possible that questionable electoral votes can be manipulated between the closed doors through compromise as was the case in the outcome of the 1876 election.

Presently, you should know about the conflict between President Bush and the Congress over the candidates for the Supreme Court vacancies, whether the appointees should have liberal, moderate, conservative, neoconservative or a combination of all ideologies. The Supreme Court Judges already on the bench and those to be appointed can and will determine which laws on the books need to be overturned and new laws to be upheld, most often in favor of party affiliation.

History has recorded that the Supreme Court decisions have been for and against the same issues brought before the court at different times and under different circumstances. Therefore, we African-Americans should not assume that our civil rights and voting rights are guaranteed in “Ten Commandments Stone Tablets” because they can be watered down, modified, delayed and eliminated so long as there are majority politicians with power, special interest influences, money, and lots of money, and majority public opinions.

Whether the outcomes are 60-40 or 51-49 or 50-50 in favor of issues that are fair or unfair. This is Democracy.

What we African-Americans must do is to change the way we think and our dependence on the politicians who only consider our interests when there is no threat to their agenda. We can, with the resources we already have, elevate our political power to leveraging our community solidarity through education power, economic power, financial power, political power, and unity of purpose in our ethnic community. These challengers will in fact impact the political decision making processes for effective social and economic benefits for ourselves and our future generations.

Don’t fuss or cuss, let’s discuss.

What is your thoughtful contribution to the solution?

Send your response to docdanner @nu-z.net or P.O. Box 1328, Washington, Georgia 30673. I have Laptop Power Point, will travel to your town hall meetings.

The opinions expressed by this columnist do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of this newspaper.

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