The Collapse of Reconstruction

Violence, Southern Democratic Power, and the
Failure of the Reconstruction.
White southerners who took direct action against African
American participation in government were in the minority,
and most swallowed their bitter resentments. Some relied
on violence as a form of repressive action.
Ku Klux Klan was founded in Tennessee in 1866 as a social club for
Confederate veterans, and by 1868 was a part of every southern
state. Their goal was to restore white supremacy through violent
terrorism to prevent African Americans from exercising their
political rights.
Between 1868 and 1871, the Klan and other secret groups killed
thousands of men, women, and children, as well as burned down
schools, churches, and property. Both African Americans and
white sympathizers were targeted.
Another Klan objective was to put Republicans out of power, as seen in the assassination
of N.C. state senator John Stephens in 1870. Before the 1875 state election in Mississippi,
the Democrats violently attacked the Republicans in a riot which led to poll intimidation
allowing for them to sweep the election—these tactics were repeated in the 1876
elections in F.L., S.C., L.O.
The attacks by groups such as the KKK destroyed the African
Americans property, and sheer economic necessity alone
drove many blacks to have to work as wage laborers or share
croppers under whites. Fear of economic reprisals lead to
many blacks not voting at all.
Congress passes Enforcement Acts in 1870 and 1871 which allowed
for federal supervision at the elections in Southern states and the
presidential power to use federal troops in states where the KKK was
active. Grant did not use these powers and by 1882, the Enforcement
Act of 1871 was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
By 1880, terrorist groups managed to restore white
supremacy throughout the South, and this in turn, decreased
Klan activities.
The Amnesty Act of 1872 restored suffrage to 150,000
former Confederate, who would vote Democrat.
Also the Freedmen’s Bureau expired and was not restored
because they felt the job was done—the Southern
Democrats had a chance to shift the balance of power.
Many of Grant’s appointees turned out to be dishonest—skimming
large profits off government railroad contracts, including friends
such as his 1st V.P, Schuyler Colfax
The Liberal Republican Party is formed in 1872 in hopes of
ousting Grant and the corruption for the next election, choosing
Horace Greeley (editor of New York Tribune) as their front
runner. Although Greeley lost to Grant, the Liberals had
weakened the Radical hold over the Party.
1875, the Whiskey Ring is exposed as the IRS and other
officials are caught taking bribes from whiskey distillers
who wanted to avoid taxes. Grant helps a close associate,
General Orville E. Babcock (private secretary) escape
conviction. Also, in 1876, Secretary of War William W.
Belknap is exposed for accepting bribes from merchants
who wanted to keep profitable trade concessions in
Indian territory—and other scandals.
After the Civil War, many Northern and Southern investors
borrowed large sums of money to invest in the expanding
economy, but many took on more debt then could be afforded.
Jay Cooke, a Philadelphia banker, invested heavily on railroads
and when insufficiencies in investors caused his bankruptcy, a
series of financial crises ensued.
The fall of the nations largest dealer in government securities
resulted in the closing of small banks, the collapse of the stock
market, 89 railroads going broke, and by 1875 more then
18,000 companies folded. 3 million workers lost their jobs and a
5 year economic depression ensued.
A currency dispute rooted in the Civil War also emerged.
Greenbacks versus currency backed by gold. This would reduce
the amount of dollars in circulation. Southern and Western
farmers wanted more greenbacks, since they saw “easy money”
as a way to pay off debts.
In 1875, Congress passed the Specie Resumption Act, which
promised to put the country back on the gold standard—this
resulted in attention being taken off Reconstruction in the
Political scandals, economic problems, and the restoration of political
rights to former Confederate Democrats seriously weakened the
Radical Republicans, also the Supreme Court began undoing some of
the political changes the Radicals had made.
During the 1870’s, the Supreme Court passed a series of decisions
that undermined both the 14th & 15th amendments. The
narrowing of the amendments and power of the federal
government to enforce these amendments gave the states
individual rights and freedom to impede black voting and
Northern voters grew weary of the “negro question” and sick of the
“carpetbag government”, and turned their attention to the problems
such as the Panic of 1873 and corruption of Grant’s administration.
The commitment to Reconstruction had lessened in the North, and
many believed the government didn’t have the power to impose the
social and moral changes needed.
Between 1865 and 1875, the Democrats had recaptured the
state governments of A.L., A.K., G.A., M.I., N.C., T.N., T.X., and
V.A.—this was called the “redemption” and the national election
of 1876 had brought Reconstruction to an end.
The Republicans chose Rutherford B. Hayes (governor of O.H.) against
Governor Samuel J. Tilden of N.Y. who had brought the Tweed ring to
its end. Tilden won the popular vote, but fell one electoral vote shy to
which a commission was assigned to go over the 20 vote dispute. The
republican majority within the commission voted in Hayes. 1st time in
history a candidate who lost the popular election became president.
Democrats and Republicans made a deal—Compromise of 1877, in
which Republican leaders agreed to withdraw troops from L.O. and S.C.
and give money to build a railroad from T.X to C.A. as well as improve
rivers, harbors, and bridges.
After the compromise, the Democrats achieved home rule, or the
ability to run state governments without federal intervention. They
passed laws to restrict rights of African Americans, wiped out social
programs, slashed taxes, and dismantled public schools.
Radical Republicans made several mistakes in their efforts to help
former slaves:
(1) They assumed that the extensions of civil rights
equaled the protection through participation in
government / lawmaking
(2) They did not feel that land distribution was
necessary, thus negating economic
(3) They did not realize the extent of deepseated racism and how it would impact
changes made by government.
The 13th, 14th & 15th amendments were successes
that remained in the Constitution, although
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