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Presidential Reconstruction

I. At the end of the Civil War, a crucial constitutional question remained in dispute—whether, by seceding, the Confederate states had legally left
the union.
A. If so, they were now conquered territories.
Johnson’s Initiative
I. As a Jacksonian Democrat, Johnson saw himself as the champion of the common man.
II. In his reconstruction plan he offered amnesty to all southerners who took an oath of allegiance to the union except for high-ranking
Confederate officials and wealthy planters, whom he held responsible for secession.
A. He appointed provisional governors for the southern states and laid down conditions for their restoration only that they revoke their
ordinances of secession, repudiate their Confederate debts, and ratify the 13th Amendment.
III. At first republicans responded favorably. The moderates among them were sympathetic to Johnson’s argument that it was up to the states, not
the federal government, to settle questions of the ballot and civil rights for freedom.
A. The radicals liked the stern treatment of Confederate leaders, and they hoped that the new southern governments would respond positively
to Johnson’s approach and offer the vote to African Americans who were literate and owned property.
IV. Southerners had not lost their fierce attachment to the old slave order. The newly seated legislatures moved to restore slavery in all but name.
A. They enacted laws—known as Black Codes—designed to drive the freed slaves back to plantations and deny them elementary civil rights.
B. The new governments had mostly been formed by southern Unionists, but when it came to racist attitudes, not a lot distinguished them
from Confederates.
V. Stung by Republican criticism, Johnson began to rethink his political opinions. If the Republican establishment turned against him, then he
would build a new coalition of white southerners, northern democrats, and conservative republicans.
A. To retain the appearance of nonpartisanship, Johnson called his movement “National Union.”
B. The Civil War had left in disgrace the Democratic Party because it represented secession in the South and disloyalty in the north. Now
Democrats realized that Johnson’s gambit offered an avenue by which their discredited party could be restored to respectability.
C. As the president warmed to Democratic applause, he granted more pardons to influential southerners.
VI. His perceived indulgence of their efforts to restore white supremacy emboldened ex-Confederates. They packed the delegations to the new
Congress w/old comrades.
Republican Response
I. The Republican majorities in both houses refused to admit the southern delegations when Congress convened in Dec. 1865m blocking
Johnson’s reconstruction program.
A. Although relations with the president were frayed, the Republicans still assumed he would cooperate with them in formulating the new
terms on which the South would be readmitted to Congress.
II. The southern states backed away from the most flagrant of the Black Codes—those targeting one race—but in their place brought forth non-
racial ordinances that were administered in the same way; they were applied to blacks, not whites.
A. A wave of violence erupted across the south, intended to terrorize the freedmen into submission.
III. The previous Congress had established the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands to provide emergency aid to ex-slaves during
the transition of war to peace.
A. Under the leadership of Lyman Trumball, Congress voted to extend the Freedmen’s Bureau’s life, gave it direct funding for the first time,
and authorized its agents to investigate cases in which blacks were being denied civil rights.
IV. Trumball proposed a civil rights bill that declared all people born in the US were citizens and granted them—without regard to race—equal
rights of contract access to the courts, and protection of person and property.
A. His bill nullified all state laws depriving citizens of these rights, authorized US attorneys to bring enforcement suits in the federal court,
and provided for fines and imprisonment for anyone found guilty of depriving a citizen of civil rights.
Acting on Freedom
I. While Congress debated, African Americans acted on their own idea of freedom.
A. Across the south, blacks held mass meetings, paraded, and formed organizations.
B. Union Leagues and Equal Rights Leagues were formed to give the freedmen a political voice.
Struggling for the Land
I. As the war ended, resettlement became the responsibility of the Freedmen’s Bureau, which was charged w/feeding and clothing war refugees,
distributing confiscated land, and regulating labor contracts b/w freedmen and planters.
A. The Bureau also assisted the northern voluntary associations that were sending missionaries and teachers to work with former slaves.
II. Encouraged by the Freedmen’s Bureau, blacks across the south occupied confiscated or abandoned land.
III. Johnson’s amnesty plan, entitling pardoned Confederates to recover property seized during the war, squelched these hopes.
A. Former slaves resisted these efforts. They fought pitched battles w/plantation owners and bands of ex-Confederate soldiers.
B. Landowners responded by attempting to disarm and intimidate the black veterans.
C. In this warfare federal troops usually backed the local whites.
Resisting Wage Labor
I. As returning planters prepared for a new growing season, a battle began to take shape over the labor system that would replace slavery.
A. Convinced that blacks couldn’t work w/o supervision, planters insisted on retaining the gang system of plantation labor, only now paying
low wages instead of the food, clothing, and shelter their slaves had once received.
B. The planters generally had the backing of the Freedmen’s Bureau.
II. The issue of wage labor cut into the very core of the former slaves’ struggle for freedom.
III. Many freedpeople voted w/their feet, abandoning their old plantations and seeking better lives and more freedom in the towns and cities of the
A. Those who remained in the countryside refused to work the cotton fields under the hated gang labor system or negotiated tenaciously over
the terms of their labor contracts.
IV. The efforts of former slaves to control their own lives challenged deeply entrenched white attitudes.
Congress Versus President
I. In Feb 1866 Johnson vetoed the Freedmen’s Bureau bill, declaring it unconstitutional b/c Congress lacked authority to provide a system for the
service of “indigent people” and b/c the states most directly affected by its provisions were not yet represented in Congress.
A. Johnson then vetoed Trumbull’s civil rights bill, again arguing that federal protection of black civil rights constituted a ‘stride toward
B. In his view, granting blacks the privileges of citizenship was discriminatory, operating “in favor of the colored and against the white race.”
II. Surprised by Johnson’s attack on the civil rights bill, the Republicans were galvanized into action. They failed to override Johnson’s veto of
the Freedmen’s Bureau bill, but in early april they got the necessary 2/3 majorities in both houses and enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1866.
A. This was the first time Congress had prevailed over a presidential veto on a major piece of legislation.
B. The Republican resolve was strengthened by news of mounting violence in the south, culminating w/3 days of rioting in Memphis.
C. In July Congress renewed the Freedmen’s Bureau over a 2nd veto by Johnson.
The Fourteenth Amendment
I. Anxious to consolidate their gains against Johnson, Republicans moved to enshrine black civil rights in an amendment to the Constitution.
A. The heart of the 14th Amendment was Section I, which declared that all people born in the US were citizens.
B. The wording of kept intentionally vague, but they still established the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act and the basis on which the
courts and Congress could establish an enforceable standard of equality before the law in the US.
II. At the time, the 14th Amendment was most important for its impact on national politics.
A. Johnson urged the states not the ratify it b/c he was aiming to build a coalition of white southerners, northern democrats, and conservative
Republicans under the banner of National Union.
B. Any hope of creating a new national party was shattered by Johnson’s intemperate behavior and by escalating violence in the South.
III. Republicans responded with an attack on the democrats.
IV. The 1866 Congressional elections inflicted a humiliating defeat on Johnson. The election registered strong popular support for the civil rights
of the freedmen.
A. The Republican party emerged w/a new sense of unity—a unity coalescing not at the center but on the left, around the program of the
Radical minority.
Radical Republicans
I. The Radicals represented the abolitionist strain within the Republican Party. Most of them hailed from New England or from the area of the
upper Midwest settled by New Englanders.
A. In the Senate they were led by Charles Sumner of MA, in the House, by Thaddeus Stevens from PN.
B. For them, Reconstruction was never primarily about restoring the union but remaking southern society.
II. Few went as far as Stevens in demanding that plantations be treated as “forfeited estates of the enemy” and broken up into small farms for the
former slaves.
A. But there was agreement about the need to guarantee the freedmen’s civil rights and to grant them suffrage. In this endeavor Radicals had
no problem about expanding the power of the national government.
B. Radicals were aggressively partisan. They regarded the Republican Party as the instrument of the Lord, and black votes as the means by
which they could dominate the South and bring about its regeneration.
III. At first, in the months after the Confederacy’s surrender at Appomattox, few but the Radicals themselves imagined that they had any chance of
putting across so extreme a program.
A. Black suffrage especially seemed beyond reach, since the northern states themselves denied blacks the vote at this time.
B. As the fury mounted against the intransigent South, Republicans became even more radicalized until, the wake of the victory of 1866,
they embraced the Radical’s vision of a reconstructed South.
Radical Reconstruction
I. Afterward, thoughtful southerners admitted that the South had brought radical Reconstruction on itself. Remarkably, the South remained
defiant even after the 1866 elections.
A. Every state legislature in the South (except TN) rejected the 14th Amendment.
Congress Takes Command
I. The Reconstruction Act of 1867 organized the South as a conquered land, dividing it into 5 military districts, each under the command of a
different Union general.
A. The price for reentering the Union involved granting the vote to the freedmen and disfranchising the South’s prewar leadership class.
B. Each military commander was ordered to register all eligible adult males, supervise the elections of state conventions, and make certain
that the new state constitutions contained guarantees of black suffrage.
C. Congress would readmit a state to the Union if its voters ratified the state constitution, if that document proved acceptable to Congress,
and if the new legislature approved the 14th Amendment.
The Tenure of Office Act
I. Republicans also attacked President Johnson’s room for maneuver.
A. The Tenure of Office Act required Senate consent for the removal of any official whose appointment had required Senate confirmation.
B. Congress chiefly wanted to protect Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, the only member of Johnson’s cabinet who favored radical
C. Congress also required the president to issue all orders to the army through its commanding generals.
I. On Feb 21, 1868, Johnson officially dismissed Stanton. 3 days later, House Republicans introduced articles of impeachment against the
president, employing the power granted to the House of Representatives by the Constitution to charge high federal officials with high crimes.
A. The House overwhelmingly approved 11 counts of presidential misconduct, 9 of which dealt w/violations of the Tenure of Office Act.
II. The vote for acquittal by moderate Republicans reflected fears that a conviction based on a policy dispute would establish a dangerous
precedent and undermine the presidency—too high a price just to punish Johnson.
The Election of 1868
I. The impeachment controversy made Grant, already the North’s most popular war hero, a Republican hero as well, and he won the party’s
presidential nomination.
A. In the campaign he supported radical Reconstruction, but he also urged reconciliation between the sections.
The Fifteenth Amendment
I. In the wake of their victory, the Republicans produced the last major piece of Reconstruction legislation—the 15th Amendment, which forbade
either the federal government or the states from denying citizens the right to vote based on race.
A. Proponents of the amendment were aware that it left open the use of poll taxes and property or literacy tests to discourage blacks from
B. But northern states also valued such qualifications, employing them against immigrants and the poor.
II. The amendment passed w/o modification in Feb 1869. Congress required the unreconstructed states of VA, MS, TX, and GA to ratify it before
they were readmitted to the Union.
Woman Suffrage Denied
I. The 15th Amendment outraged women’s rights advocates.
II. At this searing moment, a schism opened up in the ranks of the women’s movement. The majority, led by Lucy Stone and Julia Ward Howe,
reconciled themselves to the disappointment and accepted the priority of black suffrage.’
A. The Stanton-Anthony group struck out in a new direction. The new organization that Anthony headed, the National Woman Suffrage
Association, accepted only women, focused exclusively on women’s rights, and resolutely took up the battle for a federal woman suffrage
B. It was more realistic, moderates felt, to seek piecemeal advances at the state level. Organized into the American Woman Suffrage
Association, they remained allied to Republicans in the hope that once Reconstruction had been settled, it would be the time for woman
III. The fracturing of the women’s movement concealed the common ground the 2 sides shared. Both now realized that a popular constituency had
to be built broader than the elite evangelical reformers who had founded the movement. Both elevated suffrage into a permanent women’s
Republican Rule in the South
I. B/w 1868 and 1871 all the southern states met the congressional stipulations and rejoined the Union. Protected by federal troops and
encouraged by northern party leaders, state republican organizations took hold across the south and won control of the newly established
Reconstruction governments.
A. These republican administrations remained in power for periods ranging from months to years.
B. African Americans participated prominently in the Reconstruction governments. They provided the votes for Republican victories there.
Carpetbagger and Scalawags
I. Democratic ex-Confederates mocked and scorned southern whites who became Republicans as scalawags. Whites who came from the north
were denounced as carpetbaggers—self-seeking interlopers who carried all their property in cheap suitcases.
II. Few Southern Republicans conformed to the hostile stereotypes.
A. Some carpetbaggers did come south for personal profit, but they also brought capital and skills.
III. The scalawags were even more diverse. Some had once been slaveowners, Whigs, or Democrats, now drawn to Republicanism as the best way
to attract northern capital to southern railroads, mines, and factories.
A. Most numerous among the Scalawags were backcountry farmers who wanted to rid the south of its slaveholding aristocracy.
B. They had generally fought against the Confederacy, they believed that slavery had victimized whites as well as blacks.
African American Leadership
I. The Democrats’ stereotype of black political leaders as ignorant field hands was as false as those about white Republicans. Until 1867 most
African American leaders in the South came from the elite that had been free before the Civil War.
A. W/ the formation of the reconstructed Republican governments in 1867, this diverse group of ministers, artisans, shopkeepers, and former
soldiers reached out to some freedmen.
B. African American speakers fanned out into the old plantation districts and recruited former slaves for political roles.
C. Still, few of the new leaders were fieldhands, most had been preachers or artisans.
II. Many African American leaders who emerged in 1867 had been born in the North or had spent many years there. They moved south when
radical reconciliation offered the prospect of meaningful freedom.
A. Many were veterans of the Union army. Others had escaped slavery and were returning.
III. Although never proportionate to their numbers in the population, African American officeholders held positions of high importance throughout
the South.
A. In 1868 blacks constituted a majority in the lower house of the SC legislature. They were heavily represented in the state’s executive
The Radical Program
I. The Republicans who took office had ambitious plans for a reconstructed south. They wanted to end its dependence on cotton agriculture and
create and advanced economy based on manufacturing, capital investment, and skilled labor.
A. Southern Republicans fell short of achieving this mission, but they accomplished more of it than their critics gave them credit for.
II. The Republicans modernized state constitutions, eliminated property qualifications for the vote, and more offices elective. They also attended
especially to the personal freedoms of the former slaves, sweeping out the shadow Black Codes enforcing labor discipline on the freedmen and
controlling their movements.
A. Women also benefited from the Republican defense of personal liberty. Nearly all the new constitutions expanded the property rights of
married women, enabling them to hold property and personal earnings independent of their husbands.
B. The Republicans’ social programs called for hospitals, more humane penitentiaries, and asylums for orphans and the insane.
C. Republican governments built roads in areas where roads had never existed. They poured money into rebuilding the region’s railroad
network, and they provided subsidies to attract factories.
D. They undertook major public works projects.
III. To pay for their ambitious programs the Republican governments copied the taxes that northern states had introduced during the Jacksonian
reforms of the 1830s. These were general property taxes applying not only to real estate but to personal wealth.
A. The Republican goal was to make planters pay their fair share of taxes and to broaden the tax base by forcing them to sell off uncultivated
B. In many southern states, former slaves served as tax assessors.
IV. Increasing tax revenues never managed to overtake the burgeoning obligations assumed by the Reconstruction governments.
A. State debts grew rapidly, and as interest payments on bonds fell into arrears, public credit collapsed.
B. Much of the spending was wasted or ended up in the pockets of state officials.
C. In the free-spending atmosphere of the early Republican regimes, corruption was especially widespread and damaging to the cause of
radical Reconstruction.
V. Republican state governments vowed to improve the southern school system, viewing education as the foundation of the Democratic order.
A. The vast majority of the new schools were segregated.
The Role of Black Churches
I. The building of schools was part of a larger effort by African Americans to fortify the institutions that had sustained their spirit during the days
before emancipation.
A. Religious belief had struck deep roots in the 19th c slave society. Now, in freedom, the African Americans buttressed their new
communities by founding their own churches.
B. These churches joined together to form African American versions of the Southern Methodist and Southern Baptist denominations.
C. These churches served not only as places of worship but as schools, social centers, and political meeting halls.
II. Black ministers were community leaders and often political officeholders. Black ministers provided a powerful religious underpinning for the
Republican politics of their congregation.
I. In the meantime, the freedmen were locked in a great economic struggle w/their former owners.
A. Despite a lot of rhetoric, Republican regimes outside of SC did little to help the freedmen fulfill their dreams of becoming independent
B. Federal efforts proved equally feeble. The Southern Homestead Act of 1866 offered 80-acre grants to settlers, limited for the first year to
freedmen and southern Unionists. The advantage was strictly symbolic, however, since the public land made available to homsteaders was
off the beaten track and swampy, infertile parts of the lower south, and the freed slaves lacked the resources to get started.
II. There was no reversing President Johnson’s order restoring confiscated lands to former Confederates, even after the radical Republicans had
the power to do so.
A. Property rights trumped everything else, even for most of the champions of black rights. The Freedmen’s Bureau, which had earlier
championed the land claims of the ex-slaves, now devoted itself to teaching them how to be good agricultural laborers.
III. Most freedmen started out landless, and w/no option but to work for their former owners.
A. In certain parts of the agricultural south wage work became the norm. The problem was that southern cotton planters needed money to pay
wages, and sometimes offered a share of the crop instead. Freedmen began to adopt this same currency.
IV. This form of land tenantry was already familiar in parts of the south among white farmers, and the freedmen now seized on it for the
independence it offered them.
V. There sprung up a distinctively southern system of agricultural labor—sharecropping, in which the freedmen worked as renters, exchanging
their labor for the use of land, house, implements, and seed, typically giving ½ to 2/3 of their crops to their landlord.
A. The sharecropping system joined laborers and the owners of land and capital in a common sharing of risks and returns. But it was a very
unequal relationship, given the force of southern law and custom on the white landowner’s side, and given the dire economic
circumstances of the sharecroppers.
VI. Country shopkeepers stepped in. Bankrolled by their northern suppliers, they “furnished” the sharecropper and took as collateral a lien on the
crop, effectively assuming ownership of the cropper’s share.
A. Once indebted at one store, the sharecropper was no longer free to shop around and thus became an easy target for inflated prices, unfair
interest rates, and crooked bookkeeping.
B. As cotton prices declined during the 1870s, more and more sharecroppers fell into debt. This debt could become a pretext for compulsory
labor, or peonage.
C. Freedmen who lacked local standing generally found sharecropping hard going and likely ended up in the ranks of agricultural laborers.
VII. In the face of so much adversity, black families struggled to better themselves.
A. The fact that it enabled family struggle was the saving advantage of sharecropping, b/c it mobilized husbands and wives in common
enterprise while shielding both from personal subordination to whites.
B. By the end of Reconstruction, about ¼ of sharecropping families had saved enough to rent w/cash payments, and eventually black farmers
owned about 1/3 of the land they cultivated.
The Undoing of Reconstruction
I. Ex-Confederates were blind to the benefits of radical Reconstruction. They were convinced that it was abomination, undertaken w/o their
consent and intended to deny them their rightful place in southern society.
A. Ex-Confederates staged a massive counterrevolution designed to redeem the south and restore them to political power under the
Democratic Party.
I. Insofar as they could win at the ballot box, southern Democrats took that route. They worked hard to get former Confederates restored back to
the rolls of registered voters, they appealed to racial solidarity and southern patriotism, and they attacked black suffrage as a threat to white
A. Throughout the south, especially where black voters were heavily concentrated, ex-Confederate planters and their supporters organized
secret societies and waged campaigns of terrorism against blacks and their allies.
The Ku Klux Klan
I. The KKK first appeared in 1866 as a TN social club but soon became a paramilitary force under Nathan Bedford Forrest.
II. By 1870 the Klan was operating almost everywhere in the South as a terrorist force serving the Democratic Party.
A. They whipped and murdered Republican politicians, burned black schools and churches, and attacked Republican Party gatherings.
B. Such terrorist acts enabled the Democrats to seize power in Georgia and make substantial gains elsewhere.
III. Congress responded by passing enforcement legislation, including the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, authorizing President Grant to use federal
prosecutions, military force, and martial law to suppress conspiracies to deprive citizens of the right to vote, hold office, serve on juries, and
enjoy equal protection under the law.
A. For the first time, crimes by private citizens became violations of federal law.
B. Government agents penetrated the clan and gathered evidence that provided the basis for widespread arrests; federal grand juries indicted
more than 3,000 Klansmen.
The Failure of Federal Enforcement
I. The Grant administration’s assault on the Klan raised the spirits of southern republicans, but it also emphasized how dependent they were on
the federal government.
A. If republicans were to prevail over ex-Confederate terrorism, they needed “steady, unswerving power from without.”
II. Northern republicans, however, grew weary of the financial costs of Reconstruction and the endless guerilla war it seemed to produce.
A. Prosecuting Klansmen under the enforcement laws was an uphill battle. US attorneys usually faced all white juries, and the Justice
Department lacked the resources to handle the cases. After 1872, prosecutions began to drop off, and many Klansmen received hasty
B. The Supreme Court undercut the enforcement legislation by ruling that the 14th Amendment protected citizens from actions by states, not
by other citizens.
III. The unwillingness of the Grant administration to shore up the Reconstruction guaranteed that it would fail.
A. Republican governments that were denied federal help found themselves overwhelmed by ex-Confederate politicians and terrorists.
IV. As elections neared in 1875, parliamentary groups such as the Rifle Clubs and Red Shirts operated openly. Often local Democrats paraded
armed. They also identified black leaders in assassination lists, broke up Republican meetings, provoked rioting, and threatened voters.
V. By 1877 Republican governments, backed by token US military units, remained in only 3 states: Louisiana, SC, and FL.
The Acquiescent North
I. At the outset, there was a strong reason to believe that the north would stand fast on radical Reconstruction. The underlying ideal of equal
rights inspired significant northern reform, especially in the treatment of northern blacks.
A. This was partly b/c the Reconstruction amendments voided northern laws denying blacks freedom to move b/w states and testify in court
or vote.
B. Northern states themselves moved against segregated public facilities and improved black access to education.
II. The spirit of equal rights extended to other causes—to women’s rights and the labor movement.
A. Trade unionism surged after the war. An umbrella organization, the National Labor Union, formed in 1866 to fight “wage slavery” and
advocate reforms that would bring about the independence of the working class and ensure the success of republican institutions.
III. The Civil War had brought into being an activist state. At the federal level, wartime Republicans legislated a national banking system, massive
subsidies for interregional railroads, free homesteads for settlers, an expanded postal system, and improvements in rivers and harbors.
A. The US Sanitary Commission was a privately founded body started in 1861 that tended sick and wounded soldiers and ended up
advancing an ambitious agenda for national betterment.
IV. In Republican-controlled states, there was an equally dramatic increase in public programs after the war.
A. Everywhere in the North, education took pride of place.
B. It was in this spirit of reform that the North approved the use of federal power to defend radical Reconstruction.
V. The Civil War fueled an economic boom in the North. Industrial production increased 75% b/w 1865 and 1873.
A. Investment shifted toward iron and steel production, machine tools, and coal mining, laying the basis for an advanced industrial economy.
B. Corporate enterprise was beginning to emerge, especially the railroads, where building went forward at a frantic pace.
C. The North had entered the industrial age. It was an economic powerhouse compared to the South, and amply able to bear the cost of
seeing Reconstruction through.
The North’s Loss of Faith
I. Yet the business sector was where enthusiasm flagged most quickly. Northern entrepreneurs complained that the turmoil of Reconstruction
retarded the South’s economic recovery and harmed their investment opportunities.
A. A similar calculation led to trouble b/w Republicans and their allies in the National Labor Union. The break came over the 8-hour
workday, which labor enthusiasts saw as the key reform that would end wage slavery and complete the equal rights revolution.
B. The economic cost of the 8-hour workday troubled the Republicans, causing them to side w/their business allies, driving the National
Labor Union out of the party and into independent politics.
II. Sympathy for the freedmen also began to wane. The North was flooded w/one-sided, often racist reports, describing extravagant, corrupt
Republican rule and a South in the grip of “a mass of black barbarism.”
A. The impact of this propaganda could be seen in the fate of the Civil Rights bill, which Charles Sumner introduced in 1870 at the height of
radical Reconstruction.
B. Sumner’s bill was a remarkable application of federal power against discrimination in the country, guaranteeing citizens equal access to
public accommodation, school, churches, and jury service.
C. By the time the bill passed in 1875, it had been stripped of its key provisions and was of little account as a weapon against discriminatory
treatment of African Americans. The Supreme Court then declared it unconstitutional in 1883.
III. The political cynicism that overtook the Civil Rights Act signaled the Republican Party’s reversion to the practical politics of earlier days.
A. In many states a 2nd generation took over the party—men such as Senator Roscoe Conkling of NY, who treated the Manhattan Customs
House, w/its regiment of political appointees, as an auxiliary of his machine; or Simon Cameron, senator from PN, who was in the pocket
of the PN Railroad.
B. Politics such as Conkling or Cameron had little enthusiasm for Reconstruction, except as it benefited the Republican Party, and as the
party lost headway in the South, they abandoned any interest in the battle for black rights.
The Liberal Republicans
I. As Grant’s administration lapsed into cronyism, a revolt took shape inside the Republican Party.
A. Anti-Grant factions of many stripes accepted the leadership of an influential collection of intellectuals, journalists, and reform-minded
businessmen who resented the dominance of professional politicians in the party’s affairs.
B. The 1st order of business for them was civil-service reform that would replace corrupt patronage w/a merit-based system of appointments.
C. The reformers also disliked the thrust of government activism spawned by the Civil War crisis. They regarded themselves as classical
liberals—believers in free trade, market competition, and limited government. They spoke out against universal suffrage.
The Election of 1872
I. Unable to deny Grant renomination for a 2nd term, the dissidents broke away and formed a new party under the name Liberal Republican. Their
candidate was Horace Greeley.
A. The democratic party, still in disarray, also nominated Greeley, despite the fierce animus he had always shown for Democrats.
II. Grant won overwhelmingly. Yet the Liberal Republicans had managed to shift the terms of political debate in the country.
A. The new agenda they had established—civil-service reform, limited government, reconciliation w/the south—was now adopted by the
Democrats as they shed their treasonous reputation and reclaimed their place as a legitimate American party.
Scandal and Depression
I. Charges of Republican corruption, mounting since Grant’s reelection, came to a head in 1875. The scandal involved the Whiskey Ring, a
network of liquor distillers and Treasury agents who defrauded the Treasury of millions of dollars of excise taxes on whiskey.
A. The ring was organized by a former Union general, John McDonald, whom Grant had appointed supervisor of internal revenus.
B. In 1875, Grant’s secretary of the Treasury, Benjamin Bristow, exposed the ring and prosecuted more than 350 distillers and government
II. The economy fell into depression in 1873. The precipitating event was the bankruptcy of the Northern Pacific Railroad and its main investor,
Jay Cooke.
A. Both Cooke’s privileged role as a financier of the Civil War and the generous federal subsidies to the Northern Pacific suggested to many
suffering Americans that Republican financial manipulations had caused the depression.
B. Grant’s administration responded ineffectually, rebuffing the pleas of debtors for relief by increasing the money supply.
C. In 1874 Democrats gained enough support from Republicans to push through Congress a bill that would have increased the volume of
currency in circulation and eased the money pinch. Grant vetoed the bill, fueling Democratic charges that Republicans served only the
interests of capitalists.
III. Among the causalities of the depression was the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company, which held the small deposits of thousands of former
A. When the bank failed in 1874, Congress refused to compensate the depositors, and many lost their life savings.
B. In denying their pleas for compensation, Congress was also signaling that Reconstruction had lost its moral claim on the country.
The Political Crisis of 1877
I. Abandoning Grant, the Republicans nominated Rutherford Hayes, governor of Ohio. His Democratic opponent was Samuel Tilden, governor
of NY.
A. Reconstruction did not figure prominently in the campaign and was mostly subsumed under the broader Democratic charges of “corrupt
B. By now, Republicans had written off the south and scarcely campaigned there. Not a lot was said about the states ruled by Reconstruction
governments—Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana.
II. Two sets of electoral votes came from some states.
III. There was talk of inside deals, a new election, even of a violent coup and civil war. Congress decided to appoint an electoral commission to
settle the question.
A. The commission included 7 Republicans, 7 Democrats, and David Davis, and Supreme Court justice who didn’t have fixed party loyalties.
B. Davis disqualified himself by accepting an Illinois seat in the Senate. He was replaced by Republican Justice Joseph Bradley, and the
Commission awarded the votes to Hayes.
IV. Outraged Democrats had one more trick up their sleeves. They controlled the House, and they set about stalling a final count on the electoral
votes so as to prevent Hayes’s inauguration.
A. A few days before, the Democrats suddenly ended their filibuster, the counting of the votes went forward, and Hayes was inaugurated.
V. In 1877 political leaders on all sides seemed ready to say what Lincoln had called the “the work” was complete. But for the freedmen, the work
had only begun.
A. Reconstruction turned out to have been a magnificent aberration, a leap beyond what most white Americans actually felt was due their
black fellow citizens.