Wy, it's just ez clear ez Aggers, Clear ez one an' one make two, Chaps thet make black slaves o' niggers, Want to make wite slaves o' you

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The Liberal Republican Revolt

Chapter 16 Reconstruction: An Unfinished Revolution, 1865-1877

A General Amnesty

Dissatisfaction with Grant's administration grew during his second term. Strong-willed but politically naive, Grant made a series of poor appointments. His secretary of war, his private secretary, and officials in the Treasury and Navy Departments were involved in bribery or tax-cheating scandals. Instead of exposing the corruption, Grant defended some of the culprits. In 1874, as Grant's popularity and his party's prestige declined, the Democrats recaptured the House of Representatives. This stunning turnabout signaled the beginning of the end of the old Radical Republi­can vision of Reconstruction. The Republican Party faced more unfavorable publicity in 1875, when sev­eral of Grant's appointees were indicted for corrup­tion.

The effect of Democratic gains in Congress was to weaken legislative resolve on southern issues. Congress had already lifted the political disabil-*"* ities of the Fourteenth Amendment from many former Confederates. In 1872 it had adopted a sweeping Am­nesty Act, which pardoned most of the remaining rebels and left only five hundred barred from political officeholding. In 1875 Congress passed a Civil Rights Act, partly as a tribute to the recently de­ceased Charles Sumner, purporting to guarantee black people equal accommodations in public places, such as inns and theaters, but the bill was watered down and contained no effective provisions for enforcement. (The Supreme Court later struck down this law; see page 562.)

Democrats regained power in the South rather quickly, redeeming control of state governments in four states before 1872 and in a total of eight by Janu­ary 1876 (see Map 16.1). In the North Democrats successfully stressed the failure and scandals of Recon­struction governments. As opinion shifted, historian Brooks Adams, the grandson and great-grandson of presidents, published an article condemning the en­franchisement of blacks as "a wholesale creation of the most ignorant mass of voters to be found in the civi­lized world." Many Republicans sensed that their con­stituents were tiring of southern issues and the legacies of the war. Despite the consequences for the freed-people, sectional reconciliation now seemed crucial for commerce. The nation was expanding westward rapidly, and the South was a new frontier for invest­ment.

Both industrialization and immigration were surging, hastening the pace of change in national life. Within only eight years, postwar industrial production

T......."™"".....B""""1 increased by an impressive 75 per-

Reconciliation t r 7 c • ,

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tural workers outnumbered farmers,

and only Britain's industrial output was greater than that of the United States. Government financial policies did much to bring about this rapid growth. Soon after the war Congress used a portion of tax revenues to pay off the interest-bearing war debt: the debt fell from $2.33 bil­lion in 1866 to only $587 million in 1893, and every dollar repaid was a dollar injected into the economy for potential reinvestment. Low taxes on investment and high tariffs on manufactured goods also aided in­dustrialists. With such help, the northern economy quickly recovered its prewar rate of growth.

Between 1865 and 1873, 3 million new immi­grants entered the country, most of them joining the labor force of industrial cities in the North and West. As the number of immigrants rose, a corresponding revival of suspicion and hostility among native-born Americans took place. Also prominent was the ques­tion of how Utah's growing Mormon community, which practiced polygamy, could be reconciled to American law.

Then the Panic of 1873 ushered in over five years of economic contraction. Three million people lost their jobs, and the clash between labor and capital be­came the major issue of the day (see Chapter 18). Class attitudes diverged, especially in the large cities. Debt­ors and the unemployed sought easy money policies to spur economic expansion (workers and farmers des­perately needed cash). Businessmen, disturbed by the widespread strikes and industrial violence that accom­panied the panic, became increasingly concerned about the defense of property.

Class conflict fueled a monetary issue: whether paper money—the Civil War greenbacks—should be kept in circulation. In 1872 Demo-

cratic farmers and debtors urged this Greenbacks ,. ^ , . & ,

policy to expand the money supply versus ouuiiq , , ,

and raise prices, but businessmen,

y bankers, and creditors overruled

them. Now hard times swelled the ranks of the "greenbackers"—voters who favored easy money.

Congress voted in 1874 to increase the number of greenbacks in circulation, but Grant vetoed the bill in deference to the opinions of financial leaders. The next year, "sound money" interests prevailed in Con­gress, winning passage of a law requiring that green­backs be convertible into gold after 1878. The chasm

Reconstruction Reversed

Foreign Expansion

between farmers and workers and wealthy industrial­ists grew even wider.

In international affairs, there was renewed pressure for, and controversy about, expansion (see Chapter 22).

In 1867 Secretary of State William H. Seward arranged a vast addition of territory to the national domain through the purchase of Alaska from the Russian government for $7.2 mil­lion. Opponents ridiculed Seward's venture, calling Alaska Frigidia, the Polar Bear Garden, and Walrussia. But Seward convinced important congressmen of Alaska's economic potential, and other lawmakers fa­vored the dawning of friendship with Russia.

Also in 1867 the United States took control of the Midway Islands, a thousand miles from Hawai'i. And in 1870 President Grant tried unsuccessfully to annex the Dominican Republic. Seward and his successor, Hamilton Fish, also resolved troubling Civil War griev­ances against Great Britain. Through diplomacy they arranged a financial settlement of claims on Britain for damage done by the Alabama and other cruisers built in England and sold to the Confederacy (see page 616).

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court played its part in the northern retreat from Reconstruction. During the Civil War the Court had been cau­tious and inactive. Reaction to the Dred Scott decision (1857) had been so violent, and the Union's wartime emergency so great, that the Court avoided interference with govern­ment actions. The justices breathed a collective sigh of relief, for example, when legal technicalities prevented them from reviewing the case of Clement Val­landigham, a Democratic opponent of Lincoln's war effort, who had been convicted by a military tribunal of aiding the enemy. But in 1866 a similar case, Ex parte Milligan, reached the Court through proper channels.

Lambdin P. Milligan of Indiana had plotted to free Confederate prisoners of war and overthrow state gov­ernments. For these acts a military court sentenced Milligan, a civilian, to death. Milligan challenged the authority of the military tribunal, claiming that he had a right to a civil trial. The Supreme Court declared that military trials were illegal when civil courts were open and functioning, and its language indicated that the Court intended to reassert its authority.

In the 1870s the Court successfully renewed its challenge to Congress's actions when it narrowed the

Judicial Retreat from Reconstruction

meaning and effectiveness of the Fourteenth Amend­ment. The Slaughter-House cases (1873) began in 1869, when the Louisiana legislature granted one company a monopoly on the slaughtering of livestock in New Or­leans. Rival butchers in the city promptly sued. Their attorney, former Supreme Court justice John A. Camp­bell, argued that Louisiana had violated the rights of some of its citizens in favor of others. The Fourteenth Amendment, Campbell contended, had revolutionized the constitutional system by bringing individual rights under federal protection. Campbell thus articulated an original goal of the Republican Party: to nationalize civil rights and guard them from state interference.

But in the Slaughter-House decision, the Supreme Court dealt a stunning blow to the scope and vitality of the Fourteenth Amendment. Refusing to accept Camp­bell's argument, it interpreted the "privileges and im­munities" of citizens so narrowly that it reduced them almost to trivialities. State citizenship and national cit­izenship were separate, the Court declared. National citizenship involved only matters such as the right to travel freely from state to state and to use the naviga­ble waters of the nation, and only these narrow rights were protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Supreme Court also concluded that the butchers who sued had not been deprived of their rights or property in violation of the due-process clause of the amendment. Shrinking from a role as "perpetual censor upon all legislation of the States, on the civil rights of their own citizens," the Court's majority de­clared that the framers of the recent amendments had not intended to "destroy" the federal system, in which the states exercised "powers for domestic and local government, including the regulation of civil rights." Thus the justices severely limited the amendment's potential for securing and protecting the rights of black citizens—its original intent.

The next day the Court decided Bradwell v. Illinois, a case in which Myra Bradwell, a female attorney, had been denied the right to practice law in Illinois on account of her gender. Pointing to the Fourteenth Amendment, Bradwell's attorneys contended that the state had unconstitutionally abridged her "privileges and immunities" as a citizen. The Supreme Court re­jected her claim, alluding to women's traditional role in the home.

In 1876 the Court weakened the Reconstruction era amendments even further by emasculating the en­forcement clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and revealing deficiencies inherent in the Fifteenth Amend­ment. In U.S. v. Cruikshank the Court overruled the

Chapter 16 Reconstruction: An Unfinished Revolution, 1865-1877

conviction under the 1870 Enforcement Act of Louis­iana whites who had attacked a meeting of blacks and conspired to deprive them of their rights. The justices ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment did not give the federal government power to act against these whites. The duty of protecting citizens' equal rights, the Court said, "rests alone with the States." Such judicial conservatism had profound impact down through the next century, as the revolutionary potential in the Civil War amendments was blunted, if not destroyed.

As the 1876 elections approached, most political observers saw that the North was no longer willing to pursue the goals of Reconstruction. The results of a disputed presidential election confirmed this fact. Samuel J. Tilden, the Democratic governor of New York, ran strongly in the South and needed only one more electoral vote to triumph over Ruth­erford B. Hayes, the Republican nom­inee. Nineteen electoral votes from Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida (the only southern states yet "unredeemed" by Democratic rule) were disputed; both Democrats and Republicans claimed to have won

Map 16.2 Presidential Election of 1876 and the Compromise of 1877 In 1876 a combination of solid southern support and Democratic gains in the North gave Samuel Tilden the majority of popular votes, but Rutherford B. Hayes won the disputed election in the electoral college, after a deal satisfied Democratic wishes for an end to Reconstruction.

Disputed Election of 1876 and the Compromise of 1877


(Republican) Disputed

Tilden (Democrat)

Electoral Vote Popular Vote 185 50% 4,036,572 48%

184 50% 4,284,020 51%

in those states despite fraud committed by their oppo­nents. One vote from Oregon was undecided because of a technicality (see Map 16.2).

To resolve this unprecedented situation, on which the Constitution gave little guidance, Congress estab­lished a fifteen-member electoral commission. In the interest of impartiality, membership on the commis­sion was to be balanced between Democrats and Re­publicans. But one independent Republican, Supreme Court Justice David Davis, refused appointment in order to accept his election as a senator. A regular Re­publican took his place, and the Republican Party pre­vailed 8 to 7 on every attempt to count the returns, along strict party lines. Hayes would become president if Congress accepted the commission's findings.

Congressional acceptance was not certain. Dem­ocrats controlled the House and could filibuster to block action on the vote. Many citizens worried that the nation had entered a major constitutional crisis and would slip once again into civil war, as some southerners vowed "Tilden or Fight." The crisis was resolved when Democrats acquiesced in the election of Hayes based on a "deal" cut in a Washington hotel. Negotiations took place between Hayes's supporters and southerners who wanted federal aid to railroads, internal improvements, federal patronage, and re­moval of troops from southern states. Neither party was well enough organized to implement and enforce the various parts of this bargain between the sections. Northern and southern Democrats simply decided they could not win and did not contest the election of a Republican who was not going to continue Recon­struction. Thus Hayes became president, inaugurated privately inside the White House to avoid any threat of violence, southerners relished their promises of economic aid, and Reconstruction was unmistakably over.

Southern Democrats rejoiced, but African Ameri­cans grieved over the betrayal of their hopes for equal­ity. Tens of thousands considered 8 leaving the South, where real free-

Betrayal of Black Rights and the Exodusters

dom was no longer a possibility. "[We asked] whether it was possible we could stay under a people who had

held us in bondage," said Henry Adams, who led a migration to Kan­sas. In South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, and other southern states, thousands gathered up their possessions and migrated to Kansas. They were known as Exodusters, disappointed people still searching for their share in the American dream. Even in Kansas they met disillusionment, as the welcome extended by


These cartoons reveal the North's readiness to give up on a strong Reconstruction policy. According to the images on the left, only federal bayonets could support the "rule or ruin" carpetbag regimes that oppressed the South. What do the background and foreground of the cartoon on the right suggest will be the results of President Hayes's "Let 'Em Alone Policy"? (Library of Congress)

the state's governor soon gave way to hostile public re­actions.

Blacks now had to weigh their options, which were not much wider than they had ever been. The Civil War had brought emancipation, and Reconstruction had guaranteed their rights under law. But events and attitudes in larger white America were foreboding. In a Fourth of July speech in Washington, D.C, in 1875, Frederick Douglass anticipated this predicament. He reflected anxiously on the American centennial to be celebrated the following year. The nation, Douglass feared, would "lift to the sky its million voices in one grand Centennial hosanna of peace and good will to all the white race . . . from gulf to lakes and from sea to sea." Douglass looked back on fifteen years of unparal­leled change for his people and worried about the hold of white supremacy on America's historical memory: "If war among the whites brought peace and liberty to the blacks, what will peace among the whites bring?" Douglass's question would echo down through Ameri­can political culture for decades.
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