Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Spirit of (18)76

As noted in Monday's post, the Election of 1876 was one of the most controversial in American history.

Democratic nominee Samuel Tilden earned 51% of the popular vote and was one electoral vote short of being declared winner, yet it was Republican Rutherford B. Hayes who ended up becoming president. How the hell did that happen?

It was similar to the Election of 2000, only in addition to disputed ballots in Florida, there was additional looniness in Louisiana and South Carolina. Oregon, not to be left out, declared one of its electors void.

However, unlike 2000, 1876 was more than a century away from 24-hour cable television news networks, so one can imagine that that would have been much nicer.
Though, forcing "newsies" to work 24-hour days would have been permitted,
thanks to the lax child labor laws of the time. 
It was eventually announced that all 20 of disputed electoral votes were going to go to Hayes. Needless to say, people got upset. Democrats cried foul. Threats were made. Someone even fired a shot at Hayes' home.

A commission was formed to make a final decision, and with only two days before Inauguration Day, the commission adjourned declaring Hayes the winner. Democrats agreed to back off if Hayes ended Reconstruction.

That is to say, the South would return to "self-rule." The federal government had still occupied parts of the former Confederacy since the end of the Civil War. By 1876, they had only remained in three states: South Carolina, Florida and Louisiana. Do those states sound familiar? They should — I was just talking about them.

Those were the three southern states that eventually went Republican. Why did those states go Republican when the rest of the South went Democrat? Think about it; you're a recently freed slave. Are you going to vote for the guys who argued for abolition (Republicans) or the other guys? With the federal government around, blacks were free to vote without threat of violence or some bullshit rule keeping them from the polls. As the feds disappeared, Southern Democrats terrorized blacks and white Republicans, keeping them from voting.

So really, by agreeing to end Reconstruction, Republicans were pretty much selling out a large voting bloc and telling them to go fend for themselves. It's quite the departure to go from making abolition your main platform to "Blacks? Meh." Also, "self-rule" apparently means "free to disenfranchise black voters."

Yeah, the Election of 1876 signaled the beginning of a complete political reversal that would eventually bring about a Southern Democrat president enacting the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which basically reiterated the fact that blacks should be getting rights they were supposed to get nearly a century earlier.

In case you need proof that political parties are still shifting to any direction, let me point out the quote from Ronald Reagan, "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction." Republicans are quick to point out that a Republican said this, implying that everyone else would probably be okay with freedom being prohibited.

What's rarely mentioned is the fact that that was uttered within one breath of him talking about how important collective bargaining is to freedom. Interesting, since it's the Republicans who were fighting against teacher and civil servant unions in Wisconsin, Ohio, New Jersey, etc.

Point is, next time someone reminds you that the Republican Party is the "Party of Abraham Lincoln," tell them that that was 150 years ago.

Speaking of Republican, which one would win in a fight, Hayes or Reagan?


  1. Hey guys, love the site. I've been visiting on and off since BHGP linked me here a couple weeks ago. Love the writing, love the humor, and so on and so forth. Just wanted to say, though, that the politicized nature of this particular post turned me off a little. Whether or not I agree with you or am part of your same demographic doesn't really matter to me, but for some reason I just don't want to hear about current politics when discussing past Presidents pugilizing to the death.

    It's your site so you're more than welcome to tell me to shove it, but I thought it was worth mentioning. I may not be the only one turned off by it.

  2. I can only speak for myself, but one of the things I've found as we've been doing this project is how cyclical history can be. That means if we find something on one of the presidents in a fight that relates to something going on today, we'd be remiss to NOT mention it.

    Or, put another way, I will never apologize for making someone else think.