The Compromise of 1877 was an informal, unwritten deal that settled the disputed 1876 U.S. Presidential election and ended Congressional ("Radical") Reconstruction. Through it, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes was awarded the White House over Democrat Samuel J. Tilden on the understanding that Hayes would remove the federal troops that were propping up Republican state governments in South Carolina, Florida and Louisiana. Consequently, the incumbent President, Republican Ulysses Grant, removed the soldiers from Florida before Hayes as his successor removed the remaining troops in South Carolina and Louisiana. As soon as the troops left, many Republicans also left (or became Democrats) and the "Redeemer" Democrats took control.
The compromise essentially stated that Southern Democrats would acknowledge Hayes as President, but only if the Republicans acceded to various demands:
- The removal of all Federal troops from the former Confederate States. (Troops remained in only Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida, but the Compromise finalized the process.)
- The appointment of at least one Southern Democrat to Hayes' cabinet. (David M. Key of Tennessee became Postmaster General.) Hayes had already promised this.
- The construction of another transcontinental railroad using the Texas and Pacific in the South (this had been part of the "Scott Plan," proposed by Thomas A. Scott, which initiated the process that led to the final compromise).
- Legislation to help industrialize the South.
Points 1 and 2 took effect almost immediately; 3 and 4 were not recognized until 1930.
The formal agreement made the southern Democrats very happy, and there was no filibuster. There was no serious effort made to fund a railroad or provide other federal aid. An opposing interest group representing the Southern Pacific successfully thwarted Scott's Texas and Pacific scheme and ultimately ran its own line to New Orleans.
Historians argue that the agreement should not be called a compromise (Peskin, 1973). Others emphasize that the Republican party abandoned the Southern Blacks (DeSantis, 1982) to racist Democratic party rule. In any case, Reconstruction ended, and the supremacy of the Democratic Party in the South was cemented with the ascent of the "Redeemer" governments that displaced the Republican governments. After the Compromise of 1877, white supremacy generally caused the South to vote Democratic in elections for federal office (the "Solid South") until 1966.
The legalities of the Compromise of 1877 are somewhat debatable. The agreement between the parties was not written out into law and signed by the President, but rather decided with the electorial commission of 1877. The Compromise was only approved just 2 days before the inauguration. The commission was composed of 7 Democrats and 8 Republicans. Hayes had to receive 20 electorial votes in order to gain the Presidency. There had been speculation of voter fraud in Florida. Although the legality of such a Compromise is in question it prevented another Civil War.
- Benedict, Michael L. "Southern Democrats in the Crisis of 1876-1877: A Reconsideration of Reunion and Reaction". Journal of Southern History 46 (November 1980): 489-524; Says the Compromise was reached before the Wormley Hotel meetings discussed by Woodward (1951)
- DeSantis, Vincent P. "Rutherford B. Hayes and the Removal of the Troops and the End of Reconstruction". In Region, Race and Reconstruction Ed. by Morgan Kousser and James McPherson. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982. 417-50. Provides a more complex account of Hayes's decision.
- Allan Peskin, "Was There a Compromise of 1877?" Journal of American History (1973) v 60#1, pp 63-75 (Admits that Woodward's interpretation is almost universally accepted but since not all terms were met it should not be called a compromise.)
- Polakoff, Keith Ian. The Politics of Inertia: The Election of 1876 and the End of Reconstruction. Louisiana State University Press, 1973. Argues the Compromise reflected decentralized parties and weak national leaders
- C. Vann Woodward. Reunion and Reaction: The Compromise of 1877 and the End of Reconstruction (1951), emphasizes the role of railroads.
- C. Vann Woodward. "Yes, There Was a Compromise of 1877" Journal of American History (1973) v 60#2, pp 215-23. (Rebuts Peskin; the main terms were indeed met.)
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