Monday, December 30, 2013

"Rutherfraud", Florida, and election results....

In the 1870's, the country's tenuously restored unity frayed, and the voting public was closely divided.  On the morning after the election of  1876, Tennesseans and other Americans awoke to find that the results were in dispute.  The candidate of the Democratic Party, Tilden, had won 184 electoral votes, or so it seemed.  This was one short of the majority needed to carry the election.

The Republican Candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes, appeared to have 166 electoral votes.  So, Hayes was the clear winner, was he not?  You might think so, but the election results from three states were in doubt, and this called the electoral college's vote into question.  The disputed states were Louisiana, South Carolina, and', in an eerie forerunner to the election of 2000, Florida.  Coincidentally or not, these were the three states in which Federal troops remained and which were still operating under Reconstruction governments.

Both Democrats and Republicans claimed victory in these states and, thus, in the overall election. They also argued over who had the right to settle the disputed results, and, this led to the appointment of a bipartisan commission to arbitrate.

By this time, the American voters growing weary of the Civil War's aftermath, including the goals of Reconstruction.  Even when it came to protecting the rights of the new black voters, the public's attention was elsewhere.  One matter which occupied center stage was the tumultuous, ongoing settlement of the west.  Another consuming issue was whether and, if so, how to regulate the burgeoning business sector.

Since the Republicans were the party associated with the Union Cause and Reconstruction, they were no longer seen as being as progressive as northern Democrats were.  At the same time, Southern Democrats were reviving in power.  These two components of the Democratic Party were forming a solid voting block.  They were similar in many points, though the Southern Democrats were pushing back against the gains that black voters had so recently won.

The Inauguration quickly approached, and, still, the election had not been settled through official channels.  Only through some backroom maneuvering did things finally come to a conclusion.  The Democrats agreed to withdraw their claim that Tilden had won the election.  In return, the Republicans agreed to withdraw all remaining Federal troops from the three contested states.  This compromise would mean the end of Reconstruction and also of direct military protection of black voters.  Long story short, this compromise played into a filibuster, which ended by the commission deciding that Rutherford B. Hayes had won the election.

Ironically, Hayes who was a supporter of both Reconstruction and the protection of all voters, regardless of race or ethnicity, followed through by ending Reconstruction and withdrawing the 3,000 or so remaining Union soldiers in the South.

Many, black and white, were incensed by this compromise, and they voiced their indignation loudly.  One tactic was to twist President Rutherford B. Hayes' name into President Rutherfraud.

To black leaders and black voters, this compromise was the ultimate betrayal.  Without even a symbolic Federal presence in the South, white supremacists among the Southern Democrats were emboldened to enact the harsh Jim Crow regime.  Sadly, this pushed the struggle for equality back one hundred years, until the Civil Rights movement turned things around.