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The Compromise of 1877 was an informal agreement between southern Democrats and allies of Republican candidate Rutherford Hayes to settle the result of the 1876 presidential election. This period also marked the end of the Reconstruction era. During Reconstruction, efforts were made to mitigate the social, political, and economic inequities of slavery. Its aim was also to facilitate readmission to the Union of the 11 states that had seceded during and leading up to the Civil War.

African American Senator and Republicans of the 41st and 42nd U.S. Congress

In the South, Reconstruction mobilized the black community, who joined forces with white allies in bringing the Republican Party to power. Its equal rights agenda included establishing voting rights for the formerly enslaved as a condition for Southern states being readmitted into the Union. Sixteen African Americans were elected as congressmen during Reconstruction. More than 600 African Americans served in state legislatures, and many also held local municipal offices across the South. The shift to the sharing of political power and resources with the Black community angered white Southerners, who began making plans to stop Reconstruction-era progress. These efforts would bring about the Compromise of 1877.

The compromise came about as a result of disputed election returns from Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina, the only three Southern states still under Reconstruction-era Republican governments. As the presidential election drew near, tensions increased, with accusations of corruption within the administration of Ulysses S. Grant and an economic depression adding to the discontent with the Republican Party.

Wormley Hotel

Following the election, a bipartisan congressional commission was set up to resolve the dispute. Meanwhile, supporters of Hayes organized secret negotiations with moderate Southern Democrats, aiming to secure Hayes’ victory. A meeting was convened at Washington DC’s’ Wormley Hotel, a prominent luxury establishment owned by James Wormely, a free black businessman. Democrats agreed to accept Hayes’ victory on the condition that federal troops be withdrawn from the South. They knew that doing so would effectively end Reconstruction and consolidate Democratic control in the region. Democrats wanted more control of Black lives, and the withdrawal of troops would end any protections previously afforded by the presence of federal forces. As a concession, Hayes agreed to appoint a leading Southerner to his cabinet and to support federal aid for the Texas and Pacific Railroad.

Keep in mind that the Republican Party of the 1800s was the party of choice for most African Americans because of their role in passing the legislation that would free all enslaved people in Confederate states. Over time, the political leanings have essentially reversed.

Rutherford B. Hayes

Ultimately, the electoral commission voted along party lines to award all disputed electoral votes to Hayes, giving him the presidency. Hayes followed through on some of the agreements but still needed to fulfill the promised land grant for the Texas and Pacific Railroad. Hayes did make good on his promises to remove federal troops from Southern states, allowing Democrats to seize control, effectively ending Reconstruction. The end of Reconstruction led to the beginning of the Jim Crow era, marked by segregation, discrimination, and growing disenfranchisement of Black voters, which lasted until the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

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