Paul Leland Haworth.

Reconstruction and union, 1865-1912 online

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ship of John Sherman of Ohio, carried through a
bill providing for the gradual reduction of green-
backs to three hundred millions and naming Janu-
ary 1, 1879, as the date on which the government
would begin to redeem such notes in coin.

Through the efforts of Secretary of the Treasury
Benjamin H. Bristow, an energetic Kentuckian,
who had entered office in 1874, a corrupt " Whiskey
Ring" was unearthed, which for years had been
cheating the government out of millions. The
chief center of the ring was in St. Louis; it was
composed of distillers and revenue officers and
had confederates even in Washington itself. Or-
ville E. Babcock, the president's own secretary,
was implicated, and the president himself had
accepted "with oriental nonchalance" valuable
presents from members of the ring. Grant at
first wrote, "Let no guilty man escape," but
subsequently he unwisely hampered the prosecu-
tion and practically forced Bristow from the


cabinet. Some of the guilty were convicted and
imprisoned. Babcock was acquitted, but, though
the jury's verdict was "not guilty," that of the
country was "not proven."

Hardly was Babcock's trial over when a com-
mittee of the house of representatives brought in
(March 2, 1876) evidence which showed con-
clusively that Secretary of War Belknap was
guilty of malfeasance in office. It appeared that
he and his wife were in the habit of selling post-
traderships on the frontier. Belknap hastily
resigned, and Grant foolishly accepted his resigna-
tion "with great regret." This brought up the
technical question of whether Belknap was now
subject to impeachment, and as a result the guilty
man ultimately escaped punishment.

These disclosures, with others, marked "the
nadir of national disgrace." Never before or
since has corruption been so prevalent. When
all proper allowance is made for the morally
unhealthy atmosphere which follows a great war,
it must yet be said that much of the corruption
was due to Grant's unfitness for civil office. His
failure ought to stand as a warning to those foolish
Americans who believe that any man, no matter
what his training, is capable of filling any office.
In the minds of many a sincere patriot, proud of
the record of a hundred years but humiliated by
the fact that the centennial of the nation's birth
must witness so much corruption in high places,
there arose a desire for a political change. Had
public confidence in the Democratic party equaled
disgust with the Republican, there would have
been little need to hold an election.


For the first time since 1860 there was doubt as
to who would be the Republican standard bearer.
Sycophants and pretended friends urged Grant
to stand for a third term, but the idea caused so
much popular clamor that he issued a "declina-
tion with a string to it." A quietus was finally
put upon the idea by the passage through the
house of representatives, by an enormous majority,
of a resolution declaring that any attempt to
depart from the precedent established by Wash-
ington " would be unwise, unpatriotic, and fraught
with peril to our free institutions." With Grant
out of the way, the field was open for other can-
didates. Undoubtedly the man most favored by
reformers was Benjamin H. Bristow of Kentucky,
whose exposure of the Whiskey Ring had made a
great impression. But Bristow was disliked by the
politicians and by the president, Grant's pref-
erence, though it carried little weight, being for
Senator Conkling of New York. Senator Morton,
the capable war governor of Indiana, had many
supporters, but James G. Blaine of Maine seemed
to have the best chance of securing the coveted
honor. He possessed a magnetic personality,
and had attracted much attention as a repre-
sentative and as speaker of the house. In the
existing "Rebel Congress," as Republicans were
fond of calling it, he had kept himself in the pub-
lic eye by systematically baiting hot-tempered
Southerners into bellowing out utterances that
could be used as party capital. But Blaine had
the bitter enmity of Senator Conkling, whom on
a memorable occasion he had forever alienated
by comparing him to a turkey gobbler. His


availability in the eyes of reformers was vastly
lessened by embarrassing revelations regarding
his alleged improper relations while Speaker
with the affairs of the Little Rock and Fort Smith

The Republican convention met at Cincinnati on
June 14th. The platform temporized as regards
resumption of specie payments, contained a weak
indorsement of civil service reform, declared in
favor of protection and against polygamy, com-
mended Grant's administration, and denounced
the Democratic party as "being the same in char-
acter and spirit as when it sympathized with
treason." Elaine's name was presented to the
convention by Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll, who
characterized his hero as a "plumed knight"
who "marched down the halls of the American
congress and threw his shining lance full and fair
against the brazen forehead of every traitor to
his country and every maligner of his fair repu-
tation." For six ballots Elaine led by a large mar-
gin, but on the fifth ballot a movement began to
set in toward a "favorite son," Rutherford B.
Hayes of Ohio, who was nominated on the seventh
ballot. The convention then selected William A.
Wheeler of New York for the vice-presidential

The nomination of Hayes occasioned consider-
able surprise, but it was soon discovered that
the convention had selected an honest, capable
man on whom all factions could unite. He had
fought in the Civil War as a volunteer and had
received four honorable wounds and a brevet
major-generalcy. He was then serving a third


term as governor of Ohio, and in each campaign
had fought stubbornly for sound money. In his
letter of acceptance he gave great pleasure to
reformers by denouncing the "spoils system,"
and he ultimately received the support of
many of the Liberal Republicans including Carl

The Democratic convention assembled in St.
Louis on the 29th of June. Its platform con-
tained a scathing denunciation of Republican
misrule and can be roughly summarized in the
one word "Reform." For the presidency it
selected on the second ballot Samuel J. Tilden
of New York, and for the vice-presidency Senator
Thomas A. Hendricks of Indiana, who had been
Tilden's chief competitor for the first place on the

Tilden's rise to national prominence had been
rapid, but his experience in local politics had
been long and varied, for at an early age he had
shown great precocity in such matters and
had been a protege of that prince of politicians,
Martin Van Buren. He had won great distinction
as a lawyer, and by his success as a railroad "re-
. organizer" had accumulated a fortune of several
millions. He assisted in the destruction of the
notorious Tweed Ring, and in 1874, despite the
opposition of Tammany Hall, was elected governor
of New York. As governor he waged a success-
ful war upon the so-called "Canal Ring," and also
reduced the rate of taxation. Cold, calculating,
secretive, a "high financier" in the present mean-
ing of the term, he did not possess the qualities
that arouse popular enthusiasm, but he enjoyed


a great reputation as a reformer and seemed to be
the man of the hour.

The Democrats endeavored to fight the cam-
paign on the issue of reform, and the speeches of
their orators contained many telling allusions
to the disgraceful scandals that had marked Re-
publican rule. The Republicans craftily strove to
shift the issue by "waving the bloody shirt," dwell-
ing upon the horrors of Andersonville, harping
upon the intimidation of negroes, and seeking to
identify the Democratic party as the party that
had brought on the war. Much was made of the
conflicting opinions of the Democratic candidates
on the currency question. A cartoon of the day
represented the party as a double-headed tiger,
one head being that of Tilden, who wore a collar
labeled "Contraction," the other that of Hen-
dricks, whose collar was inscribed "Inflation";
below was the inscription: "This double-headed,
double-faced Tiger can be turned any way to
gull the American people." Virulent attacks
were also made on Tilden's war record and on
his career as a railroad "wrecker"; it was charged
that he had failed to make full and fair returns
of his income to the tax assessors.

The returns that came in to New York City
on the night of November 7th were such as to
indicate the election of Tilden. The Democratic
newspapers next morning were unanimous in
claiming victory; the Republican almost equally
unanimous in conceding defeat. The Republican
campaign managers in the Fifth Avenue Hotel
went to bed believing themselves beaten, but
some keen newspaper men on the New York


Times saw possibilities in the situation and
induced the managers to claim the election of

It soon became apparent that Tilden was un-
doubtedly entitled to 184 electoral votes, only one
less than a majority, and that Florida, Louisiana,
South Carolina, and one of the electoral votes of
Oregon 20 votes in all were in doubt. In
Florida the result was very close, and the returns
so confused that it is impossible to say with cer-
tainty which party really deserved the decision,
but the state returning board, a majority of whom
were Republicans, on the plea of intimidation and
fraud, threw out enough precincts and counties
to give the Republican electors substantial ma-
jorities. In Louisiana the Democratic electors
received majorities of several thousand on the
face of the returns. But there had been whole-
sale intimidation of negro voters in some par-
ishes. In East Feliciana, for example, there
was not a Republican vote, whereas two years
before there had been 1,688. The state return-
ing board, composed entirely of Republicans,
threw out enough returns to give the Repub-
lican elector lowest on the list a majority of over
three thousand. In South Carolina there had
been intimidation of negroes by white rifle clubs,
but the Republican electors received a majority
on the face of the returns. Their election was
certified by the board of state canvassers, but the
Democrats contested the result. In Oregon all
of the Republican electoral candidates received
majorities, but as one of them was a postmaster,
the Democrats asserted that he was disqualified


from acting. In accordance with state law, he
remedied the defect by resigning the postmaster-
ship and was reappointed elector by his associates
on the ticket, but the Democratic governor gave
a certificate of election to one of the minority
candidates. Ultimately there were three returns
from Florida, four from Louisiana, two from
South Carolina, and two from Oregon. 1

The dispute aroused tremendous excitement.
Threats of bloodshed were freely uttered. Parti-
sans of Tilden seemed particularly determined.
In places Tilden and Hendricks "minute men"
were enrolled. It was noticeable, however, that
it was the Northern Democrats who did the most
talking; their Southern brethren, having once
before been misled and left in the lurch, were more
conservative. In a caucus of Democratic members
of congress Benjamin Hill of Georgia referred
cuttingly to a section of the party that was " in-
vincible in peace and invisible in war," 'and
hinted that those who were counseling a resort
to arms had "no conception of the conservative
influence of a 15-inch shell with the fuse in proc-
ess of combustion." Fortunately the country
at large had no desire to experience the horrors
of another war, and cool-headed patriotic men
on both sides desired that the dispute should be j
settled peaceably.

It was soon seen that the crux of the contest
lay in the power to count and declare the electoral
vote. Unfortunately the constitution merely
provides that "the President of the Senate shall,

1 For details of these contests see Haworth, The Hayes-
TUden Election, pp. 57-156.


in the presence of the Senate and House of Repre*

sentatives, open all the certificates, and the votes

shall then be counted." Upon the interpretation

' of the last ambiguous clause seemed to hinge the

question of who was to be the next president

, of the United States. If, as some Republicans

' contended, the clause meant "counted by the

president of the senate," then there was little

doubt that the Republican president pro tempore,

Thomas W. Ferry (Wilson, the vice-president,

had died), would open and count the Republican

returns and declare Hayes elected by a majority

of one. If, as the Democrats contended, the

counting was to be done under direction of the

two houses, then a deadlock would probably

ensue. In this case the choice of a president would

'- be thrown into the Democratic house, that of a

[ vice-president into the Republican senate.

Ultimately a joint committee of the two houses
evolved a plan for an extra-constitutional com-
mission which was to pass upon the validity of
the disputed returns. Neither Hayes nor Tilden
favored the plan, and a majority of the Repub-
licans in congress opposed it; but the country
at large approved it, and an act creating the
commission became a law (January 29, 1877).
The decisions of the commission were to be final
unless overruled by the separate vote of both
houses. The commission was to consist of five
representatives, five senators, and five associate
justices of the supreme court. In accordance
with an agreement reached by the committee,
the house appointed three Democrats and two
Republicans, the senate two Democrats and


three Republicans. The act designated two Demo- |
cratic and two Republican justices and provided
that they should name a fifth.

It was expected by the Democrats that the
fifth judge would be David Davis of Illinois.
Davis had received his appointment from Lincoln,
but now had Democratic leanings. He was a
fat man, of size so vast that it was said that he
had to be "surveyed for a pair of trousers." His ' ,
disinclination to accept a thankless task accorded
with his dimensions. At the crucial moment a [
combination of Illinois Democrats and Independ-
ents elected him to a seat in the Federal senate,
and this gave him a convenient excuse for evading
the work of arbitration. The choice for the fifth
judge then fell upon Joseph P. Bradley of New
Jersey. Bradley had been appointed as a
Republican, but he was out of sympathy (
with the Radicals, and was the most accept-
able to the Democrats of any of the remaining '

This choice proved to be decisive. The mem-
bers of the commission acted as partisans rather
than as judges, and on all essential points Bradley
voted with the Republicans. Despite the efforts
of some disgruntled Democrats to prevent by fili-
bustering the completion of the count, announce-
ment of the election of Hayes and Wheeler was
formally made by the president of the senate on
the early morning of March 2nd, and after t
months of anxiety the greatest contest for an
elective office in the history of popular government
was peacefully concluded. As the 4th of March
fell upon Sunday, Hayes was secretly sworn into


I office at the White House on the night of the
3rd, and on the 5th was formally inaugurated
at the Capitol.

The outcome caused great dissatisfaction among
Democrats, but a bitter contest which might
have leveled the foundations of the Republic
had been settled without a resort to arms. The
1 result was acquiesced in, and though the enmities
engendered by the controversy were to linger
long in American public life, they were finally
to disappear without leaving any appreciable
scar upon the body politic. It was a happy solu-
tion of a difficult situation.

A delicate task that confronted the new presi-
dent on the threshold of office was that of adjusting
affairs hi the South. In Louisiana and South
Carolina dual governments existed, and peace
between the factions had been preserved only
by the presence of Federal troops. In the last
days of the electoral count certain Republican
leaders had secretly promised that if filibustering
would cease, Hayes, upon becoming president,
; would withdraw the troops and allow the carpet-
bag governments to totter to their fall. Hayes
was not a party to this bargain, but he seems to
have felt himself bound by it, and besides was
personally inclined to think that for the Federal
government to cease its interference would be
the wisest course. In less than two months after
the inauguration the troops were withdrawn;
the carpet-bag governments vanished into thin

Thus ended the last scene in Reconstruction.
It had been a lurid drama, but one that may be


said to have been inevitable. A great war had
resulted in the triumph of certain principles which
the world is now agreed were just and right. The
problem which then presented itself was the
preservation of these principles that had been
vindicated upon the battlefield. One policy
the milder one gave some promise of achieving
that result; whether it would have done so is
still a matter of debate. A harsher policy, one
that did not require superhuman magnanimity,
assured the result beyond reasonable doubt and
appeared, in the eyes of optimists, to promise
other benefits. The latter policy was adopted.
It produced some lamentable results, but the
nation was safely tided over the crisis, and the
fruits of the war were secured. It is easy now to
point out the failures of Reconstruction. They
are obvious. Probably military rule until the
rights of the freedmen had been established would
have been better than negro suffrage, but it is
certain that military rule or any other policy
would have failed. Had the Johnson plan
been followed, there would inevitably have been
disappointments of one kind or another, and
historians might now be chiding Charles Sumner
and Thaddeus Stevens for their childlike faith
in human nature.

The Reconstruction era is a dark period, and
yet, speaking comparatively, it cannot be said
that the treatment of the South was harsh.
"Imaginary comparisons with other civilized
governments are sometimes useful," writes the
historian Rhodes. "It seems to me certain that
in 1865-1867 England or Prussia under similar


circumstances would not so summarily have given
the negroes full political rights. More than likely
they would have studied the question scientifi-
cally through experts and therefore could not
have avoided the conclusion that intelligence
and the possession of property must precede the
grant of suffrage. Their solution of the difficulty
would therefore have been more in the interest
of civilization. The words of Parkman, 'The
lion had had his turn, and now the fox, the jackal,
and the wolf took theirs,' could not have been
applied. On the other hand, with the ideas
which prevail in those countries concerning
rebellion against an established government,
England and Prussia would undoubtedly have
executed Jefferson Davis and others and con-
fiscated much of the southern land. The good
nature and good sense of the American people
preserved them from so stern a policy, and as
a choice of evils (since mistakes it seems were
sure to be made) the imposition of negro suf-
frage was better than proscriptions and the
creation of an Ireland or a Poland at our very

Dread of negro domination developed a South
solidly Democratic. Since 1876 not one of the
eleven seceded states has ever cast its electoral
votes for a Republican candidate. In places
where the negro population was predominant
in numbers, force, intimidation, and fraud were
freely resorted to by the whites, being excused
on the ground of necessity. But it was soon dis-
covered that such methods reacted upon the
whites themselves. So the stronger race set about


finding a method of suppressing the negro vote
without coming into conflict with the Fifteenth
Amendment, which forbids discrimination because
of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

In 1890 Mississippi led the way with a consti-
tutional provision that every elector "shall be
able to read any section of the Constitution of
the State; or he shall be able to understand the
same when read to him, or to give a reasonable f
interpretation thereof." As the registration'
officers are almost invariably white men, it is
evident that this "understanding clause" affords
a means of admitting illiterate white voters and
excluding the same class of negroes. Several
other states have since adopted this or a similar
plan of steering between "the Scylla of the
Fifteenth Amendment and the Charybdis of
negro domination." Louisiana, for example,
adopted in 1898 property and educational qualifi-
cations, but as loopholes for illiterate poor whites
of foreign birth incorporated a "naturalization
clause" and for those of native birth a "grand-
father clause." No citizen of foreign birth who
was naturalized prior to January 1, 1898, was to
be denied the suffrage, and no citizen of native
birth who was on or prior to January 1, 1867, a
voter, or who was a son or grandson of such a
voter, was to be excluded from the polls. All
such persons must, however, register prior to
September 1, 1898, and neither loophole is avail-
able for illiterate poor whites who have become
of age since that date. As only a few Northern
states allowed the negro the ballot in 1867, the
number of negroes who can take advantage of the


"grandfather clause" is negligible. The whole
number of registered negro voters in the state
was reduced from 127,000 in 1896 to 5,300 in
1900. The disfranchising laws have thus far
stood judicial tests, and, though they have greatly
diminished the electorate in several states, con-
gress has not seen fit to decrease any state's
representation in congress as provided by the
Fourteenth Amendment.

In practice, the negro no longer plays an active
part in Southern politics, though he serves as a
convenient bogie for Southern politicians. Even
many negroes who are qualified to vote find it
expedient not to attempt to do so. As regards
civil and social rights, the reaction against the
negro has not been so radical, but it has been
marked. Several of the Reconstruction acts,
including a new Civil Rights Bill passed in 1875,
have been held unconstitutional either wholly or
in part, for the supreme court has tended to
interpret the war amendments more strictly than
their framers probably intended. In the South
the negro is forced to ride in separate railway
coaches known as "Jim-crow cars," and is ex-
cluded from white hotels, theaters, and other
places of a semi-public character. Some states
show a disposition to discriminate against him
as regards provision for public education; negro-
phobes even advocate depriving him of educa-
tional advantages altogether. In defense of such
acts they point to the fact that the negro pays
comparatively little in taxes, but they forget that
he does much of the work of the South and that
the real incidence of a large part of the taxes falls


upon his shoulders. Economically and morally
the negro has made commendable progress. The
number of thrifty, law-abiding negroes is larger
than is generally supposed, for unfortunately it
is the lazy, criminal class who are most in evi-
dence. It should not be forgotten that a race
cannot be civilized in a day. Nine centuries
elapsed between the time when our Teutonic an-
cestors destroyed the Roman Empire and the
time when they had become sufficiently leavened
by a Christian civilization to be ready for the
Renaissance. Little wonder, therefore, that the
negro race in "America has not attained perfec-
tion in less than fifty years.



THE task of President Hayes was doubly
difficult because of the cloud that rested on his
title, but he was fortunate in the selection of an
unusually capable cabinet. With William M.
Evarts as secretary of state, Carl Schurz as sec-
retary of the interior, and John Sherman as
secretary of the treasury, the country would
have been in safe hands even had Hayes not
proved to be a man of firmness, intelligence, and
unimpeachable integrity. As a step toward con-

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Online LibraryPaul Leland HaworthReconstruction and union, 1865-1912 → online text (page 5 of 20)