The Force Act of 1871 provided for federal scrutiny of congressional elections. The act, passed during the Ulysses S. Grant administration, was intended to prevent election fraud in Southern states during the Reconstruction era. The Force Act was sandwiched between the Enforcement Act of 1870, which established criminal penalties for interfering with an election, and the Enforcement Act of 1871, which permitted the suspension of habeas corpus. Intended to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment, the Force Act of 1871 was described as "an Act to enforce the rights of citizens of the United States to vote in the several states of this union." If a town or city had "upward of twenty thousand inhabitants," any two citizens of that town who wished to have an election "guarded and scrutinized" could request the regional U.S. Circuit Court to oversee it. In such cases the court was instructed to choose two bipartisan supervisors, who, under the court's protection, could regulate the election. The three acts are sometimes referred to collectively as the Enforcement Acts or the Force Acts.
Southern bigots responded to the Force Act with a wave of discriminatory actions, known as Jim Crow. Such policies as literacy tests and poll taxes (taxes for voting) still kept many blacks from voting. Some Southern states included measures prohibiting voting by blacks in their new constitutions. The Supreme Court did little to reverse this. In Giles v. Harris (1903) and Giles v. Teasley (1904), a black citizen challenged provisions such as these in the Alabama state constitution. The Supreme Court, however, ruled that it could not do anything about the provisions because they represented a "political question." It would take the Civil Rights movement, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act to put these matters to rest.
See also: CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1964; VOTING RIGHTS ACT OF 1965.
Hakim, Joy. A History of U.S. Reconstruction and Reform. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
The Force Acts of 1870871. Northern Virginia Community College. .
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