How was Reconstruction brought to an end by white terror and the Compromise of 1877?

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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

White terror in the South prevented real progress during Reconstruction, especially in securing rights and property for former slaves.  The most famous were the Ku Klux Klan; however other groups such as the Knights of the White Camellia in Louisiana and the Red Shirt Campaign in South Carolina also worked to secure white supremacy.  Among the more shameful elements in my own past is that my Great Grandfather was a member of the Red Shirt Campaign whose members were required to kill a Black person as "initiation" to join the group. The result of the activity of these groups was the loss of nerve by Republicans, and the resurgence of the Democratic party in the South, a virtual reversal of political power. Part of this was because the North also had grown tired of the whole mess, and was more concerned with Western expansion, Indian problems, etc. Republican governments gradually collapsed, and conservative Democrats, all white, took over.

The administration of Ulysses S. Grant, elected primarily because he was a war hero rather than because of his political experience, was a complete fiasco. Fraud and corruption marked the election of 1876 which was ended by the Compromise of 1877.

During the 1876 election, a number of electoral votes from the South were disputed (South Carolina and Louisiana, ironically, had dual (and dueling) legislatures and sent two sets of electoral votes to Washington. The challenged votes would determine if Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican, or Samuel Tilden, the Democrat, would win the election. On January 29, 1877, Congress set up a special Electoral Commission to clean up the mess. There were 15 members, five from each house and five from the Supreme Court. The panel turned out to be stacked 8 to 7 Republican, and all votes went that way.

A compromise was reached, known as the Compromise of 1877. Democrats would not object to Hayes, if Hayes would withdraw Federal troops from Louisiana and South Carolina. (this would allow the Republican governments in those states, which had rival governments, to collapse). The result was the return of white supremacy to the South. Hayes was finally certified the winner on March 2.

In 1877, Hayes withdrew troops from Louisiana and South Carolina. Reconstruction was over, and the South quickly unraveled the reforms imposed by reconstruction. Equality was nothing but a promise that was not met. The legacy of reconstruction was the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution. Even they lay dormant for many years, reduced by Supreme Court decisions.