The final nail in the coffin was the Civil Rights Cases of 1883. In these rulings, the Court further declared the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional, saying that the Fourteenth Amendment applied only to discrimination from the government, not from individuals. Collectively, these rulings from the Supreme Court, along with the Democratic Party’s political resurgence in the South, brought an end to Radical Reconstruction.

The Election of 1876

In 1876, the Democratic Party, having already secured a majority in the South, made a concerted effort to win the White House as well. The party nominated the famous Grant-era prosecutor Samuel J. Tilden as their presidential hopeful. After briefly thinking about re-nominating Ulysses S. Grant for an unprecedented third term, Republicans instead nominated Ohio Governor Rutherford B. Hayes. Even though Hayes was a relative unknown, Republicans thought of him as the perfect candidate: he had been a Union general in the Civil War, had no controversial opinions, and came from a politically important state. In the election, Tilden received 184 electoral votes of the 185 needed to become president. Hayes only received 165 votes and lost the popular vote by approximately 250,000 votes.

However, the election results were disputed because of confusing ballots in South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida. Under normal procedure, disputed votes would be recounted in front of Congress by the president of the Senate. However, the president of the Senate was a Republican and the Speaker of the House was a Democrat, so neither man could be trusted to count the votes fairly.

The Compromise of 1877

Congress therefore passed the Electoral Count Act in 1877 to establish a special committee to recount the votes in a fair and balanced way. The committee consisted of fifteen men from the House, Senate, and Supreme Court. The committee concluded by a margin of one vote that the Republican Hayes had won the disputed states and therefore was the new president. Democrats were outraged at first but quickly realized that the situation gave them the perfect opportunity to strike a bargain with the opposition to achieve their political goals.

The result was the Compromise of 1877, in which Democrats agreed to let Hayes become president in exchange for a complete withdrawal of federal troops from the South. Republicans agreed, and shortly after Hayes was sworn in as president, he ordered the remaining federal troops to vacate South Carolina and Louisiana.

Reasons for the End of Reconstruction

Ultimately, Reconstruction ended because of several factors. Northerners were tired of a decade of Reconstruction efforts and had become less interested in the South with the rise of speculation and profit-making in the Gilded Age and then the hardships of the Depression of 1873. In addition, the conservative Supreme Court repeatedly struck down Radical Republican legislation, issuing rulings that had a devastating effect on blacks’ civil liberties. Meanwhile, the persistent scare tactics of the Ku Klux Klan and other southern white groups drove many Republicans out of office, giving Democrats a majority in every southern state by 1877. Finally, the Compromise of 1877 and removal of the remaining federal troops from the South signaled the end of the Reconstruction era.

Popular pages: Reconstruction (1865–1877)