Let’s set the record straight on what actually happened in the Election of 1876 and its immediate aftermath.
Samuel Tilden, a Democrat from New York, won the popular vote by 250,000 votes over Ohio Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. The GOP challenged the Electoral College votes. Tilden won 184 electoral votes (1 short of the 185 needed for victory) and Hayes won 165 votes. But 20 electoral votes were disputed. Three southern states, Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina sent two sets of electoral votes to Washington D.C. Who would get these electoral votes?
In January 1877, Congress created an Electoral Commission made-up of five senators, five representatives, and five Supreme Court justices. This is the commission Ted Cruz referenced in his speech today. Eight members of the commission were Republicans and seven members of the commission were Democrats. The commission voted on partisan lines and gave twenty electoral votes from Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina to Hayes. Democratic congressmen said they would try to block Hayes’s inauguration. This led to the so-called Compromise of 1877, an agreement that gave Hayes the presidency in exchange for a new transcontinental railroad running through Texas, a Southern cabinet member (Hayes appointed a postmaster general from Tennessee), the removal of northern troops from the South, and the right to deal with freed slaves without northern interference.
The Compromise of 1877 brought an end to the Reconstruction era, the post-Civil War movement that freed the slaves and gave them citizenship and the right to vote. The U.S. military, under the direction of the radical Republican Congress, enforced Reconstruction in the South. After Hayes took office, he removed U.S. troops from the South and gave the region “home rule.” In other words, the president abandoned the freed slaves and all those working for racial justice and Black civil rights. With the troops gone, Southern leaders started the work of “redeeming” the region. This meant that they stopped enforcing the 14th Amendment (Black citizenship), the 15th Amendment (the right to vote), and the Civil Rights Acts of 1866. Segregation and Jim Crow would follow. It would last until the 1960s and we are still dealing with its aftermath today.
As South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham said tonight on the floor of the Senate: “if you are looking for historical guidance, this [the Compromise of 1877] is not the one to pick.”