When America Truly Lost Its Way: The Compromise of 1877

You can certainly make the case that America lost its way many times throughout its history and I won’t disagree. From the moment they broke their first pact with the Native Americans to their prospering from the work of slaves, the declaration of Manifest Destiny saying that God intended for it to have every piece of land from sea to sea with all the people in-between be damned. The shaping of its borders, not desirous of Mexico because it, “had too many Mexicans,” and Japanese Internment.

John C. Calhoun, the South Carolinian legislative forefather of Lindsay Graham said, “ I know further, sir, that we have never dreamt of incorporating into our Union any but the Caucasian race — the free white race. To incorporate Mexico, would be the very first instance of the kind of incorporating an Indian race; for more than half of the Mexicans are Indians, and the other is composed chiefly of mixed tribes. I protest against such a union as that! Ours, sir, is the Government of a white race. The greatest misfortunes of Spanish America are to be traced to the fatal error of placing these colored races on an equality with the white race. That error destroyed the social arrangement which formed the basis of society. The Portuguese and ourselves have escaped — the Portuguese at least to some extent — and we are the only people on this continent which have made revolutions without being followed by anarchy. And yet it is professed and talked about to erect these Mexicans into a Territorial Government, and place them on an equality with the people of the United States. I protest utterly against such a project.”

But there was a moment when America had a chance to do better… and chose not. The Civil War was ended and the slaves had been freed; some took a little longer to get the word (Texas) until the cotton crop was harvested that was a minor missed opportunity compared to The Compromise of 1877.

The freedmen were still being discriminated against. They couldn’t attend white schools but did have their own. Before the end of the Civil War; Black institutions of higher learning rose up beginning with The Institute of Higher Learning in Cheney, PA followed by Lincoln University and Wilberforce University. Not really colleges but a beginning. After the war, often with the aid of white religious societies, black colleges rose up including Fisk, Morehouse, and Howard. The freed slaves began to vote, and in the deepest part of the South began to send elected black representatives to Congress and sit in State Legislatures. Led by Mississippi and Florida, Reconstruction was flourishing to a degree and America seemed to be on a path which might one day resemble equality.

That didn’t mean the newfound prosperity of black folk (relative to slavery anything was prosperous) wasn’t upsetting to the Southern whites who’d seen their entire way of life upended. The only thing that allowed black people to vote, farm on their own lands, and worship in their own churches, was the unwanted presence of Federal Troops protecting the new status quo.

In 1876, a disputed Presidential Election left Republicans and Democrats trying to determine which Party would seat the next President. In what seems like a role reversal for those not up on their history, The Republicans, formed partly with the goal of abolishing slavery, appeared to have lost. Short just one Electoral Vote short of victory with two states votes in dispute and winners of the Popular Vote. It seemed a foregone conclusion they would ultimately prevail. The Democrats, strongest in the South and the Party the Klan called home; allowed the Republicans to claim victory on one condition. The removal of Federal Troops from the South.

This ushered in the era of Jim Crow and all the previous gains of black people were immediately wiped out. In 1878, that Republican President, Rutherford B. Hayes, signed into law the Posse Comitatus Act, ensuring Federal Troops could never again be used in that manner on U.S. soil, protecting black citizens. With its adoption of The Compromise of 1877, followed up by Posse Comitatus slamming the door. America consciously and irrevocably declared its lack of conscience and choice down the path of white supremacy. Democrats began a reign of terror which included voter suppression enforced by lynchings, Jim Crow, segregation (which was always part of the program) and more. Republicans, who still call themselves, “The Party of Lincoln,” looked the other way at best. Cheerfully enacting some of the same programs of voter suppression and gerrymandering which they continue to this day.

Perhaps America will find itself back on track one day? With the recent implementation of Muslim Bans, separation of families at the border, Census questions designed to hurt minorities, and an uptick in segregated schools. It doesn’t look like it will be soon.

Posse Comitatus: Making Sure Reconstruction Was Dead, Dead, Dead!

Posse Comitatus comes up in the news from time to time. It’s the Federal Act signed by President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1878 that limits the ability of the Federal Government to use Federal military power to enforce domestic laws. With a few exceptions, the military can’t use its power to enforce state and local law.

The Trump administration is frustrated by its inability to use the military to enforce parts of its immigration policy. In fact, almost every President since Hayes has felt constrained in some manner by Posse Comitatus and many have gone to great lengths to get around it. One might reasonably ask, why was there a need for such an act in the first place? The answer is that it was Part 2 of the deal Republicans and Democrats made to settle the highly contested Presidential election of 1876. Democrat Samuel Tilden of New York beat Rutherford B. Hayes in the Popular Vote and was leading in the Electoral College 184–165 with 20 contested Electoral votes uncounted. Republican Hayes would have had to have been awarded all twenty votes to eke out a one-point victory to win the Presidency.

The next part of the story requires you to set aside any current perceptions you may hold about the Republican and Democrat Parties. The Republicans very basis for existence was related to the elimination of slavery, can be credited for much of what happened to free the slaves and offer various protections ensuring slaves had a chance to adjust and in some cases thrive. There was no 40 acres and a mule but there were Federal Troops left in the South to protect the slaves from retaliation and ensure their civil rights. The freedmen began to vote and gained representation in elected offices with over 1,500 black men elected to office during Reconstruction (1863–1877). Florida had the most overall black elected officials, Mississipi was the only state to elect blacks to their State Senate.

Prior to the Civil War, Democrats had a northern and southern faction, divided over slavery. Northern Democrats thought the issue of the expansion of slavery into western states should be decided by each state. Southern Democrats felt the more the merrier, slavery uber alles. Although Democrats had won all but two Presidential elections between 1828 and 1856, their lack of cohesion allowed Republican Abraham Lincoln to win the 1860 Election. After the war, Democrats solidified their hold on the South, opposing civil and voting rights for African Americans.

When the Democrat Tilden apparently won the Presidential Election, it seemed had they would survive any challenge yet in the Compromise of 1877, they agreed to let the Republican Hayes be declared the victor. Tilden won the popular vote and likely the Electoral College. What could compel the Democrats to agree to let Hayes become President, given that Republicans also had firm control over Congress? Democrats would have absolutely no power in that scenario, what would be worth that trade? They got their greatest wish, The Compromise of 1877 called for Hayes to become President, and the removal of Federal Troops from the South and effectively ending Reconstruction. Posse Comitatus, signed into law in 1878, ensured Federal Troops would never return.

Democrats and Republicans sold out black people for their own needs. Democrats wanted the troops out and immediately ushered in Jim Crow and overt white supremacy. Democrats wanted the troops out and to fully reassert their control over the South which would last until the 1960s when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Voting Rights Act. “Dixiecrats” continued their flight to the Republican Party which gladly accepted them. Johnson opined Democrats would “lose the South for a generation.” He wildly underestimated the situation. Republicans pointed to use of Federal troops to end the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 as a reason to support the measure other than knowingly turning their backs on the black people their party once formed to protect. The Party of Lincoln had pushed aside their ideal to win a Presidency. President Hayes had been a staunch abolitionist that had defended refugee slaves in court. He also turned his back when the South returned to as close to slavery as it could. It was part of the deal.

Posse Comitatus has been updated a couple of times over the years. In 1956, it was Amended to include the Air Force. Was it a coincidence this happened just after the Supreme Court called for the forced integration of schools in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954? In 1915 when the Coast Guard was formed, it was specifically excluded from Posse Comitatus as was the National Guard previously. It was the Oklahoma National Guard that bombed and strafed black citizens of the Greenwood section of Tulsa in 1921 in the area known as “Black Wall Street.”

Note: I first became aware of Posse Comitatus after viewing an episode of “West Wing” involving the assassination of a terrorist that was also a diplomat. The show accurately named the act and when it was passed, making no mention of its origins. Its origin never comes up whenever it comes up on the news. It should.

Did the Russians Hack Black Voters Because Nobody Would Care?

“I suspect a bit of both is true because the people most heavily impacted by the voting problems whether caused by Russians or Republicans, were Black!”

On June 5th, a Top-Secret NSA report was leaked showing Russia had done much more than was commonly known in their attempts to influence the US Presidential Election in 2016. The Russians hacked a Florida based software provider that helped manage voter registration programs in several states. The media duly reported the potential problems this could create including people showing up and finding they were removed from the voting rolls or processes could be slowed to create long lines in targeted areas. The narrative we were asked to focus on was that there is no evidence any votes were actually changed and there was nothing to see here.

a a vote

Photo: slate.com

While admittedly there’s a lot going on in the news including daily new reports on Russian ties to the Trump campaign or the President’s erratic behavior. Upcoming testimony from James Comey and other intelligence officials outlining possible obstruction of justice by Trump. With all that’s going on, I want to stop a minute and take a look at what just happened. The press outlined the potential dangers without taking the logical next step to see if any of those things actually occurred? There were hundreds of thousands of people turned away from the polls. There were crazy long lines in many urban areas. These things were reported contemporaneously right after the election. How much would it have taken to link those events and at least question whether or not the Russians were successful in disrupting the voting process? I find it hard to believe that I’m the only one making this connection. There are only two other possibilities.

  1. The long lines and voters turned away raised no red flags because we expected to see precisely those things as a result of the voter suppression methods well known to be in place.
  2. People in power know… but don’t care.

I suspect a bit of both is true because the people most heavily impacted by the voting problems whether caused by Russians or Republicans, were Black!

a a voter

Photo: twitter.com

There has always been a bit of complicity regarding the suppression of Black votes in America. Voting rights have always been a negotiation where Black voters were allowed a certain amount of power and no more. When first given the widespread legal right to vote, Black people in Mississippi and elsewhere began sending Representatives to Congress and started to touch upon achieving true power. Their voting strength was only possible due to the presence of Federal troops in the South. When withdrawn as a result of the Compromise of 1877, Reconstruction was effectively over. For every Voter Rights Act that was passed, there was a Supreme Court decision eventually gutting it. This is the history of our country. They giveth and they taketh away.

There is a pretense apparently acceptable to both Republicans, Democrats and the Supreme Court. It’s okay to have redistricting that nullifies Black votes if the reason is merely partisan and not racist. In other words, as long as they don’t call it racist, without regard to a racist effect, it’s not.

It’s very possible that Russian interference is hard to determine because what they may have attempted is exactly what current day Republicans and latter-day Democrats have done to curtail Black votes. Black voters have always faced externally imposed long lines, limited polling locations, reduced voting hours. While attempting to vote is no longer likely to get a Black person lynched. There are as many forces in play to limit their votes as ever before. If Russia wanted to influence the last Presidential election. All they had to do was imitate Republicans and inhibit the vote of those that those in power are willing to overlook.

The story of Russian influence on voter registration programs is already fading into the background. I wonder if it’s because the results are compatible with the greater design?

Feature Photo: youtube.com

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