What is the Compromise of 1877?

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The compromise of 1877 was an unwritten, informal deal between the Republican and Democrats of Congress to recognize the Republican president if the federal troops from the southern states were removed, at least one southern Democrat was appointed into Rutherford Hayes’s administration, a second transcontinental railroad in the south was constructed, and if the legislation was enacted to help industrialize the South. The compromise was formed to settle the disputed presidential election of 1876. In the election results displayed Democrat Samuel Tilden and Republican Rutherford Hayes separated by 20 disputed electoral votes from southern states. A bipartisan commission was formed to decide the dispute, and they handled all of the disputed votes to Hayes to make him the winner, a decision Democrats refused to recognize. This compromise allowed Hayes to be president if some key concessions were made- i.e., if all of the federal troops from southern states were removed for the first time since the conclusion of the United States Civil War.

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In the decade following the conclusion of the Civil War, tensions remained high between northern and southern states. The South was resenting the North’s insistence on pushing its reconstruction agenda and improving the rights of freed slaves. Accusations of corruption within the administration of Ulysses S. Grant and an economic depression had heightened discontent with the Republican Party. As the 1876 presidential election approached, Republican Hayes was championed by the northern states and Democrat Samuel Tilden was favored by the South. In his acceptance of the nomination, Hayes wrote that if elected, he would bring “the blessings of honest and capable local self-government” to the south. In other words, he would restrict enforcement of Reconstruction-era policies.

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Tilden had won the popular vote, but the overall result was left up in the air due to the twenty disputed electoral votes. To determine the outcome, Congress formed the Electoral Commission, which was supposed to consist of seven Republicans, seven Democrats, and one Independent. When the lone independent, David Davis, refused to cast the deciding vote, an eighth Republican was added. All of the eight republicans awarded all of the disputed votes to Hayes, but the Democrats refused to accept this decision. A battle between the Senate and House of Representatives about whether the commission’s decision was valid ensued.

From this clash, the two sides finally agreed upon the Compromise of 1877. Hayes was allowed to take the presidency by Democrats but they demanded other concessions. They wanted at least one southern Democrat into Hayes' administration, the construction of a transcontinental railroad in the South, and forming legislation to help spur southern industrial growth. With the departure of the federal troops, control was quickly gained by Democrats in all of the southern states. Reconstruction efforts to improve civil rights for slaves were put aside and the South put an end to that progression and an era of poverty and segregation began. Blacks were very angry with this decision and felt a sense of betrayal by the government.
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Rutherford Hayes: After serving for three terms as governor of Ohio, republican Rutherford Hayes became the 19th president of the United States. He headed the end of reconstruction and reconciled the divisions that had led to the Civil War. Although he lost popular vote in his election to Democrat Samuel Tilden, he won the presidency after a Congressional commission awarded him twenty electoral votes. Hayes believed in equal treatment regardless of race and improvement through education. Hayes took office determined to reform the system of civil service; several civil service projects were implemented in his presidency. Instead of giving federal jobs to political supporters, he chose to award them
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by merit. Many of the leaders of the new South did indeed favor Republican economic policies and approved of Hayes’ financial conservatism but they faced annihilation at the polls if they were to join the party of Reconstruction. The struggle Hayes faced was winning over the “solid south” (aka the original south), however he remained persistent in his efforts. Hayes had announced in advance that he would serve only term, and kept this promise when he retired to Spiegel Grove.

Samuel Tilden:Democrat candidate Samuel Tilden opposed Rutherford Hayes in the largely disputed election of 1876, where he won the popular vote but lost the overall election. Tilden is known for his fight against the corruption of Tammany Hall, which was involved with Boss Tweed of NYC, and fought to keep taxes low. He was not elected into office due to the federal constitution containing no provision for settling a dispute of this kind. The Electoral Commission that was formed decided all the contests in favor of the Republican candidates. Tilden counseled his followers to abide quietly by the result. In the year of 1878 the New York Tribune, a republican newspaper, had attempted to prove that that during the crisis following the election, Tilden had been negotiating for the purchase of the electoral votes of South Carolina and Florida. Tilden denied all knowledge of such dispatches and appeared before a Congressional subcommittee in New York City to clear himself of the charge.
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He was not successful in his attempts to extricate himself of corrupt transactions, but his political opponents endeavored to make money in subsequent campaigns.

David Davis: In 1877, David Davis had the opportunity to be the first man to single-h
andedly elect the President of the United States, however, he turned it down. He was
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nominated by President Abraham Lincoln to be a Supreme Court Justice. Davis was a registered independent and was nominated for president in 1872 but withdrew himself after he did not receive the Liberal Republican Party nomination.


The Compromise of 1876 effectively ended the reconstruction era. Southern Democrats’ promises to protect civil and political rights of blacks were not kept and interference in southern affairs completely ended. Exclusion of black voters also occurred. Although several laws had already been formed, southern legislatures continued to pass more laws requiring the separation of whites from persons of color on public transportation, in schools, parks, restaurants, theaters, and other locations. These segregationist statues, known as the “Jim Crow laws”, governed life in the South through the middle of the next century, ending not until 1960s.

Hayes had appointed Tennessee’s David Key as postmaster general, but never followed through on the Promised Land grant for the Texas and Pacific. Although Hayes’ was known for giving little to no decisions to the Democrats, he did allow the Democrats to seize control in both Louisiana and South Carolina state houses. Democrats had been restored to power all across the South as Florida’s Supreme Court had earlier declared a Democratic victory in the 1876 gubernatorial election.


After the decision was made by the commission, the Democrats of the House of Representatives wanted to reject the decision. With the end of the reconstruction, the four million freed slaves referred to the Compromise of 1877 as the “Great Betrayal”.

Before the Compromise of 1877, efforts were being made to join a divided nation. It was known as the reconstruction Era that finally ended with the Compromise. The Reconstruction was mostly carried on in the Southern states. Throughout this period, the Union sent federal troops to the Confederate states. As soon as the troops won over the Southern territories, reconstructed governments were set up in these states by President Abraham Lincoln.
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The goal made by Republicans was to rebuild these states that had seceded during the Civil War. Lives of black slaves had improved greatly and there was hope of emancipation of slaves in those states. However the Compromise of 1877 took away all hope for slaves. In 1876 the commitment that was being put into the reconstruction had dwindled within the Republican Party. Personal interests overtook the spirit of rebuilding the South. The Republicans had traded the Reconstruction efforts for the Presidential seat of the country. In exchange, the Democrats gained a strong hold over the entire South.

With the terms agreed to, the incumbent President Ulysses S. Grant removed federal troops from Florida. Hayes removed those remaining in South Caroline and Louisiana. After the Republican troops left, the Southern states were free to impose Jim Crow laws. A Democratic solid South was formed due to the influence of the Democrats. This laid the foundation of discrimination against Blacks in southern states.
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Informal- the word that describes the Compromise of 1877 best. During this time, many did not know about this compromise. The Democrats had secretly agreed to allow Hayes to President if the Republicans did certain things, including the withdrawal of soldiers, enacting federal legislation, appointing Democrats to patronage positions, and appointing a Democrat to the president’s cabinet. Hayes had completed all these actions covertly and after doing these requirements, was inaugurated as president. Also prior to the Compromise, the era of Reconstruction took place. The North and South were divided over this era, as the South was opposed to it. Democrats argued that if reconstruction ended, Hayes could become president. These “under the table” deals displayed the competition for power; the Democrats took the risk of losing the election for more influence over the country. This was a purchased presidency.
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The Compromise of 1877 can also be nationalism because the parties united. Each party joined together to create a well bounded support system. Both the Democrats and Republicans were trying to advance themselves and capture more power. The only wanted what would benefit their own party.

The Compromise of 1877 was a landmark event in the annals of American History that saved a nation whose wounds from the Civil War were still fresh. However, the compromise pushed back efforts for quality and dignity for Blacks to the 1950s.

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Click on this link to watch a video about the failure of Reconstruction!
Now let's see if you really know it! Take this quiz below!
  • How many points of compromise were informally agreed upon between the Republican and Democrat members of Congress?
    1. one
    2. five
    3. four
    4. three
  • What caused the compromise of 1877?
    1. Hayes stole Tilden's wife
    2. the disputed election of 1876
    3. the Southern States withdrew from the Union
    4. a lack of cheese in the White House
  • How many terms did Hayes serve as governor of Ohio?
    1. five
    2. twelve
    3. three
    4. 8,236,432
  • What year did the Compromise of 1877 take place?
    1. 1876
    2. 1942
    3. 1893
    4. 1829
    5. 1877
  • Which of the following was NOTa request made by the Democratic members of Congress?
    1. legislation to help industrialize the south
    2. appointment of at least one southern democrat into Hayes' administration.
    3. the appointment of a southern democrat to be a supreme court justice
    4. removal of all federal troops from the south.
  • What was disputed during the presidential election of 1876?
    1. southern states
    2. electoral votes
    3. who supplies the additional cheese to the White House
    4. the removal if federal troops from the south
  • The refusal of _ to serve on the Electoral Commission allowed an imbalance of eight republicans and seven democrats to be selected.
    1. Bob Barker
    2. James A. Garfield
    3. Jefferson Davis
    4. David Davis
Answers: 1. 3; 2. 2; 3. 3; 4. 5; 5. 3; 6. 2; 7. 4
Quiz taken from:

Some political cartoons!!!


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