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The Confederate Lawyer
December 22, 2010

The 1874 Electoral Landslide
by Charles G. Mills
fitzgerald griffin foundation

GLEN COVE, NY — The 1874 election was like the 2010 election, only much bigger. It was a remarkable repudiation of Reconstruction. The Democrats took 85 Congressional seats away from the Republicans and won two vacant seats. Alabama and Arkansas voted out their Republican governments. Florida voted in a Democratic majority in the state legislature. Even states in such hardcore Radical Republican areas as New England and the Great Lakes elected Democrats to previously solid Republican seats.

On the other hand, Daniel Chamberlain, a Massachusetts colonel in the Northern Army, was elected governor of South Carolina in an election administered by the Northern Army. Another New England Northern war veteran, Marcellu Stearns, was elected governor of Florida. They joined Adelbert Ames, a Northern general from Maine, and William Kellog, a Northern colonel from Vermont, as Southern governors. Ames was elected in Mississippi in 1873, and Kellog was elected in Louisiana in 1872.

Ames had commanded the Northern troops in Mississippi and Arkansas who supervised the election that indirectly resulted in his going to the United States Senate in 1870. While commanding these troops, he also served as an unelected military governor. During his term as an elected governor, he spent most of his time in Massachusetts, Iowa, and Minnesota. His wife made no secret of her belief in the superiority of Northern women to Southern women. He himself made no secret of his desire to return to the North permanently.

While Southern Democrats continued to build support in the North for an end to Reconstruction, some Radical Republicans completely misread the message of the 1874 election. The Army went into the Louisiana legislature with bayonets and removed five legislators and replaced them with their Radical Republican opponents. General Sheridan proposed replacing jury trials in the South with military tribunals. These two actions further diminished what little was left of popular support for Reconstruction.

Radical Reconstruction had begun in 1867, when 10 Southern states were placed under governments in which the Northern Army supervised the elections, corrupt Radical Republicans counted the votes, and the governor was often a Northern military officer. Blacks often filled offices like lieutenant governor without real power. Politics consisted of the Army trying to minimize voting by former Confederate soldiers and public officials and maximize voting by blacks, while the Democrats tried to maximize voting by Confederate veterans and minimize voting by rural ex-slaves, especially those who could not read the ballots.

By 1870, Alabama, Georgia, and Virginia voted out their Reconstruction governments, but the Northern army again seized power in Alabama in 1872. North Carolina developed a form of two-party, two-race politics that lasted until 1901, when the last Republican black congressman from North Carolina retired. In 1873, Texas voted out its Reconstruction and brought back the Texas Rangers. After Alabama and Arkansas voted out their Reconstruction governments in 1874, the only ones remaining were Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina — all headed by New England Northern veterans, who clung tenaciously to power by military might despite the clear message from the 1874 election.

1874 saw the rise of two men who would cooperate in ending Reconstruction. In that year, Mississippi sent Blanche Kelso Bruce to the Senate. The son of a plantation owner and one of his slaves, he was given the same education as his legitimate half brother and given his freedom by his father early in life. In the same year, Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar went to Congress. He had served in Congress from Mississippi before the War and had served as a Confederate general.

Shortly after Lamar arrived in Congress, Charles Sumner died. He was probably the worst enemy the South had, and at the time of his death he was working on more anti-Southern legislation. Lamar surprised everyone by giving a truly generous eulogy of Sumner on the floor of the House. This made a tremendous impression in the North and changed opinion to wide opposition to Reconstruction.

Governor Ames told President Ulysses Grant that the Republicans would lose Mississippi in 1875 if more troops were not sent there. Others advised Grant that if he did send more troops to the South, Rutherford B. Hayes would lose the governorship of Ohio in 1875. Grant did not send troops, and the Democrats won control of the Mississippi legislature in 1875, resulting in Ames’ resigning in exchange for the withdrawal of impeachment charges against him.

In 1876, the Democrat Samuel J. Tilden easily won the popular vote over Rutherford B. Hayes and appeared to win the electoral vote. If, however, Hayes could carry Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina, he would win by one vote. Radical Republican election officials in these three states certified the election of Hayes, contrary to the actual vote count. The result was the worst electoral crisis in our history. Part of the deal that resolved it was an agreement that never again would the Army interfere in elections.

Also in 1876, Chamberlain and Kellog claimed reelection in disputed elections and were recognized by the Army. Within two months, Hayes ordered the Army to stop interfering in local politics, and the Democratic true winners of the 1876 elections replaced Chamberlain in South Carolina and Kellog in Louisiana.

In Florida, the state Supreme Court awarded the disputed election for governor to the Democrat. On the day of Hayes’ inauguration in 1877, Lamar was seated as a Senator. Although he had been elected in 1875, the Radical Republicans had barred him from his seat. On the opening day of Congress, Senator Bruce surprised almost everyone by yielding to the Senator who moved to seat Lamar and by voting for him.

Lamar and Bruce apparently truly liked each other and cooperated in advancing the interests of Mississippi. They quickly agreed on the replacement of white Republican appointees with white Democrats and on the protection of Black Republican office holders. A period of peace between North and South was created in 1877 that lasted until Eisenhower used troops in Arkansas.

Ames returned North and became a businessman in Iowa and Minnesota. Bruce served a full term in the Senate and stayed in Washington, where he was a leader of the black community. Lamar continued to serve in the Senate until he was appointed first to Cleveland’s cabinet and then to the United State Supreme Court.

Lamar was one of the heroes of John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage. One of Ames’ daughters made a notorious pest of herself in Washington during the Kennedy administration trying to get Kennedy to change his book.

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The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2010 by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved.

Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles about the law.

See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.

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