Day By Day

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

This Day In History

Today is "Old Stuff Day". I took this to mean that you should dig into your closets and garages to clean out all that old stuff that has been accumulating since God knows when. But then I thought it was possibly a time to get nostalgic about all that old stuff you used to do, but don't any more. One of the sites I visited while checking this out said that it was a day to re-evaluate your life and to recognized that you are in a rut, doing the same old stuff over and over again -- a time to channel your efforts in new and less boring directions. That sounds kinda harsh to me. I dunno, take your choice.

On this day in 1836 the Republic of Texas formally declared its independence from Mexico. Coincidentally, today is also the birthday of Sam Houston, the first President of Texas.

And on this day in 1877 Republican Rutherford B. Hayes was declared President of the United States, bringing to an end one of the most contentious election fights in the nation's history.

Hayes was a bright young man. Born in 1822 to a widow, he was raised by his uncle who sent him to common school, and then Kenyon College where he graduated at the top of his class. He also attended Harvard Law School, graduating in two years, after which he had a unremarkable career as a lawyer in Ohio. He did, however, join several fraternal organizations and through them made some influential friends. His big chance came in the Civil War in which he served with distinction, rising to the rank of General after being wounded five times and having four horses shot from under him. On the strength of his wartime heroism Hayes was elected to Congress and then to the Governorship of Ohio. In 1876 the Republicans chose him as their Presidential candidate, mostly because he had lots of friends and no enemies in the Party. His opponent was Samuel J. Tilden, the Democratic Governor of New York.

The election took place against the background of several spectacular scandals involving members of the incumbent Grant administration and the continuing guerrilla warfarebtaking place in the Southern States. By 1876 Democrat terrorist "redeemers" had succeeded in driving Blacks and Republicans from office in all but three States of the old Confederacy [Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana]. In those States Republicans were hanging onto power backed by the U. S. Army which was overseeing elections and protecting Republican officeholders.

When the election returns came in Tilden had won the popular vote decisively, but the votes in the Electoral College were disputed in four States which had sent in two "official" returns, one saying that Tilden had won, the other saying Hayes had won. Altogether there were forty votes in dispute and Tilden was thirty nine votes ahead. All he had to do to win the election was to have one of the disputed electoral votes come out his way. An Election Commission, consisting of seven Republicans, seven Democrats and one non-partisan member, was set up to figure out which returns were authentic. While the Commission met politicians were frantically making deals.

Finally a deal was struck. The Democrats would withdraw their set of returns, allowing Hayes to win the presidency by one vote. In return Hayes promised to withdraw federal troops from Florida, South Carolina and Louisiana opening the way for Democrat "Redeemers" to take charge of the State governments. Hayes also agreed to appoint Democrats to high positions in his administration and there was an agreement [later broken] to use federal funds to build a transcontinental railroad through the deep South to boost the region's economy. This "Compromise of 1877" brought Reconstruction to an end. In its wake Republicans and Blacks were disenfranchised throughout the South, which remained a solid Democratic political bloc for a century thereafter, and the way was opened for the imposition of racial segregation and a white supremacy regime throughout the region. Moralistic historians have charged that 1877 was the year in which Republicans abandoned their commitment to African-Americans and to the ideal of a racially just society. Others respond that twelve years of federal presence had failed to achieve much in the way of progress and by 1877, the American people were willing to close the book on the Civil War and to move on to other things. Eric Foner has argued that what ended in 1877 was just the first phase of a reconstruction movement that would not be complete until the civil rights reforms of the 1960's and 70's.

If you want to read more, Richard Jensen has a nice set of links to materials here.

And a very Happy Birthday to Big Ben Roethlisberger -- he's 28 today. Next year, big guy..., next year.

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