Fifteenth Amendment Passed:
On February 26, Congress approved the 15th Amendment to the United States
Constitution and sent it to the states for ratification. The proposed amendment
attempted to offer constitutional protection for black voting rights by stating
that voting rights could not be denied on the basis of “race, color, or previous
condition of servitude.” It also gave Congress authority to enforcement the
amendment through appropriate legislation. At the time, black men could vote in
reconstructed Southern states, but not in most Northern states. The 15th
Amendment was ratified on March 30, 1870.
Financiers Jay Gould and James Fisk tried to corner the gold market on what
became known as
“Black Friday” (September 24). They attempted to use the influence of
President Ulysses S. Grant’s brother-in-law, Abel Corbin, without the
president’s knowledge. The president averted financial disaster by ordering
Treasury Secretary George Boutwell to sell $4 million in federal gold reserves.
In the former Confederate states of the South, white-only Democratic state
governments began to replace biracial Republican governments elected under the
Congressional Reconstruction Acts.
The new “Redeemer” governments, sympathetic to the former Confederate cause and
opposed to racial equality, were elected in Tennessee in 1869 and in Georgia,
North Carolina, and Virginia in 1870.
Last States Readmitted:
In early 1870, the last of the former Confederate states were readmitted to the
Union. Congress voted to seat the representatives and senators from Virginia on
January 26, from Mississippi on February 23, and from Texas on March 30.
Fifteenth Amendment Ratified:
On March 30, the 15th Amendment (see above) became part of the United States
Constitution after approval by three-fourths of the states.
On May 31, Congress enacted the first Enforcement Act to carry out the
provisions of the 14th and 15th Amendments. The law made it a federal crime to
bribe, intimidate, or racially discriminate against voters. The statute also
strengthened federal authority against anti-black groups like the Ku Klux Klan
by outlawing conspiracies aimed at preventing the exercise of constitutional
Santo Domingo Annexation Defeated:
In June 1870, Senator Charles Sumner, a liberal Republican from Massachusetts,
spearheaded the defeat of a treaty to annex Santo Domingo (today, the Dominican
Republic), which President Ulysses S. Grant had strongly favored. In
retaliation, the president orchestrated Sumner’s removal as chairman of the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Grant’s expansionist foreign policy was a
key factor leading to the Liberal Republican bolt in 1872 (see below).
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Ku Klux Klan Act:
In response to President Ulysses S. Grant’s request for more federal
authority to combat anti-black violence in the South, Congress passed
the Third Enforcement Act, commonly known as the Ku Klux Klan Act, on
April 20. It granted the federal government authority to punish the
denial of equal protection or privileges and immunities. In addition,
the statute bestowed on the president the power to suspend habeas corpus
and to use the military against anti-civil rights conspiracies.
Treaty of Washington:
On May 8, 1871, the United States and Britain signed the Treaty of
Washington. The agreement submitted to an international arbitration
board the American demand for compensation stemming from British
construction and refitting of Confederate warships during the Civil War
(collectively known as the “Alabama
claims”). In September 1872, the international tribunal awarded the
United States $15.5 million for the Alabama claims. The Treaty of
Washington also set new guidelines for maritime neutrality; granted
American and Canadian fishermen ten-year, duty-free access to the other
nation’s territorial waters; and named Emperor Wilhelm I of Germany to
decide a border dispute over the San Juan Islands in the Pacific
Northwest (he ruled for the U.S. in 1872).
Civil Service Commission:
In June 1871, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed the first federal
Civil Service Commission, headed by George
William Curtis, editor of Harper’s Weekly.
Martial Law Imposed:
On October 17, 1871, President Grant acted under the authority of the Ku
Klux Klan Act (see above) to impose martial law and suspend the writ of
habeas corpus in nine South Carolina counties after widespread
anti-black violence. Federal troops arrested 1000 men for involvement
with the Ku Klux Klan. Only 36 were convicted, but the president’s
decisive action temporarily reduced the influence of the Ku Klux Klan in
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The Liberal-Republican Convention:
As issues related to Reconstruction began to fade in importance for many
Northerners, a faction of liberal Republicans became increasingly dissatisfied
with President Ulysses S. Grant. In particular, they opposed his expansionist
foreign policy and the continued military presence in the South. On May 1-2, the
Liberal Republican Convention met in Cincinnati. Delegates surprisingly
nominated New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley for president over
frontrunner Charles Francis Adams of Massachusetts. Governor B. Gratz Brown of
Missouri was nominated for vice president. The party platform denounced
corruption in government, and endorsed civil service reform, a one-term
presidency, the Reconstruction Amendments, equal rights under the law, amnesty
for former Confederates, and the withdrawal of federal troops from the South.
After much debate, it left the divisive tariff issue to be decided by Congress.
On May 22, 1872, Congress passed the Amnesty Act, which removed voting and
office-holding disqualifications from virtually all former Confederates.
Republican National Convention:
Meeting in Philadelphia on June 5-6, 1872, delegates to the Republican National
Convention unanimously renominated President Ulysses S. Grant on the first
ballot. Vice President Schuyler Colfax was narrowly denied renomination in favor
of Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts. The Republican platform called for
vigorous enforcement of the 14th and 15th Amendments, equal rights under the
law, civil service reform, amnesty for former Confederates, and Union veterans’
benefits, but waffled on the tariff issue.
Democratic National Convention:
Meeting in Baltimore on July 9-10, delegates to the Democratic National
Convention nominated the Greeley-Brown ticket and adopted the Liberal Republican
Credit Mobilier Scandal:
In September, the New York Sun exposed the
Credit Mobilier scandal. Managers of Credit Mobilier, the holding company
for the federally subsidized Union Pacific Railroad, were accused of siphoning
off huge amounts of public money for personal gain. Trying to cover up their
misdeeds and gain leniency in Congress, the corporation’s officers had given key
congressmen federal officials bribes in the form of discounted stock and bonds.
Among the accused were Vice President Schuyler Colfax and Senator Henry Wilson,
the 1872 vice presidential nominee.
On November 5, President Ulysses S. Grant won reelection with an Electoral
College victory of 286 to 66 for Liberal-Republican-Democrat Horace Greeley.
Grant took 56% of the popular vote to Greeley’s 44%. Grant’s winning percentage
was the highest between 1828 and 1904, while Greeley’s losing percentage was the
lowest of a major-party candidate between 1848 and 1904. Disheartened,
exhausted, and ill from the intense campaign and the death of his wife in late
October, Greeley died a few weeks after the election.