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Compromise of 1877

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Compromise of 1877

Imagine if the fate of the presidency in the United States was decided behind closed doors by the most powerful politicians in the country. Sounds like a conspiracy, right? Well, that was just the case in the election of 1876.

Keep reading to find out why a special commission was created to determine the results of the election and how the Compromise of 1877 secured the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes.

The Compromise of 1877 Definition

The Compromise of 1877 was an informal agreement between Northern Republicans and Southern Democrats. The election of 1876 between Democratic candidate, Samuel Tilden, and Republican candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes was heavily disputed, and lawmakers had to compromise in order to find a solution.

The Southern Democrats agreed to allow Republican Rutherford B. Hayes to win the presidency in exchange for the removal of troops from the South and the end of Northern enforcement of Reconstruction Era legislation. The Compromise of 1877 essentially ended the Reconstruction Era.

The Reconstruction Era (1865-1877)

the period after the Civil War during which Northern Republicans worked to reconstruct the government in Southern states and to make a plan for Southern states to re-enter the Union

The Compromise of 1877 Simplified

The Compromise of 1877 involved two parties: Republicans in the North and Democrats in the South. Both wanted their candidate to win the election of 1876, but the winner was not clear. Democratic candidate, Samuel Tilden, had won the popular vote but the winner of the electoral vote was still up in the air.

The Electoral Vote

Citizens do not vote for the president directly. Instead, they cast their votes for electors that are part of the Electoral College. Each state has the same number of electors that they have members in Congress. These electors determine the electoral vote.

The popular vote is different because it is determined by the total amount of people who voted for each candidate. Usually, the results of the electoral vote are the same as the popular vote. However, this was not the case in the election of 1876.

There was a dispute over the winner of the electoral vote in three states: Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina. Democrats declared victory but so did Republicans (who still had troops under their control in these states). Congress created a special commission to investigate and determine the true winner of the presidential election.

Republicans actually outnumbered Democrats in the commission, meaning they could declare their candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes, president without Democratic approval. However, Democratic politicians made it clear that they would incite public outrage if Republicans tried to overpower them. And that takes us to the Compromise of 1877.

Here is a table showing the concessions each party made:

Northern Republicans

Southern Democrats

Removed troops from the South

Ended enforcement of Reconstruction Era legislation

Ensured Hayes appointed a Southern Democrat to the cabinet

Allowed Republican Rutherford B. Hayes to win the election

The Compromise of 1877 Causes

We know the direct cause of the Compromise of 1877 was the conflict between Republicans and Democrats over who won the election of 1876. But what made the Radical Republicans willing to compromise at all?

Radical Republicans

a subgroup of Republicans that were especially committed to racial equality and wished to punish the South for the Civil War

After the Civil War, Radical Republicans were a force to be reckoned with in Congress. They refused to let the South off easy and found a ready ally in President Ulysses S. Grant when he entered office. However, by President Grant’s second term in 1872, Northern interest in the South had declined significantly for multiple reasons.

For one, many of the original Radical Republicans of the Reconstruction Era were either dead or no longer in office, allowing room for less radical lawmakers. Conditions in the country also took the focus off the South. A recession in 1873 required attention and the Grant administration was strife with scandals and corruption. Because of Republicans’ declining interest in the South, they were ready to compromise and end Reconstruction.

The Whiskey Ring

After the Civil War, the government raised the federal liquor tax to help pay off the costs of war. Of course, distilleries were not happy about this. A large number of distilleries decided to bribe officers from the Department of the Treasury, rather than pay the high tax. While this was a successful operation for several years, the Secretary of the Treasury found out and the scandal broke in 1875.

The Compromise of 1877: The New President

The Compromise of 1877 Rutherford B. Hayes Portrait StudySmarterPortrait of Rutherford B. Hayes,

As a result of the Compromise of 1877, Rutherford B. Hayes won the presidency. President Hayes favored policies that would mend the relationship between the North and the South. For example, despite his pledge to protect the rights of African Americans in the South, he still supported the restoration of local and state governments in the South.

In his inaugural address, President Hayes said:

Let me assure my countrymen of the Southern states that it is my earnest desire to regard and promote their truest interest, the interests of the white and colored people both and equally…to the end that we may have not merely a united North or a united South, but a united country.” - Rutherford B. Hayes, Inaugural Address, 1877

The Compromise of 1877 Effects

We know that the Compromise of 1877 ended the Reconstruction Era which was most certainly a win for the South. However, it had devastating consequences for African Americans who were living in the South. Without troops under Northern control breathing down their necks, Southern Democrats were able to pass laws as they pleased.

Unfortunately, Southern lawmakers took advantage of their newfound power by passing laws that once again disenfranchised black voters and stripped them of their rights. These new laws came to be known as Jim Crow laws. Jim Crow laws essentially legalized segregation and discrimination. They would not come to an end until the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Compromise of 1877 - Key takeaways

  • The Compromise of 1877 was an agreement between Northern Republicans and Southern Democrats to settle the results of the election of 1876.
  • Republicans supported Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrats supported Samuel Tilden.
  • The North agreed to remove troops from the South and to stop enforcing Reconstruction legislation if the South agreed to let Rutherford B. Hayes win the presidency.
  • The Compromise of 1877 ended Reconstruction, but it also left African Americans in the South unprotected from Jim Crow laws.

Frequently Asked Questions about Compromise of 1877

The Compromise of 1877 was an agreement between Northern Republicans and Southern Democrats to settle the disputed election of 1876. Democrats allowed Republican Rutherford B. Hayes to take office in exchange for troops leaving the South. 

The Compromise of 1877 settled the disputed election of 1876 and ended the Reconstruction Era. 

The Compromise of 1877 is important because it ended the Reconstruction Era and put Republican Rutherford B. Hayes in office. Once Southern democrats regained control of the government, they began enacting Jim Crow laws that essentially legalized segregation and discrimination against African Americans. 

The main elements of the Compromise of 1877 were the removal of troops from the South and Rutherford B. Hayes' victory in the presidential race. 

The Compromise of 1877 helped end Reconstruction by removing troops from the South. This ended Northern enforcement of Reconstruction legislation.

Final Compromise of 1877 Quiz


Who were the two parties in the Compromise of 1877?

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Northern Republicans

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Who were the two candidates in the presidential election of 1876?

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Democrat Samuel Tilden

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Who won the popular vote in the presidential election of 1876?

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Samuel Tilden

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Which candidate became president as a result of the Compromise of 1877?

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Rutherford B. Hayes

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What concessions did Northern Republicans make in the Compromise of 1877?

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Removal of troops from the South

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What era in United States history did the Compromise of 1877 end?

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The Reconstruction Era

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In the election of 1876, what three states had a dispute in the electoral vote?

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What is the term for the discriminatory laws in the South after the Reconstruction Era ended?

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Jim Crow laws

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Why was Northern interest in Southern affairs declining leading up to the Compromise of 1877?

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original Radical Republicans out of office 

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Who were the Radical Republicans?

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Republicans who were especially interested in punishing the South and protecting the rights of African Americans who lived there

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