Reconstruction’s ending on April 24, 1877, paralleled by actions of MAGA supporters today

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Rutherford Hayes

Wednesday, April 24, 2024, will mark the 147th anniversary of the removal of the last federal troops from the South following the ending of the Civil War. The removal of those troops from the State House in Louisiana marked the ending of Reconstruction.

The war had ended with the surrender of General Robert E. Lee to General Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865. Nevertheless, because of the terrorism and violence in many of the southern states, the federal government stationed troops all over what had been the Confederacy. Federal troops were the only thing the forced the Confederates and their supporters to accept the fact that the formerly enslaved Africans were free and could not be forced to serve as slaves, to accept the rulership of the Black and so-called carpet bag and scalawag officials elected in those areas, and to obey federal laws in general.

Meanwhile, Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated and replaced by Andrew Johnson. Johnson was a Southerner by birth and sympathy. As a result, he had pardoned most of the political and military leaders of the old Confederacy and returned their plantations. With that display of sympathy, ex-Confederates by and large felt that they need not recognize the defeat of the South and the changes which that entailed. This, in turn, led to, or encouraged, outbreaks of violence against the ex-slaves and their cohorts all over the South. In this environment, Congress, not President Johnson, acted to retain or send in federal troops.

To varying degrees, the federal troops were able to keep order and allow Reconstruction measures to be implemented. Despite the heroic efforts of the Black elected officials and their allies from both the North and South, however, things were never completely “settled” or normal, to say nothing of democratic. Nevertheless, the troops were able to “hold the line” against the very worst of the violent actions and tendencies of the ex-Confederates.

Then came the election of 1876. In that election between Democrat Samuel Tilden and Republican Rutherford Hayes, ballots from several states were so disputed until there was no electoral college majority for either candidate. During the discussions and negotiating, Hayes and his supporters promised that Hayes would remove the federal troops from the South if their delegates would support Hayes for president. They followed through and Hayes was inaugurated. This then brought things to the April 24th order removing the troops.

It is fair to say that not everything about Reconstruction depended on that presidential order. That is the case because many states had already seen violent and otherwise insurgent southerners “take” elections, terrorize Black voters, and drive many Black residents off their land and out of town. The date of April 24 is still important, however, because it marked the “official” signal that the federal government would no longer “attempt” to protect Black citizens and their rights from the ex-Confederates who were determined to roll-back Reconstruction, including Black men’s right to vote and the right to their own labor.

This bit of history clearly needs to be understood by Black people and anyone who is concerned about the development and extension of democracy. That task can be facilitated by observing the various parallels so apparent today and being prepared to avoid the mistakes inherent in them.

On the one hand, many have considered the Civil Rights Movement and the related laws as a second Reconstruction. To the extent that public school segregation and many other forms of Jim Crow were outlawed, the moniker may be appropriate. To the extent that Black people were enabled to vote and hold office in larger numbers, especially in the South, the moniker may be appropriate. But the Civil Rights Movement fell short in so many ways that it cannot be considered as a reconstruction, even one as short-lived as was the one from 1865-1877.

On the other hand, the obstacles placed before the Civil Rights Movement-inspired laws, policies, and initiatives, starting with the Richard Nixon administration, continuing through the Reagan and Bush administrations, accelerated dramatically during the administrations of Barack Obama and Donald Trump. (It’s not that Obama was opposed to the policies, laws, and initiative. It is rather that during his administration, based upon heightened racial animus, many officials including judges and law-makers, turned to organized efforts to undo much of what had been put in place through the Movement. It is these actions and the underlying mentality that one can observe which serve as parallels to the undoing of Reconstruction during the 1860s and 70s.

Just as during the days following the Civil War, many southerners in particular felt that European Americans (white people) were superior to African Americans (Black people); that the Europeans were entitled to the wealth, power, and privileges that existed in America; and that even if not Black enslavement itself, they had the right to exploit Black people in order to secure their position of superiority. In order to facilitate the process, they felt that the role of the federal government should be minimal, thus states’ rights must prevail. (In much of the South one can still hear federal officials derisively referred to as “the feds.”)

There may perhaps be no need to talk about the parallel of this desire to rid the region of federal officials, just as the effort to have federal troops removed was a signal to their freedom to overrun the freedmen in the 1870s. (Of course, we could not resist the temptation to point to Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s present defiance of federal authority in “sealing off” the border with Mexico.)

Still other parallels can be seen, including the continual chipping away at the Voting Rights Act, which came directly out of the Fifteenth Amendment during Reconstruction. Those court actions now affect not just the act of voting itself, but the matter of the ability to have equal representation via fair apportionment. Many Republican leaders are set on further weakening of the right of Black people to vote and have their vote count as strongly as the vote of white residents. Such things had been done during Reconstruction in every state of the old Confederacy. (After the goal of eliminating the then Republican majorities from office, Mississippi led the pact, through its 1890 Constitutional Convention, in permanently drastically reducing Black voting strength. 

As another parallel, one can observe the strategies of many of Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) supporters in the 2020 election to get Joe Biden’s victory overturned, by any means necessary. Having failed on that occasion, they are preparing during this, the 2024 election, to gain the White House by (1) disrupting enough voting places, (2) discouraging enough potential voters from voting, (3) fraudulently turning away enough voters, (4) successfully challenging enough state’s electoral votes and/or throwing the election into the House of Representatives, enabling Republican state delegations to select the president. All of these things, too, had been done by the ex-Confederates in the 1870s and 80s, which goes to show how many of the current right-wing political leaders have listened to their history and followed the Confederate’s play-book.

As slow as Donald Trump is reported to be, he has taken several pages from the history of Reconstruction. He has learned to urge his followers to threaten or actually use violence in order to accomplish their political goals. It is happening in courts, state houses, city halls, school boardrooms, and elsewhere, just as it did in the old Confederacy. Trump has also promised to pardon anyone convicted of crimes in the pursuit of helping him achieve his goals. Again, that’s from Andrew Johnson. (Johnson would be proud of Trump since he is not even a southerner.)

Many who believe in white Supremacy as strongly as did the ex-Confederates perhaps cherish April 24th and may even celebrate what happened that day. It gave then another chance to flex their muscles for another hundred years. Black people and those who truly believe in democracy and human rights, however, should see the day as one which provides history lessons on how to secure and retain a genuine Reconstruction, even in an America that has so often seen Black citizens as less than American because they originated in Africa rather than Europe.    

Republish This Story

Copy and Paste the below text.

Reconstruction’s ending on April 24, 1877, paralleled by actions of MAGA supporters today

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
April 22, 2024