|The End of Reconstruction
|Digital History ID 3108|
On average, the South's bi-racial Republican state governments
lasted just four-and-a-half years. During the 1870s, internal
divisions within the Republican Party, white terror, and northern
apathy allowed southern white Democrats to return to power.
Retirement and death removed from Congress the more outspoken advocates of
civil rights, such as Thaddeus Stevens, who died in 1868. Corruption in the Grant administration divided the Republican
Party and helped the Democrats win control of the House of Representatives
in 1874. Corruption in the South's Republican government also
undercut support for Reconstruction. Northern outrage over southern
intransigence gave way to helpless resignation or indifference.
As early as 1872, many former abolitionists believed that their
aims had been achieved. Slavery had been abolished and citizenship
and voting rights had been established by Constitutional Amendment.
Democrats denounced "foreign" rule of the South by carpetbaggers
and attacked corruption in President Grant's administration. In
1872, "Liberal Republicans," repelled by the supposed
corruption of the radical regimes in the South, declared that
the North had attained its goals and that Reconstruction should
end. Many threw their support to the Democrats. The nationwide
economic depression of 1873 further weakened the Republican Party,
and Democrats regained the House of Representatives in 1874.
The financial panic of 1873 and the subsequent economic depression
helped bring Reconstruction to a formal end. Across the country,
but especially in the South business failures, unemployment, and
tightening credit heightened class and racial tensions and generated
demands for government retrenchment.
Property owners in the South demanded that state budgets be
cut and tax rates lowered. Southern penitentiaries were dismantled
and convicts were leased to private contractors. Spending on public
schools and the care of orphans, the sick, and the insane was
sharply reduced. Budgets for schools for blacks were cut especially
It was the disputed presidential election of 1876 that brought
Reconstruction to a formal end.
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