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The Compromise of 1877

The Compromise of 1877 gave Rutherford B. Hayes the presidency in exchange for the end of Reconstruction in the South. 


  • The Compromise of 1877 resolved the disputed 1876 presidential election between Democratic candidate Samuel Tilden and Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes.
  • Democrats agreed that Rutherford B. Hayes would become president in exchange for the withdrawal of federal troops from the South and the granting of home rule in the South.
  • President Hayes’ withdrawal of federal troops from Louisiana and South Carolina marked a major turning point in American political history, effectively ending the Reconstruction Era and issuing in the system of Jim Crow.

A contested presidential election

The Compromise of 1877 resolved the tumult that had arisen following the 1876 presidential election. In that election, Democratic candidate Samuel J. Tilden of New York won 247,448 more popular votes than Republican Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio. But the electoral votes in the three southern states of Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina were disputed. For almost four months, from November into late February, tensions remained high as the question of who was to become the nation’s next president remained unresolved.
Portrait of Rutherford B. Hayes.
Rutherford B. Hayes won the contested election of 1876 as a result of the Compromise of 1877. Image courtesy Library of Congress.
In January 1877, Congress established a 15-member Electoral Commission to resolve the issue of which candidate had won the contested states. The commission voted 8-7 along party lines to award the votes of all three states to Hayes. As the commission deliberated, members of Congress and others made their own efforts to end the crisis, but no written, formal agreements resulted.1

The presidency in return for home rule in the South

During Reconstruction, the period after the Civil War when the South reorganized its political, social, and economic systems to account for the end of slavery, federal troops occupied the South. These troops served to guarantee African American men's right to vote, and the Republican-controlled federal government would only end the military occupation when states rewrote their Constitutions to recognize the citizenship and voting rights of African American men. White Southerners generally despised these troops, and wanted an end to the intervention of the federal government in the South.2
The Compromise of 1877 gave white Southerners their chance to stop the military occupation of the South. In the compromise, Southern Democrats agreed not to block the vote by which Congress awarded the contested electoral votes to Rutherford B. Hayes, and Hayes therefore became president. In return, Republicans agreed to withdraw federal troops from actively intervening in the politics of Louisiana and South Carolina (the last two states occupied by federal troops). Accordingly, within two months of becoming president, Hayes ordered federal troops in Louisiana and South Carolina to return to their bases.3
Cartoon showing a Southern veteran and a Northern veteran (missing a leg) shaking hands over a tombstone that reads "In Memory of Union Heroes in a Useless War." In the background, an African American family kneels in chains.
This Thomas Nast cartoon, published in 1864, suggested that compromising with the South was tantamount to betraying the Union dead. Image courtesy Library of Congress.
The removal of the federal soldiers from the streets and from statehouse offices signaled the end of the Republican Party’s commitment to protecting the civil and political rights of African Americans, and marked a major political turning point in American history: it ended Reconstruction.
Another important part of the Compromise of 1877 was that Republicans agreed to home-rule in the South. Home-rule meant that the Republican Party would refrain from interfering in the South’s local affairs, and that white Democrats, many of them racist, would rule. Southern Democrats, for their part, pledged that they would “recognize the civil and political equality of blacks.” They did not subsequently carry through on this promise but instead disfranchised black men from voting and imposed Jim Crow segregation across the South.4

The end of Reconstruction

In all, with the Compromise of 1877, the Republican Party abandoned the last remnant of its support for equal rights for African Americans in the South. With the withdrawal of federal troops went any hope of reconstructing the South as a racially-egalitarian society after the end of slavery. As Henry Adams, a black Louisianan, lamented, “The whole South—every state in the South—had got into the hands of the very men that held us as slaves.”5
In the aftermath of the Compromise of 1877, a few African Americans in some areas of the South continued to vote and serve in government offices into the 1890s, but the Compromise of 1877 marked the effective end of the Republican Party’s active support of civil rights for black Americans. Southern states rapidly passed laws disenfranchising African Americans and implementing racial segregation.6

What do you think?

What did the Compromise of 1877 mean for African Americans?
Did the white Southern Democrats who promised that they would recognize civil and political rights for African Americans as part of the Compromise of 1877 hold true to this promise?
Why do you think the Republican Party gave up on supporting civil rights for African Americans in this era?

Want to join the conversation?

  • starky seedling style avatar for user Coleo
    Is there any records of the troops leaving the South that tell us how they felt in their leaving of the South?
    (52 votes)
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  • aqualine seed style avatar for user William Janis
    A backroom deal resolved the deadlocked Presidential election of 1876. Why did the Supreme Court not decide the Presidential election of 1876 as the Supreme Court rule on Bush v. Gore after the 2000 Presidential election?
    (10 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user Laurie Shentalevenn
      I'm afraid Ajoy's answer is incorrect. The Supreme Court absolutely was involved in deciding the contested election of 1877; FIVE of them in fact were on the Electoral Commission. See the following excerpted from Wikipedia. "Congressional leaders created a 15-member Electoral Commission that would determine which set of votes were valid."

      This was because the two states that were still under reconstruction governments sent two sets of electoral college delegates to congress, and they voted in opposition to each other. Obviously one set of delegates had to be legit and the other set improper. So...

      "The Commission consisted of five members from the Republican-controlled Senate (three Republicans and two Democrats), and five from the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives (three Democrats, two Republicans). The remaining five members were chosen from the Supreme Court..." So five Supreme Court Justices were in fact involved in the decision in 1877, it just wasn't tried as a Supreme Court case. One of the justices won an election in Illinois and was replaced on the commission.

      As for the election of 2000, there was nothing the slightest bit constitutional about that. The Supreme Court had no jurisdiction, and the most conservative members of the court intervened to prevent a recount with a ruling along party lines in order to throw the election to George W Bush.
      (25 votes)
  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Wingfeather
    This makes me want to either sit down and cry or spend my life searching for a time machine so I could stop this from ever happening.
    (9 votes)
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    • cacteye purple style avatar for user stacey
      I've been meaning to do that as well. These injustices were just too much for ancient people to bear. Most of them weren't even given a chance to take a glimpse of their hard work. But I guess we can only say that everything happens for a reason; and we, modern people, should learn from the past so as to not be doomed to repeat it again.
      (2 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Carlos Ramirez
    What were the terms of the Compromise of 1877? Why did Southerners agree to it?
    (7 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user Anagha Tiwari
      The Compromise of 1877 resolved the electoral dispute of the 1876 presidential election. It gave the disputed electoral votes to the Republican candidate R. B. Hayes (thus making him president), in return for ending Reconstruction in the South. The Southerners agreed to this Compromise as the Republican government withdrew military troops and allowed for Southern home rule, which meant no interference from the federal government in the South. This gave Southern aristocrats the freedom to enact racist laws against African Americans, further encouraging segregation between races (most notably, from the Jim Crow Laws).
      (4 votes)
  • starky seedling style avatar for user k1106630
    After all of this, why was there an informal segregation in North? In fact they were the ones who wanted racial equality, then why did they follow South’s footsteps into informal segregation?
    (5 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user sharai
    what were the difference between Licolns, Johnsons and the Congressional plans for Reconstruction?
    (2 votes)
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    • spunky sam blue style avatar for user Nicholas Ryan
      Lincoln wanted the South to come back with no punishment. He wanted the state back in the Union as soon as 10% of the 1860 presidential voters voted to come back into the Union. Johnson was a Southerner and he wanted the state to repeal their ordinance of secession and recognize the end of slavery. He also granted many pardons to influential southern white former slave owners. Congress wanted to punish the South.
      (7 votes)
  • female robot grace style avatar for user Charis Elizabeth
    Who does the crying woman represent in the Thomas Nast cartoon?
    (3 votes)
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    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Manomay Shravage
      In the cartoon, a pact is being made between the North and the South. The woman crying next to the grave is probably mourning her dead lover, who went and fought the war with the South. If you look closely, the tombstone reads- "In memory of the Union Heros, who fought in a useless war"

      This is just my speculation, but I hope this cleared things up for you 😇
      (4 votes)
  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Avonlea Brickman
    AP US History - Unit 5 - Lesson 9 - Passage #4: Questions
    1. The Compromise of 1877 meant that African Americans weren't going to get any more Republican help any time soon.
    2. The white Southern Democrats didn't keep their word from the Compromise of 1877. They promised civil and political rights for all African Americans, yet did the opposite!
    3. I think the Republican Party gave up on supporting civil rights for African Americans in this era because it was becoming quite the struggle, and the Republicans probably didn't want to start another war.
    (4 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user sharai
    Imagine you are an African-American teenager in the post civil war south dealing with Jim crows laws in your state.How would you handle the fact that you might not be able to legally socialize in public with someone who is white?
    (3 votes)
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  • male robot johnny style avatar for user Pramodh Dhruva
    ?Did the compromise affect the economy of the north or south?
    (2 votes)
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