Political Party Alignments
Heads up! Before the 20th century, political parties were aligned differently than at present. Under the Third Party System (1850s-1890s), policy platforms were almost the reverse of what we’re used to.
A new — and dominant — progressive party. Founded on free soil/free labor and in favor of modernization through economic regulation.
Republican faction that favored an uncompromising approach to Reconstruction, just as they had once been adamant about ridding the country of slavery and keeping it together.
An old party, conservative and now much diminished. Generally pro-business and opposed to Republican fiscal & social policies.
Democratic faction that favored a return to the status quo in the South, a resumption of local control that would allow them to undo the “damage” done by Reconstruction, generally with regard to civil rights.
Buzzwords for Republicans
Formerly enslaved Southerner.
Before the war, it was used for those who had been freed by their masters. After general emancipation, it was often shorthand for any person of African descent.
White Southerner who supported Reconstruction.
Generally a former Unionist — that is, someone who opposed secession and/or the war, who perhaps fought for the Union or didn’t fight at all.
White Northerner who supported Reconstruction.
Generally a new arrival to the region who was seen as negatively interfering in local politics — or worse, exploiting the situation for personal gain.
Timeline of Reconstruction Events
The Emancipation Proclamation takes effect. It is a war measure, so it only applies to (most of) the South; and it doesn’t abolish slavery or grant citizenship. Nevertheless, it is an important step toward freedom.
Pres. Abraham Lincoln issues his plan for reunifying the country, the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. It is seen by many as too lenient.
Congress passes the Wade-Davis Bill, a harsher Reconstruction plan than the one proposed by Pres. Lincoln. He refuses to sign the bill, an action known as a pocket veto.
Pres. Lincoln is reelected, this time as the candidate of the National Union party, a rebranding of the Republicans. His vice president is Andrew Johnson, a Unionist Democrat from Tennessee.
The Freedmen’s Bureau is established to protect the rights of ex-slaves.
The war ends.
Pres. Lincoln is assassinated and Andrew Johnson is sworn in as the new president.
The 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery, is ratified.
The Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist vigilante group, forms in Tennessee.
Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which affirmed that ex-slaves were entitled to be citizens. It would be echoed in the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
Pres. Johnson embarks on the divisive Swing Around the Circle speaking tour, stumping for Democratic candidates and a moderate Reconstruction plan.
May & July
Violent racially motivated attacks in Memphis and New Orleans lead to the deaths of almost 100 African Americans and their allies.
March & July
Congress passes three of four Reconstruction Acts. President Johnson vetoes them all but is overridden. This legislation divides the South into five military districts, which the federal government will administer under martial law.
Alabama is in District Three, with Georgia and Florida.
Pres. Johnson is impeached by Congress but ultimately not removed from office.
Alabama is readmitted to Congress after ratifying a new, federally approved state constitution.
The 14th Amendment, affirming the citizenship of ex-slaves, is ratified.
Republican Ulysses S. Grant is elected president. Pres. Johnson doesn’t even make the ballot for the Democrats, who are represented by Horatio Seymour.
The 15th Amendment, preventing voting restrictions based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” is enacted. It would be ratified in March 1870.
Sen. Hiram Rhodes Revels of Mississippi is sworn in as the first African American U.S. legislator. This is only after two days of debate over technicalities related to his citizenship as a free person of color.
Alabama elects a Democrat as governor. In Eutaw, the election is marred by a Klan attack on African American voters.
Alabama’s first African American U.S. legislator takes office: Rep. Benjamin S. Turner (R), a 46-year-old Selma merchant and local politician.
Congress passes the Enforcement Act of 1871. Commonly referred to as the KKK Act, it gives the federal government power to combat the Ku Klux Klan, contributing to its disbanding later that year.
Congress passes the Amnesty Act of 1872, which removes most of the remaining civic restrictions on ex-Confederates.
Congress abandons the Freedman’s Bureau.
Election irregularities leave Alabama with dueling legislatures temporarily. Power eventually falls to the Republicans.
Alabama’s second African American U.S. legislator takes office: Rep. James T. Rapier (R), a 36-year-old Florence planter and state politician.
White Democrats kill around 150 African Americans in an attack at Colfax, Louisiana.
The White League, a white supremacist paramilitary group, forms in Louisiana.
Democrats regain control in Alabama politics, meaning the state has been “redeemed.” In Eufaula, the election is disrupted by a race riot.
Nationally, Democrats take over the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, ending 16 years of Republican control.
Alabama’s third African American U.S. legislator takes office: Rep. Jeremiah Haralson (R), a 29-year-old Selma planter and state politician.
The Red Shirts, a white supremacist paramilitary group, forms in Mississippi.
The presidential election contest between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden is a confusing mess. Tilden wins the popular vote and leads the electoral vote by 19. However, 20 electoral votes from four states are in dispute, leaving the outcome of the race in limbo.
Via a bipartisan deal to settle the election (known colloquially as the Corrupt Bargain), the disputed 20 electoral votes — and thus the presidency — are awarded to Rutherford B. Hays. In return, all remaining federal troops would be removed from the South.