How Did Reconstruction End?

Reconstruction formally ended in 1876 with the highly controversial Hayes-Tilden election. To secure the presidency after losing the popular vote, Republicans succumbed to Southern Democratic demands to end federal intervention and to withdraw members of the army from Southern territories.

In a significant respect, the Republican power-brokering during the Hayes-Tilden affair betrayed nearly a decade of the party’s steadfast support for newly freed black populations in the South, particularly the efforts of that wing of the party commonly referred to as “radical.” However, by the time of Hayes-Tilden, support for Reconstruction and the federal dollars it consumed was waning in the North. A great many voters there were still war-weary and felt distanced from if not completely indifferent to the issue of black rights as it existed in the South.

Additionally, despite the intervention of the Grant administration, widespread violence and intimidation of black communities and their supporters continued to grow at the hands of paramilitary organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan, organizations frequently endorsed by the Democratic political machine in the Southern states. As a result, blacks in the South generally regarded Reconstruction as an abject failure, falling well short of securing the political and legal mechanisms necessary for ensuring black liberties in post-war Southern society. Additionally, traditionally minded Southerners proved able of replicating pre-war society to a remarkable degree through violations of black civil liberties such as the Jim Crow laws, segregation, poll taxes and literacy tests, the latter being designed specifically to keep former slaves from voting at all.