What is the Compromise of 1877?

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  • Written By: Jim B.
  • Edited By: Jacob Harkins
  • Last Modified Date: 01 October 2016
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The Compromise of 1877 was an unwritten agreement between Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress to settle the disputed presidential election of 1876. In the election, results showed Democrat Samuel Tilden and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes separated by 20 disputed electoral votes from Southern states.

A bipartisan commission was formed to decide the dispute, and they handed all of the disputed votes to Hayed to make him the winner, a decision Democrats refused to recognize. Congress settled the dispute, allowing Hayes to become president if some key concessions were made, of which the most crucial was the removal of all federal troops from Southern states for the first time since the conclusion of the U.S. Civil War.

Tensions remained high between Northern and Southern states in the decade that followed the conclusion of the Civil War, with the South resenting the North's insistence on pushing its Reconstruction agenda and improving the rights of freed slaves. This tension came to a head in the 1876 presidential election, in which Republican Hayes was championed by the Northern states, and Democrat Samuel Tilden was the favorite of the South. The election results showed Tilden winning the popular vote, but the overall result was left up in the air due to these 20 disputed electoral votes.


To determine the outcome, Congress formed the Electoral Commission, which was supposed to consist of seven Republicans, seven Democrats, and one Independent. When the lone independent, David Davis, refused to cast the deciding vote, an eighth Republican was added. Owning the majority, the eight Republicans awarded all of the disputed votes to Hayes, a decision that the Democrats refused to accept. A battle between the Senate and House of Representatives about whether the commission's decision was valid ensued.

Out of that battle, the two sides finally agreed upon the Compromise of 1877. Democrats agreed to allow Hayes to take the presidency, but they demanded several concessions. Beyond the departure of federal troops from the South, these included adding at least one southern Democrat into Hayes's administration, the construction of a transcontinental railroad in the South, and forming legislation to help spur southern industrial growth.

With the departure of the federal troops, Democrats quickly won control in all of the Southern states. Instead of continuing with the Reconstruction efforts to improve civil rights for black freed slaves, the South put an end to many of those advances and brought about an era of poverty and segregation for blacks in the region that would persist for nearly a century. For this reason, blacks often referred to the compromise as the Great Betrayal.


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