Reconstruction, Political Developments in the North
Slaughterhouse Cases, industrial conflict, enforcement acts, Labor protests, Grant administration
While Southern Republicans struggled to keep Reconstruction afloat, their Northern counterparts faced a changing economy and other problems. During the Reconstruction years, the North industrialized rapidly and also endured a massive depression. At the same time, political corruption became commonplace. These problems distracted Northerners from the goals of Reconstruction.
The administration of Ulysses S. Grant, who won the presidential election of 1868 on the votes of newly enfranchised freedmen, was ridden with scandal. But fraud, bribery, and corruption in office were not limited to the Grant administration. In New York City, Democratic boss William M. Tweed looted the city treasury. In the election of 1872 the Republican Party split over corruption in the Grant administration, and some Republicans formed the Liberal Republican Party. The split failed to dislodge Grant, but it meant dwindling support for Reconstruction policy.
A devastating five-year depression that began with the panic of 1873 also shifted the focus of Republicans in the North. Banks closed, jobs were destroyed, and businesses went bankrupt. Labor protests multiplied, and violent incidents occurred; industrial conflict began to replace regional conflict. Disputes also arose over currency, notably over inflationary greenbacks, first issued during the Civil War. As a result of the depression, prices for farm products fell. Forced to take on more debt, farmers began to call for an increase in the amount of money in circulation. They believed that a larger money supply would cause prices to rise, increase the price of their crops, and raise their incomes. Those who favored a stable currency, in contrast, urged withdrawal of greenbacks from circulation.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court began to roll back Reconstruction policy. In the Slaughterhouse Cases in 1873, the Supreme Court ruled that the 14th Amendment did not give the federal government control over the entire domain of civil rights. The cases are historically important because they first posed the problem of defining how state citizenship related to U.S. citizenship.
The Supreme Court of the 1870s and 1880s discarded other Reconstruction policies. In 1876 and 1883, the Court upset two out of three of the enforcement acts. The Court also ruled in 1883 that Congress could not impose a national ban on discrimination in public accommodations, thus overturning the Civil Rights Act of 1875. The Courtís decisions reinforced Republican willingness to shed the obligations of Reconstruction, which many now considered a political liability.
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