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Mon, 10.24.1870

The American Redeemers, a story

Harper Magazine (Image 1874)

*On this date in 1870, we affirm the American Redeemers.  They were a white political coalition in the Southern United States during the Reconstruction Era that followed the American Civil War.

Redeemers were the Southern wing of the Democratic Party. They sought to regain their political power and enforce white supremacy. Their policy of Redemption was intended to oust the Radical Republicans, a coalition of freedmen, "carpetbaggers," and "scalawags." They generally were led by white, wealthy former planters, businessmen, and professionals, and they dominated Southern politics in most areas from the 1870s to 1910.  During Reconstruction, the South was under occupation by federal forces and Southern state governments were dominated by Republicans, elected largely by freedmen and allies.

Republicans nationally pressed for granting political rights to the newly freed black slaves as the key to becoming full citizens and the votes they would cast for the party. The Thirteenth Amendment (banning slavery), Fourteenth Amendment (guaranteeing the civil rights of former slaves and ensuring equal protection of the laws), and Fifteenth Amendment (prohibiting the denial of the right to vote on the grounds of race, color, or previous condition of servitude), enshrined such political rights in the Constitution.  Many educated Blacks moved to the South to work for Reconstruction. Some were elected to office in the Southern states or were appointed to certain positions.

The Reconstruction governments were unpopular with many white Southerners, who were unwilling to accept defeat and continued to try to prevent Black political activity. While the elite planter class often supported insurgencies, violence against freedmen and other Republicans was usually carried out by other whites; the secret Ku Klux Klan chapters developed in the first years after the war as one form of insurgency.  In the 1870s, paramilitary organizations, such as the White League in Louisiana and Red Shirts in Mississippi and North Carolina, undermined the Republicans, disrupting meetings and political gatherings.

These paramilitary bands also used violence and threats of violence to undermine the Republican vote. By the presidential election 1876, only three Southern states, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida, were "unredeemed" or not yet taken over by white Democrats. The disputed 1876 Presidential election between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel J. Tilden was allegedly resolved by the Compromise of 1877.

In this compromise, it was claimed Hayes became president in exchange for numerous favors to the South, one of which was the removal of Federal troops from the remaining "unredeemed" Southern states; this was, however, a policy Hayes had endorsed during his campaign. With the removal of these forces, Reconstruction came to an end.

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