The story

1868 Presidential Elections - History


1868 Election Results Grant vs seymour

General Ulysses Grant received a unanimous vote on the first ballot at the Republican convention. Grant had emerged from the Civil War as the most popular hero.

Grant's Democratic opponent was Horatio Seymour of New York. Seymour was an extremely reluctant nominee, saying he would not be the candidate. In the end, the Democrats forced Seymour to run. He gained the nickname "the Great Decliner."

Grant did not campaign and made no promises. Seymour broke with tradition and campaigned actively in the North.

The Republicans promised continued radical reconstruction in the South. Democrats, on the other hand, promised more swift reintegration of the South. The Democrats attacked the Republicans for their promises of reconstruction. Republicans claimed the Democrats were going to give up all that was accomplished in the Civil War. They also attacked Grant for being a drunkard. Ultimately, it was Grant's personal popularity that determined the outcome of the election.


United States presidential election of 1868

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United States presidential election of 1868, American presidential election held on Nov. 3, 1868, in which Republican Ulysses S. Grant defeated Democrat Horatio Seymour.


In the South, Postwar Politics Hinged on Rights for the Formerly Enslaved

Illustration from the late 1860s depicting freedmen voting in New Orleans. 

Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

That year hadn’t been good for Louisiana Democrats. The state’s white planter class, beset by labor shortages and repeated crop failures, was suffering financially. Politically, their world order was crumbling as formerly enslaved people gained new rights. In April, Louisiana’s new state constitution, one of the most far-reaching pieces of Radical Reconstruction legislation, passed on the strength of Black Republican support, granting full citizenship to Black men with equal civil and political rights, while banning segregation in public schools and on public transportation. In July, the Fourteenth Amendment gave African Americans equal status under federal law.

“The April election returns left white leaders fully cognizant of the radical Black voting strength and the future implications that strength had for the Democratic party,” wrote Carolyn DeLatte, an early historian of the Opelousas massacre.

But while Black voters immediately after the Civil War skewed largely Republican, they weren’t a monolithic group. Some did join the Democratic party𠅊 fact that, in St. Landry parish, drew ire on both sides. In early September 1868, a rumor circulated among local Democrats that Republican Blacks were going to reclaim Black Democrats for the party, if they had to do it 𠇊t the point of a bayonet.”

These rumors led to a mostly peaceful standoff on September 13, 1868 between Black Republicans and white Democrats, where leaders of each party gave speeches and negotiated a peace accord between the two parties that banned guns at gatherings. It also required the editor of the St. Landry Progress, Emerson Bentley, to refrain from making “incendiary” comments about the Democrats in the paper or in speeches.

An 18-year-old Ohio native, Bentley also served as secretary of the local Radical Republican party and taught at a Methodist school for Black students. Deemed by local Democrats a �rpetbagger,” a derogatory term used for Northerners who came South after the war to profit economically or politically, Bentley regularly received threats. But he himself expressed religious motivation for his politics, crediting his 𠇌hristian spirit, and a desire to do something for the general good.”


The Campaign

The Democrats didn't think they would have to do much to pull out a victory, and they were right. They campaigned on returning the country back to normalcy and moving past the war forever. Ohio was the main battleground with both of the candidates being from there. If Pendleton could win Ohio, he knew he would win the election.

The Republicans aggressively pushed their policies of abolition. They mostly ignored the results of the war, but did promise to fight the Confederacy in various ways "until its end." They hoped to capture a defiant, revanchist spirit among the people, but such a spirit was nowhere to be found. Most people wished to move on from the war, forget the Confederacy, and return to the way America was before all the struggles around slavery. Wade realized the situation was bleak, but Republicans held out hope until the very end that a victory might be captured.


Ulysses S. Grant: Campaigns and Elections

President Abraham Lincoln's assassination at the end of the Civil War was a tragedy beyond measure. It deprived a shattered nation of great leadership when it was most needed. Lincoln's successor, the uncharismatic Andrew Johnson, took charge of an embattled and ineffective administration.

The critical question in the aftermath of the Civil War was what to do with the defeated South. Congress and the President struggled to find a balance between support for black civil rights and support for white leadership. This effort at Reconstruction, at bringing the shattered South back into the Union, nearly destroyed the Johnson administration. Johnson wanted to reunite the nation as rapidly as possible while maintaining the electorate as an exclusively white entity. He had comparatively little interest in protecting the rights of the newly freed slaves. The Republican Party was divided over the President's approach to Reconstruction. The Radical Republicans supported policies that did not allow the leaders of the Confederacy to hold political power and provided African Americans with civil and political rights, including the right to vote. They were opposed in that effort by many moderate Republicans and nearly all Democrats.

At the beginning of the Reconstruction era, Grant, as general of the armies, attempted to work with Johnson. However, he did not like the President's policies, which he thought repudiated the war's legacy. A dispute arose between the two in 1867 when Grant refused to back Johnson in his struggle with Congress. Thereafter, the general moved increasingly towards the Radical's viewpoint. He came to believe that the federal government had to preserve the sacrifices of the war by protecting African Americans from racist Southern governments and preventing former Confederates from retaking power. The Radicals began to court Grant with the idea of running him for President. Grant claimed that he had little interest in the presidency, but popular demand for his candidacy was too strong. At the Republican Party convention in 1868, Grant's nomination, which he won on the first ballot, was a mere formality. Speaker of the House Schuyler Colfax of Indiana was designated his running mate. The Democrats named New York governor Horatio Seymour to oppose them. As was the custom of the times, the 46-year-old Grant did not campaign. But he was easily the most popular candidate, and his election was never seriously challenged. He won the Electoral College vote by a nearly 3:1 margin over Seymour. Helped by the newly enfranchised Southern blacks in some reconstructed states, he won the popular vote by 300,000.

The Campaign and Election of 1872

After four years in office, Grant's popularity was still high but a segment of the Republican Party was disenchanted with his policies. They split from the Republican Party to challenge Grant, calling themselves the Liberal Republicans. They opposed the President's policies in the South, specifically his support for civil rights for African Americans and federal government intervention in the South. They wanted to replace Reconstruction in the South with local self-government, which essentially meant the return of white rule. The Liberal Republicans nominated Horace Greeley, founder of the New York Tribune, as their candidate. The Democratic Party, thrilled at the divided Republicans, jumped on the Greeley bandwagon, nominating him as its candidate as well. However, the eccentric newspaper man was no match for Grant. Greeley supported high tariffs (even though the Liberal Republicans advocated free trade) and had switched sides on many major issues—for example, he first supported secession but then later called for total war against the South, he wanted a tough Reconstruction but amnesty for former Confederates. Election results rejected Greeley and the Democratic platform with the electorate confirming Grant's stature by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent and an Electoral College majority of 286 to 66. The President's reelection victory also brought an overwhelming Republican majority into both house of Congress.


In 1868, Black suffrage was on the ballot

Every election season in the United States revolves around a set of issues—health care, foreign affairs, the economy. In 1868, at the height of the Reconstruction, the pressing issue was Black male suffrage. When voters went to the polls that November, they were asked to decide if and how their nation's democracy should change to include Black men, millions of whom were newly freed from slavery. It was up to voters to decide: should Black men be granted the right to vote?

With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that this question was answered just two years later in 1870, with ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Fifteenth Amendment stipulates that citizens' right to vote cannot be restricted based on "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." In 1868, however, there were no definite plans for a Fifteenth Amendment. The decision was still in voters' hands.

Although African Americans had been fighting for freedom and full citizenship throughout U.S. history, their demands were generally ignored, rejected, or suppressed. Voting rights reflected this larger pattern. Before the Civil War, few states were willing to extend suffrage to groups other than white men. Among the Northern and Western states where slavery was outlawed, only a handful—most clustered in New England—allowed Black men to go to the polls. (Even in these states, Black women—like all women in the United States—were not allowed to vote. By 1868, most political leaders and activists had chosen to decouple the question of woman suffrage and Black male suffrage for strategic reasons. They did not think a majority of the nation would support giving women the ballot, and they feared that a push to secure women's right to vote would doom efforts to enfranchise Black men. Both in the 1800s and more recently, writers sometimes obscure this aspect of the story by using universal terms like "Black suffrage").

The Civil War transformed every aspect of life in the United States, including the political calculus behind Black male suffrage. With the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln committed the United States to ending slavery he did not, however, define what freedom would look like for African Americans in a postwar world. After Lincoln's assassination (and, later, the impeachment of his successor, President Andrew Johnson), members of the radical wing of the Republican Party took control of Congress and began to define what Lincoln's "new birth of freedom" would look like, principally by supporting the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. Together, these amendments barred most forms of "slavery and involuntary servitude" nationwide, established birthright citizenship, and guaranteed the "privileges and immunities" and "due process" for all U.S. citizens. Neither amendment, however, directly addressed the issue of African Americans' voting rights.

This 1868 commemorative print showcased the signatures of members of Congress who supported the Thirteenth Amendment.

Of the various groups who fought to keep Black male suffrage at the forefront of political debate in the 1860s, none were more important than African Americans themselves. Well before the Civil War ended, African Americans made the case that their ability to protect their rights and freedoms depended on their right to shape politics directly at the polls. Many Black commentators pointed out the hypocrisy of asking African Americans to serve in the nation's military but then denying them suffrage when they returned from the battlefield. Delegates at the the 1864 National Convention of Colored Men in Syracuse, New York, expressed this point eloquently in the conference's address to the nation, asking "Are we good enough to use bullets, and not good enough to use ballots?"

Many contemporaries argued that Black men had more than earned the right to vote through their military service in the Civil War.

Black leaders also stressed that extending the franchise to Black men would safeguard the Union's victory in the Civil War. As Frederick Douglass promised listeners during an 1863 address, formerly enslaved African Americans, if given the vote, would become the U.S. government's "best protector against the traitors and the descendants of those traitors who will inherit the hate, the bitter revenge which shall crystallize all over the South, and seek to circumvent the government that they could not throw off." "You may need him to uphold in peace" Douglass cautioned, "as he is now upholding in war, the star-spangled banner."

Frederick Douglass was one of many Black leaders who argued that the federal government should support Black male suffrage in order to protect the Union's victory in the Civil War.

After the Civil War, members of Congress took small steps towards enfranchising Black men. They began by eliminating racial qualifications for voting in places where the federal government had direct control over elections, such as Washington, D.C. and federal territories. National leaders' efforts to establish Black male suffrage nationwide took a dramatic leap forward in 1867. Fresh from victories in a midterm election, Republicans in Congress overrode President Johnson's veto to pass a series of Reconstruction Acts. The first act, approved in March 1867, required former Confederate states to form new governments that enfranchised all "male citizens. twenty-one years old and upward, of whatever race, color, or previous condition" before they could be readmitted to the Union.

The cover of the November 16, 1867, issue of "Harper's Weekly" depicted Black men going to the polls to vote for the first time in the former Confederate states. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Under these new laws (and with the backing of the U.S. military) Black men in most of the former slaveholding states could vote and run for office. Tens of thousands did. Their votes at the state level created the nation's first biracial state governments. They also laid the foundation for the first Black representatives in Congress.

This lithograph celebrated the first generation of Black men in Congress. From left to right, the men depicted are Senator Hiram Revels (Mississippi) and Representatives Benjamin Turner (Alabama), Robert De Large (South Carolina), Josiah Walls (Florida), Jefferson Long (Georgia), Joseph Rainey (South Carolina), and Robert Elliott (South Carolina).

Ironically, in 1868, the main political hurdle that Black male suffrage faced was winning approval in the North and West—regions of the United States that had remained loyal to the Union cause during the Civil War. In states that had fought for the Union during the Civil War, legislators could not use the Reconstruction Acts to directly intervene in elections and shape qualifications for voting. At the same time, state-level referendums that would have extended suffrage to Black men in the North and West stalled and failed in mid-1860s. In election after election, Northern and Western voters made it clear that, while they would support enfranchising Black men in the South, they had little interest in adding them to the electorate in their home states.

The unresolved debate over Black male suffrage shaped the presidential election of 1868. Fearful that Northern voters would reject their party's approach to Reconstruction, the Republican Party nominated a candidate with guaranteed broad appeal throughout the North and West: Ulysses S. Grant. After much debate, the Democratic Party chose Horatio Seymour, then governor of New York, as their candidate.

Referendums supporting Black male suffrage failed in Ohio and other Northern and Western states in the 1860s. This Ohio ballot from 1867 made the ramifications of the election explicit with its first and final line—”No Negro Equality!” and “Constitutional Amendment, NO!.”

The Democratic Party's platform openly criticized how the Reconstruction acts had stripped former Confederate states of their right to regulate voting at the state level, free of federal oversight. This was a thinly veiled attack on Black male suffrage. The party's candidate for vice president, Francis Preston Blair Jr., made the attack explicit in his acceptance letter, which was read at that year's convention. Blair condemned Republican leaders for substituting "as electors in place of men of our race. . .a host of ignorant negroes who are supported in idleness with the public money."

Although the Republican Party platform continued to support extending the right to vote to all Southern men, irrespective of race, it fell far short of calling for Black male suffrage nationwide. Rather than risk alienating white voters in the North and West, the party pledged to leave states that had remained loyal to the Union the authority to regulate voting rights, even if that meant those states continued to deprive Black men of the vote.

Ulysses S. Grant's narrow victory in 1868 encouraged members of the Republican Party to reconsider their position. On one hand, many contemporaries believed that the party's support for Black men's voting rights—tepid though it was—had cost it votes. At the same time, Republican leaders were cheered to see that newly-enfranchised Black men throughout the South had come out to support Grant's election. Enfranchising Black men nationwide would, they hoped, secure their party's political future.

Other elected officials who supported Black male suffrage for less politically motivated reasons were cheered by the moderate victories the cause had secured in 1868, as voters in states like Iowa and Minnesota had voted in favor of laws that allowed Black men to vote. Though conflicting, these various signals were enough to convince a majority of Republicans in Congress that their party should act quickly to enfranchise Black men nationwide before the political winds shifted against them.

Therefore, at the start of Congress's session in late 1868, Republican members of Congress were primed to support an amendment to the Constitution that would nationalize Black male suffrage. Instead of whether a Fifteenth Amendment should be created, the question became: what should it say?

Jordan Grant is a Digital Experience specialist in the museum's Office of Audience Engagement.


The Ku Klux Klan and Violence at the Polls

After the Civil War, legal and economic changes paved the way for new political opportunities for freed black men. Not only had the Reconstruction Amendments – the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments aimed at securing basic liberties and rights for African Americans after the Civil War – abolished slavery and recognized freed blacks as citizens entitled to due process and equal protection of the laws, they also gave freed black men the right to vote and even hold political office. In 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified and provided constitutional protections for black men’s right to vote. Increased political and economic opportunities for freed black men in the South were curtailed by white supremacy characterized by intimidation and violence. In postwar Louisiana, for example, white violence undermined black civil and political rights.

After the war, black civil rights groups proliferated throughout postwar Louisiana, including the Equal Rights League and more than 120 Union League clubs. From 1867 to 1868, Radical Republicans and their black allies at the national level secured a number of protections for freed people, including federal requirements for enfranchising black men. These victories were reflected at the local level. In 1868, Louisiana’s state constitutional convention, comprised of roughly equal numbers of black and white delegates, wrote a new constitution including suffrage for black men in order for the state to be readmitted into the Union on the basis of the requirements of the Reconstruction Acts of 1867. That same year, voters elected a black Republican, Oscar Dunn, lieutenant governor.

These political victories for African Americans spurred the development of a fierce and violent countermovement among white supremacists, who began organizing into opposition groups. Chief among these groups was the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), formed in Pulaski, Tennessee, in 1865 as a social club for former Confederate soldiers. By 1868, the Klan had evolved into a hooded terrorist organization responsible for murdering thousands of free blacks and their white Republican allies. In the period leading up to the 1868 presidential election, the Klan’s activities expanded across the South, using threats of violence, beatings, and worse to intimidate Republican voters. A campaign of widespread terror took hold as the presidential election neared. In Kansas, there were more than 2,000 politically motivated murders. In Georgia, the number of threats and beatings was even higher. And in Louisiana, 1,000 freed people were killed.

This 1868 political cartoon from Harper’s Weekly depicts the KKK and the Democratic Party as continuations of the Confederacy.

Violence surrounding the 1868 election thwarted reform efforts by preventing Republicans from voting. New Orleans had 21,000 voters registered as Republicans, but only 276 people cast votes for the Republican candidates because voters were intimidated and threatened with violence. Despite Democratic victories in states like Louisiana, Kansas, and Georgia, Republicans ultimately prevailed in the 1868 presidential election and sent Ulysses S. Grant to the White House.

A considerable uptick in white violence played a significant role in the 1872 election. In Louisiana, a conflict over the 1872 gubernatorial election between Republican William Kellogg and Democrat John McEnery led to violence at the local level. One of the bloodiest episodes during the Reconstruction period occurred in the Colfax Massacre in April 1873.

When a large group of Republicans and freed people gathered at the Colfax, Louisiana, courthouse, armed and angry Democrats assembled and ordered the people to vacate the building. The armed group then set the courthouse on fire, forcing some blacks to surrender at gunpoint. Those who did not perished in the flames or were shot as they emerged. Between 70 and 150 African Americans were massacred.

This 1873 drawing depicts the aftermath of the Colfax Massacre of April 13, 1873, which left two white men and at least 70 black men dead.

The story of the Colfax massacre, and the threat that it might occur elsewhere, chilled Republican political ambitions throughout the South. Republicans and their black allies were often threatened with violence or death if they ran for office. Such violence played a major role in bringing about an untimely end to Reconstruction and the political hopes of the black community.

After the passage and ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, Congress, with the support of President Ulysses S. Grant, embarked on an extensive legislative program aimed at better protecting freed people from politically motivated violence. Congress passed the Enforcement Act of 1870 (also known as the Civil Rights Act of 1870 or the First Ku Klux Klan Act), which “provided criminal penalties for individuals attempting to prevent African Americans from voting by using or threatening to use violence or engaging in other tactics.” In February 1871, a second enforcement act – the Enforcement Act of 1871, or the Second Ku Klux Klan Act- law, placing the administration of national elections under the control of the federal government. The law also empowered federal judges and U.S. marshals to supervise local polling places. In March 1871, President Grant wrote to Congress urgently asking them to draft a law giving him more power to deal with the KKK:

A condition of affairs now exists in some of the States of the Union rendering life and property insecure . . . That the power to correct these evils is beyond the control of the State authorities I do not doubt . . . Therefore I urgently recommend such legislation as in the judgment of Congress shall effectually secure life, liberty, and property and the enforcement of law in all parts of the United States.

Despite opposition to Grant’s request, Congress enacted a third enforcement act in April, the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871. Congress granted the president power to use the army or suspend habeas corpus to ensure equal protection of the laws for African Americans.

In October, Grant cracked down on the Klan, specifically targeting the worst KKK activity in South Carolina. He used his powers under the KKK Act of 1871 to suspend habeas corpus and send federal troops to South Carolina. Several hundred suspected Klan members were arrested and hundreds of others were driven off. Grant’s actions disrupted the Klan network and clearly demonstrated to the South that the federal government had the power and determination to intervene on behalf of the rights of freed people. Many of the Klan members accepted plea bargains, and most of the sentences for those convicted were fairly moderate.

The enforcement legislation passed during Grant’s administration was also quickly challenged in the courts, and the Supreme Court dealt a number of heavy blows to the political rights of freed people. In the Slaughterhouse Cases (1873), the Court narrowly defined the “privileges and immunities” of federal citizenship, and found that the Fourteenth Amendment had not been intended to expand federal powers over the states. As a result, civil rights cases would not be heard in friendlier federal courts, but rather in state courts, where civil rights violators were less likely to be convicted.

In United States v. Cruikshank (1876), the Supreme Court struck down the Enforcement Act of 1870 on the grounds that the Fourteenth Amendment only applied to civil rights violations by the states and not those of private citizens, leaving black citizens at the mercy of unsympathetic state courts.

In the aftermath of Grant’s actions and the Supreme Court’s decisions, the Klan used less brutal means to intimidate black voters, though violence against African Americans continued. But in one state after another, emboldened by the Supreme Court’s narrow view of the Reconstruction Amendments, white majorities reclaimed political control and passed laws, poll taxes, and grandfather clauses and even amended state constitutions to disfranchise the freed people.

This 1874 illustration by the political cartoonist Thomas Nast shows the KKK and the White League, another white supremacist group, joining together to bring violence and oppression to blacks.

Review Questions

1. One of the most violent anti-African American incidents of the post-Civil War era took place in

2. The Enforcement Acts were passed to

  1. protect freed people from politically motivated violence
  2. establish Freedmen’s Bureau offices throughout the South
  3. set up a voter registration campaign in the former Confederate states
  4. undermine Supreme Court rulings on the Fifteenth Amendment

3. The main decision in the Slaughterhouse Cases (1873) stated that

  1. the Fourteenth Amendment did not expand federal power over the states
  2. white supremacist organizations had a legal right to exist
  3. African Americans did not have equal protection under the law
  4. the Fifteenth Amendment did not apply to the various states

4. The decision in U.S. v. Cruikshank (1876) stated that

  1. the Slaughterhouse decision was overturned, giving new meaning to the Privileges and Immunities Clause
  2. the actions of one private citizen against another did not fall under the federal government’s jurisdiction
  3. the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments took priority over state laws
  4. all white supremacist organizations were unlawful and would be subject to prosecution by the Freedmen’s Bureau

5. With the Supreme Court’s narrow interpretations of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, by the late 1870s

  1. the Ku Klux Klan controlled elections in the South
  2. events like the Colfax episode became more violent
  3. the South transitioned to the political control of white majorities
  4. African Americans held political power in the South

Free Response Questions

  1. Describe the Grant Administration’s response to Ku Klux Klan violence in the post-Civil War years.
  2. Explain the evolution of black voting in the South during the Reconstruction period.

AP Practice Questions

“Was it the purpose of the fourteenth amendment, by the simple declaration that no State should make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States, to transfer the security and protection of all the civil rights which we have mentioned, from the States to the Federal government? And where it is declared that Congress Shall have the power to enforce that article, was it intended to bring within the power of Congress the entire domain of civil rights heretofore belonging exclusively to the States?

All this and more must follow if the proposition of the plaintiffs in error be sound. . . . The effect is to fetter and degrade the State governments by subjecting them to the control of Congress in the exercise of powers heretofore universally conceded to them of the most ordinary and fundamental character. . . .

We are convinced that no such results were intended by the Congress which proposed these amendments, nor by the legislatures of the States which ratified them.”

Slaughterhouse Cases: 83 U.S. 36, 77-78, 1873

“The question presented is, therefore, one of the gravest importance, not merely to the parties here, but to the whole country. It is nothing less than the question whether the recent amendments to the Federal Constitution protect the citizens of the United States against the deprivation of their common rights by State legislation. In my judgment the fourteenth amendment does afford such protection, and was so intended by the Congress which framed and the States which adopted it.”

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Field, “Dissenting argument in the Slaughterhouse Case,” 1873

1. The opinions expressed in the two provided excerpts differ with regard to

  1. the supremacy of states’ rights
  2. the citizenship of African Americans
  3. the interpretation of “equal protection” in the Fourteenth Amendment
  4. the interpretation of the Amendment granting African Americans the right to vote

2. The main argument expressed in the decision of the Slaughterhouse Cases in 1873 was that

  1. the Fourteenth Amendment did not supersede state laws
  2. states’ rights were supreme in all cases
  3. African Americans had the right to vote only in federal elections
  4. the citizenship of freed people was not official

3. The main argument of the decision expressed by dissenting Justice Field was that

  1. federal law was supreme
  2. African Americans had the right to vote in all elections
  3. all persons, including American Indians, should be considered full citizens
  4. the Fourteenth Amendment gave equal protection to all citizens in all states

Primary Sources

President Grant’s Special Message to Congress (March 23, 1871).

United States v. Cruikshank et al., 92 U.S. 542 (1875). Legal Information Institute. https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/92/542

Suggested Resources

Barnes, Donna A., and Catherine Connolly. “Repression, the Judicial System, and Political Opportunities for Civil Rights Advocacy During Reconstruction.” The Sociological Quarterly40, no. 2 (1999): 327-345.

Foner, Eric. Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. New York: HarperPerennial, 2014.


1868 Presidential Elections - History

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  • States in dark gray are non-voting due to reconstruction.
  • Electors from the state of Florida were appointed by the state legislature (and not elected in a popular vote).

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Democratic Platform of 1868

The Democratic party in National Convention assembled, reposing its trust in the intelligence, patriotism, and discriminating justice of the people standing upon the Constitution as the foundation and limitation of the powers of the government, and the guarantee of the liberties of the citizen and recognizing the questions of slavery and secession as having been settled for all time to come by the war, or the voluntary action of the Southern States in Constitutional Conventions assembled, and never to be renewed or reagitated does, with the return of peace, demand,

First. Immediate restoration of all the States to their rights in the Union, under the Constitution, and of civil government to the American people. 2

Second. Amnesty for all past political offenses, and the regulation of the elective franchise in the States, by their citizens.

Sixth. Economy in the administration of the government, the reduction of the standing army and navy the abolition of the Freedmen’s Bureau and all political instrumentalities designed to secure negro supremacy . . . the repeal of all enactments for enrolling the State militia into national forces in time of peace. . . .

In demanding these measures and reforms we arraign the Radical party for its disregard of right, and the unparalleled oppression and tyranny which have marked its career.

After the most solemn and unanimous pledge of both Houses of Congress to prosecute the war exclusively for the maintenance of the government and the preservation of the Union under the Constitution, it has repeatedly violated that most sacred pledge, under which alone was rallied that noble volunteer army which carried our flag to victory.

Instead of restoring the Union, it has, so far as in its power, dissolved it, and subjected ten States, in time of profound peace, to military despotism and Negro supremacy.

It has nullified there the right of trial by jury it has abolished the habeas corpus, that most sacred writ of liberty it has overthrown the freedom of speech and of the press it has substituted arbitrary seizures and arrests, and military trials and secret star-chamber inquisitions, for the constitutional tribunals it has disregarded in time of peace the right of the people to be free from searches and seizures it has entered the post and telegraph offices, and even the private rooms of individuals, and seized their private papers and letters without any specific charge or notice of affidavit, as required by the organic law 3 . . . it has established a system of spies and official espionage to which no constitutional monarchy of Europe would now dare to resort. . . . [I]t has stripped the President of his constitutional power of appointment, even of his own Cabinet. . . . 4

And we do declare and resolve, That ever since the people of the United States threw off all subjection to the British crown, the privilege and trust of suffrage have belonged to the several States, and have been granted, regulated, and controlled exclusively by the political power of each State respectively, and that any attempt by Congress, on any pretext whatever, to deprive any State of this right, or interfere with its exercise, is a flagrant usurpation of power, which can find no warrant in the Constitution and if sanctioned by the people will subvert our form of government, and can only end in a single centralized and consolidated government, in which the separate existence of the States will be entirely absorbed, and an unqualified despotism be established in place of a federal union of co-equal States and that we regard the reconstruction acts so-called, of Congress, as such an usurpation, and unconstitutional, revolutionary, and void. . . .

That the President of the United States, Andrew Johnson, in exercising the power of his high office in resisting the aggressions of Congress upon the Constitutional rights of the States and the people, is entitled to the gratitude of the whole American people and in behalf of the Democratic party, we tender him our thanks for his patriotic efforts in that regard.

Upon this platform the Democratic party appeals to every patriot, including all the Conservative element, and all who desire to support the Constitution and restore the Union, forgetting all past differences of opinion, to unite with us in the present great struggle for the liberties of the people and that to all such, to whatever party they may have heretofore belonged, we extend the right hand of fellowship, and hail all such co-operating with us as friends and brethren. . . .

Study Questions

A. What goals do the Republicans embrace for Reconstruction? How do their goals compare to the Democrats’ goals? What things are present in the Republicans’ goals that are absent in the Democrats’ goals? What things are absent in the Republicans’ goals but present in the Democrats’ goals? How do the two parties judge President Johnson’s tenure in office? What picture do the respective parties paint of the South as eventually reconstructed? What is the role of blacks in that new order each party envisions?

B. To what extent is the Republican Party platform a continuation of the Reconstruction Acts? To what extent is it an extension of Lincoln’s policy of Amnesty and Reconstruction? To what extent is the Democratic Party’s platform a continuation of President Johnson’s approach (See Proclamation on Reorganizing Constitutional Government in Mississippi, Johnson’s First Annual Address, and Veto of the First Reconstruction Act)? How would each platform deal with problems that might arise from violent private organizations, operating without interference from the state, such as the Ku Klux Klan?


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