Friday, November 20, 2009

The Year Was 1877: Where Was Your Family?

The year was 1877 and following the disputed election of 1876 it was still unclear who the next American president would be. Samuel Tilden had carried the popular vote by more than 250,000 votes, and held 184 of the electoral votes. Rutherford B. Hayes only had 165 of the electoral votes–but twenty electoral votes from South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida were still being disputed. There was also an issue with one elector from Oregon.

To resolve the problem, Congress set up an election committee, comprised of fifteen men–five from the Senate, five from the House of Representatives, and five from the Supreme Court. Along party lines, the count was seven Democrats, seven Republicans, and one Independent. As if things weren’t complicated enough, the Independent, who was from the Supreme Court, refused to accept the position and was replaced by a Republican, shifting the balance of power in their favor. The twenty votes in dispute were awarded to the Republican candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes. Southern Democrats began a filibuster to protest the decision and eventually an informal agreement was reached. The agreement was that a southern Democrat be admitted to the Hayes administration; that all U.S. troops be removed from the South; a second transcontinental railroad through the South was to be built; and federal legislation was to be enacted to aid the industrialization of the South. More information is available at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center.

The U.S. was facing difficult times when Hayes took office. Following the Panic of 1873 and the subsequent failure of many railroads, farmers that relied on the failed railroads were left without transportation for goods. Businesses were facing tough times. With an influx of cheap labor flowing into urban areas from failing farms, wages plummeted while business tried to get more work from their employees.

When the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad cut the wages of its workers for the second time in eight months, the workers had had enough and stopped work. Railroad officials brought in local militias, but they and the townspeople sided with the railroad workers. The work stoppage quickly spread throughout the industry and beyond as canal boatmen, miners, and others struck with them in a display of solidarity. Despite widespread support, the strike was over within a few weeks, with no gains for the workers. After early failures to control the strikers and outbursts of violence, law enforcement officials regained control and the movement died out. It did, however, leave a legacy that would pave the way for future reforms. (For an interesting look at the Railroad Strike of 1877, there is a more detailed article available on the New York State Library website.)

The sagging economy also led to anti-immigrant sentiment, particularly against the Chinese. The Workingman’s Party, led by Irish immigrant, Denis Kearney, staged several violent protests in San Francisco in 1877. Chinese immigrants were forced eastward in the United States in search of a more hospitable environment–an environment that most of them would not find.

Native Americans continued to be pushed off their lands and for years the Nez Perce had been struggling to keep the lands of the Wallowa Valley in northeastern Oregon as the flow of settlers continued into the area. In 1873 President Ulysses Grant had divided the valley, reserving lands for the Nez Perce, but in 1875 he rescinded that Presidential Order and opened the entire valley up for settlement. Although the Nez Perce tried to co-exist with the settlers, tensions kept rising and eventually the Nez Perce were chased 1,100 miles through the mountains by U.S. military forces before surrendering in Montana.

In Europe, the final Russo-Turkish War began in 1877. The Treaty of Berlin, following the war would grant Romania, Montenegro, and Serbia independence from Turkey and Bulgaria was granted autonomy.

So where was your family? What were they doing? Leave your responses in the comment section or create your own blog post.

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