Politics of the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act

(January  10, 2018) The 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act gave the federal government sweeping powers to intervene in state elections whenever Republicans were suspicious that either voter fraud or intimidation was present. It is popularly represented as an Act to enforce the voting rights of post Civil War blacks—but not other racial or ethnic minorities—under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.

The Act allowed President Grant to suspend the writ of habeas corpus in geographic areas were he felt Republican votes were under-counted or blocked through intimidation. Thus, he could empower federal marshals to arrest anyone without needing to charge them with a crime. It was the first peacetime application of such power. Since the Klan was relatively inactive in 1868, Grant did not need the Act in order to be elected that year to his first term as President. The Act was adopted only later, in order to insure Republican victories in future elections, after the Klan started to reduce Republican power in the South.

As the table below documents, Republicans held 84% of the seats in the Senate and 72% of those in the House in the Forty-First Congress when Grant moved into the White House. Generally, there was little Klan activity in the 1868 elections because Southern white Democrats hoped to win the black vote. But it was a forlorn hope. Grant won about 90% of the black vote. In fact, his black share was strong enough to offset the point that he received only a minority of white votes across the country. The natural tendency for Southern blacks to vote the Party of the Civil War’s Great Emancipator was amplified by the persuasion of the Union Leagues and the Freedmen’s Bureau, which were basically arms  of the Republican Party.

After Southern Democrats failed to win black votes in 1868, the Klan became aggressive. Consequently Republican power in the Senate, and particularly the House, declined in the Forty-Second Congress. Republican Senate seats dropped from 84% to 77% and House seats dropped from 72% to 57%. Thus, the Ku Klux Klan Act was a politically motivated response to a drop in Republican congressional representation.

As the table’s third column shows, the Act successfully increased Republican strength in the Forty-Third Congress, as intended. The Klan had ceased to be a factor.

In order to justify the Act, a joint Senate-House “Ku Klux Committee” took testimony to document Klan violence. Historians point to the Committee’s thirteen volume report for plenty of such evidence. Simultaneously, however, many modern historians often fail to explain that Democrats from ten of the eleven former Confederate states were not even members of Congress and could therefore not be assigned to the Committee.  That’s because all Southern  congressional representatives, except Virginia, were composed of Republican carpetbaggers or scalawags. Thus, the Committee made no meaningful inquiry into voter fraud by the Republican regimes that controlled the election machinery in the Southern states. Given the composition of the Committee, that would be like asking the criminal to investigate himself.

On January 9, 2018 the U. S House of Representatives passed 415-to-2 resolution supporting Iranian protestors. If Iran were to respond by holding “democratic” elections under the glitter Iranian Army bayonets, the House resolution implies that few Americans would consider such an election to be free. Yet many of today’s historians seem to teach students that the federal marshals and soldiers deployed in the South during Reconstruction were used to guarantee impartial elections. It’s the Devil’s own nonsense.

While a fair evaluation of Reconstruction should concede Southern racism, it should also admit that the Republican puppet regimes in the South were much more likely to commit voter fraud than out-of-power Southern whites.  After all, it was generally the Republicans who controlled the election machinery in each state. In fact, the 1872 elections in Louisiana were so obviously fraudulent that even the Republican Congress refused to seat members from either side.

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