Friday, March 10, 2017

The inauguration of "His Fraudulency"

There's no denying that the 2016 election campaign was among the republic's most contentious, but it would be a mistake to conclude that it represented the peak of divisiveness in U.S. history. There have been many other examples of contentiousness, including the 1876 general election campaign and its aftermath.

In Lucas County, some of that discontent was expressed by Chariton Leader editor and publisher Dan Baker --- a Democrat --- in his front-page editorial marking the March 4, 1877, inauguration of our 19th president, Rutherford B. Hayes, a Republican. 

U.S. presidents were inaugurated from 1793 until 1933 on March 4, the date on which the federal government began operations under the U.S. Constitution. The date was changed to the one we're familiar with, Jan. 20, under terms of the 20th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, adopted during 1933. And it would be a grave error to try to equate the views of 19th century Democrats and Republicans with those held by partisans operating under the same names during the 21st.

Here's Dan's editorial from The Leader of Saturday, March 10, 1877, flying under the headline, "The Inauguration of the Usurper." Democrats like Dan had many other terms of endearment for the new president, including "His Fraudulency" and "Rutherfraud."

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Hayes, the Great Fraud, was sworn in as President on Sunday, the 4th Inst., and delivered his inaugural address the next day. There was but little of the usual grandeur, magnificence, or honest enthusiasm in the affair, and among the prominent personages who lent their presence to the gloomy holiday there seemed to linger an atmosphere of gloom that struggled to give way for honest sunshine, but in vain.

The great usurper made his speech, which, as usual with the average radical addresses of the period, abounded in generalities and absurdities, saying nothing and meaning much less.

The display of shoddy aristocracy was hardly as notable as under Grant's administration, while the non-appearance of many of the great men of the day, who figure in political and official life, was remarkable.

The cause was too patent for explanation. Fraud, perjury, and forgery constituted the grand superstructure upon which the first great American usurper stood while he addressed an audience who secretly despised the foul creatures and instruments that had placed him there.

The occasion would have been rendered more appropriate if the public buildings and monuments of our deceased statesmen had been draped in black and the national flags lowered to half mast, while the brass band played a funeral dirge over the nation's dishonor.

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Hayes had ascended to the presidency as a result of what is known as the Compromise of 1877, an agreement that didn't satisfy fully any of the partisans involved but did allow the government to get on with its business.

Democrat Samuel J. Tilden actually had won the popular vote, although there were indications that large numbers of black votes had been suppressed in the South. Hayes, however, won the electoral college after a congressional commission awarded him 20 contested electoral votes.

Under the compromise, Democrats agreed to acknowledge Hayes' election in return for his promise to withdraw from the South U.S. troops that were protecting Republican office holders --- and black voters. Hayes also promised not to seek a second presidential term during 1880.

Hayes carried through on his promises, but there were consequences. Although himself a firm supporter of civil rights for newly enfranchised blacks, withdrawal of U.S. troops from the old Confederacy allowed southern Democrats to establish the racial caste system commonly called "Jim Crow" that prevailed from 1877 until the mid-1960s --- and continues to plague us still.

1 comment:

Rich Pope said...

Fascinating time in American Presidential history. "Rutherfraud" Hayes and Lemonade Lucy occupy the white house. It was said that Hayes came into the Presidency by a majority of one, and departed four years later by unanimous consent.