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Legislating Racism

Legislating Racism: The Billion Dollar Congress and the Birth of Jim Crow

Thomas Adams Upchurch
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 320
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    Legislating Racism
    Book Description:

    The Civil War and Reconstruction were characterized by two lasting legacies -- the failure to bring racial harmony to the South and the failure to foster reconciliation between the North and South. The nation was left with a festering race problem, as a white-dominated society and political structure debated the +proper role for blacks. At the national level, both sides harbored bitter feelings toward the other, which often resulted in clashes among congressmen that inflamed, rather than solved, the race problem. No Congress expended more energy debating this issue than the Fifty-First, or "Billion Dollar," Congress of 1889-1891. The Congress debated several controversial solutions, provoking discussion far beyond the halls of government and shaping the course of race relations for twentieth-century America.

    Legislating Racismproposes that these congressional debates actually created a climate for the first truly frank national discussion of racial issues in the United States. In an historic moment of unusual honesty and openness, a majority of congressmen, newspaper editors, magazine contributors, and the American public came to admit their racial prejudice against not only blacks, but all minority races. If the majority of white Americans -- not just those in the South -- harbored racist sentiments, many wondered whether Americans should simply accept racism as the American way. Thomas Adams Upchurch contends that the Fifty-First Congress, in trying to solve the race problem, in fact began the process of making racism socially and politically acceptable for a whole generation, inadvertently giving birth to the Jim Crow era of American history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5638-5
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction The Grand Old Party Faces the Grand Old Problem
    (pp. 1-22)

    As the 1880s gave way to the last decade of the nineteenth century, a new mood began settling over the United States. The nation buzzed with the excitement and anticipation that always looms in the air at the beginning of a new era of history. This new spirit of the times, or Zeitgeist, signaled a change in the air. The nation was still deep in the throes of the Gilded Age of American history, in which the search for national economic growth, as well as personal opulence, held a generation captive. Voices of reform could be heard clamoring for regulation...

  6. Chapter 1 To Empty a Running Stream The U. S. Senate Considers the Butler Emigration Bill
    (pp. 23-45)

    Fully aware of Republican intentions to push a federal elections bill through Congress, Democrats sought to forestall that plan and, if possible, eliminate the need for it by introducing their own bill to deal with the southern race problem. Realizing that the Republicans would need a few days to organize and prioritize their legislative agenda, the Democrats hoped to take initial control of the business of the Senate and spark a debate that might catch fire in the American public as well as in Congress. Their plan was to introduce a bill that would make it possible for those black...

  7. Chapter 2 To Drain the Infinite Oceans The Swan Song of the Once-Great Blair Education Bill
    (pp. 46-65)

    Once the Senate brushed aside the idea of emptying a running stream with a ladle, it next sought to alleviate the race problem by draining the “oceans of illiteracy,” as Senator Henry Blair of New Hampshire put it, with the Blair Education Bill.¹ Black southerners, more than any other group of Americans, faced the danger of drowning in a sea of ignorance, and the Blair bill was intended to be the life buoy for rescuing the victims and towing them to safety upon the shoreline of American society. The idea was that blacks could catch up with whites in education...

  8. Chapter 3 Charting New Waters The Race Problem and the “Reed Rules” in the House of Representatives
    (pp. 66-84)

    While the Senate debated the emigration and education issues, House Republicans, led by new Speaker Thomas B. Reed of Maine, prepared to chart new waters in parliamentary procedure, changing hundred-year-old rules of debate. Although Reed did not design his new rules solely to ease passage of the humanitarians’ racial agenda, the “Reed Rules,” as they were known, had an immediate and dramatic impact on the House’s attempts to solve the race problem. Understanding Reed’s preliminary winter and spring cleaning of the House, which washed away the dusty old traditions, is thus central to establishing the context for the fight over...

  9. Chapter 4 The Very Insanity of Democracy The Federal Elections Bill and the Return to Reconstruction in the House of Representatives
    (pp. 85-107)

    The formulation of the Federal Elections Bill did not originate with the convening of the Fifty-first Congress. Since the election of Grover Cleveland to the presidency in 1884, Republicans had considered sundry plans by which Congress might best protect the voting rights of black southerners. Leading the effort was William E. Chandler, a first-term senator from New Hampshire who had previously worked closely with the Hayes, Garfield, and Arthur administrations to find a remedy for suffrage abuses in the South. The solution that GOP leaders agreed upon during that eight-year period was to keep a watchful eye on the South...

  10. Chapter 5 Judging the Insanity Public Reactions to the Inflammatory “Force Bill” and the Tyranny of the Majority
    (pp. 108-128)

    During and after the tension-filled week of debate between Democrats and Republicans in the House, the press and the public likewise discussed the merits and demerits of the Federal Elections Bill. For a variety of reasons, far more opposition to the bill appeared than support for it. Albion Tourgee, who had pushed so vehemently for a new supervisory law, actually opposed Lodge’s bill, considering it too lenient toward the South.¹ Murat Halstead also changed his opinion in 1890 to side with the money Republicans, who opposed the bill as an unnecessary stumbling block on the path to North-South reconciliation.² Carl...

  11. Chapter 6 The Stormy and Turbulent Sea of Democratic Freedom The Senate’s Epic Struggle for Control of the Nation’s Racial Destiny
    (pp. 129-150)

    The Federal Elections Bill debate captivated the American public like few other congressional debates had ever done. Even the showdowns over similar measures on Capitol Hill during Reconstruction paled in comparison, for two reasons. First, during Reconstruction, the public expected and accepted partisan and sectional fights in Congress as a residue of the great and terrible war that had recently engulfed the nation. Since Reconstruction, however, a spirit of sectional reconciliation and, to a lesser extent, bipartisanship had prevailed. The introduction of the Federal Elections Bill destroyed those congenial feelings. It thus seemed to be out of place and time,...

  12. Chapter 7 Showdown on Capitol Hill The Filibuster, the Cloture Rule, and the Defeat of the Federal Elections Bill
    (pp. 151-166)

    As the year 1890 came to a close, the annual yuletide mood of joyful celebration and goodwill toward men enveloped the nation as usual. Unfortunately, good cheer did not make an appearance at Capitol Hill, for the Senate was engaged in one of the most heated ideological battles it would ever see. Senate sponsors of the Federal Elections Bill found themselves in a quandary after fellow Republican William M. Stewart of Nevada made known his emphatic opposition to the bill. They already knew that several of their Republican colleagues were not strong supporters of the idea of passing a new...

  13. Chapter 8 Silver, Sectionalism, Sioux Indians, and Sinophobia Why Many Westerners Opposed the Federal Elections Bill
    (pp. 167-185)

    The Senate debated the Federal Elections Bill for fifty-six days, thirty-three of which the filibuster consumed. Never had the nation witnessed a filibuster of this magnitude, and only rarely would it see such again. While the nation marveled at the spectacle, Americans breathed a collective sigh of relief when the battle finally ended. Some partisan Republican newspapers admitted defeat graciously and called for Congress to move on. As one put it, “Give us the shipping bills, the appropriations bills, the apportionment bill, the copyright bill—give us business, not partisanship. That is what the people want.” Other partisan Republican papers...

  14. Chapter 9 The “Peculiar Situation” of African Americans and Ethnic Minorities in the United States How Racism Became Fashionable in the 1890s
    (pp. 186-209)

    The white westerners’ aversion to Native Americans and the Chinese was not extraordinary in 1890. Nor was it comparable only to the white South’s negrophobia. It was rather symptomatic of a larger problem afflicting white America. Put succinctly, white America suffered from the blight of racism. Each section had its own unique race problems, and none was more racist than the other. If it seemed that the South was more racist, it was only because its racial minority was by far the largest, the by-product of earlier generations of slaveholders. The Northeast, however, despite the presence of its humanitarian and...

  15. Conclusion Assessing the Billion Dollar Congress and Its Effects on American History and Race Relations
    (pp. 210-220)

    Throughout the time that the Fifty-first Congress wrestled with the southern race problem, Democrats charged that Republican claims of concern for the welfare of African Americans were disingenuous. As one put it, in 1865 the Republican Party was the “savior of the negroes,” but since Reconstruction black voters had become the savior of the GOP. Such charges contained more than a grain of truth. The black vote had made the difference in Republicans winning the White House in 1872, 1876, and 1888. The majority of white voters in these elections went Democratic. Despite owing such victories to black support, after...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 221-262)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 263-286)
  18. Index
    (pp. 287-304)