What Enabled the Republican Party to Dominate National Politics After the Civil War?

Republicans like Ulysses Grant occupied the White House for all but eight years between 1869 and 1913.
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During and after the Civil War, the Republican Party came to dominate national politics. In the immediate post-war years, this dominance was a product of policies related to Reconstruction. As the 1800s progressed, however, Republican dominance waxed and waned. The end of Reconstruction was a critical moment that altered the party's hold on national politics.

1 Black Voters

With the war's end, northern Republicans wanted to ensure that newly-freed slaves had their right to vote protected in the South. This was largely because northern Republicans guessed correctly that southern Freedmen would vote Republican, since that was the party responsible for their emancipation. Starting around 1867, blacks were represented for the first time in southern government, even serving as state legislators and in the U.S. Congress. Until the demise of Reconstruction in the 1870s, this black vote helped Republicans secure national dominance.

2 The Carpetbaggers

The coalition that governed the South in the late 1860s consisted of black voters, southern white Republicans and northerners who moved South after the war for political gain. After the war, northerners sometimes moved South to profit from the region's devastation, to serve as teachers, or to work with the Freedmen's Bureau. These Republican transplants voted as they had in the North, and helped Republicans dominate Southern politics -- and the nation as a whole -- in the late 1860s.

3 The Scalawags

While the Confederacy had been dominated by anti-Union Democrats, sizable chunks of the Southern whites disagreed with the rebellious plot of secession. These voters, known as "scalawags," voted Republican because they thought the party could prevent the rebel class from regaining power in the region. These voters were frequently non-slaveholding whites from the rural areas of the South. They were primarily occupied as small farmers.

4 Decline in the 1870s

As the Reconstruction Era continued into the 1870s, both northerners and southerners grew tired of its policies. Non-scalawag white southerners resented the Republican dominance of their states, and they resorted to violence, intimidation and legal "black codes" that helped break Republican dominance of the South. These included terrorist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan. Even in the North, though, discontent with the corrupt Ulysses Grant administration and an economic depression soured interest in the Republican Party. When this resulted in a near-tie in the 1876 presidential election, Republicans resorted to a backdoor deal to continue their dominance in the Compromise of 1877. In exchange for the White House, the Republicans agreed to remove all federal troops from the South and end Reconstruction. Republicans remained dominant, but at a price.

Kevin Wandrei has written extensively on higher education. His work has been published with Kaplan, Textbooks.com, and Shmoop, Inc., among others. He is currently pursuing a Master of Public Administration at Cornell University.