“1887 Law of the Electoral Count and Reconstruction”

Brook Thomas:

On December 20, 2020, I posted a blog warning about the inadequacies of the 1887 Law of the Electoral Count that would govern the procedures of Congress’s meeting on January 6, 2021,  to count electors and officially declare a president-elect.

Thus, I eagerly read the Washington Post’s recent THE ELECTORAL COUNT ACT IS BROKEN. FIXING IT REQUIRES KNOWING HOW IT BECAME LAW by Erik B. Alexander and Rachel Shelden. Their piece makes some valuable points. Unfortunately, however, if fixing the 1887 Electoral Count Act requires knowing how it became law, the account by these two respected historians cries out for elaboration and qualification. 

They correctly link the 1887 law to the disputed election of 1876 in which an Electoral Commission appointed by Congress played a major role deciding disputes in four states in favor of Republican Rutherford Hayes, allowing him to prevail by one vote in the Electoral College despite losing the recorded popular vote to the Democrat Samuel Tilden.  Very important for a popular audience, they demystify various widespread myths about the so-called Compromise of 1877, such as that it led to a withdrawal of federal troops from the South and that it marked the end of all Republicans’ commitment to African American rights.

But they are not helpful in their account of the origins of those myths. “The argument that a brokered compromise between Republican and Democratic congressmen ended Reconstruction,” they claim, “was initially suggested in 1951 by historian C. Vann Woodward.” But, they add, his account has been “thoroughly disproved.”….

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