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1870 Election

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1870 Election

The elections of 1870 were a test. Would the rule of law or intimidation and fear win out as Black Americans attempted to exercise their new rights? For the first time their right to vote would be explicitly protected by the United States Constitution, thanks to the recently ratified Fifteenth Amendment to the constitution. Despite this protection, terrorist groups like the KKK sought to once again silence the recently freed.

Color lithograph titled "The Result of the Fifteenth Amendment" StudySmarter"The Result of the Fifteenth Amendment"/Wikimedia Commons

Fifteenth Amendment

In February of 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified. This amendment protected the voting rights of Black Americans. When the mid-term elections of 1870 arrived, Black Americans were finally guaranteed the right to vote.

Text of the Fifteenth Amendment

Section 1

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Section 2

The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Federal Protection of 1870 Elections

Federal troops were still occupying parts of the South in 1870. Some states, such as Florida, called them in to monitor elections. This was a result of violence and intimidation occurring in their areas. Federal forces were able to protect the rights of Black voters in some areas but were intimidated themselves in other areas.

In 1870 North Carolina was one area Federal Troops were reinforced. After a state senator was lynched that year, 1,000 troops were stationed to keep the peace.

Intimidation and Violence during the 1870 Elections

With the Black Codes no longer active, oppression of Black Americans had to go into the shadows. Organizations like the Ku Klux Klan were formed to engage in violence and intimidation. If the Southern states could not legally take away the voting rights of Black Americans, racist actors found an illegal way to discourage Black Americans from exercising their rights. Many law enforcement agencies in the South turned a blind eye or even secretly participated in these activities.

One advantage that the KKK had over the Federal troops was their mobility. Very few Cavalry units were assigned to Reconstruction, yet the KKK were notorious for being mounted on horseback in their "night rides".

Republican Party in 1870

The Republican Party had long held power in the North, where Democrats held the South. With the abolition of human enslavement, newly freed Black people joined the Republican Party because it had supported their freedom. There were White Republicans in the South, but the Black vote was important. This new voting block had helped the Republicans make major gains in the South following the Civil War.

Democratic Party in 1870

The Democratic Party had lost some ground in the South. This was the result of the sudden shift in voter demographics with the end of human enslavement. Democratic lawmakers had made attempts with the Black Codes

Hiram Revels

Hiram Revels is a notable figure of the 1870 elections. That year he became the first Black senator. His election only continued his long struggle for racial equality which had turned him into a leader

.

A black and white drawing of Senator Hiram Revels StudySmarterHiram Revels/Wikimedia Commons

Early Life

Revels was born in 1827 in North Carolina. Born free and then educated, he traveled around the United States preaching the Gospel and educating Black people. After becoming one of the first Black people in the United States to receive some college education, he settled in Baltimore for a period where he worked as a minister and the principal of a Black school. During the Civil War, he had helped raise two Black regiments to fight for the Union and even served as the chaplain in one of them. His entire life had been spent in service of the Black community.

I sedulously refrained from doing anything that would incite slaves to run away from their masters. - Hiram Revels1

Although affiliated with churches involved in the Underground Railroad, Revels public opinions were very moderate. Before the Civil War, his focus had mostly been on the education of slaves and free Black Americans instead of directly on abolition politics.

Entrance into Politics

As an educated leader in the Black community, Revels was drafted into politics during Reconstruction. His first position was as an alderman in 1868, before becoming a Mississippi state senator in 1869. His political positions were very moderate, as they had been his entire life. This made him more acceptable to White Southerners at the time.

United States Senate Election

Revels was not directly elected by voters into the Senate but as part of a deal made in the Mississippi state senate. No senators from Mississippi had been sent to the United States Senate since the Civil War had broken out. When Mississippi reentered the Union, the state legislature was to fill the two United States Senate seats representing Mississippi in 1870. One seat was up for reelection in 1871 and the other in 1875. A deal was struck to fill the one-year term with a Black senator and the five-year term with a White one.

Seating as a Senator

Southern Democrats made several attempts to avoid Revels joining the United States Senate. Democrats unsuccessfully tried several angles to declare Revel's election illegal. This outraged Republicans, who fought back. Despite Democrats' efforts, Revel was confirmed in the Senate 48 to 8.

Joseph Hayne Rainey

In 1870, Joseph Hayne Rainey became the first Black American to serve in the House of Representatives. He was born into slavery; however, he was able to rise to a role where he could impact the nation.

A black and white drawing of House Represenative Joseph Hayne Rainey StudySmarterJoseph Hayne Rainey/Wikimedia Commons

Early Life

Although born into slavery in 1832, sometime around age ten his father had managed to earn enough money to buy the family's freedom. Before the Civil War, he had lived a quiet life as a barber. When the Civil War broke out, he was forced to work for the Confederate army until his family could escape to Bermuda. The family returned in 1866, settling in Georgetown. Rainey quickly found his way into Republican politics.

House of Representatives

Rainey was nominated by the Republican Party for his House seat when the previous holder resigned due to corruption issues. Rainey defeated his Democratic rival by a strong margin in two elections on October 19 and November 8, 1870. Rainey used his time in Congress to fight for issues related to equality and violence against Black people. He became known as a strong orator and helped pass the Ku Klux Klan Act.

Impact of the 1870 Elections

The road to equality would be long and winding. The gains made with Black representation in national politics for the first time were enormous. Nevertheless, after Reconstruction came to an end much progress was lost. The number of Black Congressional representatives grew steadily until a sharp decline at the end of the 1870s that didn't start to reverse until the 1960s. For a middle period of almost thirty years, there were no Black voices in Congress.

Results of the 1870 Elections

The Republicans did manage to retain control of both houses of Congress in 1870 but the violence and intimidation of terrorist groups like the Ku Klux Klan did have an effect. Democrats made gains in local races, as well as growing by three Senate seats and 37 House seats. Crucially, 1870 would bring the first Black people to both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

While many Black voters exercised their right to vote for the first time in 1870, some White voters did the opposite. Upset over the newfound political power of Black voters in some areas, some White voters refused to vote in the elections.

1870 Election - Key takeaways

    • First election held after the Fifteenth Amendment secured the voting rights of Black Americans
    • Violence and intimidation of Black and Republican voters were carried out by groups like the Ku Klux Klan
    • Republicans held on to Congress, but Democrats made some gains
    • Hiram Revels became the first Black Senator
    • Joseph Hayne Rainey became the first Black House Representative

1 U.S. Government Printing Office. Black Americans in Congress, 1870-2007.

Frequently Asked Questions about 1870 Election

In the 1870 elections the first Black members of Congress were sent to office. The Democratic party made some gains in congress but the Republicans maintained control. 

A

For the first time Black Americans ran for office. Many were elected to state level positions and some made it to Congress. 

For the first time Black Americans were guaranteed the right to vote by the Fifteenth Amendment. 

Hiram Revels 

Black Americans voted for the first time in the 1870 elections. 

Final 1870 Election Quiz

Question

Who was the first Black Senator?

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Answer

Hiram Revels 

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Question

Who was the first Black House Representative?

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Answer

Joseph Hayne Rainey 

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Question

What did the Fifteenth Amendment do?

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Answer

Protected the voting right of Black Americans 

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Question

Which party gained seats in Congress in 1870?

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Answer

Democrat 

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Question

Which party controlled Congress after the 1870 election?


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Answer

Republican 

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Question

Who was the base of the Democratic Party in 1870?

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Answer

White Southerners who resented the new social order 

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Question

Who was the base of the Republican Party in 1870?

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Answer

Newly freed Black Americans 

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Question

Who has the power to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment?


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Answer

Congress

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Question

What impacted Black Americans new voting rights in 1870?

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Answer

Violence and intimidation 

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Question

What happened when Hiram Revels got the  Senate?


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Answer

Democrats tried to invalidate his election 

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