Ralph L. Peek


The national Republican administration by early 1870, was aware that large-scale intimidation of Negro voters throughout the South was effectively curbing Negro voting and hurting the party. Consequently, legislation was proposed to protect Negro rights by enforcing the fifteenth amendment to the United States constitution. On February 21, 1870, Representative John Bingham of Ohio introduced a bill that was supposed to protect voting rights wherever they were being denied. Administration spokesmen testified that intimidation and violence were keeping Negroes from the polls in several states, and that federal “force” legislation was needed to protect civil rights in states where politicians refused to accept the new status of the Negro and were unlikely to act to protect him. These proponents of federal action claimed that a conspiracy in the South was seeking to destroy the Republican party through the use of violence and terror. Senator Oliver P. Morton of Indiana, whose appeal was characteristic of the Republican position, called for a law giving the president power to extend the protection into every state, whether or not the governor requested it, in order that “the lives of loyal men might be protected in the states formerly in rebellion.” The provisions of the bill were characterized as a declaration of fundamental constitutional principles and a guarantee of political equality for the Negro. Debate on the bill was extremely limited in the house; Democrats were allowed only an hour and a half to present their arguments. Debate in the senate was bitter and more prolonged, extending until the latter part of May. The bill finally passed and was signed by President Grant on May 31, 1870.