The Final Attempt: The Federal Elections Bill (1890)
In honor of Black History Month, all month long we will be sharing the legacies and stories of the heroes, sheroes, and events in the fight for Black suffrage on social media under the hashtag #VRABlackHistory. Follow us on Twitter (@VRAmatters) to share your own facts.

Today we honor  the Federal Elections Bill (also known as “The Lodge Bill, or to its opponents “The Force Bill"). The Lodge Bill would have given more oversight in elections and provided much-needed enforcement of the 15th Amendment in the South. Following the 1877 Hayes-Tilden compromise, this bill represented the last attempt by the U.S. Congress  in the 19th Century to protect African-American suffrage.

The Lodge Bill was passed in the House, but was defeated in the Senate because of Democratic filibusters, which wasn’t only a means of stalling, but was also a means of shaming Western Republicans into voting against the Lodge Bill.

Backdrop of the Lodge Bill

In 1890, there was a tremendous split about what was the best way to advance the economic vitality of the nation. A number of Northern and Southern capitalists believed that restoration and protection of the economy was the number one priority.; however, a portion of Northern and Southern politicians believed that expanding their party's base was the number one priority. Both of these factions were given voice in the Congress.

While Radical Republicans were eager to provide African American suffrage in the 1870’s and 1880’s; it was no longer vital to the expansion of the Western Republicans in the 1890’s. The issue of civil rights in the North had usually been an economic one, and not a moral one, and in the 1890’s, the suffrage of Blacks was no longer an economic discussion. Western Republicans were convinced that the Black population would always vote Republican no matter how they treated them, and so they turned their attention to getting Southern White males to move away from the Populist party and towards their Republican party.

In 1890, three major bills were before the House and the Senate, and only two of the bills would provide more economic security for Western Republican states and broaden their base. The three bills were Senator Henry Lodge’s Federal Election Bill; Senator William McKinley's Tariff Act (which, when passed, established the highest protective tariff in U.S. history by raising rates an average of 49.5 percent) ; and, Senator John Sherman’s Silver Act (which was intended to bring a higher price for silver coinage, which would trigger inflation and bring higher farm prices and better terms for debtors). The Federal Election bill was not only the most contentious bill; but, the Western Republicans didn’t think they had much to gain from supporting such a heavily contested bill.

But it wasn’t just expanding their party base that gave Western Republicans pause in considering not to prioritize the Federal Elections Bill: it was also the threat of being accused by opponents of hypocrisy. The Southern Democrats of that day filibustered the bill and shamed the Western Republicans, making wide-spread public campaigns about the hypocrisy of Republicans for supporting Black suffrage, while at the same time mistreating Native Americans and Chinese immigrants. “The Lodge Bill, which was about securing more rights for African Americans, was being considered at the same time that banning Chinese immigration [through the extension of the Chinese Exclusion Act] and forcibly deporting Chinese immigrants already living in the United States was being discussed.” Not only would Western Republicans look hypocritical and lose political gains, but they also feared support of the Lodge Bill would lay the groundwork for legal action on behalf of Native Americans and Chinese immigrants, and would confer rights to ALL minorities, and not just African-Americans.

The Lodge Bill was introduced by Henry Cabot Lodge to protect the Republican party. States like Georgia’s Bourban Party were doing everything they could to lock out the Black vote, including violence, residency requirements, not allotting enough time for Blacks to vote, voter fraud, intimidation, gerrymander literacy tests, and most effectively the poll tax. The poll tax in Georgia was originally supported by Blacks who thought the tax dollars would go towards their schools and would help their community; however, they didn’t foresee that the lack of having a tax receipt or economic barriers would bar many Blacks from being able to vote.

Georgia’s Bourban Party profusely opposed the Lodge Bill, which would have meant oversight of their elections and enforcement of the 15th Amendment. The main purpose for not wanting Blacks to vote was “the idea that blacks would use it to improve their status, gain political power, and attack white supremacy.” In Georgia, Blacks knew that the right to a fair vote would provide them with the ability to prevent the further relative decline of their schools; security in their property; the right to work at an occupation of their choice; and even the right of self-defense: Disenfranchisement made lynching possible. Lynching kept Blacks from speaking up for the right to vote.

The Lodge Bill was also contentious for the powerful Farmer’s Alliance, who not only favored the Silver bill but opposed the Lodge Bill. Democrats vowed to debate and filibuster the Lodge Bill at every turn. They also threatened to expose the Republicans for their greedy economic and political interests, questioning why the Republicans would rather debate the Lodge Bill over “more pressing matters” such as silvery currency. “The Farmer’s Alliance of South Carolina publicly asked Northern and Northwestern members to persuade their representatives to vote against the Lodge Bill, as they believed it disrupted the unity of the alliance as a whole by exacerbating the tensions between Northern and Southern groups, thereby weakening the power of the Farmers’ Alliances to push as a united entity for the financial reforms they desired.”

The Historic Significance of the failure of the Federal Election Bill

The Lodge Bill was set aside twice in favor of hearings and votes being held for the other two bills. Ultimately, because of a successful filibuster, the bill was set aside and never picked up again. This indicates a political and economic shift of the Republican party which perhaps Henry Lodge didn’t see right away. But if Henry Lodge didn’t see it; the Southern Democrats sure did, and they capitalized on the weaknesses of the Western Republican Party. The Lodge Bill was “the first major piece of legislation in American history supported by a president (Republican Benjamin Harrison) and majorities in both houses that was defeated by a Senate filibuster.”

While the Lodge Bill failed to pass, it did serve as the basis for the debate in the 1892 elections (which proved just how contentious and important the issue of Black suffrage was), and was mentioned in both the Republican and Democratic platforms of 1892. However, “the Federal Elections Bill was the last major effort at voting rights protection until the 1950s.”

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You can view more information about The Lodge Bill in the video below. (The video has no sound).

This article is written by Caitlyn Cobb.  All the sources are linked throughout the article in green.



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