The Posse Comitatus law makes it illegal for U.S. troops to operate within U.S. borders
It was a grim period in U.S. history. In the wake of the Civil War, America engaged in a process of restructuring southern society to correct many of the wrongs associated with slavery. Called Reconstruction, it was generally reviled by southerners who resented the elevation of African-Americans and northerners — referred to as “carpet-baggers” because of how they carried their possessions — into positions of power.
In effect, the period constituted an occupation of the rebellious states by the north. Union armies were stationed throughout the region, enforcing laws aimed at undoing the legacy of slavery. The coercive nature of the Union military presence resulted in growing resentment among the occupied, resulting in the formation of the KKK and other seditious groups. The surge of lynchings were an effort by the once-ascendant white southerners to keep the former slaves “in their place” despite the protection they received from the military.
Like any military occupation, however, Reconstruction was expensive — think Afghanistan or Iraq. Eventually, as always happens, the American people tired of having to foot the bill of this endeavor, and they elected leaders who vowed to end it. The presidential election of 1876 was one of the most contentious in history. The Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes was a staunch abolitionist who was seriously wounded fighting for the Union in the Civil War. He actually lost the popular vote to the Democrat, but was awarded the Presidency by the electoral college. Sound familiar?
The Democrats were so outraged by this result that they threatened another Constitutional crisis, something America had no stomach for after the Civil War. To resolve the issue, the Republicans agreed to end Reconstruction — the one demand the Democrats cared about above all others — in return for Democratic acquiescence. Remember that back then, the Democratic party was a party of southern apologists.
To ensure that the unionists couldn’t back out of this deal and reimpose their occupation, the anti-Reconstruction Congress passed and forced upon the weakened President Hayes a bill…