Government Should Look to 1871, Not 1876

The invasion of the U.S. Capitol building Wednesday was shocking in many respects, as was the continued determination of some members of Congress to obstruct the certification of President-elect Joe Biden's victory in the wake of these violent actions. Now the question is: How should the federal government respond? It is clear the current administration will do nothing; Congress abdicated all responsibility for reaction and declared a recess. When Biden takes office on Jan. 20, he and his administration will be tasked with responding. And when they do, they should look not to 1876, as many politicians and commentators have been arguing, but to 1871.

That year, Congress and President Ulysses S. Grant initiated a campaign to punish members of the Ku Klux Klan. This terrorist organization, founded in 1868 in Tennessee in defense of white supremacy, had spread across the South in a matter of months. Klan members convened at night, donned disguises and rode through the countryside beating, whipping, raping and killing Black (and some White) Southerners who dared claim their rights provided by the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments in the aftermath of the Civil War.

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