During my experience on the internet I’ve come across a lot of people who, while they are not professional historians, are very interested in research and do good work. I’ve been trying to figure out how to harness some of that energy in a more constructive, focused way. So why not focus our energies on a common endeavor that will shed some light on the past?
In December 1870 Democrat Stephen A. Corker claimed victory in a congressional contest in northeast Georgia (the fifth congressional district) over Republican Thomas P. Beard. Corker was white and a Confederate veteran; Beard was an African American. When Corker presented his credentials to be seated in Congress on January 24, 1871, several Republicans, led by Massachusetts representative Benjamin F. Butler, objected. Butler and other Republicans claimed that Corker had obtained his seat through the workings of white supremacist terrorist violence. Congress rejected the challenge, although one source suggests that many Republicans voted against Butler’s claims on procedural grounds, anticipating that a claim contesting the result might come before the House’s Committee on Elections. Although testimony supporting the claim of violence was presented to the House, it seemed that, under the circumstances, little good would come of an investigation, given the brief time the winner would serve in Congress in any case. Corker served out his term, which ended only a few weeks later.
So, folks, your assignment is this: tell me all you can about this election, its outcome, and its significance. Doubtless this will take a while, but it puts you in the position of being researching historians looking at an example of a southern election where violence was deemed by some people to be decisive in the result. Enjoy … and what are you waiting for?