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Between May 1890 and January 1891, members of Congress debated a bill whose sponsors claimed it would shore up voting rights throughout the nation, especially in the South. The Federal Elections Bill of 1890 never became law, but the debate over it drew Americans’ beliefs about voting, race, and the South back to the forefront of U.S. politics. Historians have relied mostly on two types of sources in their explorations of how Americans viewed the bill: newspapers and the words of political leaders. But 202 letters that individuals around the nation sent to Senator George Frisbie Hoar (R-MA) during the bill's nine-month life in Congress open a new window into the debate. These letters challenge the traditional history of the Federal Elections Bill and the late nineteenth century by revealing that issues historians traditionally have limited to the Reconstruction Era, in fact, still mattered profoundly to Americans in 1890.
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