W OOD began the Forty-second Congress with a signal honor. House Democrats selected him as permanent caucus chairman and titular leader. Since the caucus developed party positions on major issues and set floor strategy, Wood was now a true policymaker, ready to mold the Democratic minority into an effective force. Republican disarray accentuated his opportunity. Grant faced a one-term presidency because Liberals and Regulars were hopelessly fractured over general amnesty, tariff reform, civil service, and a new Southern policy.1
Wood itched to demonstrate his leadership capabilities. As he wrote Hoffman, "My own experience in organization has enabled me to give direction and force to our movements." His was not an idle boast. Crafting tactics with his usual care, Wood demanded that Democrats attend every session to form "an unbroken opposition front." The result, he continued to Hoffman, gave Democrats, "a close compact organization which enables us to act efficiently in taking advantage of the mistakes of the enemy."2.
The consequences of Wood's leadership soon became critical. After Congress had sent the Fifteenth Amendment to the states for ratification in February 1869, Democrats split into three camps. Most pragmatic white Southerners acquiesced as the means to end Reconstruction and believed they would eventually control black voters. Extremists largely from the Border States, led by Senator Francis P. Blair, Jr., of Missouri, fought ratification on virulent racial grounds. Centrists followed the example of the New York Democracy which initially opposed the amendment. In March 1870, when all signs indicated that the amendment had sufficient votes, the Democratic-controlled legislature enacted a symbolic law that ended restrictions on black voters to emphasize that the principle of states' rights prevented any further federal interference with home rule.
Democratic extremists did not accept this reasoning. In 1870 they forced congressional Democrats to issue an annual address laced with generalities about the amendment. In April 1871 extremists prepared another statement, this one