Tilden thus became the outstanding Democrat in the nation, and in 1876 his party nominated him for President. Rutherford B. Hayes was his Republican opponent. The campaign resulted in one of the most famous election disputes in American history. By a slim margin, Tilden received a majority of the popular vote, but there were double and conflicting returns of electoral votes from Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina and a contest over one Oregon elector. To settle the unusual question, not covered by the Constitution, Congress created an electoral commission of five senators, five representatives, and five Supreme Court justices. Eight were Republicans and seven were Democrats, as plans for one independent failed. The commission, by partisan division, awarded (Mar. 2, 1877) Hayes all the disputed votes, making his total a majority of one (185 to 184). Tilden discouraged further contest. In his will he left a large sum toward establishing a free public library in New York City, and in 1895 this trust was joined with the Astor and Lenox libraries to form the New York Public Library.
See biographies by J. Bigelow (1895) and A. C. Flick (1939, repr. 1963); P. L. Haworth, The Hayes-Tilden Disputed Presidential Election of 1876 (1906, new ed. 1927, repr. 1966); K. Polakoff, Politics of Inertia: The Election of 1876 and the End of Reconstruction (1973); R. Morris, Fraud of the Century: Rutherford B. Hayes, Samuel Tilden, and the Stolen Election of 1876 (2003); W. H. Rehnquist, Centennial Crisis: The Disputed Election of 1876 (2004).