The United States presidential election of 1876 was one of the most disputed and intense presidential elections in American history. Samuel J. Tilden of New York defeated Ohio's Rutherford Hayes in the popular vote, and had 184 electoral votes to Hayes' 165, with 20 votes yet uncounted. These 20 electoral votes were in dispute: in three states (Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina) each party reported its candidate had won the state, while in Oregon one elector was declared illegal (on account of being an "elected or appointed official") and replaced. The votes were ultimately awarded to Hayes after a bitter electoral dispute.
Many historians believe that an informal deal was struck to resolve the dispute. In return for Southern acquiescence in Hayes' election, the Republicans agreed to withdraw federal troops from the South, effectively ending Reconstruction. This deal became known as the Compromise of 1877. The Compromise effectively pushed African-Americans out of power in the government; soon after the compromise, African-Americans were barred from voting by poll taxes and grandfather clauses.
When the 6th Republican National Convention assembled in Cincinnati on June 14, 1876, it appeared that James G. Blaine of Maine would be the nominee. On the first ballot, Blaine was just 100 votes short of a majority. His vote began to slide after the second ballot, as many Republicans feared that Blaine could not win the general election. Anti-Blaine delegates could not agree on a candidate until Blaine's total rose to 41% on the sixth ballot. Leaders of the reform Republicans met privately and considered alternatives. The choice was Ohio's reform Governor, Rutherford B. Hayes. On the seventh ballot, Hayes was nominated with 384 votes to 351 for Blaine and 21 for Benjamin Bristow. William Wheeler was nominated for Vice President by a much larger margin (366-89) over his chief rival, who would later serve as a member of the electoral commission: Frederick T. Frelinghuysen.
|Vice Presidential Ballot|
|William A. Wheeler||366|
|Frederick T. Frelinghuysen||89|
|Stewart L. Woodford||70|
|Joseph R. Hawley||25|
The 12th Democratic National Convention assembled in St. Louis just nine days after the conclusion of the Republican National Convention. The convention opened with three contenders, Bourbon Democrat Samuel J. Tilden of New York, Thomas Hendricks of Indiana and Union General Winfield S. Hancock of Pennsylvania. Tilden led on the first vote, but was strongly opposed by John Kelley, the leader of New York's Tammany Hall. Kelley's opposition was not enough to stop the nomination, and Tilden won on the second ballot. Thomas Hendricks was picked to be Tilden's running mate.
|Samuel J. Tilden||401.5||535|
|Thomas A. Hendricks||140.5||85|
|Winfield Scott Hancock||75||58|
|Thomas F. Bayard||33||4|
|Allen G. Thurman||3||2|
|Vice Presidential Ballot|
|Thomas A. Hendricks||730|
Tilden, who had prosecuted machine politicians in New York and sent legendary boss William Tweed to jail, ran as a reform candidate against the background of the Grant administration. Both parties backed civil service reform and an end to Reconstruction. Both sides mounted mud-slinging campaigns, with Democratic attacks on Republican corruption being countered by Republicans raising the Civil War issue, a tactic ridiculed by Democrats who called it "waving the bloody shirt". Republicans chanted, "Not every Democrat was a rebel, but every rebel was a Democrat".
Because it was considered improper for a candidate to actively pursue the presidency, neither Tilden nor Hayes actively stumped as part of the campaign, leaving that job to surrogates.
Colorado had become the 38th state on August 1, 1876. With insufficient time and money to organize a presidential election in the new state, Colorado's state legislature selected the state's electors. These electors in turn gave their three votes to Hayes and the Republican Party.
In Florida (4 votes), Louisiana (8) and South Carolina (7), reported returns favored Tilden, but election results in each state were marked by fraud and threats of violence against Republican voters. One of the points of contention revolved around the design of ballots. At the time parties would print ballots or "tickets" to enable voters to support them in the open ballots. To aid illiterate voters the parties would print symbols on the tickets. However in this election many Democratic ballots were printed with the Republican symbol, Abraham Lincoln, on them. The Republican-dominated state electoral commissions subsequently disallowed a sufficient number of Democratic votes to award their electoral votes to Hayes.
In the two southern states the governor recognized by the United States had signed the Republican certificates. The Democratic certificates from Florida were signed by the state attorney-general and the new Democratic governor; those from Louisiana by the Democratic gubernatorial candidate; those from South Carolina by no state official, the Tilden electors simply claiming to have been chosen by the popular vote and rejected by the returning board.
Meanwhile, in Oregon, just a single elector was disputed. The statewide result clearly had favored Hayes, but the state's Democratic Governor (LaFayette Grover) claimed that that elector, just-former postmaster John Watts, was ineligible under Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, since he was a "person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States". Grover then substituted a Democratic elector in his place. The two Republican electors dismissed Grover's action and each reported three votes for Hayes, while the Democratic elector, C. A. Cronin, reported one vote for Tilden and two votes for Hayes. The two Republican electors presented a certificate signed by the secretary of state. Cronin and the two electors he appointed (Cronin voted for Tilden while his associates voted for Hayes) used a certificate signed by the governor and attested by the secretary of state. Ultimately, all three of Oregon's votes were awarded to Hayes.
Hayes had a majority of one in the electoral college. The Democrats raised the cry of fraud. Suppressed excitement pervaded the country. Threats were even muttered that Hayes would never be inaugurated. In Columbus, somebody fired a shot at Hayes's house as he sat down to dinner. President Grant quietly strengthened the military force in and around Washington.
The Constitution provides that "the President of the Senate shall, in presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the [electoral] certificates, and the votes shall then be counted." Certain Republicans held that the power to count the votes lay with the President of the Senate, the House and Senate being mere spectators. The Democrats objected to this construction, since Mr. Ferry, the Republican president of the Senate, could then count the votes of the disputed states for Hayes. The Democrats insisted that Congress should continue the practice followed since 1865, which was that no vote objected to should be counted except by the concurrence of both houses. The House was strongly Democratic; by throwing out the vote of one state it could elect Tilden.
Facing an unprecedented constitutional crisis, on January 29, 1877, the U.S. Congress passed a law forming a 15-member Electoral Commission to settle the result. Five members came from each house of Congress, and they were joined by five members of the Supreme Court. William M. Evarts served as counsel for the Republican Party. The Compromise of 1877 may have helped the Democrats accept this electoral commission as well.
The majority party in each house named three members and the minority party two. As the Republicans controlled the Senate and the Democrats the House of Representatives, this yielded five Democratic and five Republican members of the Commission. Of the Supreme Court justices, two Republicans and two Democrats were chosen, with the fifth to be selected by these four.
The justices first selected a political independent, Justice David Davis. According to one historian, "[n]o one, perhaps not even Davis himself, knew which presidential candidate he preferred." Just as the Electoral Commission Bill was passing Congress, the Legislature of Illinois elected Davis to the Senate. Democrats in the Illinois Legislature believed that they had purchased Davis' support by voting for him. However, they had made a miscalculation; instead of staying on the Supreme Court so that he could serve on the Commission, he promptly resigned as a Justice in order to take his Senate seat. All the remaining available justices were Republicans, so the four justices already selected chose Justice Joseph P. Bradley, who was considered the most impartial remaining member of the court. This selection proved decisive.
It was drawing perilously near to inauguration day. The commission met on the last day of January. The cases of Florida, Louisiana, Oregon, and South Carolina were in succession submitted to it by Congress. Eminent counsel appeared for each side. There were double sets of returns from every one of the States named.
The commission first decided not to go behind any returns which were prima facie lawful. Bradley joined the other seven Republican committee members in a series of 8-7 votes that gave all 20 disputed electoral votes to Hayes, giving Hayes a 185-184 electoral vote victory. The commission adjourned on March 2; two days later Hayes was inaugurated without disturbance.
The returns accepted by the Commission placed Hayes' victory margin in South Carolina at 889 votes, making this the second-closest election in U.S. history, after the 2000 election, decided by 537 votes in Florida.
Source (Electoral Vote):