The United States presidential election of 1876
was one of the most disputed presidential elections
in American history. Samuel J.
of New York outpolled Ohio's
Rutherford B. Hayes
in the popular vote, and had 184
Hayes' 165, with 20 votes 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 (as an "elected or appointed official") and
The 20 disputed electoral votes were ultimately
awarded to Hayes after a bitter legal and political battle, giving
him the victory.
Many historians believe that an informal deal was struck to resolve
the dispute: the Compromise of
. In return for Democrat acquiescence in Hayes' election,
the Republicans agreed to withdraw federal troops from the South,
Compromise effectively ceded power in the Southern states to the
Republican Party nomination
Image:President Rutherford Hayes 1870 - 1880 Restored.jpg|Governor Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio
Image:JamesGBlaine.png|Senator James G. Blaine of Maine
Image:Benjamin Helm Bristow, Brady-Handy bw
photo portrait, ca 1870-1880.jpg|Secretary of the Treasury
Bristow of Kentucky
Image:Oliver Hazard Perry Morton -
Morton of IndianaImage:RConkling.jpg|Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York
Hayes/Wheeler campaign poster
When the 6th Republican National Convention assembled on June 14,
1876, it appeared that James G. Blaine 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
nominated for Vice President by a much larger margin (366-89) over
his chief rival, Frederick
later served as a member of the electoral commission.
Democratic Party nomination
Image:SamuelJTilden.png|Governor Samuel J. Tilden of New York
Image:ThomasAHendricks-small.png|Governor Thomas A. Hendricks of IndianaImage:WinfieldSHancock.png|Major General Winfield Scott Hancock of
PennsylvaniaImage:WilliamAllen.png|Former Governor William Allen of Ohio
Tilden/Hendricks campaign poster
The 12th Democratic National Convention assembled in St. Louis in
June 1876. This was the first political convention held west of the
Mississippi River. Five thousand people jammed the auditorium in
St. Louis, for the sweet smell of victory was in the air, the first
in twenty years for the Democrats. The platform, with its sharp cry
for immediate and sweeping reforms, sent the delegates into an
ecstasy of political fervor. The historical conjuction of Tilden,
the country's greatest reformer, with the crying need for reform
brought Tilden more than four hundred votes on the first ballot and
the nomination by a landslide on the second.
Tilden defeated Thomas Hendricks
Winfield S. Hancock
, and William Allen
for the Presidential
nomination. Although Tilden was strongly opposed by John Kelly
, the leader of New
York's Tammany Hall
, he was still able
to obtain the nomination. Thomas Hendricks was nominated for Vice
The Democratic platform pledged to replace the corruption of the
Grant administration with honest, efficient government and to end
"the rapacity of carpetbag tyrannies" in the South; called for
treaty protection for naturalized U.S. citizens visiting their
homeland, restrictions on Oriental immigration, and tariff reform;
and opposed land grants to railroads.
It is claimed that Tilden's nomination was received by the voting
Democrats with more enthusiasm than any leader since Andrew Jackson
Source: US President - D Convention
. (August 26, 2009).
Source: US Vice President - D Convention
. (August 26, 2009).
Greenback Party nomination
Greenback Party had
been organized by agricultural interests in Indianapolis in 1874 to urge the federal government to inflate
the economy through the mass issuance of paper money called
national nominating convention was held in Indianapolis in the
spring of 1876. Peter Cooper
nominated for President with 352 votes to 119 for three other
contenders. The convention nominated anti-monopolist Senator Newton Booth of California for vice president; after Booth declined to run,
the national committee chose Samuel
as his replacement
on the ticket.
The Prohibition Party
, in its
second national convention, nominated Green Clay Smith
as their presidential
candidate and Gideon T. Stewart
as their vice presidential
candidate. The American National Party nominated the ticket of
James B. Walker
and Donald Kirkpatrick
The election was hotly contested, as
can be seen by this poster published in 1877
A certificate for the electoral vote
for Rutherford B.
Wheeler for the State of Louisiana
Tilden, who had prosecuted machine politicians in New York and sent
legendary boss William Tweed
ran as a reform candidate against the background of the Grant
administration. Both parties backed
civil service reform and an end to Reconstruction
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".The Democratic strategy for victory in the
south was highly reliant on paramilitary groups such as the
Redshirts and White League. Utilizing the strategy of the
Mississippi plan, these groups actively suppressed black and white
Republican voter turnout by disrupting meetings and rallies and
even using violence and intimidation. They saw themselves as the
military wing of the Democratic Party.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.
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
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
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.
served as counsel for the
Republican Party. The Compromise of
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
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.
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
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 question any returns that were
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
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. Also, Tilden became the first
presidential candidate in American history to lose in the electoral
college despite winning a majority of the popular vote.
It is not possible to conclude definitively what the result would
have been if a fair election had been held without the violence and
intimidation, throughout the South, that disenfranchised many
African-Americans explicitly eligible to vote under the 15th
amendment. Nevertheless, in the likeliest fair scenario Hayes would
have won the election with 189 electoral votes to Tilden's 180 by
winning all of the states that he did ultimately carry, plus
Mississippi but minus Florida. A strong case can be made that South
Carolina, Louisiana, and Mississippi, states with an outright
majority African-American population, would have gone for Hayes
since nearly all African-Americans during this time voted
Republican (while nearly all whites in the South during this time
voted Democratic). Florida, with a majority white population, would
have likely gone to Tilden in a fair election. Clearly Hayes would
have won appreciably more of the popular vote in a fair election,
albeit arguably still not a plurality or majority.
Reflecting the Commission's rulings.
Source (Popular Vote):Source (Electoral
- William DeGregorio, The Complete Book of U.S.
Presidents, Gramercy 1997
- They Also
- Morris, Roy, Jr. (2003). Fraud Of The Century. Rutherford
B. Hayes, Samuel Tilden And The Stolen Election Of 1876. New
York: Simon and Schuster.
- "Hayes v. Tilden: The Electoral College Controversy of
- John Bigelow, Nikki Oldaker Revised Edition of Volume II
The Life of Samuel J. Tilden. (2009). 444 pages,
Hardcover with Dust Jacket - $35.85 ISBN 978-0-9786698-1-2
- Holt, Michael F. By One Vote: The Disputed Presidential
Election of 1876. (2008). 304 pages, ISBN
- Nikki Oldaker with John Bigelow, 2006, "Samuel Tilden the Real
19th President" http://www.SamuelTilden.com