|25th Governor of New York|
January 1, 1875 – December 31, 1876
|Preceded by||John Adams Dix|
|Succeeded by||Lucius Robinson|
|Member of the New York Assembly|
from New York County's 18th district
January 1, 1872 – December 31, 1872
|Preceded by||Leander Buck|
|Succeeded by||Barney Biglin|
|Chair of the New York Democratic Party|
August 1866 – September 1874
|Preceded by||Dean Richmond|
|Succeeded by||Allen C. Beach|
Samuel Jones Tilden|
February 9, 1814
New Lebanon, New York, U.S.
August 4, 1886 (aged 72)|
Yonkers, New York, U.S.
|Resting place||Cemetery of the Evergreens|
New York University
Samuel Jones Tilden (February 9, 1814 – August 4, 1886) was the 25th Governor of New York and the Democratic candidate for president in the disputed election of 1876. He is the first and only individual to win an outright majority of the popular vote in a United States presidential election but lose the election itself, though other candidates have lost despite garnering a plurality of the popular vote. A political reformer, Tilden was a Bourbon Democrat who worked closely with the New York City business community and led the fight against the corruption of Tammany Hall.
Born and raised in New Lebanon, New York, Tilden came from a family that was well off and well known as a maker of patent medicines. He studied at Yale University and New York University School of Law, and became an attorney in New York City in 1841. He became a skilled practitioner of corporate and railroad law, and also served as New York City's corporation counsel and a member of the New York State Assembly in the 1840s. During the years prior to the American Civil War, Tilden counseled patience and compromise with the Southern states on the slavery question. Once the war began, he supported the Union, but was critical of Abraham Lincoln's wartime administration.
As chairman of the New York State Democratic Committee after the war, Tilden initially worked well with the party's Tammany Hall faction, but broke with them over the corruption of the Tweed Ring. After serving again in the state Assembly, Tilden was elected Governor of New York in 1874. Tilden's popularity as governor made him a strong contender for the presidency, and he won the Democratic party's nomination on the second ballot of the 1876 Democratic National Convention. The Republicans nominated Governor Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio. The 1876 presidential election was exceedingly close, with the disputed electoral votes of three Southern states potentially providing victory to either party. Both campaigns were later accused of corruption in their efforts to win the disputed electoral votes. To resolve the contest, Congress created the Electoral Commission, which voted along party lines to declare Hayes the winner. As part of this resolution, leaders of the two parties also reached the Compromise of 1877, in which Hayes promised to end Reconstruction in the South in exchange for Democratic acceptance of the election result. Tilden thus became the second presidential candidate in U.S. history to win the popular vote but lose the presidential election.
Tilden's term as governor ended in December 1876, and he resumed the practice of law, in addition to managing his banking and business ventures. Many expected Tilden to win the 1880 Democratic nomination, but his strength as a candidate was undercut by Republican gains in the New York state elections of 1878 and 1879 and allegations that his supporters had engaged in corruption during the 1876 election dispute. Tilden loomed as a potential candidate prior to the 1884 Democratic National Convention, but he declined to run due to his worsening health. He died at his estate in Yonkers in 1886, and was buried at Cemetery of the Evergreens in New Lebanon. A lifelong bachelor, Tilden at his death was worth over $7 million (nearly $190 million in 2016); among his philanthropic donations was the funding of the institution now known as the New York Public Library. His former home in the Gramercy Park Historic District in New York City houses now the National Arts Club.
Tilden was born in New Lebanon in New York, the youngest of Elam Tilden and Polly Jones Tilden's three sons. He was descended from Nathaniel Tilden, an early English settler who came to America in 1634, and his father and other family members were the makers of Tilden's Extract, a popular patent medicine of the 1800s and early 1900s derived from cannabis.
He studied at Yale University beginning in 1832, with long breaks between classes because of ill health, and he left before graduating. Likely motivated by a family friendship with Benjamin Franklin Butler, then serving as a professor at New York University School of Law, Tilden enrolled there to resume his studies, and he continued to attend intermittently from 1838 to 1841. While studying at NYU, Tilden also read law in the office of attorney John W. Edmonds. He was admitted to the bar in 1841 and became a skilled corporate lawyer, with many railroads as clients during the railway construction boom of the 1850s. His legal practice, combined with shrewd investments, made him rich. Tilden's success at money management and investing caused many of his friends, relatives, and political allies, including Martin Van Buren, to allow Tilden to manage their finances.
From 1843 to 1844, he served as New York City's Corporation Counsel. He was a member of the New York State Assembly (New York Co.) in 1846, and a delegate to the New York State Constitutional Convention of 1846. In 1848, largely on account of his personal attachment to Martin Van Buren, he participated in the revolt of the "Barnburners" or Free-Soil faction of the New York Democrats, which nominated Van Buren for President and helped ensure the defeat of Democrat Lewis Cass and victory by Whig nominee Zachary Taylor. He was among the Barnburners who later returned to the Democratic Party rather than joining the anti-slavery Republican Party. In 1855, Tilden was the unsuccessful candidate of the Soft faction (Barnburners who favored compromise and reconciliation with the Democratic Party) for New York State Attorney General. In 1859 he was an unsuccessful candidate for New York City Corporation Counsel.
In the years immediately preceding the American Civil War, Tilden favored a conciliatory approach to the slave holding states and opposed going to war. Once the war started, Tilden supported the Union, but was critical of Abraham Lincoln's "strong executive" approach to the presidency. After the war, Tilden again favored conciliation and opposed the Radical Republican approach to Reconstruction. He was a delegate to the 1867 New York Constitutional Convention. In 1867, Tilden received the honorary degree of LL.D. from New York University.
Tilden became chairman of the Democratic State Committee after the Civil War. After initially having good relations with William M. Tweed and working closely together with him in the Democratic Party, Tilden came into conflict with the Tweed Ring and the Tammany Hall Democratic organization over its involvement in bribery and corruption.
After breaking with Tammany, Tilden led the reform movement in the Democratic Party, and played a key role in the Tweed Ring's demise. By analyzing the bank accounts of certain members of the Tweed organization, he obtained proof of the principle on which the bribes and graft they took had been distributed, which was used as evidence to convict them in their trials. He was again a member of the New York State Assembly (New York Co., 18th D.) in 1872, and took a leading part in the impeachment of George G. Barnard, a Tweed-connected judge.
Tilden was the successful Democratic nominee for Governor in 1874, receiving 52 percent of the vote against incumbent Republican John Adams Dix and Prohibition Party nominee Myron H. Clark. As a reform-spirited Governor in 1875 and 1876, he turned his attention to a second set of plunderers, the "Canal Ring", made up of members of both parties who had been systematically robbing New York State by overcharging for maintenance and construction of the New York State Canal System. Tilden succeeded in breaking them up.
Tilden's successful service as Governor made him a favorite for the 1876 presidential nomination. Tilden's appeal to the national party was strong: a reputation for reform, his electoral success in a state the Democrats needed to win, a supporter of hard currency, and a skilled organizer whose canvassing system and field knowledge was so thorough that, months before the 1874 election, he'd predicted his own winning margin accurately to within 300 votes. Tilden was also a multi-millionaire who spent freely to promote himself to delegates and voters through advertising and a publicity bureau that created and distributed issue-oriented newspaper and magazine articles. His efforts were successful; with 488 votes required to win the nomination under the Democratic Party's two-thirds rule, Tilden received 401 votes on the first ballot, and won the nomination with 535 on the second. Second place finisher Thomas A. Hendricks was nominated for vice president on the first ballot.
During the 1876 presidential election, Tilden won the popular vote over his Republican opponent, Rutherford B. Hayes, proving that the Democrats were once again competitive in the American political process following the Civil War. But the result in the Electoral College was in question because the states of Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina each sent two sets of electoral votes to Congress. (There was separately a conflict over one elector from Oregon, who was disqualified on a technicality.)
Republicans had taken over the state governments in the South during Reconstruction, but were unpopular with the overwhelmingly Democratic white southerners, many of whom resented what they perceived as interference from the North and blamed the Republicans for the Civil War. However, Republicans were almost universally preferred by the South's newly enfranchised blacks. By 1876 white southerners had regained control of most southern states, but in one state with a black majority (South Carolina) and two with very large black minorities (Louisiana and Florida) Republicans still held power. Democrats used violence and intimidation to keep blacks from the polls, while Democrats claimed that Republicans weren't simply disallowing votes tainted by violence but also legitimate returns that favored Democrats. Both sides claimed victory, though the Democratic claim was tainted by violence and the Republican by fraud. As a result, one set of electors from each of these three states had voted for the Republican Hayes, and another set had voted for the Democrat Tilden. Without these three states, Tilden had won 184 electoral votes, but needed 185 to win the Presidency. If he had taken even one more state, he would have become President. However, if Hayes were to win all the contested states, he would receive 185 electoral votes and win the election.
While the Republicans boldly claimed the election, Tilden mystified and disappointed his supporters by not fighting for the prize or giving any leadership to his advocates. Instead he devoted more than a month to the preparation of a complete history of the electoral counts over the previous century to show it was the unbroken usage of Congress, not of the President of the Senate, to count the electoral votes.
Congressional leaders moved to resolve the crisis by creating a 15-member Electoral Commission on January 25, 1877, which was empowered to determine which set of votes were valid. The Commission consisted of five members from the Republican-controlled Senate (three Republicans and two Democrats), and five from the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives (three Democrats, two Republicans). The remaining five members were chosen from the Supreme Court – originally two Republicans, two Democrats, and independent Justice David Davis. Davis, however, was elected to the US Senate from Illinois, resigned from the Court and turned down the commission appointment. (Ironically, the election of Davis was the brainchild of Tilden's nephew who assumed it would secure his commission vote for the Democratic side.) Justice Joseph P. Bradley, a Republican, was named to replace Davis. The Commission voted 8–7 along party lines to award all the votes to Hayes. Some Democrats threatened to filibuster in the Senate to prevent the electoral votes from being counted, but were dissuaded. Part of resolving the election dispute was the Compromise of 1877, whereby the Democrats agreed to Hayes's election and he agreed to complete the withdrawal of federal troops in the South which had begun during the Ulysses S. Grant administration, bringing an end to Republican Reconstruction in the South. The Compromise of 1877 was in line with views that Hayes had already expressed; in his letter accepting the Republican nomination, he had indicated his desire that the South enjoy "the blessings of honest and capable local government" (but only with guarantees that the states would guard the civil rights of the freedmen).
Upon his defeat, Tilden said, "I can retire to private life with the consciousness that I shall receive from posterity the credit of having been elected to the highest position in the gift of the people, without any of the cares and responsibilities of the office."
Tilden, Al Gore, and Hillary Clinton are the only presidential candidates to win the popular vote without being elected President. Andrew Jackson also lost the 1824 election after winning the popular vote, but he attained the presidency in 1828. In addition, Grover Cleveland won the popular vote in all three elections in which he was the Democratic nominee – 1884, 1888, and 1892—but lost the presidency in 1888 because Republican nominee Benjamin Harrison won more electoral votes.
Congress appointed an investigating committee during its 1877 session. This panel, chaired by Democratic Congressman Clarkson Nott Potter of New York, investigated allegations of fraud and corruption in the three contested states. Rather than produce conclusive evidence of Republican malfeasance, as Tilden's supporters hoped, the committee exonerated Tilden of wrongdoing, but uncovered conflicting evidence that showed state election officials of both parties and members of both campaigns in an unfavorable light.
For ten months beginning in May 1878, the Potter Committee subpoenaed all telegrams sent by political operatives during the election dispute. 29,275 telegrams had been sent; all but 641 had been routinely destroyed by Western Union. However, the remaining telegrams were in cipher, as was common with business and political communication in the telegraph era, and nothing could be made of them. 27 of these telegrams were leaked to the Tribune.
In summer 1878, Tribune editor Whitelaw Reid published several of the enciphered telegrams in response to Tilden ally Manton Marble, who had publicly compared the alleged secrecy of Republicans with Tilden's supposed openness. Reid implied that the ciphering of the messages showed Democratic hypocrisy, and suggested that Republicans try to decipher the messages in order to learn their content. Other Republicans sent him additional ciphered telegrams. Eventually, nearly 400 telegrams were deciphered, mostly by Reid's Tribune staff. In October, the Tribune published the story of the Democratic effort to sway election officials in the three disputed states, including the ciphered text of the messages and the details of the decryption.
The telegrams revealed intriguing by Democrats, though most of it was ineffective. Marble reported an offer from Florida's governor and election board (all Republicans) to fix the results for Tilden for $200,000; the Democrats responded "Proposition too high" and offered $50,000. Another Democratic agent asked for $10,000 to bribe a Republican elector in Oregon; the funds were not forthcoming. There were also Democratic contacts with the election boards in Louisiana and South Carolina.
All these negotiations fell through, due to delays in communication, time required to raise the money, and the December deadline for states to report their results. But the revelation of the attempts reflected poorly on the Democrats, who lost some of the moral authority behind their argument that Tilden had been cheated out of the presidency. In the 1878 elections, voter unhappiness with these revelations led to Republicans gaining eight U.S. House seats in New York, which undercut the argument that Tilden should be renominated in 1880 because he was the only candidate strong enough to carry the largest state in the Union for the Democrats. Republicans also won the governorship of New York in 1879, further undercutting the argument that Tilden could carry New York in 1880.
Many of the telegrams Reid published had been sent or received by Tilden's secretary and nephew, Colonel William Pelton, at Tilden's New York residence. Tilden appeared voluntarily before a Congressional sub-committee in New York City, and under oath denied all knowledge of the dispatches. There was no definite evidence to show otherwise, but his reputation for honesty suffered; Tilden was still presumably the strongest candidate leading up to the 1880 Democratic National Convention, but the Republican gains in New York, the damage to his image as an honest politician, and failing health all combined to dissuade him from running, and he withdrew from contention.
Tilden retired in the early 1880s, living as a near-recluse at his 110-acre (0.45 km2) estate, Graystone (Greystone), in Yonkers, New York. He died a bachelor at Greystone on August 4, 1886, at 8 am. He is buried at Cemetery of the Evergreens in New Lebanon, Columbia County, New York. In reference to the 1876 election, Tilden's gravestone bears the words, "I Still Trust The People".
Of his fortune, estimated at $7 million (over $190 million in 2016), $4 million (over $108 million in 2016) was bequeathed for the establishment and maintenance of a free public library and reading-room in the City of New York; but, as the will was successfully contested by relatives, only about $3 million (over $81 million in 2014) was applied to its original purpose. In 1895, the Tilden Trust was combined with the Astor and Lenox libraries to found the New York Public Library, whose building bears his name on its front.
|New York Assembly|
| Member of the New York Assembly
from New York County's 18th district
|Party political offices|
| Democratic nominee for Governor of New York
| Chair of the New York Democratic Party
Allen C. Beach
| Democratic nominee for President of the United States
Winfield Scott Hancock
John Adams Dix
| Governor of New York
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