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|Presidential election results map. Red denotes states won by Hayes/Wheeler, Blue denotes those won by Tilden/Hendricks. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes allotted to each state.|
The United States presidential election of 1876 was the 23rd quadrennial presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 7, 1876. It was one of the most contentious and controversial presidential elections in American history. The results of the election remain among the most disputed ever, although there is no question that Samuel J. Tilden of New York outpolled Ohio's Rutherford B. Hayes in the popular vote. After a first count of votes, it was clear that Tilden had won 184 electoral votes to Hayes's 165, with 20 votes unresolved. These 20 electoral votes were in dispute in four states: in the case of 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 replaced. The question of who should have been awarded these electoral votes is the source of the continued controversy concerning the results of this election.
An informal deal was struck to resolve the dispute: the Compromise of 1877, which awarded all 20 electoral votes to Hayes. In return for the Democrats' acquiescence in Hayes's election, the Republicans agreed to withdraw federal troops from the South, ending Reconstruction. The Compromise effectively ceded power in the Southern states to the Democratic Redeemers.
This was the first presidential election in 20 years in which the Democratic candidate won a majority of the popular vote. This is also the only election in which a candidate for president received more than 50 percent of the popular vote but was not elected president by the Electoral College, and one of four elections in which the person receiving the largest proportion of the popular vote lost the electoral vote.
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 A. Wheeler was nominated for vice-president by a much larger margin (366–89), and then amidst the balloting through acclamation, over his chief rival, Frederick Theodore Frelinghuysen, who later served as a member of the electoral commission that awarded the election to Hayes.
|James G. Blaine||285||296||293||292||286||308||351|
|Oliver P. Morton||124||120||113||108||95||85||0|
|Rutherford B. Hayes||61||64||67||68||104||113||384|
|John F. Hartranft||58||63||68||71||69||50||0|
|William A. Wheeler||3||3||2||2||2||2||0|
|Elihu B. Washburne||0||1||1||3||3||4||0|
|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 in June 1876, the the first political convention held west of the Mississippi River. Five thousand people jammed the auditorium in St. Louis hoping for the Democrats' first presidential victory in 20 years. The platform called for immediate and sweeping reforms following the scandal-plagued Grant administration. Tilden won more than 400 votes on the first ballot and the nomination by a landslide on the second.
Tilden defeated Thomas A. Hendricks, Winfield Scott Hancock, William Allen, Thomas F. Bayard, and Joel Parker for the presidential nomination. Although Tilden was strongly opposed by "Honest John" Kelly, the leader of New York's Tammany Hall, he was still able to obtain the nomination. Thomas Hendricks was nominated for vice-president since he was the only person put forward for the position.
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. It also called for treaty protection for naturalized U.S. citizens visiting their homeland, restrictions on Oriental immigration, tariff reform, and opposition to land grants for railroads.
|1st Before Shifts||1st After Shifts||2nd Before Shifts||2nd After Shifts||Unanimous|
|Samuel J. Tilden||401.5||417.5||535||534||738|
|Thomas A. Hendricks||140.5||140.5||85||60|
|Winfield Scott Hancock||75||75||58||59|
|Thomas F. Bayard||33||33||4||11|
|Allen G. Thurman||0||0||2||2|
Source: Official proceedings of the National Democratic convention, held in St. Louis, Mo., June 27th, 28th and 29th, 1876. (September 3, 2012).
|Vice Presidential Ballot|
|Thomas A. Hendricks||730|
Source: Official proceedings of the National Democratic convention, held in St. Louis, Mo., June 27th, 28th and 29th, 1876. (September 3, 2012).
The 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 greenbacks. Their first national nominating convention was held in Indianapolis in the spring of 1876. Peter Cooper was 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 Fenton Cary as his replacement on the ticket. Cooper was 85 years old at the time of his nomination, thus the oldest person ever nominated by a political party to serve as President of the United States.
This small political party used several different names, often with different names in different states. It was a continuation of the Anti-Masonic Party that met in 1872 and nominated Charles F. Adams for president. When Adams declined to run, the party did not contest the 1872 election.
The convention was held from June 8–10, 1875, in Liberty Hall, Pittsburgh. B.T. Roberts of New York served as chairman, and Jonathan Blanchard was the keynote speaker.
The platform supported the Reconstruction Amendments to the Constitution, international arbitration, the reading of the scriptures in public schools, specie payments, justice for the American Indians, abolition of the Electoral College, and prohibition of the sale of alcoholic beverages. It declared the first day of the week to be a day of rest for the United States. The platform opposed secret societies and monopolies.
The convention considered three potential presidential nominees: Charles F. Adams, Jonathan Blanchard, and James B. Walker. When Blanchard declined to run, Walker was unanimously nominated. The convention then nominated Donald Kirkpatrick of New York unanimously for vice-president.
Tilden, who had prosecuted machine politicians in New York and sent legendary political boss William M. Tweed to jail, ran as a reform candidate against the background of the corruption 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." The Democratic strategy for victory in the south was highly reliant on paramilitary groups such as the Red Shirts and the White League. Using the strategy of the Mississippi Plan, these groups actively suppressed black and white Republican voter turnouts 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 pursue the presidency actively, neither Tilden nor Hayes actively stumped as part of the campaign, leaving that job to surrogates.
Colorado became the 38th state on August 1, 1876. With insufficient time or 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 (with 4 electoral votes), Louisiana (with 8), and South Carolina (with 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. In this election, however, 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 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 were signed by the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, and those from South Carolina by no state official. In the latter state, the Tilden electors simply claimed that they were chosen by the popular vote and so they were rejected by the state election board.
Meanwhile, in Oregon, the vote of a single elector was disputed. The statewide result clearly had favored Hayes, but the state's Democratic governor, La Fayette Grover, claimed that that elector, former postmaster John Watts, was ineligible under Article II, Section 1, of the United States 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 of Oregon. 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 thus had a majority of one in the Electoral College. The Democrats cried fraud. Suppressed excitement pervaded the country. Threats were even muttered that Hayes would never be inaugurated. In Columbus, Ohio, a shot was fired at Governor Hayes' residence 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, the U.S. Congress passed a law on January 29, 1877, forming a 15-member Electoral Commission to settle the result. Five members were selected 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's 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 question any returns that 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 put Hayes' margin of victory in South Carolina at 889 votes, making this the second-closest election (by popular vote) in U.S. history, after the 2000 election, decided by 537 votes in Florida (though in 2000, the declared margin of victory in the Electoral College for George W. Bush was five votes to Hayes' one).
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 made 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 European-Americans in the South during this time voted Democratic). Regardless, Hayes would be the last Republican until Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956 to win the electoral votes of Louisiana and the last Republican until Barry M. Goldwater in 1964 to carry South Carolina (both of these states were carried by Strom Thurmond, nominee of the third-party "States' Rights Democrats," in 1948). Florida, with a majority white population, would have likely gone to Tilden in a fair election. It is therefore likely that Hayes would have won appreciably more of the popular vote in a fair election, perhaps even a plurality or majority.
Upon his defeat, Tilden said, "I can retire to public 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."
Reflecting the Commission's rulings.
Of the 2,249 counties/independent cities making returns, Tilden won in 1,301 (57.85%) while Hayes carried only 947 (42.11%). One county (0.04%) in Nevada split evenly between Tilden and Hayes.
|Presidential candidate||Party||Home state||Popular vote||Electoral
|Count||Pct||Vice-presidential candidate||Home state||Elect. vote|
|Rutherford B. Hayes||Republican||Ohio||4,034,142||47.92%||185||William A. Wheeler||New York||185|
|Samuel J. Tilden||Democratic||New York||4,286,808||50.92%||184||Thomas A. Hendricks||Indiana||184|
|Peter Cooper||Greenback||New York||83,726||0.99%||0||Samuel Fenton Cary||Ohio||0|
|Green Clay Smith||Prohibition||Kentucky||6,945||0.08%||0||Gideon T. Stewart||Ohio||0|
|James Walker||American National Party||Illinois||463||0.01%||0||Donald Kirkpatrick||New York||0|
|Needed to win||185||185|
Source (Popular Vote): Leip, David. 1876 Presidential Election Results. Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections (July 27, 2005). Source (Electoral Vote): Electoral College Box Scores 1789–1996. Official website of the National Archives. (July 31, 2005).
|States won by Tilden/Hendricks|
|States won by Hayes/Wheeler|
|Samuel J. Tilden
|Rutherford B. Hayes
Margin of victory less than 5% (171 electoral votes):
Margin of victory between 5% and 10% (33 electoral votes):
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