The Disputed United States Presidential
The disputed United States presidential election of 1876 was held on November 7, 1876, where Republican Rutherford B. Hayes defeated Democrat Samuel J. Tilden. Preliminary returns showed Tilden led Hayes by more than 260,000 popular votes and Tilden had 184 electoral votes to Hayes’ 165. There were 19 electoral votes undecided for Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina, along with one from Oregon which was originally awarded to Tilden. The U.S. Congress eventually created an Electoral Commission which then resolved the issue of disputed electoral votes by March 1877, and ultimately gave the votes to Hayes which made him the victor with a count of 185 to 184 electoral votes.
The Democrats were looking for a candidate for the presidential election of 1876 who would be competitive against the Republican’s Ulysses S. Grant who had won the two previous elections. The Democrats had won control of the House of Representatives in 1874, so entered 1876 on a positive note.
The Republicans held their convention in Cincinnati, Ohio, in June and their favorite for nomination was James G. Blaine of Maine who was the current speaker of the House of Representatives. Some Republicans did not want Blaine and offered challengers such as Roscoe Conkling, a New York senator and significant leader during post-Civil War. Another was Oliver Morton, Indiana senator and former governor. Benjamin Helm Bristow was mentioned as U.S. secretary of the Treasury and a prosecutor of the Whiskey Ring. And Rutherford B. Hayes the governor of Ohio. After the withdrawal of Bristow, Conkling, and Morton, Hayes secured the Republican nomination with William A. Wheeler, a New York senator, as his running mate. The Republicans were moving forward with a candidate that had a spotless public record and high morals. He also had a deep sympathy toward the South that was appealing to the Convention attendees. This was a strong contrast to the corruption accusations within the Grant administration.
The Democrats held their convention west of the Mississippi in St. Louis, Missouri. The governor of New York, Samuel J. Tilden won the Democratic nomination. Thomas A. Hendricks was chosen as Tilden’s running mate.
The 1876 presidential election happened in the middle of the economic depression in the United States. There was sectional animosity in the South. Republican folks were weary of Reconstruction and believed it was time to compromise with the Southern white folks. The Republicans believed they needed to protect all citizens as they enjoyed their rights as free citizens. The Democratic party was criticized for its lack of enforcing civil rights. Although the Democrats rallied back in the belief that the party would instill truth which would lead to success and the practice of having honor leading to sharing human rights.
The Democrats also wanted reform of the federal government away from the accusations of a dirty government. They wanted a “permanence of the Federal Union” beyond a president’s term. It was also working towards civil services changes and limits on Chinese immigration into the United States.
Towards the end of Election day in 1876, Tilden was leading Hayes by more than 260,000 votes and was predicted to win on the electoral side too. Tilden took his home state of New York, captured most of the South’s votes, several border states, and many northeast states. Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina with a combination of 19 electoral votes were in doubt. One of Oregon’s electors was also in question although it had previously been given to Tilden.
It was reported that Hayes was ready to concede to Tilden until William E. Chandler, a New Hampshire Republican, noticed that if the questionable votes were awarded to Hayes, he would actually win 185 to 184 votes. The uncertainty continued into December 1876. On December 7, 1876, the date for Congress to convene, electoral reports were revealed that listed both sides as the victor.
With fears of another civil war breaking out, Congress created the Electoral Commission on January 29, 1877. The Commission’s duty was to break the deadlock and pronounce a winner. The Commission was set up to have 5 members from the House of Representatives, 5 from the Senate, and five from the Supreme Court. Within those numbers, 7 were to be Democrats, 7 Republicans, and one independent who would be Supreme Court Justice David Davis. Davis refused to service and Republican Joseph P. Bradley was named in his place.
Bradley leaned to backing Tilden, but was swayed to back Hayes while the Republicans made secret deals with Southern Democrats if they voted for Hayes. Every action of the Commission counted a vote of 8 to 7 in favor of Hayes. The final decision was made on a Sunday, March 4, 1877, and Hayes was declared the next President of the United States with that narrow margin of 185 to 184. Hayes was sworn in privately on March 4th with the public swearing in taking place on March 5th.
The decision of Hayes being the next President was met with anger and disapproval by many northern Democrats. The southern Democrats were somewhat satisfied as Hayes attempted to make good on the secret deals made during the voting dispute. The deals included removing federal troops from southern states which would end the Reconstruction plan. Democrats then controlled the majority of the South.
Hayes stood by his word to not run for re-election and only served one term as President. Following his term as President, he retired to his home in Ohio, and became a supporter of social and educational reform.