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US History: Election Of 1876 – Rutherford B. Hayes vs. Samuel J. Tilden

1876; In an election that not only saw the United States turn 100 years old but also one of the closest and most consequential elections in the nation’s history and the results of this race will change the direction of the country for generations to come… so with all that said, let’s get into it. It’s Rutherford B. Hayes vs. Samuel J. Tilden.

A Struggling Nation

Ulysses S. Grant’s second term was a difficult one thanks to things like the infamous ‘Colfax Massacre’ which led to around 60-130 people dead to the large number of scandals and corruption that have been plaguing the Grant administration. Grant had actually considered running for a third term as president (making him the first POTUS to do so), but with all of the numerous scandals he decided not to. The economy itself wasn’t doing so good around as it led to a great depression in the financial markets however following the Great Depression of the 1920’s-1930’s, many refer to the financial crisis of the early to mid 1870’s simply as “The Panic of 1873”. So, things don’t look too good for the GOP going into the 1876 election, but they gotta find somebody to run in order to keep the party in the White House.

Hayes For President

A number of Republicans decided to go for the party’s nomination with James Blaine who was a reform minded Senator from Maine looking to be the favorite at first, but most believed that Blaine wouldn’t be able to win the election, so the party ended up nominating the Governor of Ohio, Rutherford B. Hayes. Rutherford was a former Congressman and Civil War veteran in addition to being the Governor of Ohio and his also a reform minded politician which made him look like a popular pick for president amid all the widespread corruption within the country.

Hayes’ running mate was New York Representative, William Wheeler who became known for his integrity and respectability while also being against corruption, so his involvement on the ticket makes Rutherford look even more like a respectable candidate. The platform in which Hayes and Wheeler run on in this election is not only anti-corruption but the continuing support of African American rights in the South and Reconstruction while also running on the standard Republican policies of the day. So, that’s the Republican Party’s pick for president and VP now let’s take a look at the Democrats.

Tilden For President

With the country in shambles due to the economic panic and corruption under President Grant, the Democratic Party was feeling pretty excited going into this election and as such the party nominated on the first ballot, Samuel J. Tilden who was the Governor of New York. Much like Hayes, Tilden was a reformed minded politician who built his career cracking down on the corruption within New York City, most notably when it came to putting the corrupt leader of the Tammany Hall, William Tweed in prison.

Tilden’s running mate was Thomas Hendricks, the Governor of Indiana who also got a lot of electoral votes in 1872 following the unique circumstances surrounding that election. The Democratic platform for this election is to end Reconstruction and do away with the corruption that’s occurred under the previous Republican administration. The party is also supporting ideas of maintaining the Gold Standard and opening free trade with foreign nations while at the same time restricting Asian immigration, opposing land grants for Railroads and a bunch of other policies. Those are the two major candidates in this election, and they surprisingly agree on many issues, so this is looking to be a close race but before we get into campaigns let’s talk about a new political party that’s also running in this election.

The Rise of the Greenback Party

The Greenback Party was a group that got started in the early 1870’s following ‘The Panic of 1873’ with members of this party favoring a form of currency known as “Greenbacks” or paper money which was easier to use for monetary gain than using the gold standard aka using gold as currency which was supported by both the Republicans and the Democrats. The party’s core supporters were mainly farmers, industrial workers, and those middle class who were hurt as a result of the economic crisis. The Greenback party would have a few names running for the nomination but the man who got it was a philanthropist and inventor from New York named Peter Cooper. 

Cooper became famous for building the first locomotive in U.S. history as well as being the oldest person to ever run as a candidate for president as Cooper was 85 years old during this election. His running mate was Samuel Fenton Cary, a former U.S. Representative from Ohio and former Chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor in the House of Representatives. So now that the candidates have been discussed and we’ve mentioned what their platforms are in this race, let’s get into the seedy and underhanded things that occurred in this election.

Intimidation and Shady Tactics

Because this election looked to be a close one, both sides are using some dirty tricks to undermine the other with the Republicans using a tactic called “Waving the Bloody Shirt” which was a reference to the Democratic Party’s involvement in the Civil War and it doesn’t paint the Democrats in a positive light as you can imagine. The Democrats for their part are using intimidation to get the edge as their plan was to scare many African Americans in the South with violence and even death to prevent them from participating in this election.

The most insidious act of intimidation and violence would have to be ‘The Mississippi Plan’ which saw the Democrats using paramilitary groups known as the Red Shirts and the White Man’s League to break up rallies that involved African Americans, bullying many of them from voting and even using pictures of Abraham Lincoln to confuse illiterate voters to accidentally vote for the Democrats, but another bit of shadiness that occurred in this election involved the state of Colorado.

Colorado officially became a state in August of 1876 but when the state legislator ended up choosing electors who voted for Hayes, it was soon discovered that those electors were more bias for Hayes than Tilden. This quickly led to a lot of criticism and it’s also the big reason why state legislators are no longer allowed to choose electors for elections.
Now let’s get into the results… and man is this going to be a doozy.

Disputed Votes & Electoral Commission

By the end of election day, it looked like Samuel Tilden was on his way of receiving about 204 electoral votes to become the new president of the United States as you only needed 185 or more to win this election. Republicans however disputed many of the votes that Tilden got due to the intimidation tactics the Democrats used to suppress African Americans from voting, while the Democrats accuse the Republicans of refusing to count Tilden votes in certain states and giving more votes to Hayes. Eventually, Congress created an electoral commission to figure out exactly who should get the 20 electoral votes that were disputed in the states of Louisiana, Oregon, South Carolina and Florida.

The electoral commission saw 15 elected officials being chosen to make this decision with seven of them being Democrats and seven being Republicans with the last official to be involved in the commission was Supreme Court Justice, David Davis who was Abraham Lincoln’s campaign advisor in 1860 and who also got an electoral vote back in 1872. 

Davis was the only independent to be on the commission and it was unclear who he would support when it came to deciding the winner until it was revealed that the Democrats within the Illinois legislature attempted to bribe Davis by electing him to the U.S. Senate hoping that this would lead to Davis voting with the Democrats.

Unfortunately for the Democrats, Davis excused himself from the commission to take the senate position and another Supreme Court Justice soon replaced him, Joseph Bradley who just so happened to be a Republican and after voting among party lines in an 8-7 decision, Rutherford B. Hayes would get all of the 20 electoral votes and the Democratic Party would completely accept this ruling…Just kidding 

Compromise and Results

Considering it’s been almost 30 years since a Democrat was elected to the White House and the previous two presidential elections saw the GOP win under dubious circumstances, the Democratic Party refuses to go along with the decision made by the electoral commission and this leads to much violence throughout the country with the Democrats threatening to use an endless amount of filibusters to oppose Hayes’ anointment as president and their even going so far as to think about starting a second Civil War.

To settle this matter once and for all, the Republicans commit what some call ‘The Great Betrayal’ when they met with the Democrats at the Wormley’s Hotel to propose a compromise which states that Democrats will allow Hayes to become the new president of the United States and in return the Republicans will withdraw all military troops in the South allowing the Democrats to continue on with their racist white policies as they had done before the civil war. ‘The Compromise of 1877’ as it was called saw the end of the Reconstruction Era and led to the rise of Jim Crow laws being spread throughout the South, which resulted in the segregation and disfranchisement of African Americans for almost an entire century.

As a result of all of this, Rutherford B. Hayes was sworn in as the 19th president of the United States with 185 electoral votes to Samuel J. Tilden’s 184 electoral votes; As if Tilden losing the election in such a way wasn’t bad enough, he beat Rutherford with a more of the popular vote as Tilden got 50.9% to Hayes’ 47.9%. Oh yeah… Peter Cooper and the Greenback Party finished third with no electoral votes and roughly 1% of the popular vote.
Hayes’ victory in the electoral vote is still to this day the smallest win of any U.S. presidential election in history and it also marked the second time since 1824 in which the person who won the popular vote in an election didn’t become president.

So that’s the election of 1876, what a wild and insane ride this was filled with corruption, intimidation, a disputed winner and the future of African Americans in the U.S. being drastically changed for many years to come.

The Election of 1872:  Ulysses S. Grant vs. Horace Greely
The Election Of 1872: Ulysses S. Grant vs. Horace Greeley (blogofwrestling52.blogspot.com)

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