On This Day

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Library of Congress Brady-Handy Collection
Rutherford B. Hayes

On This Day: Rutherford B. Hayes Named Winner Over Samuel Tilden in 1876 Presidential Election

March 02, 2012 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On March 2, 1877, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes was declared the winner of the 1876 presidential election over Democrat Samuel J. Tilden in one of the most disputed elections in American history.

The Election of 1876

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On the election night of Nov. 7, 1876, it appeared that Democrat Samuel J. Tilden, the governor of New York, would defeat his Republican challenger, Ohio Gov. Rutherford B. Hayes. Both candidates went to bed believing that Tilden was the winner, but Gen. Daniel Sickles, a former congressman who stopped by Republican headquarters, saw a path to victory for Hayes. Using the name of Republican national chairman Zachariah Chandler, he telegraphed Republican leaders in four states (South Carolina, Louisiana, Florida and Oregon) where the results were close, telling them, “With your state sure for Hayes, he is elected. Hold your state.”

John C. Reid, the managing editor of The New York Times and a staunch Republican supporter, also joined Republican efforts, sending off additional telegrams to close states. While many paper called the election for Tilden, the Times declared that the election was in doubt in its Wednesday edition and proclaimed a victory for Hayes in its Thursday edition.

Without the 19 electoral votes of Florida, South Carolina and Louisiana, Tilden, who also won the popular vote by a margin of 51 percent to 48 percent, had fallen one vote shy of the necessary 185 for election. Tilden had carried all three states, but there were many instances of voter fraud and voter intimidation (primarily toward black voters, who were likely to support Republicans). The Republican felt confident that Hayes could win e all three states, as each had a Republican-controlled returning board with the power to throw out contested votes.

There was also controversy in Oregon, a state carried by Hayes. The Democratic governor disqualified one of the three Republican electors, postmaster John Watts, on the grounds that he held a federal office and replaced him with a Democrat.

State electors cast their ballots on Dec. 6. Both Democrat and Republican electors cast conflicting votes in the four contested states, leaving Tilden with 184 votes and Hayes with 165, with 20 still contested.

Congress decided to settle the dispute by creating a 15-member Electoral Commission made up of five Democratic congressmen, five Republican congressmen and five Supreme Court justices: two Democrats, two Republicans and a fifth chosen by the four. The original fifth justice was a moderate, David Davis, but before the commission could convene, he was elected to the Illinois state Senate by Democrats hoping to influence his vote. Instead, Davis resigned from the commission and the commission had to replace him with one of the four remaining justices, all of whom were Republican. In February, the commission decided in a series of party-line 8-7 votes to award all 20 contested electoral votes to Hayes, giving him the election.

The Democrat-controlled House conducted filibusters to delay the election results from becoming official. Ultimately the dispute was settled with a deal known as the Compromise of 1877. Democrats agreed to drop their objections to Hayes’ election in exchange for the Hayes administration appointing a Democratic postmaster-general and agreeing to remove federal troops from state government buildings in Florida, South Carolina and Louisiana. The decision to remove federal troops effectively ended the federal government’s Reconstruction efforts.
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