Dickinson College, Spring 2024

Tag: 1870s

Election of 1876: Down to One Vote

Republican Nomination in the 1876 Election

“Another danger is imminent – a contested result. And we have no such means for its decision as ought to be provided by law. This must be attended to hereafter. We should not be allowed another Presidential election to occur before a means for settling a contest is provided.” – Governor Rutherford B. Hays in October 1876

The election of 1876 has been agreed upon to be one of the most disputed elections in the history of the United States. On that Election Day, November 7, 1876, both political parties assumed that the Democratic Party had secured victory for the presidential race. The election was between two major politicians, Governor Samuel J. Tilden on the Democratic side and Governor Rutherford B. Hayes as the Republican nomination.

As a Whig, Governor Hayes’ platform stood for conservative and traditional values. He had been a defender of slaves and joined the Republican Party. His platform became vital as he served on Congress and supported the Southern Reconstruction. However, prior to 1876 and after many defeats in the political world, Hayes opted to retire from politics. The Republicans had a different plan for him though, and nominated him as their presidential ticket in the 1876 election with the running mate of William Wheeler.

On the one hand, Tilden had carried much of the South and his home state of New York; on the other hand, Hayes had held much of New England, the Midwest and many of the Western states.On the evening of the election, Hayes went to bed believing he had lost the presidency to Tilden quite handedly. He wrote in his diary, “I never supposed there was a chance for a Republican success.” Unaware to both candidates, the executive office was torn between just one electoral vote. Headlines across the country had even stated that Tilden had secured the victory. For many days, Hayes was not sure of the outcome of the race. Rumors of electoral fraud raged throughout the nation. The final electoral vote was Tilden with 184 and Hayes with 185. Without this knowledge, both parties considered themselves the winners. Both Hayes and Tilden lay low as their representatives dealt with the anticipating public.

The Disputed Election: Who Will Win?

To combat these growing controversies, the House and the Senate created an Electoral Commission with a company of fifteen people: seven Republicans seven and seven Democrats. Of these fifteen people, the makeup was: five senators, five house members and five Supreme Court justices.

Though Tilden had won the popular vote, the Commission swung in favor of Hayes. On March 2, 1877, the Commission finally announced that Hayes, with his running mate William Wheeler, were to be the new President and Vice President elect by an electoral vote of 185-184. But on that day of March 5, 1877, when President Hayes was finally inaugurated into office, he knew that his struggle was far from over. The Southern Democrats threatened radical action to be taken if Hayes did not meet their needs. In what C. Vann Woodward titled “The Compromise of 1877,” Hayes agreed to withdraw troops from the South, thus ending Reconstruction.

The Election of 1876 is extremely important to the electoral history of the United States. As one of the most disputed elections of recent history, it enabled the politicians of America to take action in the Post-Civil War era. Rurtherford B. Hayes’ role was subtle yet powerful as he stepped his way into the presidency over Samuel Tilden and the strong Democratic Party. Hayes kept calm and stayed in the background until he emerged and accepted the presidency after almost four months of debate.

Election 1872: Old White Hat’s Bad Luck

On election day, 1872, The Atlanta Constitution urged its readers “Democrats, turn out and vote this evening. There is danger of the Radicals repeating. Give the afternoon to your country.” The joint Democratic and Liberal-Republican candidate, Horace Greeley, won the state of Georgia by thousands of votes, but his showing nationwide was not strong – his additional victories were limited to Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, Texas, and Tennessee.

Greeley was seen as a coalition candidate, a Republican who was first nominated by the Liberal-Republican faction, then endorsed by the Democrats in an attempt to defeat General Grant. He had personally become “disaffected with the Grant administration because of its corruption and indifference to civil service reform, and also because of its continued enforcement of Reconstruction measures in the South” and fit well as an anti-Grant candidate. Despite the efforts of both parties behind Greeley, Grant won re-election that year by an overwhelming majority. On November 6th, the day after the election, The New York Times reported him carrying thirty of the thirty four states that had reported, receiving three hundred estimated electoral votes to Greeley’s forty nine (The final results were thirty one states to six, 55% to 44% of the popular vote, respectively).

Horace Greeley was the well known editor of the daily paper The New York Tribune, which he first began publishing in April, 1841. Greeley was well known for advocating western settlement, particularly the quote “Go west, young man, go west.” He had “not only promoted the western movement but urged as well that Americans be continually willing to uproot themselves to seek a better life.” He had a rather caricature appearance, which was made fun of in cartoons by Thomas Nast, but viewed rather affectionately by the public. This earned him the nicknames  “Old White Hat,” and “Uncle Horace,” among others.

The electoral defeat was yet another blow to Greeley after a line of tragedies in for him and his family. Out of his seven children with his wife Mary, only two lived through childhood. On October 30, 1872, Greeley’s wife died. He went pack to the Tribune but “following his defeat in the election of 1872, Greeley found that control of the paper had passed out of his hands. Shocked by his electoral repudiation, the recent death of his wife, and the effective loss of his editorship, Greeley suffered a breakdown of both mind and body, and died on November 29, 1872.”

His death came after the popular vote, but before the Electors made their choices. Because Greeley was no longer a viable candidate, for obvious reasons, most of his electoral votes were split among other candidates for president, eighteen specifically going to his running mate, Benjamin Gratz Brown. Greeley still managed to get three electoral votes, though they were not counted, from electors in of all places, Georgia, the state that had supported him so enthusiastically in the general election.

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