Hello, and welcome back to another edition of Lace ‘Em Up’s Presidential Election series. Today we will be going over the Election of 1876, one of the closest and most consequential presidential elections in the nation’s history and the results of this race will change the direction of the country for generations to come.
A Struggling Nation
As Ulysses S. Grant’s second term was coming to an end, it was a difficult time for the United States thanks to problems like the infamous ‘Colfax Massacre’ which led to around 60-130 people dead to an overabundance of scandals which has not only affected the Grant administration but the economy itself.
In fact, things were so bad economically that it led to a great depression in the financial markets with many referring to it as “The Panic of 1873”.
Grant had initially considered running for a third term as President which would’ve made him the first to do so, but with all of the scandals surrounding him decided not to and this led to the GOP looking to find somebody to run in order to keep the party in the White House.
Rutherford Hayes & William Wheeler
A number of Republicans decided to go for the nomination with James Blaine a Senator from Maine looking to be the favourite 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 is also a reform-minded politician which made him look like a popular pick for president amid all the widespread corruption within the Republican Party.
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 on which Hayes and Wheeler ran in this election was not only anti-corruption but also the continuing support of African-American rights in the South and giving land grants to the railroad companies.
Samuel J. Tilden & Thomas Hendricks
With the economy in shambles and corruption running wild under President Grant, the Democratic Party was feeling pretty great going into this election with the party nominating on the first ballot, Samuel J. Tilden 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 “Boss” Tweed behind bars.
Tilden’s running mate was Thomas Hendricks, the Governor of Indiana who you might remember got a few electoral votes in the unusual election of 1872.
The Democrats’ platform going into this election is to simply end Reconstruction and to do away with all of the corruption that’s been occurring. 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, and opposing land grants for Railroads.
Both the Republican and Democratic candidates surprisingly agreed on many issues, so it looked 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 Greenback Party.
The Rise of the Greenback Party
Founded in the early 1870s following ‘The Panic of 1873’, the Greenback Party favoured a form of currency known as “Greenbacks” or paper money which was easier to use for monetary gain than the gold standard currency which was supported by both the Republicans and Democrats.
The party’s core supporters were mainly farmers, industrial workers, and middle-class folks who were hurt as a result of the economic crisis; The Greenback party had a few names running for their nomination but the man who got was none other than philanthropist and inventor from New York, 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…Despite the party’s push for economic reforms, they stood little chance against the two major parties.
Intimidation & Shady Tactics
With the election looking 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 them in a positive light.
The Democrats are using intimidation to get the edge as their plan was to scare many African Americans in the South with violence to stop them from voting in this election.
The most insidious act of intimidation in this election 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 while also bullying many blacks from voting. They even used 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 biased 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 major elections.
Disputed Votes & Electoral Commission
On election day, it looked like Samuel Tilden was on his way to 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. However, Republicans disputed many of the votes that Tilden got due to the tactics the Democrats used to suppress African Americans from voting, while the Democrats accused the Republicans of refusing to count Tilden’s 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 seven Democrats and seven Republicans being chosen to make this very important decision with the last official to be involved in the commission being 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. This led to the Democrats within the Illinois legislature to bribe Davis by electing him to the U.S. Senate hoping that this would lead to Davis voting with the Democrats to put Tilden into office.
Unfortunately, Davis excused himself from the commission to take the senate position. He was soon replaced by another Supreme Court Justice in the form of Joseph Bradley who just so happened to be a Republican 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 with anyone complicants…right?
1876 Electoral Results & The Compromise of 1877
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 absolutely refused to go along with the decision made by the electoral commission.
The violence began breaking out in the streets, Democrats threatening to filibuster to oppose Hayes’ anointment as President and even going so far as to think about starting a second Civil War.
To settle this matter once and for all, a few Republican officials met with the Democrats at the Wormley’s Hotel to propose a compromise which stated that the Democrats would allow Hayes to become the new President of the United States. In return, the Republicans will withdraw all military troops in the South allowing the Democrats to continue on with their racist, all-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 more of the popular vote as Tilden got 50.9% to Hayes’ 47.9%.
Peter Cooper and the Greenback Party finished third with no electoral votes and roughly 1% of the popular vote, but don’t worry they’ll be back.
Hayes’ victory in the electoral vote is still to this day the smallest margin of victory for any U.S. presidential election 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.
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