BULL STREET - The art of the Con

Tilden Vs Hayes: A Government Swindle?

On occasion, elections have little to do with what happens at the polling place or in the electoral college. Moreover, these occasions are based on heavy duty political tampering along with the usual negotiations and concessions. So it was with the American election of 1876, which pitted Democratic candidate Samuel J. Tilden against his competitor, Rutherford B. Hays.

When the polls had closed, Tilden had most certainly won the popular election and his substantive lead was reflected in the electoral college as well, where he led by a supposedly overwhelming margin of 21 votes. However, the college couldn’t certify the election until they disposed of the minor problem of duplicate delegates to the college from Florida, Oregon, Louisiana and South Carolina. In each of these states both parities believed that they had won in a close election and in order not to tempt the fates, two sets of voters was sent from each state.

However, the three of the states (Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina) gravitated to the Republican candidate as soon as proper etiquette allowed. They did this by contesting a substantial enough number of Democratic votes by whatever means were available to them, legal and otherwise.  This did not solve the problem at all, as in Oregon the Republican elector was summarily replaced by the Democratic Governor. This caused a hailstorm as the House of Representatives of Oregon was firmly on the Republican side and immediately ordered a recount. This threw the Oregon portion of the Presidential election into a cocked hat and the United States Congress was forced to step into the breach.

Congress was at the top of their game and In their great wisdom, an Electoral Commission was appointed having five representatives from the Senate, five from the House and five from the Supreme Court. When the smoke had cleared, there were seven Republican, seven Democrats and Supreme Court voter yet to be named. Once again everyone had to take a breather but it was eventually determined that the four already nominated Supreme Court electors would nominate the fifth. The fifth Justice was a Republican who favored the Democrat, Tilden and one would have thought that this ended the controversy. However, that also was not to be the case. The Justice was strongly lobbied by the Republicans and stunningly switched his vote at the last minute.

Naturally, this totally outraged the Democrats who thought that they had by now won the election both in the popular vote and then again in the electoral vote. They threatened to do everything at their command to win the election including calling a strike of governments employees shutting down the capital. This caused the Republicans to reflect on what could turn out to be a pyrrhic victory. Negotiations were held and a compromise was reached in which federal troops would be removed from the south in exchange for Hayes’ selection. Neither man had been party to any of the goings on and the fate of the United States President hung on in the balance while the politicians sorted out the deal.



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