“The disappointment of the Democrats is indescribable, but with many angry mutterings they yielded grudging acceptance”. Arthur M. Schlesinger
The Democrats claiming electoral fraud and challenging the returns.
Violence in the atmosphere, and the possible threat of renewed civil war if demands were not met.
Yes, that was the initial outcome of the U.S. Presidential election of 1876.
A decade later, President Cleveland was at a dinner party along with four politicians (two from each side) who had been involved in the election
crisis. As the night wore on, they began sharing more and more of the secrets behind the publicly-known events.
Finally Mr. Cleveland raised both hands and exclaimed ‘What would the people of this country think if the roof could be lifted from this house
and they could hear these men?’”
“Reunion and Reaction”, p5; C. Vann Woodward, Boston 1951/1966).
So what parts of the secret story can be recovered from the letters and newspapers and other documents of the time?
This was the third Presidential election since the Civil War, the first two being won by Grant.
There was now a contest between Rutherford Hayes (Republican), and Samuel Tilden (Democrat).
On the day after the election, Tilden seemed to be coasting to victory.
The arithmetic was deceptively simple.
Undisputed results had come in from enough states to give him 184 votes in the electoral college, within touching distance of a majority.
His opponent had already secured 166.
There remained the 19 votes available from three southern states, where the preliminary results were showing Democrat majorities.
Most newspapers were treating it as a Tilden victory.
Even the national Republican chairman, Zachariah Chandler, had closed up his headquarters on the same assumption.
Then, in the early hours of the next morning, William E. Chandler of New Hampshire and John C. Reid, managing Editor of the Republican New York
Times, awakened Zach Chandler at his hotel and got his permission to wire Republican officials in Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina, asking if
they could hold on to their states for Hayes (Woodward p17)
The key to the scheme was that Republicans were in control of the state returning boards, which would enable them to manage the “canvassing” of
Woodward remarks that there is “ample evidence” of irregularities, fraud, intimidation, and violence, on both sides of the election.
However, the Democrat votes were the ones that got thrown out, and Tilden majorities were converted into Hayes majorities in all three states.
So the official Republican line was that Hayes had now secured 185, winning the election by a narrow margin.
On the 6th of December, the official electors of the three states met in their capitals and formally cast their votes for Hayes.
On the same day, electors with certificates from rival Democratic state authorities met and recorded their votes for Tilden.
Unfortunately, the constitution did not offer clear guidance for dealing with two sets of returns;
“The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then
But who was to do the counting, and choose which returns to accept? The acting President of the Senate, who was a Republican, or the Democrat majority
in Congress as a whole?
If the question could not be resolved, the Democrats would be content to let the election be thrown into the House.
The Hayes camp were looking into the possibilities of private negotiation.
Roughly speaking, the Democrat party of the time was a coalition between the wealthier men in the South and the radicals and labouring men in the
Conversely, the Republican party of the time was a coalition between the wealthier men in the North and the radicals and labouring men, or at least
the former slaves, in the South.
The leadership on both sides contained fragments of the old Whig party.
Might they not be able to find common ground in their economic interests and work out a compromise? (pp22-50)
Henry Van Ness Boynton was the Washington representative of the “Gazette”, and deeply involved in this network of private discussion.
As was William Henry Smith, who was the general agent of the Western Associated Press, an important media network, and a close friend of Governor
A crucial figure for the intrigue was the Pennsylvania railway magnate, Tom Scott, who had much political influence in the states where his lines were
Amongst other things, he was President of the Texas and Pacific railroad.
This company had inherited the right to build as far as San Diego, with land grants contingent upon completion of the line. Their assigned route had
been conceived as the South’s answer to the existence of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railways.
However, work had been stalled by the financial panic of 1873, which had brought the company close to bankruptcy.
At the end of 1876, the T&P still comprised an incomplete parallelogram of lines in eastern Texas.
The best hope of restoring the company’s financial prospects lay in securing Federal subsidies.
In order to apply pressure on the Federal government, Scott needed to convince a large part of the South that the completion of the Texas and Pacific
line would be a Good Thing; that with appropriate branch-lines, it would promote the economic wellbeing of many cities across the region.
To that end, he had been lobbying to influence Southern newspapers, chambers of commerce, and legislatures.
In 1874, he was winning the support of state granges, including the National Grange.
Legislatures began to pass resolutions instructing their representatives to vote for subsidies.
His competitor in this publicity battle was Collis Huntingdon of the Central Pacific and South Pacific railways, striving to protect his own control
of Californian traffic.
Both sides were accusing each other, with some justice, of looking to establish a monopoly.
By the time of the election crisis in December 1876, the rivals had fought each other to a standstill, in terms of getting votes in Congress, though
Scott had won the support of the South in general.
(continued next post)
edit on 11-12-2016 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)