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Elections and secret deals;- The Compromise of 1877

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posted on Dec, 11 2016 @ 11:11 AM
“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 the returns.
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 be counted”.
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 North.
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 Hayes.

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 operating.
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)

posted on Dec, 11 2016 @ 11:13 AM
Then William Henry Smith received an important letter from Boynton dated the 20th of December.

What we want for practical success is thirty or forty votes. West Tennessee, Arkansas, a large Kentucky element, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, and Tom Scott want help for the Texas & Pacific Road.
These are strong arguments for making that project an exception to the republican policy of opposition to subsidies…
1 It is fair that the South should have a road at the hands of the government as the North has received aid for one…
If such arguments and views commend themselves to Governor Hayes and Tom Scott, and the prominent representatives of the states I have named could know this, Scott with his whole force would come here, and get those votes in spite of all human power and all the howlings which blusterers North and South could put up. I have never had the least relations with the Texas Pacific lobby. But I know its power here, and see or think I see a way of using it to the best material interests of the country.
If Governor H. feels disposed towards this enterprise as many of the best and most honest men of the republican party do- there would certainly be no impropriety for some recognised friend of his giving Scott to understand it (p66)

Obviously they needed to know what Hayes himself thought of this plan.
He was cautious at first.

Rutherford B. Hayes was a thoroughly respectable and rather devout Victorian gentleman of the old school” (p103).

After the scandals of the Grant administration, he was hoping to introduce a degree of reform. In his initial response, he dropped a little cold water on the proposal;

”I am not a believer in the trustworthyness [sic] of the forces you hope to rally. After we are in, I believe a wise and liberal policy can accomplish a great deal. But we must rely on our own strength to secure our rights. With firmness it can be done” (p105).

The problem was that “our own strength” in Congress was becoming unreliable. Smith was shown a confidential letter from the Washington correspondent of the Tribune listing seventeen “doubtful Republicans” who could not be depended upon for the electoral vote count. One of the more significant defectors was Senator Conkling, who was disgruntled at his poor showing in the nomination process. He was now on the Senate committee which would help to establish a tribunal for the purpose of deciding the Presidential election. In fact he had already told the committee (as reported by another Senator) that the President of the Senate had NO right to “count the votes”, and that he himself would not vote for the Hayes claim to Florida and Louisiana.

For that matter, President Grant was beginning to express open scepticism about these claims. Hayes hurriedly despatched another friend, General Comly, to try to heal the breach. The mission was successful to the point that Grant “showed strong emotion” during the conversation and even “drew the friendly cigars from his pocket”, all of which gave Comly a greater sense of confidence (p108).

Meanwhile, the threat of violent response from the other side was beginning to intensify.
The Democrats were thought to be organising “rifle clubs” and similar bodies in various Northern states, as a Cincinnati newspaper reported;

Advices from all parts of the North and West establish, beyond question, the existence of a secret political society, composed entirely of Democrats, and having for its purpose the inauguration of [Tilden]- by force, if necessary (p110).

This organisation was said to be strongest in Indiana, Ohio, and New York, but spreading rapidly.
On January the eighth (“Jackson Day”) Democrats held enthusiastic rallies across the country.
The rally in Ohio adopted a resolution declaring that any attempt to settle the election merely by decision of President of the Senate should be “resisted by the people to the last extremity, even should the extremity be an appeal to arms”.
While the Democratic Governor of Indiana had declared his intention of putting his state militia immediately “on a war footing” (p112).

A further development was that the hard-fought stalemate between Scott and Huntingdon had been broken by an unexpected truce at the end of December. They were now combining their forces to carry a compromise bill which would provide subsidies for both of them, and leave the Californian end of the route in the hands of the Southern Pacific.
As the New York Sun observed, “Faugh!” They called it “the most nefarious railroad jobbery yet attempted in this country” (p115).
Much of the opposition to subsidy was coming from reform-minded Northern Democrats, including Tilden himself. For a decade, they had been sensitive to the charge that Democrat rule would see the U.S. Treasury being robbed for the benefit of old “rebels”, and they were prone to over-compensate. That was one of the factors in a growing estrangement between the two wings of the party.

Here was another argument for the strategy which Boynton had proposed.
Governor Hayes does not seem to have committed himself in writing to anything more definite than the promise that he would be “exceptionally liberal to the South in the matter of internal improvements of a national character”. This last phrase was a useful formula.
However, Boynton invited Tom Scott to his own house, and a long conversation on the afternoon of January 14th produced very satisfying results;

From today there will be no lack of help, for Scott’s whole powerful machinery will be set in motion at once, & I am sure you will be able to detect the influence of it in votes within ten days” (p119)

On January 18th, the joint discussions of House and Senate produced a bill to establish an Electoral Commission, which would make a decision on the disputed returns (p151).
The commission was carefully balanced. Three Republicans and two Democrats were to be selected from the Senate. Three Democrats and two Republicans were to be selected from the Lower House. The bill named four Supreme Court justices, two Democrat and two Republican, and these four were to select a fifth. It was generally assumed that the fifth man would be Judge David Davis, an avowed Independent.
On that basis, the bill looked like a Democratic victory.

This last expectation was overturned when the Illinois legislature, a week later (on the same day that the bill passed), suddenly broke a deadlock and elected Davis to the Senate. He therefore declared himself to be unavailable for service on the commission. Nobody is quite sure why this happened, because it seems to have been achieved by the local Democrats themselves.
The remaining judges on the Supreme Court were all Republicans. Democrats were initially hopeful about the fairness of the chosen fifth man, Joseph P. Bradley. They were shocked when the commission announced its verdict on the Florida case and Bradley delivered an opinion following the party line. This would give the Republicans a built-in 8-7 majority on everything the commission did.

(continued next post)

posted on Dec, 11 2016 @ 11:14 AM

Tension of the public mind, relaxed temporarily since the adoption of the Commission plan, snapped taut again (p164).

Debates became angrier, reports of warlike preparations resumed. While the Hayes family were at supper, a bullet crashed through a window and buried itself in the library wall.
On February 10th, the findings of the Electoral Commission on the Florida case were reported to Congress.
On the same day, the Democrats moved and carried a recess of the House. As long as they kept that up, the formal reporting of the commission would be blocked, and the election process could not be carried forward to a conclusion.
This was getting dangerously close to the March 4th deadline.

Meanwhile the private negotiations were beginning to take effect.
Southern Democrats were angling for, and obtained the promise of, the office of Postmaster-general for Senator Key, an important source of patronage..
They also wanted the restoration of “home rule” across the South; that is, the abandonment of the “Carpetbagger” administrations in the three disputed states.
This point seemed to be covered when the National Republican could quote Hayes as saying “Assure any of our Southern friends that I am impressed with the necessity of a complete change of men and policy” (p168)

A caucus of the Democrats in Congress met on the evening of the 17th, and there was a heated debate about what should be happening next. A Pennsylvania Congressmen put forward a resolution calling for as many dilatory measures as possible to defeat the inauguration of Hayes. This was defeated. Finally a Texas Congressman proposed a resolution calling for an end to the filibuster and the completion of the electoral count. This was won by 68 votes (almost entirely from the South) to 49 (almost entirely from the North and the West). The division in the party had come out into the open.
A couple of days later there was a counter-attack. Speaker Randall, addressing another caucus, claimed that Hayes would revive “bayonet rule” and involve Democrat supporters in ruin. He proposed that the House should force a fresh election; either by amending the Act of 1792, to make the Secretary of State acting President until a new election could be held, or simply by bringing the session to a close without completing the count.
The caucus took no action on his proposals, and on the following day the House defeated the next recess motion which was brought forward.

For a moment, this looked like the end of the filibuster. But the train was nearly de-railed again by the turmoil in Louisiana. The Democrat Francis T. Nicholls was trying to make good his claim to have been elected Governor, while a Republican state government supported by federal troops controlled the State House, at least.
A badly-timed aggressive editorial attacking the whites of Louisiana was published in the Ohio State Journal on the 22nd. The editor of the journal was General Comly, though he was sick in bed at the time, and Comly was known as a friend of Hayes. This meant that the Hayes campaign was in trouble once more. The Democrats of the House re-united and carried another recess motion.
The deadline was getting closer.

Nicholls was being represented in Washington by Major E.A.Burke, who had been making contact with several members of the government.
On the 26th, Burke had an important interview with President Grant. Grant approved for public release a dispatch which represented him as saying “unequivocally that he is satisfied that the Nicholls government is the government which should stand, that the Republican government in Louisiana could not stand without military force, and that public opinion was clearly opposed to the further use of troops in upholding a State government”.

Shortly afterwards, in one of the Senate committee rooms (with the door locked) Burke had a meeting with Senator Sherman, who had just accepted a place in the Hayes Cabinet, and two other Ohio Republicans. He showed them this document, in the hope that they would be willing to support the same policy, and even to tell the President that Hayes would not be embarrassed by an immediate withdrawal of troops.
In response, the three Republicans created what became another of the useful formulas of these negotiations;

”They felt authorised from intimate and long acquaintance with Governor Hayes to say that as President he would follow the policy towards Louisiana indicated by President Grant” (p195)

In return, Burke promised to ensure that the filibuster was lifted.
To an investigating committee a year later, he admitted that he was bluffing. He did not have controlling power over the filibuster, and the final event would probably have happened anyway for other reasons.
Nevertheless, the “bargain” was confirmed in the evening at a slightly larger meeting in the Wormley hotel.
In Woodward’s view, this famous conference got a larger place in the “accepted account” of the crisis than it deserved, simply because it was the only strand in the web of negotiations which the Democrats were willing to acknowledge publicly at the time.

The Democrats needed to be convinced that the Republicans would carry out their side of the agreement.
On the 27th, the vital dispatch which Grant had given to Burke was read into the Congressional record.
Other Republicans were recruited into repeating the “We feel authorised…” formula.
On the 28th, the President assured Burke that he would order the withdrawal of troops as soon as the electoral count was completed (but not before).
The eighteen-hour session of the House on March the 1st was said to have been the stormiest ever witnessed.
Finally William Levy of Louisiana got up and announced that he had received earnest assurances, which he believed to be truthful, both from the friends of Hayes and from Grant, of a policy of conciliation towards the Southern states and the abandonment of the use of troops. He urged all those who had been influenced by a desire to help Louisiana and South Carolina to join him in helping to complete the count.
This acted as the signal for the calming of the storm.
At four o’clock in the morning, Hayes was finally declared elected by one vote in the college.

On the 2nd of March, therefore, Governor Hayes and his party arrived in Washington, in a private railcar furnished by Tom Scott.
His term of office began on the 4th, officially, but this was a Sunday. So there was a private inauguration in the White House on Saturday, to avoid an interregnum, and this was then repeated publicly on the Monday following.

And that was how Rutherford. B. Hayes became the nineteenth president of the United States.
But that was in the old days, when they really knew how to hold a crisis.

posted on Dec, 11 2016 @ 01:16 PM
a reply to: DISRAELI

I just wanted to thank you for the time and effort you put into writing this up.


posted on Dec, 11 2016 @ 01:21 PM
a reply to: Mike Stivic
Your'e welcome. I should repeat, of course, that credit belongs to the writer of the original book ( C. Vann Woodward). My copy was formerly the property of the "American Colleges Oxford Program", whatever that was, and came to me at the bargain price of 75p.

posted on Dec, 11 2016 @ 02:34 PM
Thanks for the well written research. People should read more of this and less memes. Theyd have a better grasp of how things actually work.

posted on Dec, 11 2016 @ 02:36 PM
a reply to: DISRAELI

Amazing thread, and one of the reasons I like ATS so much (There are many!!).

Ye Olde SJW's.

Ye Olde electioneering.

Now the secret Government are the richest folks on the planet, Royalty, Bankers, Industrialists, multi national scum, you know the sort.

posted on Dec, 11 2016 @ 03:03 PM
a reply to: DISRAELI

Just a parallel;
Back then it was about the snakes of steel natives spoke of that became rail-roads.

As history seems to repeat itself;
The new snakes of steel seem to coincide with pipelines of oil and natural gas?

It falls on us what we will utilize as resources, what is made available to us as consumers?

Clean green energy will make it so each household becomes self reliable?
All those guys with greasy hands are keeping us from being self efficient, aren't they?

I get that we can't just drop oil on it's ass and begin relying upon solar and wind energy-
but it's pretty blatant how free resources are being suppressed instead of developed for the consumers;
us little guys who think those greasers knows what's best for us?

Not speaking for myself.

Thanks for the thread and history lesson.

posted on Dec, 11 2016 @ 04:03 PM
a reply to: loveguy
Perhaps there's another parallel in the fluidity of party loyalties? The Democrats apparently turned on themselves again.

posted on Jan, 6 2017 @ 03:26 PM
Just as a postscript;
Today Congress was counting the Electoral College votes for the current election, and I understand from C-Span that the operation was completed successfully.
In 1877, of course, this stage was only the begining of the climax of the drama, as described in the OP. Objections could be raised which had real substance.
The C-Span text, which I discovered when it was all over, showed a number of objections being raised, but the objectors were evidently just playing silly games for the benefit of the audience, like the "faithless elector" fiasco a couple of weeks ago. They were hardly even attempting to fulfil the first requirements of the process, like putting objections in writing with proper support.
If this is going to become a feature of elections in the future, the long-term effect would be the development of a virtual Parliamentary system, with Presidents being chosen by the majority in Congress rather than the electorate on the ground.

Fortunately for all concerned, the election controversy of 2016 has turned out to be much less fundamental and dangerous than the election controversy of 1876.

posted on Dec, 20 2020 @ 11:11 AM
Since the elction of 2020 is still undecided, it might be good to have this reminder of what happened and nearly happened last time.
As for what happens next; in 2017, of course, a couple of rogue Democrats tried to disrupt the vote-counting in the House. Is it possible that a more serious Republican attempt, with Senator support, might be launched this time?
If the votes can't be overturned in the House, might the Senate be able to filibuster enough to prevent the completion of the vote before whatever the deadline is? Then what happens?

edit on 20-12-2020 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)


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