Rutherford B. Hayes was one of the first men to be elected president without receiving the majority of the popular vote. The first was John Quincy Adams — who lost in both the Electoral College and popular vote to Andrew Jackson. At issue was the fact that neither Adams nor Jackson received the required 131 electoral votes, which pushed the decision to the House of Representatives — who selected Adams.
But with Hayes, it was an even more contentious situation. Hayes, the Republican candidate, ran against New York Governor Democrat Samuel J. Tilden and from the beginning Tilden was projected to win. On the night of the election, the popular vote indicated that Tilden had won by as much as 300,000 votes.
Hayes went to bed that night, presuming he had lost.
So What Happened?
Well, the Republican National Chairman found a loophole and wasn’t ready to admit defeat. What unfolded was a blight on the election process.
To win the presidency in 1876, a candidate needed 185 electoral votes. For Hayes to win, he needed the contested electoral votes in Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida. If all the disputed electoral votes went to him, he would become president, however if just a single vote went to Tilden, Tilden would become the 19th U.S. president.
The process dragged on until January 1877 when Congress established an Electoral Commission to resolve the issue. The commission, made up of eight Republicans and seven Democrats, voted along Party lines in favor of Hayes — eight to seven — on the contested votes in Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida. This gave Hayes the win with 185 electoral votes to Tilden’s 184.
Some historians say a backroom deal was broker in the process because the South was threatening to secede (again) if Hayes was elected. The deal, these historians say, included at least two promises: Hayes would only serve one term and the Reconstruction laws imposed on the South would be lifted.
Both actions came to pass.
There is actually a free book, written about 30 years after the election, that sheds a lot of light on the illegal and unethical activities by both the Democrat and Republican Parties in the 1876 election. You can read the book online here, but a simpler way to read it is with a Kindle or Kindle-like device. The book title is The Hayes-Tilden Disputed Presidential Election of 1876 by Paul Leland Haworth.
Ohio’s Presidential Legacy
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