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Template:Infobox Election

The United States presidential election of 1876 was one of the most disputed presidential elections in American history. Samuel J. Tilden of New York outpolled Ohio's Rutherford B. Hayes in the popular vote, and had 184 electoral votes to Hayes' 165, with 20 votes uncounted. These 20 electoral votes were in dispute: in three states (Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina), each party reported its candidate had won the state, while in Oregon one elector was declared illegal (as an "elected or appointed official") and replaced. The 20 disputed electoral votes were ultimately awarded to Hayes after a bitter legal and political battle, giving him the victory.

Many historians believe that an informal deal was struck to resolve the dispute: the Compromise of 1877. In return for the Democrats' acquiescence in Hayes' election, the Republicans agreed to withdraw federal troops from the South, ending Reconstruction. The Compromise effectively ceded power in the Southern states to the Democratic Redeemers.


Republican Party nomination[]

Republican candidates:

  • Governor Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio
  • Senator James G. Blaine of Maine
  • Secretary Benjamin H. Bristow of Kentucky
  • Senator Oliver P. Morton of Indiana
  • Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York

Candidates gallery[]


Hayes/Wheeler campaign poster

When the 6th Republican National Convention assembled on June 14, 1876, it appeared that James G. Blaine would be the nominee. On the first ballot, Blaine was just 100 votes short of a majority. His vote began to slide after the second ballot, as many Republicans feared that Blaine could not win the general election. Anti-Blaine delegates could not agree on a candidate until Blaine's total rose to 41% on the sixth ballot. Leaders of the reform Republicans met privately and considered alternatives. The choice was Ohio's reform Governor, Rutherford B. Hayes. On the seventh ballot, Hayes was nominated with 384 votes to 351 for Blaine and 21 for Benjamin Bristow. William Wheeler was nominated for Vice President by a much larger margin (366-89) over his chief rival, Frederick T. Frelinghuysen, who later served as a member of the electoral commission.

Vice Presidential Ballot
William A. Wheeler 366
Frederick T. Frelinghuysen 89
Marshall Jewell 38
Stewart L. Woodford 70
Joseph R. Hawley 25

Democratic Party nomination[]

Democratic candidates:

  • Samuel J. Tilden, governor of New York
  • Thomas A. Hendricks, governor of Indiana
  • Winfield Scott Hancock, U.S. Major General from Pennsylvania
  • William Allen, former governor of Ohio

Candidates gallery[]


Tilden/Hendricks campaign poster

The 12th Democratic National Convention assembled in St. Louis in June 1876. This was the first political convention held west of the Mississippi River. Five thousand people jammed the auditorium in St. Louis, for the sweet smell of victory was in the air, the first in 20 years for the Democrats. The platform, with its sharp cry for immediate and sweeping reforms, sent the delegates into an ecstasy of political fervor. The historical conjunction of Tilden, the country's greatest reformer, with the crying need for reform brought Tilden more than 400 votes on the first ballot and the nomination by a landslide on the second.

Tilden defeated Thomas Hendricks, Winfield S. Hancock, and William Allen for the Presidential nomination. Although Tilden was strongly opposed by John Kelly, the leader of New York's Tammany Hall, he was still able to obtain the nomination. Thomas Hendricks was nominated for Vice President.

The Democratic platform pledged to replace the corruption of the Grant administration with honest, efficient government and to end "the rapacity of carpetbag tyrannies" in the South; called for treaty protection for naturalized U.S. citizens visiting their homeland, restrictions on Oriental immigration, and tariff reform; and opposed land grants to railroads.[1]

It is claimed that Tilden's nomination was received by the voting Democrats with more enthusiasm than any leader since Andrew Jackson.[2]

Presidential Ballot
Ballot 1st 2nd
Samuel J. Tilden 401.5 535
Thomas A. Hendricks 140.5 85
Winfield Scott Hancock 75 58
William Allen 54 54
Thomas F. Bayard 33 4
Joel Parker 18 0
James Broadhead 16 0
Allen G. Thurman 3 2

Source: US President - D Convention. Our Campaigns. (August 26, 2009).

Vice Presidential Ballot
Thomas A. Hendricks 730
Abstaining 8

Source: US Vice President - D Convention. Our Campaigns. (August 26, 2009).

Greenback Party nomination[]

The Greenback Party had been organized by agricultural interests in Indianapolis in 1874 to urge the federal government to inflate the economy through the mass issuance of paper money called greenbacks. Their first national nominating convention was held in Indianapolis in the spring of 1876. Peter Cooper was nominated for President with 352 votes to 119 for three other contenders. The convention nominated anti-monopolist Senator Newton Booth of California for vice president; after Booth declined to run, the national committee chose Samuel F. Cary as his replacement on the ticket.

Other parties[]

The Prohibition Party, in its second national convention, nominated Green Clay Smith as their presidential candidate and Gideon T. Stewart as their vice presidential candidate. The American National Party nominated the ticket of James B. Walker and Donald Kirkpatrick.

General election[]


File:Farce of 1876 poster.jpg

The election was hotly contested, as can be seen by this poster published in 1877

File:A certificate for the electoral vote for Rutherford B. Hayes and William A. Wheeler for the State of Louisiana dated 1876 part 6.jpg

A certificate for the electoral vote for Rutherford B. Hayes and William A. Wheeler for the State of Louisiana

File:Tilden or blood.jpg

A truce - not a compromise, but a chance for high-toned gentlemen to retire gracefully from their very civil declarations of war By Thomas Nast in Harper's Weekly, 1877 Feb. 17, p. 132.

Tilden, who had prosecuted machine politicians in New York and sent legendary boss William Tweed to jail, ran as a reform candidate against the background of the Grant administration. Both parties backed civil service reform and an end to Reconstruction. Both sides mounted mud-slinging campaigns, with Democratic attacks on Republican corruption being countered by Republicans raising the Civil War issue, a tactic ridiculed by Democrats who called it "waving the bloody shirt". Republicans chanted, "Not every Democrat was a rebel, but every rebel was a Democrat". The Democratic strategy for victory in the south was highly reliant on paramilitary groups such as the Redshirts and White League. Utilizing the strategy of the Mississippi plan, these groups actively suppressed black and white Republican voter turnout by disrupting meetings and rallies and even using violence and intimidation. They saw themselves as the military wing of the Democratic Party. Because it was considered improper for a candidate to actively pursue the presidency, neither Tilden nor Hayes actively stumped as part of the campaign, leaving that job to surrogates.


Colorado had become the 38th state on August 1, 1876. With insufficient time and money to organize a presidential election in the new state, Colorado's state legislature selected the state's electors. These electors in turn gave their three votes to Hayes and the Republican Party.

Electoral disputes[]

Template:See In Florida (4 votes), Louisiana (8) and South Carolina (7), reported returns favored Tilden, but election results in each state were marked by fraud and threats of violence against Republican voters. One of the points of contention revolved around the design of ballots. At the time parties would print ballots or "tickets" to enable voters to support them in the open ballots. To aid illiterate voters the parties would print symbols on the tickets. However in this election many Democratic ballots were printed with the Republican symbol, Abraham Lincoln, on them.[3] The Republican-dominated state electoral commissions subsequently disallowed a sufficient number of Democratic votes to award their electoral votes to Hayes.

In the two southern states the governor recognized by the United States had signed the Republican certificates. The Democratic certificates from Florida were signed by the state attorney-general and the new Democratic governor; those from Louisiana by the Democratic gubernatorial candidate; those from South Carolina by no state official, the Tilden electors simply claiming to have been chosen by the popular vote and rejected by the returning board.[4]

Meanwhile, in Oregon, just a single elector was disputed. The statewide result clearly had favored Hayes, but the state's Democratic Governor (LaFayette Grover) claimed that that elector, just-former postmaster John Watts, was ineligible under Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, since he was a "person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States". Grover then substituted a Democratic elector in his place. The two Republican electors dismissed Grover's action and each reported three votes for Hayes, while the Democratic elector, C. A. Cronin, reported one vote for Tilden and two votes for Hayes. The two Republican electors presented a certificate signed by the secretary of state. Cronin and the two electors he appointed (Cronin voted for Tilden while his associates voted for Hayes) used a certificate signed by the governor and attested by the secretary of state.[4] Ultimately, all three of Oregon's votes were awarded to Hayes.

Hayes had a majority of one in the electoral college. The Democrats raised the cry of fraud. Suppressed excitement pervaded the country. Threats were even muttered that Hayes would never be inaugurated. In Columbus, somebody fired a shot at Hayes's house as he sat down to dinner. President Grant quietly strengthened the military force in and around Washington.[4]

The Constitution provides that "the President of the Senate shall, in presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the [electoral] certificates, and the votes shall then be counted." Certain Republicans held that the power to count the votes lay with the President of the Senate, the House and Senate being mere spectators. The Democrats objected to this construction, since Mr. Ferry, the Republican president of the Senate, could then count the votes of the disputed states for Hayes. The Democrats insisted that Congress should continue the practice followed since 1865, which was that no vote objected to should be counted except by the concurrence of both houses. The House was strongly Democratic; by throwing out the vote of one state it could elect Tilden.[4]

Facing an unprecedented constitutional crisis, on January 29, 1877, the U.S. Congress passed a law forming a 15-member Electoral Commission to settle the result. Five members came from each house of Congress, and they were joined by five members of the Supreme Court. William M. Evarts served as counsel for the Republican Party. The Compromise of 1877 may have helped the Democrats accept this electoral commission as well.

The majority party in each house named three members and the minority party two. As the Republicans controlled the Senate and the Democrats the House of Representatives, this yielded five Democratic and five Republican members of the Commission. Of the Supreme Court justices, two Republicans and two Democrats were chosen, with the fifth to be selected by these four.

The justices first selected a political independent, Justice David Davis. According to one historian, "[n]o one, perhaps not even Davis himself, knew which presidential candidate he preferred."[5] Just as the Electoral Commission Bill was passing Congress, the Legislature of Illinois elected Davis to the Senate. Democrats in the Illinois Legislature believed that they had purchased Davis' support by voting for him. However, they had made a miscalculation; instead of staying on the Supreme Court so that he could serve on the Commission, he promptly resigned as a Justice in order to take his Senate seat.[6] All the remaining available justices were Republicans, so the four justices already selected chose Justice Joseph P. Bradley, who was considered the most impartial remaining member of the court. This selection proved decisive.

It was drawing perilously near to inauguration day. The commission met on the last day of January. The cases of Florida, Louisiana, Oregon, and South Carolina were in succession submitted to it by Congress. Eminent counsel appeared for each side. There were double sets of returns from every one of the States named.[4]

The commission first decided not to question any returns that were prima facie lawful.[4] Bradley joined the other seven Republican committee members in a series of 8-7 votes that gave all 20 disputed electoral votes to Hayes, giving Hayes a 185-184 electoral vote victory. The commission adjourned on March 2; two days later Hayes was inaugurated without disturbance.[4]

The returns accepted by the Commission placed Hayes' victory margin in South Carolina at 889 votes, making this the second-closest election in U.S. history, after the 2000 election, decided by 537 votes in Florida. Also, Tilden became the first presidential candidate in American history to lose in the electoral college despite winning a majority of the popular vote.

It is not possible to conclude definitively what the result would have been if a fair election had been held without the violence and intimidation, throughout the South, that disenfranchised many African-Americans explicitly eligible to vote under the 15th amendment.[7] Nevertheless, in the likeliest fair scenario Hayes would have won the election with 189 electoral votes to Tilden's 180 by winning all of the states that he did ultimately carry, plus Mississippi but minus Florida. A strong case can be made that South Carolina, Louisiana, and Mississippi, states with an outright majority African-American population, would have gone for Hayes since nearly all African-Americans during this time voted Republican (while nearly all whites in the South during this time voted Democratic). Florida, with a majority white population, would have likely gone to Tilden in a fair election. Clearly Hayes would have won appreciably more of the popular vote in a fair election, albeit arguably still not a plurality or majority.


Reflecting the Commission's rulings. Template:Start U.S. presidential ticket box Template:U.S. presidential ticket box row Template:U.S. presidential ticket box row Template:U.S. presidential ticket box row Template:U.S. presidential ticket box row Template:U.S. presidential ticket box row Template:U.S. presidential ticket box other Template:End U.S. presidential ticket box Source (Popular Vote): Template:Leip PV source Source (Electoral Vote): Template:National Archives EV source

See also[]

  • American election campaigns in the 19th century
  • History of the United States (1865–1918)
  • President of the United States
  • Third Party System


  1. William DeGregorio, The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents, Gramercy 1997
  2. They Also Ran
  3. "Flashback to 1876: History repeats itself". BBC News. London. December 12, 2000. Retrieved 2006-11-28. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Andrews, E. Benjamin (1912). History of the United States. Charles Scribner's Sons. 
  5. Morris, Roy, Jr. (2003). Fraud Of The Century. Rutherford B. Hayes, Samuel Tilden And The Stolen Election Of 1876. New York: Simon and Schuster.
  6. "Hayes v. Tilden: The Electoral College Controversy of 1876–1877." HarpWeek.


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Primary sources[]

External links[]


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