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HAYES-TILDEN ELECTION, the disputed U.S. presidential election of 1876. The candidates were two state governors: Samuel J. Tilden of New York, a Democrat, and Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio, a Republican.
The election was held on Nov. 7, 1876. By early the next morning Tilden had 184 electoral votes, one short of a majority. Hayes had undisputed possession of 165 electoral votes. Still in doubt were the electoral votes of Louisiana (8), South Carolina (7), Florida (4), and, on a technicality, one vote in Oregon. Though Hayes carried Oregon, the Democratic governor named a Democrat in place of a Hayes elector who, as a federal officeholder, was disqualified. The total popular vote eventually counted was 4,287,670 for Tilden and 4,035,924 for Hayes.
Election Deadlock. Diehard Republicans refused to concede the election. Their confidence was realistic; Republicans, supported by federal troops, controlled the Southern states in question and were able to hold those states for Hayes because they dominated the “returning” boards that were empowered to review the election returns and reject votes unfairly cast.
The historian C. Vann Woodward notes that not only were the returning boards dishonest but both parties had utilized “irregularities, fraud, intimidation, and violence” to win the votes that the corrupt returning boards were to judge. In a fair election South Carolina and Louisiana would probably have gone to Hayes, and Tilden would have won Florida and the presidency; but the returning boards eliminated enough Tilden votes to give all three states to Hayes.
On December 6, the Hayes and Tilden electors met separately in the disputed states and cast ballots for their man. In Congress these rival returns raised questions that produced a deadlock between the Republican Senate and the Demo-l cratic House. The Constitution provides that the president of the Senate (who in 1876-1877 was a Republican president pro tern, the vice president having died) shall open the votes. But the Constitution does not say whether he or the total membership of Congress (in 1876-1877 predominantly Democratic) should decide which votes to count in a dispute. Furthermore, should Congress go behind official state returns to investigate election frauds, as the Democrats wished despite their traditional states’ rights stand?
Resolution of the Dispute. Among the Southern Democratic congressmen, three overlapping groups were willing to accept Hayes if he backed their objectives. All wanted federal troops withdrawn from the South; many had belonged to the pre-Civil War Whig party and wished to revive their old ties with conservative Northern businessmen; and some wanted federal support similar to that given by Republican administrators to Northern railroads over Northern Democratic opposition.
Hayes’ friends quietly negotiated with these groups for their support and made progress, but the defection of some “Stalwart” Republicans led them to agree to the creation of an electoral commission. Designed to settle the dispute, the commission comprised three Republican and two Democratic senators, three Democratic and two Republican representatives, and two Supreme Court justices from each party, plus a fifth justice, David Davis, an Illinois independent. Davis, who Democrats assumed would be fair to Tilden, resigned at the last moment when elected to the Senate. All remaining members of the court were Republicans, and the Democrats bowed to the appointment of Justice Joseph P. Bradley as the 15th member.
On Feb. 1, 1877, both houses of Congress began counting the electoral votes by state in alphabetical order. Florida’s vote was referred to the commission, and by a partisan 8-to-7 vote it awarded that state to Hayes, deciding not to “go behind the returns.” By February 28 the commission, by the same vote, had assigned all disputed electors to Hayes.
Tilden supporters planned a filibuster to obstruct the counting of the electoral votes and to deprive Hayes of the legal title to the presidency. At this point Hayes’ friends reopened negotiations with the Southern congressmen and reached a series of informal agreements. If the filibuster were called oft, Hayes would withdraw federal troops from the South, appoint a Southern former Whig to his cabinet, and consider sympathetically Southern demands for federally supported internal improvements. Some Southerners also agreed to help the Republicans organize the House with James A. Garfield of Ohio as speaker.
The electoral vote count was completed on March 2, 1877, and Hayes was publicly inaugurated on Monday, March 5. Within two months, Hayes withdrew federal troops from the South, appointed former Whig David M. Key of Tennessee as postmaster general, and used federal patronage in an abortive attempt to construct a Southern white Republican party. The Democrats, however, organized the House, and Garfield was not elected speaker. The Republicans did not come through with federal support for the Southern railroad, nor did Southern Democrats of Whiggish origins abandon the Democratic party, though they frequently cooperated with» Northern Republicans.