The Election of 1876: The History of the Controversial Election that Ended Reconstruction

The Election of 1876

The Election of 1876

Just finished reading The Election of 1876. It is better to call this a pamphlet in that it is only 56 pages. This pamphlet is not a detailed description of the election of 1876 but is really a brief overview of the election. It is a good reference piece to assist you in understanding what was going on.

For those of you who do not understand the controversy of the election of 1876, I will give a brief overview.

The final tally had Rutherford B. Hayes beating Samuel Tildon by 1 electoral vote. Any candidate who wanted to win the presidency needed 185 electoral votes. On election night, Tildon had clearly won 184 votes.

There were 4 different states that ended up sending to Congress 2 different election results. Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Oregon.

Oregon had clearly voted for Hayes, however, on election night, one of the Hayes electoral college voters held an appointed office and since the Constitution did not allow that, the Governor removed him as a delegate and replaced him with a Tildon delegate.

Louisiana’s first count showed Tildon winning by 6,000 votes. However, on a recount, over 15,000 pro-Tildon votes were thrown out on the grounds of “Fraud”.

South Carolina had a similar situation were Tildon supposedly won a close election but the Republican-controlled counting operations ended up declaring enough bad Tildon votes that Hayes took that state also.


Florida was won by Hayes by a whopping 43 votes but a recount had Tildon winning by 94 votes. A third count had Hayes winning by 1,000 votes.

Thus a problem was created where four states had 2 different possibilities. Congress ended up creating a commission to make a decision on this matter. The Democrat-controlled House selected 5 members, the Republican-controlled Senate selected 5 members, and the Supreme Court would have 5 members. The Supreme Court members ended up being 3 Republicans and 2 Democrats.

As a result, every decision was made in favor of Hayes. The Democratic-controlled house voted to overturn the final report, but the Republican-controlled Senate did not. Hayes was declared the winner and Tildon did not appeal the decision to the courts.

What is interesting is that Hayes was not supposed to be the Republican nominee. The Republican convention of 1876 in Cincinnati had 9 different Republicans running. Far and away the most popular was Senator James Blaine from Maine. Blaine was one of those characters that you either loved or hated.

Blaine’s people knew that they needed to keep the delegates in the convention hall voting until Blaine won. They knew that they only needed a few more delegates to jump over and the last thing they needed was a recess to be called so that the different groups that hated Blaine could get on the same page.

However, one of the anti-Blaine people got the chairman’s attention and informed the chairman that the building did not have gas and as such, there would be no light. The Chairman quickly adjourned the convention. (What is interesting is that apparently there was gas in the building the next day after Hayes won and the celebrations went long into the night).

True to form, the night was productive for the anti-Blaine groups and they started to join together and get behind the candidacy of Hayes. On the 7th ballot, Hayes won.

The Democratic convention was not as crazy as the Republican convention. The Democrats had 6 candidates to choose between and they settled on Tildon (Gov. of New York) on the 2nd ballot.

The election of 1876 was an interesting election. Do not read this pamphlet if you want a detailed explanation as to what was going on in the nation that year.Instead, this is a great pamphlet to read if you need a brief refresher of some of the players or facts that were going on. This book would also be a good introduction to someone who had no idea about the controversial election of 1876. However, anyone who reads this pamphlet who has a love of politics will probably come away with the feeling that this was just not enough information for such an important election.

*** Mark’s Political Commentary ***
There are several key takeaways from reading this pamphlet. 1st, please do not assume that just because the Republican party was established to abolish slavery that Republicans were some morally superior party. The more you read about the election of 1876 and the Grant administration, the more one understands the age-old adage that power corrupts. It does not matter if you are a Republican or a Democrat, if you are in power, it is real easy for you to allow that power to go to your head and you will try to use that power to ensure that you retain your power rather than represent those who you are in power to serve.

2nd, For those who supported Ted Cruz and feel that the chairman played dirty politics in what he did in making sure that there was no floor vote on the rules, all one has to do is go back and read all these stories of past conventions to understand that politics is really a dirty contest. There is a lot of backroom deals that goes on. People in power always try to keep
their power and give themselves even more.

You can cry and you can complain, but I think Teddy Roosevelt had the best solution after he experienced a real nasty convention that he did not like the result (not 1876 – although his father was involved in this convention as an anti-Blaine activist). After the convention, Roosevelt did not go home but instead went to his ranch in North Dakota and basically chased cattle for several months.

Politics by its very nature is nasty and dirty. We need good people who will roll up their sleeves and get involved. If you do not win, do not throw in the towel and walk away. Take a deep breath, and get stronger so that the next time something happens, you will be in a better position to push the political reform that you think is necessary.


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