Rutherford B. Hayes Presidency in 1876

The election between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden from the Democratic Party in 1876 ranks among the most controversial campaigns in the history of the United States. Traditionally, both Tilden and Hayes avoided a public campaign, leaving this task to their supporters. Republicans focused on identifying their party with Lincoln and winning the Civil War; many Republicans still associated the Democratic Party with slavery and disunity. Refuting Republican allegations, Tilden claimed that he was not to compensate the South for the cost of freed slaves or losses incurred in the course of the Civil War.

For their part, many Democrats cared little about Tilden’s emphasis on reform and instead focused on ending sixteen years of Republican rule (Yost para. 7-8). Hayes eventually won votes in the West and most of the North, but Tilden was victorious in Indiana, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut, receiving a popular majority and dominating in seventeen states.

Tilden’s victory was announced in newspapers one day after the election, on November 8. Nevertheless, Hayes still could seize the final victory by receiving all the electoral votes of three southern states plus one. He refused to admit his loss, even though the possibility of an armed conflict was a reason for both sides’ concern. With the Electoral College unable to elect a president, the controversial election became a problem for Congress to resolve.

Finally, Congress enacted legislation that addressed the issue by introducing an Electoral Commission aimed at resolving the dispute. After heated debate, the commission decided to transfer all disputed electoral votes to Hayes – 8 Republicans voted in favor, 7 Democrats – against; thus, Hayes won by one vote (185 to 184). As the panel debated, behind the scenes, party bosses came up with an unusual deal: Democrats would concede in favor of Hayes, but federal troops were to leave South Carolina and Louisiana.

This would end the period of Reconstruction, hated by the former Confederates. This deal called the “Compromise of 1877,” led to the adoption of the results of the commission by the House of Representatives. This was how the outcome of the 1876 presidential election was determined in an unprecedented manner.

Hayes’s dubious victory in the presidential election with a margin of one electoral vote, with doubts about the correctness of the elections and the counting of votes in the four states that gave him the majority, is considered the dirtiest in the history of the US presidential election.

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