Another Presidential Election Error Headline
R. J. Brown
The year was 1876, and Ulysses S. Grant was completing his second term as President. Amid the charges of fraud and corruption flying around Washington, Grant was thought to be "honest". In fact, he was so honest, he publicly declined running for a third term
while secretly hoping that the use of this reverse psychology would win him that
third nomination. Grant went on record stating, "I do not want (the third term) any more than I did the first..." The House of Representatives agreed, voting 233-18 against a resolution to draft Grant to run. In light of that fact, Grant bowed out. Republican party bosses began searching for a replacement. Their first choice, Congressman James O. Blaine of Maine would have been nominated despite his past record of ill repute, had it not been for the fact that someone turned out the gas lights at the convention before a vote was taken. The next day, Blaine was out and Rutherford B. Hayes became the Republican candidate on the seventh ballot on the grounds that he was "inoffensive." Two weeks later, the Democrats met, nominating Governor Samuel J. Tilden of New York, well known as a reformer for his part in breaking up Boss Tweed's empire. The campaign, as you can imagine, was interesting -- to day the least. Both sides called for reform, that is, the Democrats called the GOP to task for their acts, while the Republicans -- praising those same acts -- declared that they did indeed need to make some changes. When election day arrived, both sides had thrown everything they could at each other. As the returns began coming in, it became obvious that Tilden would be the winner. In fact, Hayes had already conceded the election and several papers had printed the news that Tilden won the election. Indeed, had it ended there, Tilden would have been President. But it was not in the cards for Sam Tilden. Unfortunately, an overly cautious state Democratic Chairman contacted the New York Times to verify that the electoral college vote, which was understood to have been 203-184. On duty that night at the Times was editor John Reid, a Republican. When he received the message asking, "How many secured votes does Tilden have?", he figured that if they still weren't sure, maybe, just maybe, the Republicans could still win the election. The actual secured vote at this time was 184-166 in Tilden's favor.
Realizing that the 19 votes in doubt, when added to Hayes' 166, would put him over the top, Reid quickly wired the party bosses in the three remaining states of Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina. He told them, "If you can hold your state, Hayes will win. Can you do it?"
As soon as this happened, newspapers all over the country started to trumpet, "HAYES IS ELECTED!" The Indianapolis Journal, caught with their slip showing, hastily printed an extra edition, recanting their previous concession statement and headline. All seemed well, except for one small thing. While Hayes had been declared the winner, the Republicans still had one problem. They had to come up with the other 19 votes that were actually needed to complete the deed. The party bosses went to work, plying election workers with piles of money and other enticements to look the other way while they "corrected" the vote count.
One of the more inventive ideas they had was to "accidentally" ruin ballots. In fact, one such ploy was used in Key West, Florida where a particular precinct had voted for Tilden by a landslide. The certification of the ballot somehow came in second best to a bottle of ink, making it useless. The next day, Republican officials made out a new certificate, only to be "surprised" that the whole box was invalid because the dates didn't match.
Democratic bosses got wind of this, and started to make counter offers, but Tilden called them off stating that if he was going to win, he was going to do it fair and square.
The ballyhoo continued for several months, causing headaches for all -- not to mention two sets of "official" election results. As Inauguration Day approached, the two parties finally decided to let a special commission decide the winner. The commission, made up of 5 members each from the House, Senate, and Supreme Court was split 7-7 between the parties with the 4 justices to name the 15th member.
The Democrats agreed to the commission because they figured that the Justice to be named would be David Davis of Illinois. However, no sooner was the agreement passed, than David was mysteriously appointed a Senator by the Illinois State Legislature, thereby disqualifying him. After all, they already had 5 Senators on the commission. In his place, the Justices chose Joseph Bradley, a Republican.
The Democrats' last hopes were dashed the next day when Bradley, known to be somewhat independent, sided with the GOP on every state, giving them to Hayes by a count of 8-7 each time.
On Inauguration Day, the New York Sun ran a black bordered front page. Other papers printed Hayes' picture with the caption "Fraud", printed across his forehead. Still others referred to him by such names as "His Fraudulency", "Old 8 to 7", and just plain "Rutherford B. Hayes." Finally, Thomas Nast eulogized the campaign with the cartoon in the March, 1877 issues of Harpers Weekly, showing a badly beaten elephant bandaged and leaning on a cane, the caption read "Another Such Victory and I am Undone."
Despite "stealing" the election, Hayes proved to be a good and honest President, accomplishing, among other things, the end of the Reconstruction Era in the South.