369 members of the Electoral College
185 electoral votes needed to win
|Turnout||81.8% 10.5 pp|
Presidential election results map. Red denotes states won by Hayes/Wheeler, blue denotes those won by Tilden/Hendricks. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes allotted to each state.
The 1876 United States presidential election was the 23rd quadrennial presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 7, 1876, in which Republican nominee Rutherford B. Hayes faced Democrat Samuel J. Tilden. It was one of the most contentious and controversial presidential elections in American history, and gave rise to the Compromise of 1877 by which the Democrats conceded the election to Hayes in return for an end to Reconstruction and the withdrawal of federal troops from the South. After a controversial post-election process, Hayes was declared the winner.
After President Ulysses S. Grant declined to seek a third term despite previously being expected to do so, Congressman James G. Blaine emerged as the front-runner for the Republican nomination. However, Blaine was unable to win a majority at the 1876 Republican National Convention, which settled on Governor Hayes of Ohio as a compromise candidate. The 1876 Democratic National Convention nominated Governor Tilden of New York on the second ballot.
The results of the election remain among the most disputed ever. Although it is not disputed that Tilden outpolled Hayes in the popular vote, after a first count of votes, Tilden had won 184 electoral votes to Hayes's 165, with 20 votes from four states unresolved: in Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina, each party reported its candidate had won the state, while in Oregon, one elector was replaced after being declared illegal for being an "elected or appointed official". The question of who should have been awarded these electoral votes is the source of the continued controversy.
An informal deal was struck to resolve the dispute: the Compromise of 1877, which awarded all 20 electoral votes to Hayes; in return for the Democrats' acquiescence to Hayes' election, the Republicans agreed to withdraw federal troops from the South, ending Reconstruction. The Compromise in effect ceded power in the Southern states to the Democratic Redeemers, who proceeded to disenfranchise black voters thereafter.
The 1876 election is the second of five presidential elections in which the person who won the most popular votes did not win the election, but the only such election in which the popular vote winner received a majority (rather than a plurality) of the popular vote. To date, it remains the election that recorded the smallest electoral vote victory (185-184), and the election that yielded the highest voter turnout of the eligible voting age population in American history, at 81.8%. Despite not becoming president, Tilden was the first Democratic presidential nominee since James Buchanan in 1856 to win the popular vote and the first since Franklin Pierce in 1852 to do so in an outright majority (In fact, Tilden received a slightly higher percentage than Pierce in 1852, despite the fact that Pierce won in a landslide).
|Rutherford B. Hayes||William A. Wheeler|
|for President||for Vice President|
|29th & 32nd
Governor of Ohio
(1868-1872 & 1876-1877)
for New York's 19th
(1861-1863 and 1869-1877)
It was widely assumed during the year 1875 that incumbent President Ulysses S. Grant would run for a third term as president in spite of the poor economic conditions, the numerous political scandals that had developed since he assumed office in 1869, and a long-standing tradition set by the first president, George Washington, not to stay in office longer than two terms. Grant's inner circle advised him to go for a third term and he almost did, but the House, by a sweeping 233 to 18 vote, passed a resolution declaring that the two-term tradition was to prevent a dictatorship. Late in the year, President Grant ruled himself out of running in 1876. He instead tried to persuade his Secretary of State, Hamilton Fish to run for the presidency, but the 67-year-old Fish declined, believing himself too old for the role. Grant nonetheless sent a letter to the convention imploring them to nominate Fish, but the letter was misplaced and never read to the convention, and Fish later confirmed that he would have declined the nomination even had he been offered it.
When the Sixth Republican National Convention assembled in Cincinnati, Ohio, 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, however, 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. They chose Ohio's reform governor, Rutherford B. Hayes, who had been gradually building support during the convention until he finished second on the sixth ballot. On the seventh ballot, Hayes was nominated with 384 votes to 351 for Blaine and 21 for Benjamin Bristow. William A. Wheeler was nominated for vice-president by a much larger margin (366-89) over his chief rival, Frederick Theodore Frelinghuysen, who later served as a member of the electoral commission that awarded the election to Hayes.
|James G. Blaine||285||296||293||292||286||308||351|
|Oliver P. Morton||124||120||113||108||95||85||0|
|Rutherford B. Hayes||61||64||67||68||104||113||384|
|John F. Hartranft||58||63||68||71||69||50||0|
|William A. Wheeler||3||3||2||2||2||2||0|
|Elihu B. Washburne||0||1||1||3||3||4||0|
|Vice Presidential Ballot |
|William A. Wheeler||366|
|Frederick T. Frelinghuysen||89|
|Stewart L. Woodford||70|
|Joseph R. Hawley||25|
|Samuel J. Tilden||Thomas A. Hendricks|
|for President||for Vice President|
Governor of New York
Governor of Indiana
The 12th Democratic National Convention assembled in St. Louis, Missouri, in June 1876, the first political convention held by one of the major American parties west of the Mississippi River. Five thousand people jammed the auditorium in St. Louis with hopes for the Democratic Party's first presidential victory in 20 years. The platform called for immediate and sweeping reforms in response to the scandals that had plagued the Grant administration. Tilden won more than 400 votes on the first ballot and the nomination by a landslide on the second.
Tilden defeated Thomas A. Hendricks, Winfield Scott Hancock, William Allen, Thomas F. Bayard, and Joel Parker for the presidential nomination. Tilden overcame strong opposition from "Honest John" Kelly, the leader of New York's Tammany Hall, to obtain the nomination. Thomas Hendricks was nominated for vice-president, since he was the only person put forward for the position.
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. It also called for treaty protection for naturalized United States citizens visiting their homelands, restrictions on Asian immigration, tariff reform, and opposition to land grants for railroads. It has been claimed that the voting Democrats received Tilden's nomination with more enthusiasm than any leader since Andrew Jackson.
|1st Before Shifts||1st After Shifts||2nd Before Shifts||2nd After Shifts||Unanimous|
|Samuel J. Tilden||400.5||416.5||535||517||738|
|Thomas A. Hendricks||139.5||139.5||85||87|
|Winfield Scott Hancock||75||75||58||58|
|Thomas F. Bayard||33||33||4||4|
|Allen G. Thurman||2||2||2||0|
Source: Official proceedings of the National Democratic convention, held in St. Louis, Mo., June 27th, 28th and 29th, 1876. (September 3, 2012).
|Vice Presidential Ballot|
|Thomas A. Hendricks||730|
Source: Official proceedings of the National Democratic convention, held in St. Louis, Mo., June 27th, 28th and 29th, 1876 (September 3, 2012).
The Greenback Party had been organized by agricultural interests in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1874 to urge the federal government to inflate the economy through the mass issuance of paper money called greenbacks. Its 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 Fenton Cary as his replacement on the ticket.
This small political party used several different names, often with different names in different states. It was a continuation of the Anti-Masonic Party that met in 1872 and nominated Charles Francis Adams for president. When Adams declined to run, the party did not contest the 1872 election.
The platform supported the Reconstruction Amendments to the Constitution, international arbitration, the reading of the scriptures in public schools, specie payments, justice for Native Americans, abolition of the Electoral College, and prohibition of the sale of alcoholic beverages. It declared the first day of the week to be a day of rest for the United States. The platform opposed secret societies and monopolies.
The convention considered three potential presidential nominees: Charles F. Adams, Jonathan Blanchard, and James B. Walker. When Blanchard declined to run, Walker was unanimously nominated. The convention then nominated Donald Kirkpatrick of New York unanimously for vice president.
Tilden, who had prosecuted machine politicians in New York and sent legendary political boss William M. Tweed to jail, ran as a reform candidate against the background of the corruption 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."
Hayes was a virtual unknown outside his home state of Ohio, where he had served two terms as a Congressman and then two terms as governor. Henry Adams wrote "[Hayes] is a third-rate nonentity whose only recommendations are that he is obnoxious to no one." He had served in the Civil War with distinction as colonel of the 23rd Ohio Regiment and was wounded several times, which made him marketable to veterans. He had later been brevetted as a Major General. Hayes' most important asset was his help to the Republican ticket in carrying the crucial swing state of Ohio. On the other side, newspaperman John D. Defrees described Tilden as "a very nice, prim, little, withered-up, fidgety old bachelor, about one-hundred and twenty-pounds avoirdupois, who never had a genuine impulse for many nor any affection for woman."
The Democratic strategy for victory in the South was highly reliant on paramilitary groups such as the Red Shirts and the White League. Using the strategy of the Mississippi Plan, these groups actively suppressed black and white Republican voter turnouts 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 pursue the presidency actively, neither Tilden nor Hayes actively stumped as part of the campaign, leaving that job to surrogates.
Colorado was admitted to the Union as the 38th state on August 1, 1876, but as there was insufficient time or money to organize a presidential election in the new state, Colorado's state legislature selected the state's electors. These electors gave their three votes to Hayes and the Republican Party. This was the last election in which any state chose electors through its state legislature.
In Florida (with 4 electoral votes), Louisiana (with 8), and South Carolina (with 7), reported returns favored Tilden, but election results in each state were marked by electoral fraud and threats of violence against Republican voters. The worst case was in South Carolina, where an impossible 101 percent of all eligible voters in the state had their votes counted. 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. In this election, many Democratic ballots were printed with the Republican symbol, Abraham Lincoln, on them. The Republican-dominated state electoral commissions subsequently disallowed enough Democratic votes to award their electoral votes to Hayes.
In 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 were signed by the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, and those from South Carolina by no state official. In the latter state, the Tilden electors simply claimed that they were chosen by the popular vote, and they were rejected by the state election board.
Meanwhile, in Oregon, the vote of a single elector was disputed. The statewide result clearly favored Hayes, but the state's Democratic governor, La Fayette Grover, claimed that one GOP elector, former postmaster John Watts, was ineligible under Article II, Section 1, of the United States 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 of Oregon. 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. Ultimately, all three of Oregon's votes were awarded to Hayes.
Hayes thus had a majority of one in the Electoral College. The Democrats cried fraud. Suppressed excitement pervaded the country. Threats were even muttered that Hayes would never be inaugurated. In Columbus, Ohio, a shot was fired at Governor Hayes' residence as he sat down to dinner. Supporters marched to his home, calling for the "president". Hayes urged the crowd that, "it is impossible, at so early a time, to obtain the result." President Grant quietly strengthened the military force in and around Washington.
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 the Republican President of the Senate, Thomas W. Ferry, 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 had a solid Democratic majority; by throwing out the vote of one state, it could elect Tilden.
Facing an unprecedented constitutional crisis, the Congress of the United States passed a law on January 29, 1877 that formed a 15-member Electoral Commission to settle the result. Five members were selected 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 might 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." Just as the Electoral Commission Bill was passing Congress, the legislature of Illinois elected Davis to the Senate, and Democrats in the Illinois legislature believed that they had purchased Davis' support by voting for him. However, they had made a miscalculation, as Davis promptly excused himself from the Commission and resigned as a Justice in order to take his Senate seat. 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 January 31. 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.
The commission first decided not to question any returns that were prima facie lawful. Bradley then 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. Hayes privately took the oath of office the next day and was publicly sworn into office on March 5, 1877; Hayes was inaugurated without disturbance.
During intense closed-door meetings, Democratic leaders agreed reluctantly to accept Hayes as president in return for the withdrawal of federal troops from the last two still-occupied Southern states, South Carolina and Louisiana. Republican leaders in return agreed on a number of handouts and entitlements, including Federal subsidies for a transcontinental railroad line through the South. Although some of these promises were not kept, in particular the railroad proposal, it was enough for the time being to avert a dangerous standoff.
The returns accepted by the Commission put Hayes' margin of victory in South Carolina at 889 votes, the second-closest popular vote margin in a decisive state in U.S. history, after the election of 2000, which was decided by 537 votes in Florida (though in 2000, the declared margin of victory in the Electoral College for George W. Bush was five votes, as opposed to Hayes' one vote).
Though 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 made eligible to vote under the 15th Amendment, 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. In a truly fair election, it seems probable that South Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana, which all had majority-black populations, would have gone Republican, while Florida, with a majority white population, would have likely gone to Tilden. It is therefore likely that Hayes would have won appreciably more of the popular vote in a fair election, perhaps even a plurality or majority.
Upon his defeat, Tilden said, "I can retire to public life with the consciousness that I shall receive from posterity the credit of having been elected to the highest position in the gift of the people, without any of the cares and responsibilities of the office."
Congress would eventually enact the Electoral Count Act in 1887 to provide more detailed rules for the counting of electoral votes, especially in cases where multiple slates of electors have been received from a single state.
According to the Commission's rulings, of the 2,249 counties and independent cities making returns, Tilden won in 1,301 (57.85%) while Hayes carried only 947 (42.11%). One county (0.04%) in Nevada split evenly between Tilden and Hayes.
While the Greenback ticket did not have a major impact on the election's outcome, attracting slightly under one percent of the popular vote, Cooper nonetheless had the strongest performance of any third-party presidential candidate since John Bell in 1860. The Greenbacks' best showings were in Kansas, where Cooper earned just over six percent of the vote, and Indiana, where he earned 17,207 votes, far exceeding Tilden's roughly 5,500-vote margin of victory over Hayes in that state.
The election of 1876 was the last one held before the end of the Reconstruction era, which sought to protect the rights of African Americans in the South who usually voted for Republican presidential candidates. No antebellum slave state would be carried by a Republican again until the 1896 realignment that saw William McKinley carry Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia and Kentucky. No Republican presidential candidate until Warren G. Harding in 1920 would carry any states that seceded and joined the Confederacy; that year he carried Tennessee, which never experienced a long period of occupation by Federal troops and was completely "reconstructed" well before the first presidential election of the Reconstruction period (1868). None of the Southern states that experienced long periods of occupation by Federal troops was carried by a Republican again until Herbert Hoover in 1928 (when he won Texas, Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia). This proved the last election in which the Republican candidate won Louisiana until 1956, when Dwight D. Eisenhower carried it, and the last in which the Republican candidate won South Carolina until 1964, when Barry Goldwater did. The next time those two states voted against the Democrats was when they supported the "Dixiecrat" candidate Strom Thurmond in 1948.
Although 1876 marked the last competitive two-party election in the South before Democratic dominance of the South through 1948 and of the border states through 1896, it was also the last election (as of 2017) in which the Democrats won the pro-Union counties of Mitchell in North Carolina,Wayne and Henderson in Tennessee, and Lewis County, Kentucky. Hayes is also the most recent Republican president elected without carrying Indiana.
|Presidential candidate||Party||Home state||Popular vote||Electoral
|Count||Percentage||Vice-presidential candidate||Home state||Electoral vote|
|Rutherford Birchard Hayes||Republican||Ohio||4,034,142||47.92%||185||William Almon Wheeler||New York||185|
|Samuel Jones Tilden||Democratic||New York||4,286,808||50.92%||184||Thomas Andrews Hendricks||Indiana||184|
|Peter Cooper||Greenback||New York||83,726||0.99%||0||Samuel Fenton Cary||Ohio||0|
|Green Clay Smith||Prohibition||Washington, D.C.||6,945||0.08%||0||Gideon Tabor Stewart||Ohio||0|
|James Walker||American National Party||Illinois||463||0.01%||0||Donald Kirkpatrick||New York||0|
|Needed to win||185||185|
Cartogram of presidential election results by county
|Samuel J. Tilden
|Rutherford B. Hayes
Margin of victory less than 5% (171 electoral votes):
Margin of victory between 5% and 10% (33 electoral votes):
Campaign Text Book.