Rutherford B. Hayes


What was unusual and controversial about the election of 1876?

The election of 1876 was unusual because Tilden won the popular vote by nearly three hundred thousand votes, but ended up one electoral vote shy of winning the election. On the night of the election, Tilden had clearly captured the popular vote and was only one electoral vote short of winning the election. However, the states of Florida, South Carolina, Oregon, and Louisiana could go to Hayes, which would give him 185 electoral votes.

Democrats charged that fraud in the vote counting occurred in several of the Southern states. They pointed out that in several Southern states, there were Republican-controlled election boards that engineered the outcome. But, apparently, each party engaged in fraud. Some Democratic party members threatened and intimidated blacks from voting. Some Republicans intervened and had some blacks vote multiple times. The result was hotly contested, as Democrats and Republicans each set forth conflicting electoral vote results for Tilden and Hayes respectively.

In January 1877, Congress established a fifteen-member electoral commission to resolve the issue and decide which set of electoral ballots to accept. It was made up of seven Democrats, seven Republicans, and one independent. There were five U.S. Senators, five members of the U.S. House of Representatives, and five U.S. Supreme Court Justices. However, the independent—Justice David Davis of Illinois—was elected to the Illinois legislature. Davis’s slot on the election commission was filled by another sitting U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Bradley, a Republican from New Jersey. The commission ended up voting eight to seven, along party lines, in favor of Hayes. Some referred to this as the “Compromise of 1877,” as some key Republican leaders (though not Hayes personally) bargained for the victory on the promise of removing federal troops from Southern states.


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