A Note on the 1876 Brokered Presidency of Rutherford B Hayes
Something we cannot afford to repeat in 2021.
Some comparisons are being made to what might happen this week should several Members of Congress and Vice President Pence be able to put enough electoral votes in dispute so as to deny Joe Biden the necessary votes to be affirmed as President, with similar events that took place in the Election of 1876. Then the Republican Rutherford B Hayes (of Ohio), who came in second in both the overall vote count and the electoral college votes to the Democrat Samuel J Tilden, governor of New York, but who still fell ONE electoral college vote short of the necessary 185 votes because 20 votes of four (4) states were still “unresolved”.
Keep that word “unresolved” in mind going forward.
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 Tilden had won the state, while in Oregon, one elector was replaced after being declared illegal for being an “elected or appointed official” leaving Oregon 1 short.
Florida (with 4 electoral votes), Louisiana (with 8), and South Carolina (with 7) reported returns that favored Tilden, but the elections in those states were marred by electoral fraud and threats of violence against Republican voters; the most extreme case was in South Carolina, where an impossible 101 percent of all eligible voters in the state had their votes counted.
(Unlike today, no fingers were pointed in the direction of any sort of national or international conspiracy to steal the election. Hell, Alexander Graham Bell only received his patent for the telephone in that very same year.)
Facing a constitutional crisis, on January 29, 1877 Congress 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. Since the House and Senate majorities were from different parties, there was a Democrat and Republican tie, sooooo…they had to cut a deal, which was called the Compromise of 1877. (Not sure what role the SCOTUS members played in a back room deal, but they likely smoked cigars too.)
Since the Commission was informal, you’ll have to dig deep into the trade-offs to have some sense of what each side was giving away in both the political and moral sense, in order to determine whether the long term effects were good, bad or neutral.
For instance, the Republicans gave up Reconstruction, which was an onerous heavy-hand inflicted on southerners, including military occupation, even loss of voting rights for awhile, and of course, a carpetbagger invasion, people from the north coming south to assume many business operations. (“Driving Miss Daisy” anyone? Or Jon Ossof?) Blacks finally received the right to vote, and would even to run for public office an win, but some were cynically used as mere fronts for white northern interests.
What secured the Democrat side of the deal in allowing Hayes to become president is that the federal government would end Reconstruction, namely, those same three states, Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina, that threw the election into doubt in the first place. They surrendered their electoral votes to the Republicans they were trying to steal from.
So the Republicans got the presidency in the Compromise of 1877 but the big winner was the Democrat Party, which got Jim Crow…for white Democrats were able to take away that right to vote and put blacks into second class citizen status. Then later, with the help of 1900-era Progressivism and Woodrow Wilson, they could turn blacks away from the Republican Party (who really did little to help advance blacks after 1865 anyway) into compliant “reservation” negroes. By 1965 they could selectively find government jobs such as delivering the mail, or, if especially bright, be hand-picked for college studies, just so long as they remembered who they owed for that passport off the reservation. Strings were always attached. And of course, many could just lean back and enjoy a life of relative ease with a monthly check, just so long as they showed up to vote their benefactors’ slate every election day.
That was largely the case until 2016.
Republicans on the other hand, their Reconstruction plans largely just getting even with a class of people who no longer existed, (“gone with the wind”, to coin a phrase), by 1876 their religious zeal for freeing the slaves were muted somewhat by black migrations to the north seeking better jobs, and the fear that they might “get too close” (according to Dick Gregory). Plus, there was the Industrial Revolution, for which the northern states were especially well-situated to profit from. So, they slowly eased away from the original brand of the Republican Party, “the Doctrine of Liberty”, since the Gilded Age and the Robber Barons were just around the corner.
So, by 1896 the Democrat’s national party had jettisoned any pretense of admiring private enterprise, Grover Cleveland their last fiscal conservative president, and officially becoming the party of Labor, with deep but then-hidden collectivist undertones, only having gone through at least three stages of the cancer, to its metastasized state today.
And that sclerotic GOP, much like the lingering aristocracy of England, harrumphing its way to perdition none too quickly for my tastes, is leaving behind a tribal war it thinks much too unseemly and unclean to have to fight, especially now that they have found the miracle of great wealth without having to actually create money and jobs from scratch, or first having to invent something, or heaven forbid, build something.
Today the only true heart for that original Republican brand, “The Doctrine of Liberty”, is found in the 77 million who followed Donald Trump.
On a day-to-day basis I still find it difficult to know who among Republicans represents those common peoples’ interests before they first represent their own interests, but a shaking-out is in progress.
So be it. At 75, I feel very comfortable with our position, if we can clear this election-fraud debacle in a different manner than did the great Compromise of 1877.