The United States presidential election of 1876 was the 23rd quadrennial presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 7, 1876. It was one of the most contentious and controversial presidential elections in American history, and is known for being the catalyst for the end of Reconstruction. Republican nominee Rutherford B. Hayes faced Democrat Samuel Tilden. 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 won 184 electoral votes to Hayes's 165, with 20 votes from four states unresolved. In the case of 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's election, the Republicans agreed to withdraw federal troops from the South, ending Reconstruction. The Compromise effectively ceded power in the Southern states to the Democratic Redeemers, who proceeded to disenfranchise black voters in subsequent years.
The 1876 election is one of five presidential elections in which the person who won the most popular votes did not win the election, and 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%. It was also the first presidential election since 1856 in which the Democratic candidate won the popular vote.
|United States presidential election, 1876|
All 369 electoral votes 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.
|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, the president withdrew from the running for 1876.
When the Sixth Republican National Convention assembled 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. Their choice was Ohio's reform governor, Rutherford B. Hayes. 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 first presidential victory for the Democratic Party 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. Although Tilden was strongly opposed by "Honest John" Kelly, the leader of New York's Tammany Hall, he was still able 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.
|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 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 convention was held from June 8 to 10, 1875, in Liberty Hall, Pittsburgh. B.T. Roberts of New York served as chairman, and Jonathan Blanchard was the keynote speaker.
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 been brevetted as a Major General. Hayes's most important asset was the help he provided the Republican ticket in carrying the crucial swing state of Ohio. On the other side, newspaper man 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. With insufficient time or money to organize a presidential election in the new state, Colorado's state legislature selected the state's electors. These electors in turn 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 fraud and threats of violence against Republican voters. The most egregious 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 a sufficient number of 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 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's 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 Mr. Ferry, the Republican President of the Senate, 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. Democrats in the Illinois legislature believed that they had purchased Davis's support by voting for him. However, they had made a miscalculation; instead of staying on the Supreme Court so that he could serve on the Commission, he promptly 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 the last day of January. 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 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; two days later Hayes was inaugurated without disturbance.
During intense closed-door meetings, Democratic leaders agreed with reluctance 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).
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. Nevertheless, 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. Regardless, Hayes would be the last Republican until Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956 to win the electoral votes of Louisiana and the last Republican until Barry M. Goldwater in 1964 to carry South Carolina. Florida, with a majority white population, would have likely gone to Tilden in a fair election. 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." Hayes paid off those who helped him win the electoral college with government sinecures.
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, and it was not until the election of 1920 that one of the states of the Confederacy was ever again carried by a Republican presidential candidate. In that case, it was Tennessee, a state that 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 the election of 1928 (Texas, Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia). This proved the last election in which the Republicans won Louisiana until 1956 and the last in which the Republicans won South Carolina until 1964. The next time those two states voted against the Democrats was when they supported the Dixiecrats in 1948; Louisiana also voted against the Democrats in 1968 by voting for Wallace.
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. The election was also the last time a Republican won the presidency without carrying Indiana.
|Presidential candidate||Party||Home state||Popular vote||Electoral
|Count||Percentage||Vice-presidential candidate||Home state||Electoral vote|
|Rutherford B. Hayes||Republican||Ohio||4,034,142||47.92%||185||William A. Wheeler||New York||185|
|Samuel J. Tilden||Democratic||New York||4,286,808||50.92%||184||Thomas A. Hendricks||Indiana||184|
|Peter Cooper||Greenback||New York||83,726||0.99%||0||Samuel Fenton Cary||Ohio||0|
|Green Clay Smith||Prohibition||Kentucky||6,945||0.08%||0||Gideon T. Stewart||Ohio||0|
|James Walker||American National Party||Illinois||463||0.01%||0||Donald Kirkpatrick||New York||0|
|Needed to win||185||185|
|States won by Tilden/Hendricks|
|States won by Hayes/Wheeler|
|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):