Electoral Commission Deliberation
On February 1, 1877, the Senate and House met in a joint session
of Congress to count the electoral votes for president and vice
Thomas Ferry of Michigan, the Republican president pro tempore
of the Senate, opened the electoral reports and began the count
of state votes in alphabetical order.
The procedure went smoothly until two sets of conflicting
returns were presented for Florida, which were then referred to
the Electoral Commission.
Over the next several days, the Electoral Commission met as a
court in the Supreme Court chamber, listening to lawyers for
both parties give arguments on the Florida returns and also on
whether to admit into evidence information about the conduct of
the elections and the returning boards, as the Democrats
February 8, on a party-line vote of 8 to 7, the Electoral
Commission ruled that it would not admit additional evidence;
the next day, it ruled by the same margin that Florida’s
electoral votes belonged to the Republican ticket of Hayes and
Over the following few days, Congress assembled in joint session
to receive the commission’s finding on Florida, then met
separately to vote on the issue.
The Republican-controlled Senate swiftly affirmed the
commission’s directive, but the Democratically-controlled House,
two days later, rejected it.
Under the terms of the Electoral Commission Act, however,
both houses had to reject the commission’s ruling in order to
nullify it legally.
Congress reconvened in joint session, and Florida’s votes were
counted for Hayes.
The same procedure and the same results followed for Louisiana,
Oregon, and South Carolina.
Some Democrats used delaying tactics by calling into question
electors from other states while in joint session, and calling
for roll calls and other dilatory measures while in the House
the Wormley House negotiators thought they had cleared the way
for Congressional approval of the Electoral College’s granting
of all 20 disputed electoral votes to Hayes, a faction of House
Democrats tried one last filibuster in the last days before the
After South Carolina’s votes were recorded for Hayes and
Wheeler, Congressman Abram Hewitt of New York, chairman of the
Democratic party, objected to Vermont’s electoral count, then to
Meeting in separate session, the Senate quickly voted down the
objections, but a filibuster began in the House.
The boisterous House session lasted from 10 a.m. on March
1 to 3:38 a.m. on March 2, at which point the filibuster ended
and the joint session resumed.
At 4:10 a.m., the last of the electoral votes were
counted, with the Hayes/Wheeler Republican ticket receiving all
of the 20 contested ballots, giving them a one-vote Electoral
College majority, 185-184.
On Monday, March 5, 1877, Rutherford B. Hayes was sworn in
publicly as president of the United States. As anticipated, within two months, President Hayes removed
the remaining federal troops in the South from political duty
(guarding the statehouses), Democratic state administrations
gained power, and the era of Reconstruction formally ended.
Democratic senator David Key was named to the cabinet
position of postmaster general.
The key job of secretary of state went to William Evarts
of New York, the Republican chief counsel before the Electoral
Commission and, previously, counsel to President Andrew Johnson
during his impeachment trial in 1868.
Carl Schurz, a leader of the 1872 Liberal Republican
movement, was named secretary of the Interior.
In 1880, James Garfield, one of the Wormley House
negotiators and Electoral Commission members, was the compromise
presidential nominee of the Republican party.
His narrow election victory that November demonstrated
that the Republicans could win the White House without carrying
any Southern state.
The issue of black civil rights would largely remain off the
national political agenda until the mid-twentieth century.
Sources consulted: William DeGregorio, The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents; Alexander Clarence Flick,
Samuel Jones Tilden:
A Study in Political Sagacity; Eric Foner,
Harper’s Weekly via
HarpWeek; Ari Hoogenboom,
The Presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes; David Jordon,
Roscoe Conkling of New York; Keith Ian Polakoff, The Politics of Inertia:
The Election of 1876 and the End of Reconstruction; Sidney
I. Pomerantz, “Election of 1876,” in Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.,
ed., American Presidential Elections; Donald Ritchie, “1876,” in
Running for President:
The Candidates and Their Images, Vol. I: 1789-1896, ed. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.; Mark Summers,
The Era of Good Stealings.