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Third-Party Nominations
Two minor parties also offered national tickets to the electorate. On May 17 in Cleveland, the National Prohibition Reform party, representing one of the oldest and most broad-based reform movements in American history, nominated General Green Clay Smith of Kentucky for president and G. T. Stewart of Ohio for vice-president. Also meeting on May 17 (and 18), in Indianapolis, the National Greenback party nominated the 85-year-old philanthropist Peter Cooper of New York for president and Senator Newton Booth of California for vice-president (Booth was later replaced by Samuel Clay of Ohio). Despite its limited appeal, the Greenbackers helped keep the money question before the public, while its nearly 82,000 votes proved important in close states like Indiana and allowed them to win some legislative seats in states like Illinois.

The Campaign
Although impaired by the inattention of national chair Zachariah Chandler, the Republicans presented a unified front as Blaine and other leading Republicans stumped for Hayes; only Conkling sulked. At the behest of Hayes, issues like civil service reform took a back-seat to "waving the bloody shirt"—reminding voters of the alleged Democratic connection with the Confederate cause. Since anti-black violence continued in the South, the negative campaigning of the Republicans was not baseless. Republicans also publicized several Tilden weaknesses: questionable income tax returns, early association with Boss Tweed, ill health (he had suffered a stroke the previous year), and views on monetary policy which conflicted with those of his running-mate, Hendricks.

Abram Hewitt, the Democratic national party chair, worked with Manton Marble, former New York World editor, and John Bigelow, New York’s secretary of state, in coordinating a detailed campaign strategy focused on winning the crucial state of New York. Tilden’s nephew, Colonel William Pelton, papered the nation with a constant flow of campaign literature to create a positive image of the Democratic nominee and to malign Republican political corruption and economic policy. The Democratic House pushed through Congress the statehood bill for Colorado, assuming the territory was safely Democratic. It was a tactical error that cost them the election because the new state would cast its three electoral votes for Hayes.

The first state and congressional elections, held in Maine and Vermont in September, went decisively in the Republican column. On October 10, however, the Democrats won Indiana and West Virginia, while the Republicans took Ohio. The nearly-even distribution of the votes in the key states of Indiana and Ohio forecast a close national election in early November, although in the final days of the campaign most observers predicted a Tilden victory. The Grant administration spent nearly $300,000 on deputy marshals and supervisors who were charged with securing a fair election, with over $80,000 allocated for New York City and most of the rest earmarked for the South.

Election Results and Controversy
The first returns on elections day indicated a clear Democratic victory. Both candidates went to bed assuming that Tilden had won the presidency, and several newspapers so reported in their morning editions. As returns came in from the Far West, though, the tide began to turn, and by the next evening some Republicans believed Hayes to be the winner. When the dust settled Tilden had won the popular vote, 51%-48%, but with 184 votes was one short of an electoral college majority. Hayes collected 165 electoral votes, while the remaining 20 were in dispute: one from Oregon and 19 from the three Southern states which still retained Reconstruction governments—South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana. In Oregon the Democrats were disputing a Republican elector on a technicality, but in the three Southern states both parties were claiming victory in close elections and charging the other party with vote fraud.

The Constitution did not provide for the unprecedented scenario of a disputed presidential election (as distinct from an election simply lacking a candidate with an electoral majority, as in 1800 and 1824). The electoral college controversy would drag on for months, not reaching resolution until almost the eve of the scheduled inauguration on Monday, March 5, 1877. Both camps hurled accusations, debate sometimes reached a fever-pitch, and General William Sherman ordered four artillery companies to the nation’s capital. The crisis sent newspaper sales soaring, although responsible commentators tried to quiet fears of renewed civil war. The presidential candidates themselves remained publicly mum during the tense interval. Tilden’s characteristic silence, however, prevented him from convincing the public that justice required that the winner of the popular vote should become president. Hayes used the time to conciliate President Grant, who had let it be known that he believed Tilden had carried Louisiana.

Initially, most Republicans wanted the president of the Senate—who, after the death of Vice President Henry Wilson in 1875, was Senator Thomas Ferry, a Michigan Republican—to decide which election returns to count. A few Republicans, such as Senators Carl Schurz of Missouri and George Edmunds of Vermont, thought the Supreme Court should settle the matter. Democrats wanted the Democratically-controlled House to decide jointly with the Republican-controlled Senate. Conkling, the disgruntled Republican also-ran, agreed with the preferred Democratic method, and asserted that Tilden had won Louisiana and Florida. Southern Democrats privately approached Congressman James Garfield, a Hayes protégé, to work out a deal for Southern acquiescence in a Republican victory in return for specific benefits for the South. Hayes, however, would only reiterate his vague campaign promise of a just and liberal Southern policy.

In the end, Congress adopted and the candidates grudgingly accepted an orderly, multi-institutional, bipartisan solution. Representative George McCrary of Iowa, a Republican, introduced a resolution establishing a special committee of each house to develop a process for resolving the conflict, and it passed Congress in December. On January 10, 1877, Edmunds and McCrary, the respective chairs of the Senate and House compromise committees, proposed the creation of a commission independent of Congress for final adjudication. The Electoral Commission Act, which gained wide approval, established a 15-member commission, consisting of five senators (three Republicans and two Democrats), five representatives (three Democrats and two Republicans), and five members of the Supreme Court (four chosen based on geographic diversity, who would then select a fifth). The commission’s decisions were to be legally regarded as final unless overridden by both houses of Congress.

The Supreme Court participants included two Republicans, two Democrats, and an independent, Justice David Davis. To nearly everyone’s surprise, though, a Greenback-Democratic coalition in Illinois’ new state legislature elected Davis to the U.S. Senate on January 25. The Illinois Democrats considered the Senate seat an inducement for Davis to treat Tilden favorably. Neither Tilden nor Hewitt knew of the plan, but it had been urged by the candidate’s shady nephew, Colonel Pelton. Contrary to expectations, Davis resigned from the commission, and once again a tactical error likely cost the Democrats the presidential election. The substitute fifth justice, Joseph Bradley, was a Grant Republican who would vote for Hayes.

The electoral commission began meeting on February 2, 1877. Over the next several weeks the commission reviewed the evidence with lawyers representing both sides. On February 27 the commission voted on a partisan 8-7 vote for Hayes in each instance of disputed electoral returns. Several behind-the-scenes negotiations led past historians to conclude that a deal had been agreed to by Hayes’s associates and Southern Democrats. Recent historians have downplayed the importance of the negotiations. A threatened Democratic filibuster was averted, but the Democratic House did reject the findings of the commission. The Republican Senate, though, approved them, and under the Electoral Commission Act the commission’s judgment had the force of law. After a long, tempestuous session of Congress, ending at 4:10 a.m. on March 2, 1877, Rutherford B. Hayes received all 20 contested votes, allowing him to win an electoral college majority, and thus the presidency, by one vote, 185-184. Three days later, on Monday, March 5, Hayes delivered his inaugural address. As anticipated, Hayes removed the remaining federal troops in the South from political duty (guarding the statehouses) and the era of Reconstruction formally ended.

Sources consulted:  William DeGregorio, The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents; Alexander Clarence Flick, Samuel Jones Tilden: A Study in Political Sagacity; 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.

 
 
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