The nomination of Mr. Hayes seemed inevitable after the fifth ballot was announced. Mr. Hayes was the only candidate who had made a gain on every vote; and as he was, if not very well known, entirely unobjectionable to the friends of all other candidates, it was less difficult to concentrate votes upon him than upon any other person in the list. Mr. Blaine, who was informed by telegraph at his house in Washington of the progress of the voting, wrote a dispatch congratulating Mr. Hayes immediately on receiving the result of the fifth vote.

The Democrats met at St. Louis two weeks later. The convention was deprived of much of its interest by the fact that Mr. Tilden's lead for the nomination was so very great. He was known to have more than four hundred delegates out of the whole convention of 744, and while his candidacy was opposed, the opposition came from States which nevertheless chose unanimous delegations in his favor. The delegates chosen in the interest of other candidates were for the latter, but not against Tilden. His nomination was therefore universally expected, except by the more sanguine friends of other candidates. . . .

The polls had hardly closed on the day of election, the 7th of November, when the Democrats began to claim the Presidency. The returns came in so unfavorably for the Republicans that there was hardly a newspaper organ of the party which did not, on the following morning, concede the election of Mr. Tilden. He was believed to have carried every Southern State, as well as New York, Indiana, New Jersey, and Connecticut. The whole number of electoral votes was 369. If the above estimate were correct, the Democratic candidates would have 203 votes, and the Republican candidates 166 votes. But word was sent out on the same day from Republican headquarters at Washington that Hayes and Wheeler were elected by one majority; that the States of South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana had chosen Republican electors.

Then began the most extraordinary contest that ever took place in the country. The only hope of the Republicans was in the perfect defense of their position. The loss of a single vote would be fatal. An adequate history of the four months between the popular election and the inauguration of Mr. Hayes would fill volumes. Space can be given here for only a bare reference to some of the most important events. Neither party was over-scrupulous, and no doubt the acts of some members of each party were grossly illegal and corrupt. Certain transactions preceding the meetings of electors were not known until long afterward, when the key to the famous "cipher dispatches" was accidentally revealed.

In four States, South Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, and Oregon, there were double returns. In South Carolina there were loud complaints that detachments of the army, stationed near the polls, had prevented a fair and free election. Altho the Board of State Canvassers certified to the choice of the Hayes electors, who were chosen on the face of the returns, the Democratic candidates for electors met on the day fixt for the meeting of electors and cast ballots for Tilden and Hendricks. In Florida there were allegations of fraud on both sides. The canvassing board and the governor certified to the election of the Hayes electors, but, fortified by a court decision in their favor, the Democratic electors also met and voted. In Louisiana there was anarchy. There were two governors, two returning boards, two sets of returns showing different results, and two electoral colleges. In Oregon the Democratic governor adjudged one of the Republican electors ineligible, and gave a certificate to the highest candidate on the Democratic list. The Republican electors, having no certificate from the governor, met and voted for Hayes and Wheeler. The Democratic elector, whose appointment was certified to by the governor, appointed two others to fill the vacancies, when the two Republican electors would not meet with him, and the three voted for Tilden and Hendricks. All of these cases were very complicated in their incidents, and a brief account which should convey an intelligible idea of what occurred is impossible.

As soon as the electoral votes were cast it became a question of the very first importance how they were to be counted. It was evident that the Senate would refuse to be governed by the twenty-second joint rule—in fact, the Senate voted to rescind the rule—and it was further evident that if the count were to take place in accordance with that rule it would result in throwing out electoral votes on both sides on the most frivolous pretexts. It was asserted by the Republicans that, under the Constitution, the President of the Senate alone had the right to count, in spite of the fact that the joint rule, the work of their party, had assumed the power for the two Houses of Congress. On the other hand, the Democrats, who had always denounced that rule as unconstitutional, now maintained that the right to count was conferred upon Congress. A compromise became necessary, and the moderate men on both sides determined to effect the establishment of a tribunal, as evenly divided politically as might be, which should decide all disputed questions so far as the Constitution gave authority to Congress to decide them. The outcome of their efforts was the Electoral Commission law of 1877, which was passed as originally reported. . . .

At the time the count began, on the 1st of February, 1877, each party was confident of victory. The Democrats relied upon a great variety of objections which had been prepared, the sustaining of any one of which would be sufficient to give the election to Mr. Tilden. The Republican hope was in a refusal of the commission to "go behind the returns." Senator Thomas W. Ferry, of Michigan, President pro tempore of the Senate, was the presiding officer. The count proceeded, under the law, in the alphabetical order of the States. When the vote of Florida was reached, the certificates of the Hayes and also of the Tilden electors were read. Objections were made to each. The Democrats asserted that the Hayes electors were not duly chosen; that the certificate, of the governor to their election was the result of a conspiracy; that its validity, if any, had been annulled by a subsequent certificate by the governor, to the effect that the Tilden electors were chosen; that a court decision made certain the election of the Democratic electors; and that one of the Republican electors was a shipping commissioner under appointment from the Government of the United States at the time of his election, and was therefore disqualified. The Republican objection to the Tilden votes was that the returns were not duly authenticated by any person holding at the time an office under the State of Florida. It was only on the 7th of February that the commission, after very long arguments by eminent counsel selected to appear for the two parties, decided the case of Florida.

The decision was that it was not competent for the commission "to go into evidence aliunde the papers opened by the President of the Senate, to prove that other persons than those regularly certified to by the governor" were appointed. With reference to the case of Ithe elector alleged to have been disqualified, it was decided that the evidence did not show that he held an office on the day of his appointment. The several votes were passed by eight to seven—all the Republicans being on one side, and all the Democrats on the other. The formal decision, which was submitted to the two Houses, was that the four Hayes electors, naming them, were duly appointed electors, and that their votes were the constitutional votes. The Houses met on February 10, and received this decision. Formal objection was then made to the decision of the Electoral Commission, and the Houses separated to consider it. The Senate, by a strict party vote, decided that the votes shall be counted. The House of Representatives, by a vote which was on party lines, except that one Democrat voted with the Republicans, voted that the electoral votes given by the Tilden electors should be counted. The two Houses not having agreed in rejecting the decision of the commission, it stood, and the joint session was resumed. The votes of Florida having been recorded, the count proceeded until Louisiana was reached.

The Republican objections to the Tilden votes from Louisiana were, like those to the votes of Florida, brief and formal. The government, of which W. P. Kellogg was the head, had been recognized by every department of the Government of the United States as the true government of Louisiana, and the certificates of the Hayes electors certified by him were in due form. The Democrats made a great variety of objections to the Hayes votes. They asserted that John McEnery was the lawful Governor of the State; that the certificates asserting the appointment of the Hayes electors were false; and that the canvass of votes by the returning board was without jurisdiction and void. Special objection was made to three of the electors; to two of them as being disqualified, under the Constitution; and to the third, Governor Kellogg, because he certified to his own election. Several days were consumed in argument before the commission. On the 16th of February the commission voted, once more by eight to seven, that the evidence offered to prove that the Tilden electors were chosen be not received, and that the certificates of the Hayes electors were the true votes of Louisiana. The decision having been communicated to the two Houses, the count was resumed on the 19th. Objection was made to the decision of the commission, and the two Houses separated again to act upon them. The Senate voted, by 41 to 28, that the decision of the commission should stand. The House voted that the electoral votes cast by the Hayes electors for Louisiana ought not to be counted—173 to 99. In each case this was a party vote, except that two Republicans in the House voted with the Democrats. . . .

To the Hayes votes in South Carolina the Democrats next objected that there was no legal election in the State, that there was not, in South Carolina, during the year 1876, a Republican form of government, and that the army and the United States deputy marshals stationed at and near the polls prevented the free exercise of the right of suffrage. The Republicans asserted that the Tilden board was not duly appointed, and that the certificates were wholly defective in form and lacking the necessary official certification. The papers having been referred to the Electoral Commission, that body met again on the 26th. Senator Thurman was obliged to retire from service upon the commission, on account of illness, and Senator Francis Kernan was substituted for him. After a day devoted to arguments, the commission voted unanimously that the Tilden electors were not the true electors of South Carolina, and, by the old majority of eight to seven, that the Hayes electors were the constitutional electors duly appointed. The two Houses separated upon renewed objections to the decision of the commission, and as before the Senate sustained the finding, while the Houses voted to reject it. . . .

Question after question was decided uniformly in favor of the Republican. It became evident to the Democrats that their case was lost. They charged gross partizanship, upon the Republican members of the Electoral Commission, in determining every point involved in the dual returns for their own party, tho as a matter of fact there does not seem to have been much room for choice between the two parties on the score of partizanship. Each member of the commission favored by his vote that view which would result in adding to the electoral vote of his own party. But as the result of the count became more and more certainly a Republican triumph, the anger of the Democrats rose. Some of them were for discontinuing the count; and the symptoms of a disposition to filibuster so that there should be no declaration of the result gave reason for public disquietude. But the conservative members of the party were too patriotic to allow the failure of a law which they had been instrumental in passing to lead to anarchy or revolution, and they sternly discountenanced all attempts to defeat the conclusion of the count. The summing up of the votes was read by Mr. Allison on the 2d of March, amid great excitement. . .

Mr. Perry thereupon declared Rutherford B. Hayes elected President, and William A. Wheeler Vice-President, of the United States. The decision was acquiesced in peaceably by the whole country, and by men of every party. But the Democrats have never ceased to denounce the whole affair as a fraud, and some newspapers have steadily refused to speak of Mr. Hayes as having ever been rightfully in possession of the Presidential office. Their anger at the time was very great, since they believed that Mr. Tilden was fairly elected.2


1 From Stanwood's "History of Presidential Elections." By permission of and by arrangement with the authorized pubilshers, Houghton, Mifflin Co. Copyright, 1884, 1888, 1892.
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2 Soon after the inauguration of Mr. Hayes military rule in the Southern States came to an end. It had existed there since the Civil War. The new administration found two Southern States with two separate State governments—South Carolina and Louisiana. It decided to withdraw from the state-houses of these States the United States troops still stationed there. After this was done the Democratic governors, Hampton in South Carolina and Nicholls in Louisiana, became sole governors, the Republicans withdrawing and turning over State records and papers to the Democrats.

It has generally been conceded that this action, on the part of President Hayes, was influenced materially by the closeness of the contest over the election, and the nature of his title to the office. It has even been said that South Carolina and Louisiana took no determined action against the decision of the returning boards in favor of the Hayes electors because of an understanding that Hayes, if seated, would withdraw the Federal troops from those States. It seemed clear that there was no bargain of this sort to which Mr. Hayes himself was a party, altho men eminent in the counsels of the Republican organization are believed to have led Southern leaders to understand that Mr. Hayes would withdraw the troops if he should secure the seat.

Of the results achieved in the South since reconstruction was abandoned, George Cary Eggleston remarks in his recent "History of the Confederate War," that they constitute "a material prosperity greater than any ever dreamed of in that region before." Resources that had lain dormant for generations have been developed and the cotton industry has been increased threefold. Before the war the greatest cotton crop ever harvested was 4,669,000 bales, while in recent years more than 12,000,000 bales have been harvested; in 1911 the total was close to 15,000,000 bales. A stupendous economic revolution has in fact occurred, one whose "rewards to industry, to capital and to enterprise are such as the wildest visionary would have laughed at as a futile dream when the South lay stript and stricken and staggering under its burden of perplexities."
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© 2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman