10 Facts about the US Presidential Election of 1876 (Some of Them Fun)


Inspired by my reading of William Rehnquist's Centennial Crisis: The Disputed Election of 1876, here are 8 Fun Facts about 1876 and the election, one fact that's just a fact, and one fact that isn't any fun at all.
  1. The Republican - Rutherford Hayes, who went on to win the election, was the governor of Ohio and a former member of the US House of Representatives. Hayes become the first President to have a telephone in the White House.  Alexander Graham Bell himself installed it. The phone number?  Simple - "1".
  2. The Democrat - Samuel Tilden, who lost the election (though he at first appeared to have won), was the former governor of New York. Tilden's father Elam, along with other family members, was the maker of the then famous patent medicine "Tilden's Extract". He was well ahead of his time - if his Extract were for sale today you'd find it in a medical marijuana store.
  3. The Greenbacks - A third party, the Greenbacks, favored continuing the practice adopted by the North during the Civil War of government issued money not backed by gold. Their nominee was Peter Cooper, builder of the first American steam locomotive the Tom Thumb.
  4. The Fourth Party - There was even a fourth party in the election - the American National Party. They ran such a good campaign that out of 8.4 million votes cast, they won 463.  Yes, four hundred and sixty three.
  5. The Running Mates -  
    1. William Wheeler was nominated as Hayes' running mate at the Republican convention.  Hayes had no idea who he was, writing his wife Lucy at the time "I am ashamed to say: Who is Wheeler?". 
    2. Thomas Hendricks was the Democratic VP candidate. Not only was he nominated for VP in 1876, but again in 1880 (he declined that nomination), and in 1884 when he won alongside Grover Cleveland. 
    3. The Greenbacks nominated Samuel Fenton Cary, a really fun guy who later became well known as a prohibitionist.
  6. The Elephant in the Room -  The incumbent, Ulysses S. Grant, Republican, declined to run for a third term. Many Republicans wanted Grant to run again, and in the public debate over this issue Harper's Weekly posted a Thomas Nast editorial cartoon that pictured an elephant representing the Republican vote. The use of an elephant to represent the Republican party has persisted ever since.
  7. Duplicate Certifications - Three southern states still under Reconstruction after the Civil War, and the state of Oregon, submitted duplicate certified Elector vote totals, muddying the waters enough to throw the final decision to Congress. Congress, that fearless body of legislators we know and love, quickly looked around to see who they could pass this hot potato to, and then passed a law forming the "Electoral Commission", effectively giving the decision to members of the Supreme Court.
  8. Confusion -  With the inclusion of Supreme Court members, Congress hoped that The Electoral Commission would be viewed as an unbiased decision maker. They specifically wanted Justice David Davis, an independent respected by both parties, to serve. However, the Democratic majority Illinois legislature threw them all a curveball, electing Justice Davis to the Senate, hoping to win his vote on the Commission for their candidate Tilden. Davis, no fool he, then took the Senate seat, and declined to serve on the Commission. The Commission, now with a majority of Justices nominated by Republicans, amazingly chose the Republican Hayes/Wheeler ticket as the winners. And that is just a fact.
  9. The Compromise - Democrats were unhappy with the Commission's work and threatened to filibuster in the Senate.  Finally, Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders met before Inauguration Day at Wormley's Hotel and agreed to a compromise. The Republicans would keep the Presidency while the Democrats elected in disputed Southern states were accepted. It was further agreed that the federal government would withdraw troops form the South, effectively ending Reconstruction. This is obviously NOT a fun fact but instead empowered Jim Crow and the KKK and led to real tragedy for civil and equal rights that plagued the US for almost 100 years.
  10. Meanwhile, in The Centennial Year - The United States Centennial Commission raised funds for the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, the first World's Fair held in the US. More than 200 buildings were put up on fthe grounds of the Exposition, and the whole thing was surrounded by a fence three miles long. One of the exhibits was by the Beaver Falls Cutlery Company - the "largest knife and fork in the world", which I'm sure inspired roadside attractions for years.

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