Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Election of 1876

This is an interesting presentation on the Election of 1876, looking again at the issues going into this election and how Colorado factored into the election:
Let me quickly remind you of the basic facts. By the morning after election day in November 1876, it was clear that Samuel Tilden, the Democratic candidate, had 184 electoral votes, one shy of the necessary majority, while Hayes had 165. Twenty electoral votes were in dispute: 19 from the three southern states Republicans still controlled - Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana - and one from Oregon, which Republicans had clearly carried but where one of their three electors was ineligible because he held a federal job. Tilden and his Democratic allies, indeed, would plead with the Democratic governor of that state to substitute one of the Democratic electors for the disqualified Republican to give Tilden the one vote he needed.
But Tilden needed one more vote only because Colorado, with three electoral votes, had been admitted as the Centennial State in July 1876. Without its admission, Tilden would have won the election with 184 votes. Democrats had a heavy majority in the House of Representatives, so I asked myself how they could have been so stupid as to allow Colorado’s admission prior to the election, especially since Colorado, like most western states, was safely Republican?

Answering that question took some work since no book on Reconstruction or the election of 1876 that I had read provided an answer. This is what I found in congressional records. Residents of Colorado were initially given permission to form a state government in 1863 at the same time Nevada was, but that year and on several subsequent occasions popular referenda in Colorado opposed statehood. In the spring of 1874, when Republicans still controlled both houses of Congress, Republicans in the House pushed through a bill offering Colorado statehood once again. The Senate, however, took no action on the bill during that first session of the 43rd Congress. Then in its second session between December 1874 and March 1875, after Democrats had won crushing victories in the congressional elections of 1874 that guaranteed them a huge majority in the House during the 44th Congress, Senate Republicans rewrote the House bill. The new legislation stipulated that Coloradans could not hold a referendum on statehood until July 1876 but that if statehood passed in that vote before July 4, 1876, then the President could admit Colorado as a state without any further action by Congress. In short, Republicans neutered Democrats in the next Congress by prohibiting them from voting on Colorado statehood. Most Democrats recognized this, and they had the votes in both chambers to defeat this bill in 1875 under a rule requiring a two-thirds majority because in each chamber it came up on the final day of the session. But in both chambers a few Democrats, for reasons unknown, broke ranks and voted with Republicans for statehood. Coloradans voted for statehood on July 1, and on August 1 President Grant proclaimed its admission as a state.

Holt also looks at how the disputed election came to be and what factored effected it, even predicted it:
But I discovered something else when I was looking at the congressional debates during the second session of the 43rd Congress. Fully aware that Democrats would have a massive majority in the House in the next Congress, Republicans in the Senate as early as December 1874 predicted that there would be a dispute over counting the electoral votes after the 1876 election. These predictions stemmed partly from the vagueness of the Constitution about who could count the electoral votes, an imprecision that caused much of the uproar in early 1877. The Twelfth Amendment of the Constitution simply said that each state was to send its electoral votes, specifying how many popular votes each candidate for president and vice president received, under seal to the president of the Senate. Then, “the President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall be counted.” But counted by whom? In 1877 some Republicans would claim the Republican president pro tem of the Senate, Thomas Ferry of Michigan, alone had authority to count the votes. Democrats, in turn, said the language meant the entire body of Representatives and Senators, where Democrats would have a large majority, should decide. Only the creation of the famous 15-man Electoral Commission that would award Hayes all twenty disputed electoral votes by an 8 to 7 vote resolved that dispute in 1877.

In late 1874 and early 1875, however, Republicans were much more worried by a 22nd joint-rule that Congress had adopted in February 1865 to deal with disputed electoral votes, a rule that was still on the books. This rule held that if anyone disputed an electoral vote during the counting before the joint-session, the Senate and the House would retire to their separate chambers and decide by majority vote whether or not to accept that state’s electoral vote. The hooker was that if either chamber refused to accept a state’s electoral votes, then those votes were declared null and void and no longer counted for either candidate. At the same time, however, they still would count toward the total number of electoral votes from which the winning candidate required a majority. What Senate Republicans feared and what they repeatedly warned during the winter of 1874-75, therefore, was that House Democrats would challenge and throw out so many electoral votes after the 1876 elections that no one could get the necessary majority. In that case, according to the Constitution, the decision would go to the House where the Democratic majority could name the winner even though each state had only one vote.

One product of these fears was a flood of constitutional amendments proposed by Republicans, both in the second session of the 43rd Congress and in December 1875 at the start of the 45th Congress, to change the way electoral votes were counted. The details of these amendments varied, but the majority contended that Congress should be eliminated entirely from the counting of electoral votes and that the Supreme Court should decide who won presidential elections. Though none of these amendments passed, in December 1875 Senate Republicans, over Democratic objections, did unilaterally rescind the 22nd joint-rule, meaning that no method was in place to decide disputed electoral votes after November 1876.

What I’ve learned about the disputed electoral vote is fascinating, but it is not even what most interested me about the 1876 election. Rather two other aspects of it did. First, like many other political historians I think it stabilized and for the very first time assured the longevity of the system of two-party competition between Republicans and Democrats. You might find it surprising, but from the birth of the Republican party in 1854 until 1876 there were repeated attempts to displace it with a differently configured anti-Democratic party, forcing Republican politicians repeatedly to justify the existence of their party. These calls for a new party, often from leading Republican politicians and editors, became especially numerous after the Civil War. In 1869, for example, the Republican New York Times announced “that the work of the Republican party ends with the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment,” and that it was time for a major political reshuffling in which the Republican party would and should be displaced. As late as 1876 itself, indeed, Republicans felt it necessary to justify their continued existence by announcing in their national platform that “the work of the Republican party is unfinished.”

Party politics and popular voting behavior were most volatile between 1870 and 1875 when a host of new parties sprang up to challenge both Republicans and Democrats for voters’ allegiance. \In the West and Midwest these were usually clean-government or economically-oriented reform parties with a host of names such as Independent, Anti-Monopoly, Granger, Greenback, Greenback-Labor, and the like. The most famous, however, was the Liberal Republican movement which emerged in the Border States in 1869 and then spread to the North in 1872. Grant, of course, walloped the Liberal Republican/Democratic candidate Horace Greeley in 1872 by over 700,000 popular votes, but one of the things I’ve found most surprising in the Hayes and Tilden manuscript collections and newspapers is that the Liberal Republican movement did not fade away after that rout. Liberal Republicans ran in and carried several congressional districts in 1874, and as late as May 1876 Liberal Republicans held a meeting in New York City to decide if they should run their own candidate again that year. The Hayes and Tilden manuscript collections, indeed, make it crystal clear that both Republicans and Democrats considered Liberal Republicans as the key swing group in 1876 whose allegiance would determine the outcome of the election. Both parties, therefore, engaged in a bidding war for Liberals, a bidding war that largely shaped the campaign strategy of both. Arguably, indeed, the main reason Hayes won the Republican nomination in 1876 was that once the favorite of the Liberals, Benjamin Bristow, was stopped at the Republican convention, Hayes seemed the most likely alternative to attract Liberals’ support because of his honesty and commitment to specie resumption.

1 comment:

Shelley said...

As a writer of works set in the past, it seems to me that since now Citizens United has turned elections over to the corporations, the dirtiest battle in the past over delegates now sounds pristine.