History Timeline 1870s

Photo above: President U.S. Grant. Courtesy National Archives. Right: Valley of the Yellowstone, 1871, by William Henry Jackson, Hayden Survey. Courtesy Library of Congress.

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U.S. Timeline - The 1870s

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  • Timeline

  • 1877 - Detail

    March 2, 1877 - Congressional leaders from both houses of Congress convene on the presidential election dispute, reaching the Compromise of 1877 and electing Rutherford B. Hayes as President and William A. Wheeler as Vice President. They would be inaugurated one day later in a private ceremony at the White House. Hayes would appoint Carl Schurz Secretary of the Interior, who began efforts to prevent forest destruction.

    Compromise of 1877

    The election was expected to be close, and it was. For the second time in American history, the Presidential election between Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes, and Democratic candidate Samuel J. Tilden, would not have an agreement between the popular vote, won by Tilden, and the Electoral College, won by Hayes. Yes, this had happened before, in 1824 during the first direct popular vote for President, although not all states were involved, so those numbers are in doubt, and would happen again, three more times, 1888, 2000, and the latest with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in 2016. But this was the first, and it would be contested, all the way to the ... not so fast, ... if you thought it would be the full and only Supreme Court, that was not the procedure used.

    Tilden had been elected Governor of New York in 1874 after his leadership in the anti-Tammany Hall investigations that led to the arrest of Boss Tweed, the noted New York politician known for bribery and extortion. So Tilden was a popular political figure who ran against corruption; by 1876, he was a national figure, well advertised, and a believer in reestablishing the gold standard after the Panic of 1873 had led to recession.

    Rutherford B. Hayes had been a Civil War general, engaged in battles such as South Mountain and Second Kernstown, and been elected to Congress from Ohio, seated in December 1865. He led efforts for the 1866 Civil Rights Act, opposed President Andrew Johnson's post-war approach, and won election to Governor of Ohio in 1867.

    Tilden won the Democratic nomination in the summer of 1868 on the 2nd ballot; it took Hayes seven ballots to gain the Republican nod. Both men ran on a platform of honesty in politics, that was predominantly true of both, and both advocated for hard money policy. In true custom of political campaigns during the era, neither men campaigned, leaving that to surrogates. The election focused on five states; New York, Indiana, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida.

    The Election Returns

    As the votes were tallied on election day, November 7, 1876, it was apparent that Tilden had won the contested northern states of New York and Indiana, as well as the popular vote overall (4,286,808 to 4,034,142), but there was doubt to the outcome of the three contested southern states; Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida. Each of those states placed an Electoral Ballot for both candidates. Tilden needed one additional Electoral College vote to gain the 185 necessary for election. Republican Hayes needed to run the table in those three states, all nineteen votes, in which he claimed a suppression of the black vote, for victory, having only 166 Electoral College votes on Election Day. Both parties claimed fraud, and for three days the outcome teetered to find a balanced outcome. Complicating the matter was an elector in Oregon, won by Hayes, who was disqualified, leaving twenty votes in doubt. Hayes needed all twenty to win.

    Neither the Republicans or Democrats could agree on who should decide the election. Both thought a house of Congress would be the appropriate venue, as stated in the Constitution, not the Supreme Court. The Republicans held the Senate; the Democrats held the House of Representatives. Since that was not viable as neither would budge from their thought of Congressional supremacy, President Ulysses S. Grant and Congress proposed an Electoral Commission on January 18, 1877; five Senators, five Congressmen, and five Supreme Court Justices. There would be seven Republicans, seven Democrats, and one Independent, Supreme Court Justice David Davis.

    But Illinois attempted to sway the decision, the Democrats who controlled the state legislature elected Davis to the Senate, which he accepted. Yes, the Senate was considered a better position than Supreme Court Justice by most at the time. When Davis resigned his position on the Electoral Commission on January 25, 1877, the only remaining Supreme Court justices were all Republicans and one needed to be chosen to fill his seat on the Commission. When the appointment of Joseph P. Bradley, the most independent of the jurors, led to all Republicans, now eight, on the Electoral Commission choosing Rutherford B. Hayes as the victor in February 1877, the Democrats threatened to filibuster.

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    Compromise of 1877

    As inauguration day loomed on March 3, 1877, leaders of both parties met to bridge the disagreement. Hayes made concessions to southern Democrats. The tenants of the compromise ending the filibuster were not written, however, by March 2, 1877, the Democrats removed their objections to the Presidency of Hayes, stopped their effort to prevent the inauguration, and agreed to the following.

    All remaining troops would be removed from the former Confederate states, including Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida.

    The Republican Party would accept the election of Democratic governors in the southern states and allow them to act as legitimate arbiters in race relations in their states without interference from the Federal Government. The Louisiana Governor would become Francis T. Nicholls, a Confederate veteran. Both he and Republican challenger Stephen B. Packard had claimed victory with both establishing governments. Wade Hampton III, one of the largest slaveholders in the state prior to the Civil War and a Confederate cavalry general, would become governor of South Carolina, and Richard Hubbard, Civil War veteran of the Confederacy, Governor of Texas.

    A Southern Democrat, David M. Key of Tennessee, would be appointed Postmaster General, giving Democrats a voice in the Hayes cabinet.

    The Texas and Pacific Railroad would be used throughout the South in construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. This would not be accomplished.

    There would be a commitment to legislation to boost the industrialization of the Southern states. This, as well, was not enacted.

    While Rutherford B. Hayes would gain the Presidency, the outcome of the Compromise of 1877 effectively gave control of the South to Democrats for decades. The outcome was dire for the rights of freedmen of color. Reconstruction ended. Democrats now controlled the states of secession again, and the Civil Rights of blacks, codified into law in the 1866 Civil Rights Act, would not be fully observed.

    Hayes was inaugurated in a private ceremony in the Red Room at the White House on Saturday, March 3, 1877, with a public ceremony held on Monday, March 5, 1877, with Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite giving the oath of office again to the 19th President of the United States. Hayes would not seek reelection.

    Photo above: Presidential inauguration of 1877 with Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite giving oath of office to President Rutherford B. Hayes, 1877, Brady's National Photographic Portrait Galleries. Courtesy Library of Congress. Below: Montage of (left) President Rutherford B. Hayes, 1877, G.F. Gilman; and (right) Samuel J. Tilden, 1876, William E. Marshall. Both courtesy Library of Congress. Info Source: Library of Congress; "Compromise of 1877," J. Paul Leslie, 64parishes,org; Wikipedia Commons.

    President Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel J. Tilden

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