More Than One Way to Win

Article excerpt

Until the day he died, Samuel J. Tilden believed the election of 1876 and the presidency had been stolen from him. Many historians think so, too. Rutherford B. Hayes was declared the victor, but between election day on November 8, 1876 and March 2, 1877 the election was in dispute.

It was the "longest, bitterest, and most controversial presidential election in American history," according to Paul F. Boller, Jr. in "Presidential Campaigns," an evaluation which may or may not compare to the shenanigans of election 2000. Mr. Boller exposes the dramatic rewards of aggressive political partisanship.

Patience, of course, was a prized virtue then as now, but those who acted aggressively rather than passively were rewarded with victory. Some of the details of that 1876 post-election wrangling provide either comfort or anxiety today, depending on whose maneuvering you admire and which candidate you like.

But no matter what is said in the name of high-mindedness, it's likely that our election, like that one 124 years ago, will be deeply affected - if not determined - by partisanship. It earned President Rutherford Hayes the nickname of "His Fraudulency" because he had approximately 300,000 fewer popular votes than his opponent and he may have won the Electoral College by a single vote through crooked means. But win he did.

He paid a price for the cloud that settled over his election. The House of Representatives, with a majority of Democrats, opened an investigation into ballot fraud. It turned up extensive corruption in both parties, including bribery, forgery, intimidation and stuffed ballot boxes. Could history repeat?

What's alarming to historians is how post-election partisanship carried the day. An Electoral Commission in 1877 of 15 members was designed to include 7 Republicans, 7 Democrats and one independent, but when the independent had to drop out he was replaced with a Republican, giving the GOP a majority of one. Naturally this enraged Democrats and delighted Republicans, and when the commission gave all the disputed electoral votes to Hayes, he beat Tilden 185 to 184.

No doubt Jim Baker was familiar with the 1876 election and determined that his candidate shouldn't sit by while the Gore men played hardball. …