GOD SAVE THE REPUBLIC, PLEASE
Rutherford Hayes v. Samuel Tilden, President, 1876
And you thought the disputed 2000 election between Bush and Gore was bad. At least that one was resolved by the time the electoral college met in December. The 1876 mess between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden wasn't resolved until early March of the following year—only days before the scheduled presidential inauguration.
Ironically, the year 1876 was America's centennial. The country's 100-year anniversary was celebrated with small-town barbecues and big-city parades. The National Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia was the center of the nation's love affair with democracy. It was only fitting, then, that a presidential election should feature America's democratic system in action. But this election was not America's finest hour.
The campaigns of the 1870s and 1880s were intensely personal and nasty. The Hayes-Tilden campaign set a new standard for nastiness, maybe because the campaign lasted so long and involved so much drama and intrigue.
In 1876 the Republicans were at a crossroads of sorts. The Civil War had been over for more than a decade, but its aftermath created administrative and political headaches that were very difficult to manage. The divisive period of Reconstruction was coming to an end, and there were calls for its repeal, particularly from the Southern states under its thumb.
The country had survived two scandal-plagued terms of President Ulysses S. Grant, but the Republican Party's image was badly tarnished. To make matters worse, the country had gone through a severe economic downturn since the Panic of 1873. Falling crop prices, rising unemployment in the cities, and widespread corruption at all levels of government—Republicans were blamed for it all.