People's Choice Bows to Hayes

By Butters, Pat | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 3, 1996 | Go to article overview

People's Choice Bows to Hayes


Butters, Pat, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Only three times in American history did the popular vote winner go down in defeat, either in the House of Representatives or in the Electoral College. Two candidates - Andrew Jackson and Grover Cleveland - later won.

The third, Samuel J. Tilden of New York, did not, despite winning more than 2 million more votes than his nearest foe. His 1876 battle with Rutherford B. Hayes came closest to plunging the nation back into civil war.

Cold and arrogant, with mutton chops and dimples, Samuel Jones Tilden was a brilliant lawyer with an incredibly secretive disposition. He was born on Feb. 9, 1814, in New Lebanon, N.Y., and as a young man studied law at the University of the City of New York. He went from corporate and railroad law to the Democratic state assembly in 1845. A Free Soil disciple of Martin Van Buren's, he rose through the Democratic system, first becoming state chairman and then governor in 1875.

He was nominated on the second ballot at the 1876 Democratic convention in St. Louis. Everyone seemed to know the race would be close, because 82.6 percent of the eligible voters at the time turned out at the polls. Tilden came within one electoral vote of defeating his rival, Hayes, but the tallies in four states - Florida, Oregon, Louisiana and South Carolina - came back with two sets of returns!

Congress tried to solve the problem by appointing a 15-member special commission to decide the electors' fate. Shady dealing resulted: Republicans, reeling from the corrupt Ulysses S. Grant era, would get the White House, while Democrats would win control of Deep South governments and federal funds. …

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