Fraud of the Century: the 1876 Election

Most Americans hope the 2020 presidential race finishes smoothly — “unlike the disputed election of 1876. As the United States celebrated the centennial of the Declaration of Independence, a heated competition between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden was rife with accusations of voter fraud and suppression. Mo Rocca speaks to historians about how the tight race was eventually decided.” — CBS Sunday Morning.

Journalist and historian Roy Morris Jr. recalled “The Fraud of the Century: Rutherford B. Hayes, Samuel Hayes and the Stolen Election of 1876.” Democrat Tilden, governor of New York and a reformer who tackled Boss Tweed, exploited public revulsion at the corruption and numerous scandals of the Grant administration, and there was a recession going on, one of the recurring boom and bust cycles of the American economy. Ohio Governor Hayes acknowledged the Grant administration’s corruption and supported civil service reform. Wikipedia notes that Henry Adams described Hayes as “a third-rate nonentity whose only recommendations are that he is obnoxious to no one.”

Tilden received 250,0000+ more votes than Republican Hayes and needed one electoral vote for victory. He contested the results in three Southern states — Florida, Lousiana and South Carolina — states that were still under federal-government-controlled Reconstruction governments where the votes of Southern whites who had not denounced the Confederacy were restricted.

With the election results in doubt for months, Republicans “waved the bloody shirt,” calling on folks to avenge the memory of the Yankee soldiers killed by Confederates, and saying the South was full of rebels trying to destroy the union. They chanted, “Not every Democrat was a rebel, but every rebel was a Democrat.”

Republicans also committed fraud in Louisiana, for sure. 

Grant had to call out federal troops to quell the violence. 

In the the Compromise of 1877, Democrats conceded the election to Hayes in return for an end to Reconstruction and the withdrawal of federal troops from the South. After a controversial post-election process, Hayes was declared the winner.

Millions of newly enfranchised blacks lost their voting rights for 90 years. They were essentially betrayed or “sold down the river” by both parties.

Morris described “four tense months of brazen political intrigue and threats of violence that brought armed troops into the streets of the nation’s capital.”


Jeff Greenfield “Enough drama, melodrama, farce, and tragedy to power a dozen novels….A compelling tale for anyone even remotely interested in American political history.”

Jay Winik “A rip-roaring book, filled with high-stakes chicanery, low-down politics, rampant partisanship, riveting personal struggles, and lingering sectional animosities. If you thought Bush v. Gore was contentious — read this.”

Book TV Interview

Flagler Museum: “Set in the centennial year of the United States, the 1876 Presidential election was one of the most dynamic and powerful elections in American history. Embroiled in claims of corruption and controversial legality, the contest between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden nearly sparked a civil war among political parties. The older, more politically experienced Tilden, received the popular vote and was known as an intellectual politician. However, it was Hayes, the more practical politician, who eventually took the oath of office, after an exhaustive recount of the electoral vote. The battle for the presidency of 1876 depleted Tilden’s personal and political spirit and dampened Hayes’ political reputation on both sides of the political aisle. Roy Morris Jr. is a former newspaper reporter and political writer. Morris was founding editor of America’s Civil War for 13 years before assuming his current post as editor of Military Heritage in 2004. He has also served as a consultant for the A&E television network and the History Channel, and edited a three-book series for Purdue University Press on Civil War and post-Civil War history, culture, journalism and literature.”

Other Videos on the 1876 Election

Reconstruction, After Civil War. Powerful Documentary Series and Teaching Tool

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