Presidential Election of 1876 – Samuel J. Tilden

January 8, 2008

The main characters involved in the controversial election of 1876 were Samuel Tilden from the Democrats and Rutherford Hayes of the Republicans.

samueltilden.jpgSamuel Tilden and the Democrats won the election on Election Day, but the Electoral Votes from several states were in disute. A one-time Electoral Commission was formed to sort it out. In the end the election was awarded to the Republican Rutherford B. Hayes who became the 19th President of the United States. See my previous posting “Presidential Election of 1876 – The Deal” for the details.

Samuel Jones Tilden (photo to the right) was born at Lebanon, New York on February 9, 1814. He attended Yale University in 1834, but had to quite because of illness. Later he went to the University of the City of New York. He was admitted to the bar in 1841. He became a skilled corporate lawyer. His legal practice, combined with shrewd investments, made him rich. Tilden was a life-long bachelor.

Tilden had an interest in politics  and served in the State Assembly in 1846. In 1848 he participated in the revolt of the “Barnburner” or free-soil faction of the New York Democrats. He was the candidate of the “softshell”, or anti-slavery faction for attorney-general of the State of New York.

During the Civil War, he opposed several of Lincoln’s war measures, but he still gave the Union his strongest support.

Tilden became the chairman of the Democratic state committee in 1866 and soon began a conflict with the notorious “Tweed ring” of New York City. This group of corrupt city officials and politicians was led by William Tweed. (photo to the right) williamtweed.jpg

They had all the judges in their pocket and were gouging taxpayers and the city administration for goods and services. Tilden entered the Assembly in 1872 on a reform platform to clean up the mess. He managed to obtain legal proof of the corrupt practices and had the judges impeached, thus effectively destroying the Tweed ring. William Tweed was charged and eventually was sent to jail. Tilden won national fame for these actions against corruption.

The Democrats nominated him as their candidate for president in 1876. By all appearances he and his party won the Presidency on election day. Disputed electoral votes and procedures effectively robbed him of the Presidency and his political career ended.

In 1878 the New York Tribune newspaper in 1878 published articles accusing him of attempting to purchase the disputed Electoral Votes in the 1876 election. Tilden emphatically denied this charge and appeared voluntarily before a Congressional sub-committee to clear his name. The charges were unsuccessful and proven false.

Samuel J. Tilden lived out the rest of his life at his home, Greystone, near Yonkers, New York. He died a bachelor on August 4, 1886. He once told a close a friend that he had never slept with a woman in his life. His fortune of about $5 million dollars was left to establish and maintain a free public library in New York City. In 1895 the Tilden Trust was combined with the Astor and Lenox libraries to form the present day New York Public Library.

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