Presidential Election of 1876 – The Deal

January 5, 2008

sjtilden_of_ny.jpgThis was the second closest and most disputed presidential election in American history. Certainly it was the most contentious of 19th century America. The 2000 election of Republican George W. Bush over Democrat Albert (Al) Gore, Jr. stands as the closest and most contentious. Republican Rutherford B. Hayes won the 1876 election over Democrat Samuel J. Tilden, but in the end the election had to be decided by an Electoral Commission. (left: Samuel J. Tilden, Democrat from New York)

On election day, November 7, 1876 Tilden defeated Ohio’s Rutherford Hayes in the popular vote, and had 184 electoral votes to Hayes’s 165, with 20 electoral votes in dispute. A constitutional crisis loomed.

Hayes’s predecessor was Ulysses S. Grant, a Republican, who was finishing out his second term. A weak economy and rampant corruption in his administration had lost support for the Republicans. In fact on December 15, 1875 the House went so far as to overwhelmingly pass a resolution asking Grant not to seek a third term. He had previously denied that he would do so, but he did try later in 1880 to run again.

Republican candidate Rutherford Hayes was nominated on the 7th ballot as a party compromise. He was previously a member of the House of Representives and a governor of his home state of Ohio. He was a reformer who wanted to get rid of corruption and put the federal government on a new path.

The National Greenback Party was formed to advocate the use of greenbacks (paper money not supported by the gold standard). They nominated manufacturer and philanthropist Peter Cooper for president. This party wanted the gold standard abolished and a free supply of paper money used to help the working class.

The Democrats nominated Samuel J. Tilden, the governor of New York, for president. He had become a national figure as a crusading reformer. Tilden stood for an end to corruption, withdrawal of federal troops from the South, tariff reform, a ban on Chinese immigration, and a halt to railroad subsidies.

These were the three main presidential candidates. Of the three, Hayes was the relative unknown. An unusual fact related to campaigning at this time – it was actually considered improper for a candidate to actively pursue the Presidency, neither Tilden or Hayes stumped for votes, that job was left to surrogates. Certainly a far cry from today’s presidential politics.

Election Day, November 7, 1876, Samuel Tilden won 250,000 more popular votes than Hayes. In fact the popular vote really doesn’t have anything to do with the actual election of the President of the United States (see my posting on “How is the President Elected? The Answer May Surprise You” in my blog archives). Far too much emphasis is placed on its importance. Anyway the Republicans refused to concede the election to Tilden disputing the returns from Florida (sound familiar?), Louisiana, South Carolina, and Oregon.

On December 6, 1876 two competing sets of Electoral Returns were submitted from these states and a constitutional crisis erupted. The constitution provides that if neither candidate has a majority of electoral votes, then the Presidency will be decided by Congress. At the time the Congress was controlled by the Democrats. They could easily have voted to give Tilden the election. To bring order to the process President Grant requested that Congress set up an Electoral Commission. This temporary commission consisted of five members from each of, the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the Supreme Court. The political make-up of the members was eight Republicans and seven Democrats. Their assigned task was to sort out the election results.

Supreme Court Justice Joseph Bradley, a Republican member of the Commission, submitted a legal opinion on February 9, 1877 favoring the election of Tilden. Under pressure from fellow Republicans he reversed his decision. The Commission then voted not to examine individual state returns, and awarded Florida’s electoral votes to Hayes. Subsequently on February 16, 23, and 28, 1877, they awarded electoral votes from the other disputed states to Hayes. They declared Hayes as their choice for president. Congress still had ratify the Commission’s findings.

Republicans from Hayes’s home state of Ohio met with Southern Democrats on February 26, 1877. The Southerners agreed to support the election of Hayes with conditions. This was a secret meeting held before the Congressional vote on the Commission’s findings. The deal became known as the Compromise of 1877. Hayes had to promise to withdraw federal troops from the South, appoint a Southerner to his Cabinet, and look into railroad subsidies. He earned the nicknames “Rutherfraud” and “His Fraudulency” for this back-room bargain.

469px-president_rutherford_hayes_1870_-_1880.jpgOn March 2, 1877 Congress voted to ratify the Commission’s findings and officially declared Republican Rutherford B. Hayes (photo to right) as the 19th President of the United States. He was inaugurated three days later. The Democrats and many of the electorate were outraged. Samuel Tilden became, like Al Gore after him in 2001, the almost President.

The final results of the election of 1876 were:

Rutherford B. Hayes, Republican  Electoral Votes 185   Popular Vote 4,034,311 (47.9%)
Samuel J. Tilden, Democratic     Electoral Votes 184   Popular Vote 4,288,546 (51.0%)

In this election year it is always interesting to look back at previous events. More postings to come.

Illegal President? Chester Alan Arthur

October 24, 2007

chester-arthur-picture.jpgChester Arthur became the twenty-first President  on September 19, 1881 when President James Garfield succumbed to his gunshot wounds.  Garfield was shot in a Washington, DC train station by Charles Guiteau on July 2, 1881. Arthur was elected Vice President of the United States on a ticket with Garfield in 1880. The Constitution of the United States requires that to be eligible to hold the office of Vice President or President one has to be born in the United States .

Below: Garfield assassination 1881.


His country of birth is very much in doubt. No birth certificate has ever been produced that proves he was American by birth.

His father immigrated to Quebec, Canada and raised his family there, before moving to Vermont. It is claimed that his son Chester was born in a cabin in Fairfield, Vermont in 1829. Fairfield is only a few miles from the Canadian/US border.

Many of his opponents accused him of not being eligible to be Vice President or President because he was a British citizen born in Canada. No undeniable proof has ever been brought forth either way. Arthur himself neither denied or defended his eligibility. He remained silent on the issue. The Arthur family bible held by the Library of Congress has family entries showing his birth as Fairfield, but this is not irrefutable proof. His father wanted him badly to be an American and that is why the family moved to Vermont. He also encouraged Chester in his political career.

Arthur Hinman, a New York lawyer, published a story in the New York Times of December 22, 1880 on then President-elect Arthur. Apparently Hinman was “employed by the Democratic National Committee to obtain evidence to prove that Arthur was an unnaturalized foreigner”. He later published a book, “How a British Subject Became President of the United States”. An article related to the content of this book was published in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of June 2, 1884 which claimed:

“Chester Alan Arthur was born in Dunham Flats, Canada on {sic} March, 1828, and that he represented himself to have been born at North Fairfield, Vermont”

Another author, Thomas C. Reeves wrote a biography of Arthur, “Gentleman Boss: the life of Chester Alan Arthur, New York: Knopf, 1975”. He dismisses Hinman’s theory but admits that Arthur lied about his age. This would have had no effect on his eligibility for the Presidency though.

Perhaps we will never know the entire truth, but it was extremely easy to cross the border in 1829 and accurate birth records were not kept in either Canada or the U.S. Canada was a British Colony until 1867 so if he was born in Canada in 1829 he would technically be a British citizen, still ineligible to hold either the office of Vice President or President of the United States.

Chester A. Arthur was very likely an illegal President who should not have been allowed to hold the office. At the very least he should have been asked to prove his birth before being nominated in 1880 as his party’s Vice Presidential candidate.

Another historical mystery that remains unsolved.


The Library of Congress does indeed have the Arthur family Bible (Philadelphia, 1857, LC call number: BS185.1857.P5, Rare Bk. Coll., Bible Coll.). The birth record for the 21st President reads: “Chester Alan Arthur–fifth child & eldest son of William Arthur and Malvina his wife,–born Oct. 5, 1829, at Fairfield, Franklin
Co. Vt.” 

President Arthur had a fatal kidney disease. He knew he was dying during his presidency. He did seek the nomination in 1884 in an effort to hide his illness, but was unsuccessful. He died in 1886, just a year after leaving the presidency.

Presidential Primer #5 – Succession

October 19, 2007

485px-william_henry_harrison.pngTo maintain a stable democracy it is important to have a clear succession procedure in the event of the death of the president.  (Left: President William Henry Harrison, first President to die in office.) This also applies to a resignation or removal from office (impeachment). When these types of events occur it is usually a time of confusion and vulnerability for the government.

Again let’s look at what the Constitution of the United States laid out for these contingencies. Keep in mind that this is what was in the original Constitution.  Amendments were made later to clarify presidential succession. I will discuss those later on.

Article II, Section 1 states:

“In the case of the removal of the President from office, or of his death, resignation, or in ability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by law provide for the case of removal, death, resignation or inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what officer shall then act as President, and such officer shall act accordingly, until the disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.”

This section did not clearly state that the Vice President automatically became President on the death, removal from office, or resignation of the President. In fact it seems to say that the Vice President would only be an “acting” President until they could elect a new President. Very much subject to interpretation.

The first test of this took place when President William Henry Harrison died one month after taking office in 1841. His Vice President John Tyler was not liked and when he took it upon himself to take the “Oath of Office”, there was confusion and great controversy. Many in the Congress attempted to nullify the oath taking and appoint their own choice for President. Finally a vote in the House of Representatives confirmed him as President and his presidency was formally recognized.

What this did was effectively set a precedent in law. Constitutionally it was still foggy and should someone mount a serious challenge to a succession in the future it might succeed.

The Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the Constitution modified Article II, Section 1, but this was not ratified until February 23, 1967. After President Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963 lawmakers realized that a clearer succession procedure was needed to avoid any future confusion or doubt as to who the new President would be.

Amendment XXV, Section 1 states:

“In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.”

As you can see this is very clear. Further, it built in another safeguard by filling the vacant Vice Presidency that occurs when he succeeds to the Presidency. In some cases the office of Vice President has been vacant for almost four years. 447px-john_tyler.jpgExamples of this are when President Harrison died one month into his term, Tyler served virtually an entire term without a Vice President. (Right: John Tyler, first Vice President to succeed to the Presidency.) Then when President Franklin Roosevelt died a few months into his fourth term, Harry Truman served FDR’s remaining term (almost four years) without a Vice President. Fortunately nothing happened to either President, but certainly some uncertainty would likely have occurred when the Speaker of the House succeeded, for he would be the next in line. This eventuality was covered off by Amendment XXV, Section 2 which states:

 “Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.”

170px-gerald_ford.jpgThe first time this provision was used was December 1973. President Richard Nixon appointed Rep. Gerald Ford as Vice President when Spiro Agnew was forced to resign in scandal. Subsequent to that Ford succeeded to the Presidency after Nixon’s resignation to avoid likely impeachment. He then appointed Nelson Rockefeller to be his Vice President. The Congress ratified the appointments in both cases. (Left: Gerald Ford, first to be appointed Vice President under Amendment XXV.)

Finally there has always been confusion about what happens if a President becomes incapacitated and can’t discharge his duties. The primary point of contention has been at what point is he unable to do that and who decides that an “acting” President is needed.

Section 3 of the Amendment states:

“Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate (the Vice President) and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.”

Several examples of this have occurred where Presidents have had minor surgery that required general anesthetic. Vice Presidents have been “Acting President for several hours.

If the President is unable to resume his duties and can’t notify Congress himself the Amendment states:

“the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue”.

Then after a vote in Congress if it is agreed that the President is unable to function:

“the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President”

So for example if a President slipped into a coma, the Vice President would only be “Acting President”.  Only on the President’s death would he officially become President.

Presidential Primer #4: How long does the President serve?

October 13, 2007


Above: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the only person ever elected President of the United States more than twice. He was elected to four consecutive terms starting in 1933 until his death in 1945.

The President’s term of office was defined in the Constitution, Article II, Section I as follows:

“He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years”

Notice that there is no mention of the number of terms the President could serve. There were no term limits in the original Constitution.

George Washington, the first President, felt strongly that one should only serve a maximum of two terms and he actually preferred only one term. He stood for election a second time only because he was told the country needed his leadership desparately in its first years.

Amendment XX was ratified January 23, 1933 to clarify the term of the President.  Section I of the Amendment states:

“The terms of the President and Vice President shall  end at noon on the 20th of January”

Previously their terms ended on March 4th of the year following the presidential  election, but this was not a constitutional requirement. March 4, 1789 was the date that the first U.S. Congress convened in New York City, so that was the date selected for terms to end every four years. As a result of the Amendment now every four years on January 20th at noon the sitting president’s term ends and a new one is sworn in. If the incumbant president has won re-election then he too must be sworn in for his second term.

The new President is constitutionally required to take the oath of office as follows:

“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”


Above: President Abraham Lincoln taking his second oath of office in 1865. He is standing in the middle of the photograph.

Many Presidents have served two terms. President Grover Cleveland even served two non-consecutive terms. Several have sought third terms, but were unsuccessful.

Finally after 151 years (1789 to 1940) a president was elected to a third term. This man was Franklin Delano Roosevelt who in fact even went on to a fourth term in 1944. This was unprecedented in American history.

As a result Amendment XXII was ratified February 27, 1951 to set term limits. This reads as follows:

“No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once.”

Further it went on to exempt the sitting President (at the time Harry Truman): 

“But this article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this Article was proposed by the Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within which this Article becomes operative.”

Truman had assumed the Presidency only one year into FDR’s fourth term (1945) so normally he would not be able to seek a second election. However, he was exempted by this Section. He did seek a second election but was unsuccessful.

That is why George W. Bush the sitting President as this is written, never again will be eligible to be elected President. The same holds true for the another recent two term President, Bill Clinton. Clinton is still relatively young but this amendment prevents him from trying again.

Presidential Primer #3 – Candidate Selection

October 5, 2007


With a serious contender, Hillary Rodham Clinton, running for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party in 2008, the photo above takes on a little more significance. It is the 1984 Democratic Party ticket of Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro. They were soundly defeated by the Republican ticket of President Ronald Reagan and Vice president George H.W. Bush. How are these candidates selected by each party. Read on and find out. 

A good example of candidate selection for President of the United States is occurring right now. Hopefuls from both the major parties, Republican and Democratic, are announcing their runs and also touring States where Primary Elections will be held starting early in 2008.  The primary elections are used by each party to narrow the field of candidates prior to their conventions.  These conventions are usually held during the summer of election year. Before the primary system candidate selection took place entirely at the convention. Now by the time the convention arrives there is usually a candidate who already has enough delegate votes to win the nomination of the party.  Once he becomes the nominee he then selects a vice presidential running mate which the convention delegates then rubber stamp.

 The party conventions are used to set policy and to rally the party faithful for the election in the fall. The only real intrigue usually occurs when the presidential nominee picks his running mate, the vice presidential candidate.  This person is usually selected for his or her ability to get votes in certain key states or for their experience in areas that the presidential nominee may be lacking.


Above: Geraldine Ferraro, first female vice presidental nominee from a major party.

These “tickets” consisting of the presidential and vice presidential candidate from each party then campaign for votes in the general election held in November.  By law the general election is held the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

The president is not elected directly, but rather voters are actually voting for Electors.  These electors represent each party’s candidate. The winning candidate in each state then gets the Electoral votes for that State. Most states have a winner take all rule.  So if the Republicans win Iowa for example with the most Electoral votes, they get all of the votes. Maine and Nebraska are exceptions.  For more on the Electoral System see my earlier post “How is the President of the United States Elected” in the archives where I discuss this at length.

After election day the winning candidate is referred to as the “president-elect”.  In fact he is not officially the “president-elect” under the Constitution until the Electoral Vote is taken and ratified by Congress. The winning set of electors meets in each state capital on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, shortly after the general election. They cast their votes and they are sent under seal to the Congress which then counts and ratifies the vote. Once that has occurred the winner on the November election is now Constitutionally the “President-Elect” of the United States.

He is finally sworn in as President of the United States for a four year term at noon on January 20th of the year following the election.  That is also the exact time that the sitting President’s term comes to an end.

The next instalment will talk more about the term and perks of the office.

Presidential Primer #2 – “The Most Powerful Man on Earth”

October 3, 2007


Above: “Teddy” Roosevelt, President from 1901-1907. His foreign policy was to “Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick” 

This is the second instalment in my series on the American Presidency.  The first one defined who is eligible to become the President, this one discusses the power of the office.

 Reference for this discussion: Constitution of the United States, Article II, Sections 2 and 3.

In layman’s language here are the defined powers that the President has:

1) He is the Commander in Chief of the American armed forces.

2) He has the power to reprieve or pardon crimes against the United States, except for impeachment.

3) He can make treaties with foreign powers. They have to be ratified by 2/3 of the Senate.

4) The President can appoint ambassadors, judges of the Supreme Court and other ministers or officers of the federal government. These have to be ratified by Congress.  For example he appoints his cabinet and then Congress holds hearings to review the appointment. Then the ratify or not the appointment.

5) He can propose legislation to Congress. This is usually done through his annual “State of the Union” address to Congress.  Again Congress is not bound to pass the legislation, but it is formally placed on their agenda for consideration.

What makes the President of the United States the most powerful man in the world is one thing.

He is the Commander in Chief of the most powerful military forces in the world.  This effectly gives him the power to go to war. Congress must ratify or confirm his actions within 30 days. How and if they could do this in the case of a nuclear exchange is doubtful. Most ominously he has his finger on the nuclear arsenal of the world’s only remaining true superpower. Only he can trigger a nuclear strike. A military officer with the codes and controls to allow him to use this power always accompanies the President wherever he goes. This briefcase is referred to as the “nuclear football”.


Above: Harry S. Truman (President 1945 – 1953) was the first President to have command over nuclear weapons and to use it. He ordered the use of the atomic bomb in World War II to end the war against the Japanese.

When the United States was in its infancy and was not a world power, the President was really only a powerful man in his own country. Now that it is a superpower with a nuclear arsenal and a formable military, he truly is the “most powerful man in the world”.


Above: Photo of a hydrogen bomb test. This unthinkable power that can be unleashed in a nuclear war is apparent. It truly would end civilization as we know it.

Let us all hope that the office of the Presidency is always held by a man of wisdom and courage.

Presidential Primer #1 – Who can be POTUS?

September 27, 2007


With the Presidential election coming up in November 2008 and a myriad of candidates from both parties racing in an attempt to gain that high office it is time for a primer on the Presidency. A sort of everything you ever wanted to know and were afraid to ask series of postings. You might be surprised by some of the interesting facts related to the office of President.  So here is the first of several postings that I hope will be a review for most Americans and an enlightenment for others.

The President of the United States or “POTUS” is the head of state and head of government of the United States of America. The government of the U.S. is made up of the Legislative Branch, the Executive Branch, and the Judicial Branch. The President is the head of the Executive Branch.


The White House (Public Domain photo) 

His official residence is the White House in Washington, D.C. the capital of the United States. Within the White House his office is the Oval Office.

Who Can be President?

In the United States a common saying is “anybody can be president if they really want to”.  Sorry to say this is not true.  There is a certain governor in the State of California who would love to be President of the United States, but will never be able to, unless the Constitution is amended.

Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution states:

“No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office shall not attained the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.”

What does all this mean? Simply put you have to have been born in the United States. Naturalized citizens need not apply. Arnold I’m sorry but “Terminators” can’t apply. However, it does say that anyone who was a citizen at the time the Constitution was adopted on September 17, 1787 is eligible, but I don’t think anyone who fits that bill is still alive. 

Next you must be at least 35 years of age. Finally you must have lived at least 14 years in the United States. It also means that anyone who could become President such as the Vice president or Speaker of the House must meet the same qualifications.

Presidential Factoids:

Youngest man ever elected President – John F. Kennedy, 43 years of age. Elected November 8, 1960. Inaugurated January 20, 1961.
Youngest man to assume the Presidency – Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt at age 42 years when President McKinley was assassinated and later died in 1901.

Oldest man to ever be President – Ronald Reagan, 69 years of age at his inauguration in 1981.

First President to be born in the 20th century – John F. Kennedy, dob. May 29, 1917.

First President to die in office – William Henry Harrison, 9th President. Length of his term 31 days! Died April 4, 1841.
First President to be assassinated – Abraham Lincoln, April 15, 1865. John Wilkes Booth shot him early in his second term.
Youngest President to die in office – President John F. Kennedy at age 46 years, 177 days.

First Vice president to succeed to the Presidency on death of a President – John Tyler on the death of William Henry Harrison.  Yes Tyler was eligible based on the Constitutional criteria to be president.

First (and only) Person of the Roman Catholic faith to be elected President – 35th John F. Kennedy, 1961 – 1963

Longest Serving President – Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933 – 1945, 12 years. More on this in a later posting.
Shortest Serving President – William Henry Harrison, 31 days. He died of pneumonia that he contracted on his inauguration day. He also gave the longest inauguration speech ever. This was a contributing factor in his illness because it was a very cold day.

Father/Son Presidents – There have been two instances.  First were 2nd President John Adams 1797-1801, son 6th President John Quincy Adams 1825-1829.  More recently 41st President George H.W. Bush 1989-1993, son 43rd President George W. Bush 2001-present.

Family Ties – Benjamin Harrison, 23rd President 1889-1893 was the grandson of William Henry Harrison, 9th President March 4, 1841 to April 4, 1841.

Watch for the next installment where Presidential Powers will be discussed.

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