For The Madera Tribune
President Rutherford B. Hayes.
The election was a dead heat. The popular vote was close, and neither candidate seemed to have a majority in the Electoral College. All eyes were on Florida.
Does this scenario sound familiar? It should; it has happened twice in our presidential history. This assessment could be applied to the 2000 election, but it also describes the election of 1876, when political shenanigans threw the nation into a tizzy.
In that year, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel J. Tilden were running for President. When the vote was counted, no one had a majority in the Electoral College. The election hinged on the 19 electoral votes in Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida, and the results in those three states were in dispute.
Charges and counter-charges flew, and things got so ugly that Congress had to create a special commission to decide the election. Five members of the panel came from the Senate — 3 Republicans and 2 Democrats. Five came from the House — 3 Democrats and 2 Republicans, and five came from the United States Supreme Court — two Democrats, two Republicans and one “independent” Justice.
A close examination of the vote in South Carolina and Louisiana put those states in Hayes’ column. Then the Commission turned to Florida. Election officials there contacted the Tilden people and offered to make it impossible for the Commission to do anything other than award the state’s electoral votes to their candidate, and the price for such an assurance? — $200,000 dollars.
“That seems to be the standard figure,” Tilden remarked to a friend before he rejected the offer. The Democratic candidate was sure he wouldn’t need it. He was certain that under the scrutiny of the Federal Election Commission, he would be awarded Florida’s electors.
Much to Tilden’s surprise, however, the Commission gave Florida — and the election — to Rutherford B. Hayes, who became the nation’s 18th President. Tilden had prevailed in the popular vote by a margin of 247,000 votes, but in the Electoral College the tally stood at 185 to 184 in favor of Hayes and all because Tilden refused a bribe. One can only shrug one’s shoulders and be hopeful that we never have to depend on Florida again to decide a presidential election.