In the election of 1876, the Republicans nominated Rutherford B. Hayes, the governor of Ohio, while the Democrats, out of power since 1861, selected Samuel J. Tilden, the governor of New York. The initial returns pointed to a Tilden victory, as the Democrats captured the swing states of Connecticut, Indiana, New Jersey, and New York. By midnight on Election Day, Tilden had 184 of the 185 electoral votes needed to win. He led the popular vote by 250,000.
The final outcome hinged on the disputed results in four states–Florida, Louisiana, Oregon, and South Carolina–which prevented either candidate from securing a majority of electoral votes.
Republicans accused Democrats in Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina of refusing to count African American and other Republican votes. Democrats, in turn, accused Republicans of ignoring many Tilden votes. In Florida, the Republicans claimed to have won by 922 votes out of about 47,000 cast. The Democrats claimed a 94 vote victory. Democrats charged that Republicans had ruined ballots in one pro-Tilden Florida precinct by smearing them with ink.
Florida, Louisiana, Oregon, and South Carolina each submitted two sets of electoral returns to Congress with different results. To resolve the dispute, Congress, in January 1877, established an electoral commission made up of five U.S. representatives, five senators, and five Supreme Court justices. The justices included two Democrats, two Republicans, and Justice David Davis, who was considered to be independent. But before the commission could render a decision, Democrats in the Illinois legislature, under pressure from a nephew of Samuel Tilden, elected Davis to the U.S. Senate, in hopes that this would encourage Davis to support the Democrat. Instead, Davis recused himself and was replaced by Justice Joseph Bradley.
Bradley’s vote produced an eight-to-seven ruling, along straight party lines, to award all the disputed elector votes to Rutherford B. Hayes. This result produced such acrimony that many feared it would incite a second civil war.
Democrats threatened to filibuster the official counting of the electoral votes to prevent Hayes from assuming the presidency.
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