The Elections of 1876 and 1880


Rutherford Hayes 185
Samuel Tilden 184

James Garfield 214
Winfield Scott Hancock 155

The Republican Party continued to nominate former Civil War generals in the elections of 1876 and 1880.  Ohio governor Rutherford B. Hayes was untainted by the scandals in the Grant administration.  The Democrats nominated New York Governor Samuel J. Tilden, who had broken up the corrupt Tweed Ring in New York City.  Tilden won the popular vote and led in electoral votes, but twenty electoral votes from four states were disputed.  An Electoral Commission composed of Senators, congressmen, and Supreme Court justices decided in a party-line vote to award all the disputed votes toHayes.  These votes gave Hayes a one-vote victory in the Electoral College, 185-184 (the closest Electoral College vote in history).  Congressional Democrats, who had a majority in the new House of Representatives, agreed not to contest the commission’s decision in return for a commitment from Hayes to withdraw the remaining federal troops from the former Confederate states.  As president, Hayes did resist the attempts of Democratic majorities to repeal federal legislation protecting black voting rights.  Knowing Hayes’ support for these protections, the Democrats attached riders repealing them to unrelated appropriations bills.  Hayes vetoed seven of these bills.  The president was stymied, however, in his attempts to promote civil service reform by restricting the political activities of federal employees.  Although the Republican victor in the 1880 election, former Major General James Garfield, had a reputation as a moderate reformer, he was opposed to civil service reforms like appointment on the basis of merit examinations rather than political connections.  Ironically, his assassination by an office-seeker spurred passage of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883, which curtailed the “spoils system.”  Even more ironically, the Pendleton Act was signed by his successor, Chester A. Arthur, whose only political offices prior to the Vice Presidency had been appointments that he owed to the corrupt New York Republican political machine of Senator Roscoe Conkling.

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