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As headlines of potential vote audits in up to three states swirl around your Twitter feed, and the crazy speculation about what the results of those audits could include ruminate as well, the feeling of the presidential selection process in 2016 is that this could become the queen of batshit crazy elections.
If the worst-case scenario of a legal battle over ballots that results in the Supreme Court being split down the middle and the House of Representatives being tasked with selecting a president, the POTUS election of 2016 could be personified as a crazy guy screaming at Walmart.
Even if that happens, however, this election still won’t have anything on the POTUS election of 1876. If that election could be similarly personified, it would be Ketchup Mustard.
The POTUS election of 1876 was primarily a race between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel J. Tilden, although there were five other candidates who thought that they had a realistic chance at getting at least a vote in the electoral college.
Before we get to the election itself, the scene for the drama must be set. The United States was just 11 years removed from a civil war that killed a shitload of people including Abraham Lincoln if you want to attribute John Wilkes Booth’s assassination to that conflict. The 13th and 15th Amendments had been passed by Congress as well, which rich white guys in the south weren’t that jazzed about. Those rules pretty much said hey, you can’t own people anymore except if they are in prison and you can’t tell the former slaves that they can’t vote just because they aren’t white.
These rich white dudes, pissed because they lost the war and their free labor were also scared because these men who they treated like animals could now vote, weren’t all that ready to accept these changes. On top of that, the rebellious states were in shambles because of the war. So soldiers were still occupying the former Confederate states to help rebuild and try to enforce the new rules.
Two more things: in 1876 there were only 38 states, accounting for a total of 369 electoral college votes. Also, at this time the southern states were pretty much a Democrat stronghold, as the Democrats were the political conservatives back then. Only three of the southern states: Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina, hadn’t yet elected Democrat governments during the Reconstruction era. In those three states, the Republican governments that were setup in the states as results of the war were still in power because people were extra feisty.
So that’s the backdrop for the election of 1876. Now here’s what went down.
After the initial count of the votes in Nov. of 1876, Tilden had won the popular vote by about 300,000 votes and had secured 206 votes in the electoral college, putting him well over the threshold of 185 needed to secure the election. That’s when shit got nuts.
First, the Republican-controlled legislature in the young state of Oregon said they weren’t having their electors vote for a Dem, so they fired the state’s elections commissioner and replaced him with another guy who awarded Oregon’s three electoral college votes to Hayes instead. That took Tilden’s total down to 203 and bumped Hayes up to 166.
Tilden, being a Democrat even though he was from New York, won by huge margins in the three unruly states of Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina. The margins were so big that the Republicans in the states were convinced some shady shit had gone down, so they were all like, no, we know that you have been doing stuff like keeping people from voting because of their skin color so we want the votes recounted. They got their recounts in all three states and surprise, surprise, the results of all three recounts was that Hayes had actually won all three states. That was a swing of 19 electoral college votes, giving Hayes the 185-184 edge in the electoral college and therefore the presidency.
Well Democrats were fucking pissed, and they were like, you remember that civil war shit? Yeah, we’re going to do that again. Sitting president Ulysses S. Grant even sent extra troops to the three states in question because people had no chill.
So Hayes’ crew and Democrat leaders got together in private rooms in secret, because that’s how all shady shit goes down, and they worked out a deal. Hayes’ crew said that he would pretty much let the Dems do whatever they wanted within their own states if they would let him be the president. The Dems said they were down with that, and on Jan. 20, 1877, Hayes was inaugurated as POTUS because of what’s become known as the Compromise of 1877.
Hayes stuck to his end of the deal, and pulled all the troops out of the south. Without anyone to really enforce the 13th and 15th amendments, the white rich dudes became super Klan-y. They enacted Jim Crow laws to keep blacks from voting and arrested blacks on fabrications because the 13th said that you could still own people if they are prisoners. It still says that, by the way.
So that’s the election of 1876, still the reigning queen of batshit crazy elections, pending what happens over the next few weeks.