The election finally is over … well, kind of over. Who knows how long the president will continue to challenge the results and Democrats and Republicans will continue to call each other nasty names, which always is a good way to find an agreement.
I’m going to assume Joe Biden will take office in January. While this election has been really messy, it’s not the worst ever. I think the Bush-Gore election in 2000 was worse, at least when it came to counting votes. In 1960 Republicans claimed Chicago Mayor Richard Daley stole the election for John F. Kennedy. But JFK would have won even if all those dead people in Chicago hadn’t been able to make it to the polls — he had enough Electoral votes without Illinois.
The king of presidential elections, though, was the election of 1876.
This was kind of ironic because the candidates, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio and Democrat Samuel Tilden of New York, were both known as reformers.
When the votes were counted after the election, it looked like Tilden was going to win. He had 184 Electoral votes. Hayes had 165 Electoral votes. But wait! There were 20 votes in Florida, South Carolina and Louisiana where Republicans claimed there was fraud in the vote counting (yes, I know, this sounds familiar, only the states are different).
Election commissions in the three southern states said Hayes actually won their states. As if that wasn’t enough, the Democratic governor of Oregon said a Republican elector in that state ineligible because, well, I guess because he was a Republican. He tried to replace him with a Democrat.
Talk about a fight! Congress finally appointed a congressional commission to solve the dispute. There were 15 members in the commission: seven Democrats, seven Republicans, and one independent, Supreme Court Justice David Davis. Five members of the commission were from the Supreme Court. When the Illinois Legislature elected Davis to the U.S. Senate, he saw his chance to get out of a bad situation. He took the job, and since all the remaining justices were Republicans, the last seat was filled by a one of them.
Surprise! The commission decided 8-7 that all those southern votes and that one Oregon vote belonged to Hayes. That meant Hayes won by one Electoral vote. The commission issued its decision on March 2, 1877, the day before Hayes was inaugurated. Outgoing President U.S. Grant called extra troops to Washington to make sure there was no violence, and everyone knew that Grant knew what to do with soldiers, so all was quiet. Tilden got the most popular votes but Hayes got the job.
The general consensus is Democrats went along with this because they cut a deal with the Republicans to end Reconstruction in the South. Back then, the South always voted Democratic, instead of Republican like today. I know that’s confusing, but it is American politics, after all.
Grant left town and went on an around-the-world tour. Tilden, a life-long bachelor, retired to a quiet life in New York. Hayes went to the White House, but his reform efforts were hampered by the election controversy — he was called “Rutherfraud B. Hayes.” He is most remembered today because his wife “Lemonade Lucy” refused to serve alcohol at the White House. He also is a national hero in Paraguay — after Paraguay got beat up in a war with Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay (three against one, hardly fair), Hayes was asked to arbitrate a settlement. He decided a big chunk of land should go to Paraguay, which made him much more popular there than he was in, say, any Southern state.
I bring this up just so you know this year’s shenanigans are nothing new. I am hoping that things will be settled before Inauguration Day. On the other hand, a few extra days of chaos hardly will make much difference.