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Premonitions of Another Compromise of 1877

Sean McDermott

Posted on October 12, 2020 18:01

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How recent events of this presidential election look like a repeat of Hayes vs. Tilden; also known as the Compromise of 1877.

As the Presidential election looms around the corner for America, there is a mixed vibe of certainties and uncertainties in the air. FiveThirtyEight.com is showing Joe Biden ahead nationally by nearly double digits, but aside Donald Trump's Cinderella story of 2016, cautious skepticism can be brought on by recent events reminding a savvy historian about arguably the most controversial election in American history: the 1876 election between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel J. Tilden. 

For those who are unaware, the election of 1876 became known to be "The Compromise of 1877." This very unorthodox election handed the presidency to Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes after a Congressional Commission was organized to deliberate over both camps' feuding and unwavering declarations of victory. 

Hayes vs. Tilden took place just 12 years after the Civil War ended, and Americans had seemingly been trying to put the war behind them. Voter support for the provisions of Reconstruction had begun to fade. Hayes, the Republican, faced off against Tilden, the Democrat, and by the stroke of midnight that deciding day in 1876, Tilden had 184 electoral votes compared to Hayes' 165 (185 electoral votes were needed to secure victory.)

Tilden also led the popular vote by 250,000 votes. Regardless, Hayes refused to concede on the ground that gangs of whites were using violence as voter suppression against African Americans in three undecided states: Louisiana, Florida, and South Carolina. 

Stopping right there, you can hear two facets of information that we have been hearing in the events leading up to this election: violence against African Americans and voter suppression. It seems like every month another black life is lost due to a routine traffic stop.

These events are taking place while state governments like Florida and Texas are strategically changing their laws to deny former felons voting rights (many of them African American) and reducing ballot drop-offs to a single station per county respectively.

The historical context only gets more chilling.

Both Hayes' camp and Tilden's camp locked horns over the final 20 electoral votes remaining in Louisiana, Florida, and South Carolina. Both were accusing the other of another term we keep hearing: "voter fraud." 

Isn't that kind of scary? Donald Trump insists that mail-in voting would wrack the 2020 presidential election with voter fraud. 

Neither side would budge in 1876. As a result, Congress and the Supreme Court created a commission whose conditional resolution nominated Hayes in return for a withdrawal of federal troops and an end to Reconstruction in the South.

With the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and an almost sure bet Trump will replace her with a political and philosophical ally, who is to say that if he is trailing Biden on November 3 that he won't refuse to concede like Hayes? Will he call on the Supreme Court to decide the legitimacy of this year's voting process?

America, buckle your seat belts. We could be in for a ride.

Sean McDermott

Posted on October 12, 2020 18:01

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In the aftermath of one of the most shocking presidential upsets in U.S. history, many of us are reeling. Yes, the election...

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