Club member exhibits

Dec 1 , 2000

The 2000 Election and the Tilden Precedent

© Copyright Calvet M. Hahn 2000

The 2000 election has inevitably brought discussion of previously closely disputed elections, particularly after the Hayes-Tilden election of 1876.  Most have ended up with the death of one or another national political leader.  The earliest case was the 1800 election of Thomas Jefferson and his Vice President, Aaron Burr.  Due to a constitutional flaw, there was a tie in the electoral vote between the President and Vice President of the same party.  The noting ran for 35 ballots at which point Alexander Hamilton persuaded three Federalist voters to cast black ballots allowing Jefferson to prevail over his Vice President.  Later in 1804, Burr sought the governorship of New York and had pledged, if successful, to swing the state into a putative Northern Confederacy.  Again Hamilton led the forces that foiled Burr and six weeks after he lost the governorship; race, Burr was able to provoke Hamilton into the duel in which Burr killed him.

The next closely challenged election was that of Lincoln, wherein Lincoln trapped Steven Douglas, his Democratic opponent, into a position that led to the splitting of the Democrats into Northern and Southern wings that let Lincoln win the Presidency with under 40% of the popular vote.  The Civil War ensued and the Southern defeat left such hatred that John Wilkes Booth was inspired to assassinate Lincoln.

The Hayes-Tilden election was the next closely challenged one.  Samuel Jones Tilden (1814-1886) had entered New York politics reluctantly as a reformer and made his reputation by checking the Tweed Ring..  In 1866 he was named to head the New York State Democratic Committee from which post he authored the attached letter in October 1867.  It outlined his view of how the Democrats could win New York.  One extra vote in each school district, he pointed out, would have swung New York in the elections of 186r, 1865 and 1866.  This letter outlined his plans to get that vote in future elections.

The seeds of the future conflict were sown at this time.  James Blaine had ridiculed New York Senator and election powerhouse, Roscoe Conkling and created a bitter permanent enemy among his fellow Republicans.  At the same time, fellow Republican, James Garfield, used his post as head of the House Military Affairs Committee to strike General Winfield Scott Hancock from the roll of active major generals, despite Hancock’s record as the winner at Gettysburg.  This created another lasting enmity.  Grant’s election in November 1868 gained him the Presidency, but it also set the stage for future trouble.  He won the popular vote by 300,000, but three Southern states that would have opposed him were not permitted to vote.

After Grant’s inglorious second term, the Blaine/Conkling dispute prevented Blaine from becoming his logical successor candidate.  This meant the nomination went to a compromise candidate, Rutherford b. Hayes, who was opposed by Tilden.  The election results were close, with Tilden ahead by 254,000 votes.  However, the Republicans realized that by gaining challenged voters in Louisiana, Florida and South Carolina, Hayes could win by one electoral vote.  The biggest shift had to be made in Louisiana, where Tilden led by 7,000 votes.  Garfield was selected by an extra-constitutional ‘electoral committee’ to investigate in Louisiana.  His group, with their lives threatened, threw out thousands of Democratic votes in a re-canvass of the state on the allegation that ‘Democratic rifle clubs had terrorized black voters.’  Voters were interviewed and past voting records checked.  In the West Feliciana Parish, whose re-canvass Garfield personally supervised, the vote went from a 471 total for Democrats to 386 for the Republicans, compared with past 800-1,200 Republican.  The Congressional ‘electoral committee’ then threw out the Tilden electors by a strict party line vote and seated the ones for Hayes, giving him a one-vote majority and the Presidency.  The ‘compromise’ permitted former Confederate state officials and their successors to dominate the ‘Solid South’ until the Eisenhower era.  Hayes’ opponents nicknamed him ‘His Fraudulency.’

This was not the end of the mischief resulting from the close election challenge.  In the 1880 campaign to succeed Hayes, the dispute between Conkling and Blaine caused Conkling to talk Grant into trying for a third term.  The nominating convention deadlocked, it was not until the 36th ballot that ‘dark house’ candidate Garfield was nominated, over the Grant/Conkling delegation.  Garfield selected Arthur for Vice President in an effort to appease Grant and Conkling.  It didn’t really work.  Arthur and Garfield met only about three times during Garfield’s brief term of office.  On the other hand, Arthur roomed with Conkling in Washington and Guiteau, Garfield’s assassin, had some twenty meetings with Arthur and Conkling, imbibing the venom that Conkling spewed about the danger to the Republic of Garfield as President.  The result was that Guiteau decided to ‘remove’ Garfield so that Arthur might become president by shooting President Garfield, a wound that eventually proved fatal.  Thus for the third time a closely disputed election resulted in the death of a national leader.

The Tilden home today houses the national Artists Society, while a portion of his estate funds the research Astor/Tilden/Lenox Library at 42nd Street in Manhattan, a.k.a. the New York Public Library.

An interesting sidelight is that one of our members, Michael Laurence of Linn’s, is a relative of Roscoe Conkling and suggests we look at his stature in the park on 22nd Street near the Flatiron building, to note the family resemblance.  He feels that the above is a bit harsh on Conkling.  However, for conspiracy theorists who follow the Kennedy assassination, the Garfield assassination is even more exciting with much more direct evidence to suggest a conspiracy.   Unfortunately, Senator Conking destroyed all personal papers of this period prior to his death, and didn’t testify at Guiteau’s trial.  Having read the trial testimony and spent several years studying the period, I don’t believe there was a conspiracy, but I also find the Kennedy conspiracy theories overblown as well.