Friday, March 02, 2007

March 2, 1877:

Hayes Prevails

Today is the anniversary of the anticlimactic conclusion of the disputed election of 1876 – in March of 1877, just two days before a new president was due to take Grant’s place. An Electoral Commission had been set up by Congress to decide the dispute, but its party-line decisions in favor of Hayes (soon to acquire a new nickname, “Old 8-to-7”) had inspired much agitation in Congress, especially in the Democratic-controlled House, and the threat of filibusters up to the March 4 deadline – when the Congressional terms expired as well -- was a real possibility. But in the end, it didn’t happen. It was the closest the United States has ever come to missing its absolutely regular timetable for starting presidential terms, an unheralded but likely important factor in the nation’s political stability.

“Friday, March 2 had arrived,” wrote Lloyd Robinson in The Stolen Election (1968). “The Congressional session had lasted more than 14 hours, and the end had not yet come… Rep. Joseph C. Blackburn of Kentucky, a Tilden man, rose to address the members:

“ ‘Mr. Speaker, today is Friday. Upon that day the Savior of the world suffered crucifixion between two thieves. On this Friday constitutional government, justice, honesty, fair dealing, manhood and decency suffer crucifixion amid a number of thieves.’

“Blackburn was shouted down. But there came a challenge to one Wisconsin elector on the grounds that he was a government pension officer. The Senate and the House separated again to consider the matter. Quickly the Senate voted to ignore the objection. In the House, another Tilden diehard, Rep. Roger Q. Mills of Texas, offered a resolution calling upon the House of Representatives to proceed to elect a President of the United States, as was its constitutional privilege when no candidate had received a majority of the electoral vote. Speaker Randall ruled the proposal out of order.

“Then Randall produced a telegram he had just received from Tilden. The Democratic candidate said that he was willing to let the count be completed. The statement amounted to a concession of defeat…

“At four in the morning on March 2, the Senate filled back into the hall of the House to bring the ritual of the count to a close. Since there were no objections now in either branch of Congress to the Wisconsin vote, it was counted for Hayes… Hayes had received all the disputed votes, for a total of 185 and a majority of one…”

“The agony was over… The most spectacular political crime in American history had been accomplished. The exhausted Congressmen utters sighs of relief, but there was no applause.”

March 2 is also the birthday of Sam Houston and, by a remarkable coincidence, the day that Texas declared its independence from Mexico in 1836, a decision that was ratified under Houston’s leadership at the Battle of San Jacinto about six weeks later. As an accomplished politician, governor of Tennessee and ally of Andrew Jackson, he certainly was US presidential material, but his destiny took him to Texas, where he was president of the republic – twice.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Roger Mills County in western Oklahoma is named for Tilden's partisan, Congressman - and later Senator - Roger Mills of Texas. One website I found says that the population of the newly formed county, most of them recent immigrants from Texas, voted to name it for him. And thinking of Sam Houston, his youngest son, Temple Houston, a noted trial lawyer in his day, spent the last few years of his life in Woodward, Oklahoma, a couple of counties north of Roger Mills County. ANK