Had enough of the 2016 Presidential Election? Do you think this is the craziest, most chaotic presidential election ever? In our lifetime, 2016 is definitely over-the-top insanity with our major-party-mediocrity-candidate choices. Heavy on the hate, venom, and accusations and very light on the issues but when compared to the Election of 1876, 2016 seems fairly mild.
There are similarities. A country in the wake of a tragic event drifting to polar opposites instead of joining forces for a common good. A country inching closer to being unable to sit in the same room and work to solve even the simplest of problems.
Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio for the Republicans. Samuel Tilden of New York for the Democrats. New school Republicans, fresh off their victory in the Civil War and emancipation of black slaves, vs. the old school Democrats base of the South, stinging not only from the loss of the War but from the economic hit sustained by the loss of their “free” labor force. Reconstruction in the South was a grueling process, marred by slowed progress and a lack of will for white Southerners to accept a societal change.
The election was ugly. Media was ugly. The newspapers of the time were not the “impartial” media we are used to in today’s society. The were biased and the facts were handled lightly and often created. Editorials, character attacks, and articles by Republican-leaning papers villainized Tilden. Democratic papers painted a picture of Hayes as the devil himself. Almost all these accusations had zero basis in any kind of fact or truth. It was mud-slinging that makes our ad campaigns seem mild in comparison.
The election day itself was marred by controversy. The Republicans used questionable tactics in winning three Southern states, with allegations of voter fraud being leveled by Democrats. The Democrats used fraud also, mixed with violence and intimidation practices designed to keep many black, former slave males from voting. Both sides cheated, but neither side prevailed.
Yes, you read that right. Neither side won. Or, more accurately, neither side could be declared a winner by electoral vote. Tilden won the popular vote, but Hayes kept even in electoral votes, mainly because of those possibly ill-gained electoral votes from those three Southern states. The nation was stuck.
And nobody could figure out who the next president was.
After many attempts to arrive at a conclusion failed, the powers that be formed a commission of five US Senators, five House of Representatives, and five US Supreme Court Justices to study and decide the issue. They thought the commission was neutral with 7 appointed Republicans, 7 Democrats, and one independent member. After much deliberation and study and recounting, the commissioner voted 8-7 in favor of Rutherford B. Hayes to be the 19th President of the United States.
Case solved, right?
Turns out the independent member of the commission was not so independent. He was a Republican and the 8 Hayes voters were all Republicans and the 7 Tilden voters were all Democrats. Partisanship at its finest.
Finally, in the week before the end of the Ulysses S. Grant’s term and the inauguration tentatively schedule in mere days, a deal was struck at the 11th hour. The Democrats would accept the results of the commission and allow Hayes to be inaugurated as president. In return, the Republicans would basically scrap the idea of Reconstruction in the South. A compromise was agreed upon.
The price of the compromise is controversial. Putting the brakes on the Reconstruction process stymied social progress and opened the door for Jim Crow policies and further entrenched racial segregation in the South. Perhaps the history of the fight for civil rights in America would have had a different face without the stopping of a Reconstruction process. Perhaps things would have turned out pretty much the same. Who knows?
So as bad as Trump/Clinton gets. As bad as two bad choices appear to be in 2016, remind yourself that our country will survive. We will move forward with all our pocks and issues and problems to continue as the best place on Earth to live.
I don’t care who you vote for. Just vote. It does matter. I will always believe that, at a minimum, voting gives one a right to complain afterward.
No voting, no crying…understand?
Remember the Election of 1876 gave us a president named Hayes. Even with the extra “e”, that’s not an all-bad thing.