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Counting the Vote in 1876 – Florida’s First Election Fiasco
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The 1876 presidential election between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden came down to a dispute over Florida’s electoral votes. These pamphlets and documents include official signed copies of key Florida court and executive decisions. From the papers of Edward Louden Parris, an attorney for Tilden, who ended up losing in the “Compromise of 1877.”

ELECTIONS. Two pamphlets and three documents relating to the disputed presidential election of 1876. 1876-1877.

Inventory #21857.04       Price: $1,450

This item includes the following documents:
  • The State of Florida … vs. Charles H. Pearce, January 27, 1877, signed and sealed.
  • The State of Florida … vs. Charles H. Pearce, January 27, 1877, not signed or sealed.
  • Governor George F. Drew.Documentsigned and sealed, January 26, 1877, appointing four electors.Whereas, in Pursuance of an Act of Legislature...
  • Record and Opinion of the Supreme Court of Florida, in the Case of the state of Florida ex rel. Geo. F. Drew against Samuel B. McLin.. Pamphlet,1876
  • In the Matter of the Electoral Vote of the State of Florida: Points. Pamphlet, Washington, D.C. 1877.


Historical Background

After ten years of Reconstruction, the Republicans nominated Rutherford B. Hayes, a dark-horse war hero from Ohio, to succeed the scandal-ridden Ulysses Grant administration. The Democrats nominated Samuel Tilden, a respected lawyer and governor of New York. Tilden won the national popular vote by roughly 250,000, and led the electoral count with 184, only one shy of victory, with the votes of three states – Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana – still contested. Those three states were still occupied by federal troops. Each had electoral boards dominated by Republicans willing to use creative means of counting or throwing out presidential votes, but had all elected Democratic governors in 1876. Conflicting sets of officially certified presidential electors voted in each state, pushing the crisis into the halls of the United States Congress.

Democrats proposed the creation of a bipartisan electoral commission with 15 members: 5 Senators, 5 Representatives, and 5 Supreme Court Justices. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Bradley of New Jersey, a moderate Republican, was considered the swing vote. Though historians have not found a smoking gun linking the principals directly, we know that their representatives and Bradley struck a deal. Tilden’s camp agreed to adhere to the results while  Hayes’ agreed to end Reconstruction including federal military occupation, and appoint a Southern Democrat as Postmaster General. Thus, Bradley voted for Hayes. When the President Pro Tem of the Senate came to Florida, alphabetically the first of the three states, he read the commission’s results – 8 to 7 for Hayes. The commission also voted 8-7 to award Louisiana and South Carolina’s electoral votes to Hayes, who became the 19th president.

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