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Florida’s First Election Fiasco—the Election of 1876 (SOLD)
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This broadside announces the 1876 presidential election between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden. Unknown at the time, the election would be among the most controversial in American history, with the entire contest resting on a dispute over Florida’s electoral votes. From the papers of Edward Louden Parris, an attorney for Tilden, who ended up losing the election by way of the “Compromise of 1877.”

[FLORIDA]. Broadside. Notice of Election! To all and singular the Sheriffs of the several Counties of the State of Florida....Samuel B. McLin, Secretary of State. Tallahasee, Fl., 1876. 1 p., 12¼ x 29 in.

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Historical Background 

The Election of 1876 was one of the most significant in American history. People celebrated the nation’s centennial, but prepared to move on after ten years of Reconstruction and eight years of the scandal-ridden Ulysses Grant administration.

The Democrats nominated Samuel Tilden, a respected lawyer and reform governor of New York, while the Republicans nominated Rutherford B. Hayes, a dark-horse war hero from Ohio. It was an incredibly close election, with Tilden winning the popular vote by roughly 250,000 votes. However, the votes of Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana, all states still occupied by federal troops, were contested. Needing 185 electoral votes to win, Tilden was stuck at 184. If he could win one of the three remaining states, he would take the presidency. The electoral boards of all three states, dominated by Republicans, favored Hayes, and used creative means of counting and throwing out votes. However, all three states elected Democratic governors in 1876, all of whom would be expected to endorse results favorable to Tilden. In December 1876, conflicting sets of officially certified presidential electors voted in each state.

The crisis fell into the halls of Congress because that is where the official reading of a state’s electoral votes takes place. Congressional Democrats proposed the creation of a bipartisan electoral commission comprising 5 Senators, 5 Representatives, and 5 Supreme Court Justices. The swing vote would be the fifth Supreme Court Justice, Joseph Bradley of New Jersey, a moderate Republican. Behind the scenes, Hayes, Tilden, and their handlers communicated with each other and with Bradley. Though historians have no smoking gun linking any of the principals to this deal, it unquestionably took place. Bradley was convinced to vote for Hayes, Tilden promised to adhere to the results, and Hayes agreed to end Reconstruction and federal military occupation in the South, and to appoint a Southern Democrat as Postmaster General. Florida was the first test for the validity of the commission, because it was the first of the three states in alphabetical order. When the President Pro Tem of the Senate came to Florida, he read the commission’s results – 8 to 7 for Hayes. The same result was replicated for Louisiana and South Carolina, and Hayes became the 19th president.