Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The Electoral College Challenge of 1877

"Good Lord. I hope Americans in the
future know what they are doing"
Anytime something “extraordinary” happens in Washington D.C. where one side excoriates the other, you can rest assured they have forgotten, or never read, our history when their side would have benefitted from the same political maneuver in the past.

Liberals who are “aghast” at the prospect of a congressional challenge to the electoral college in 2021 would have been solidly behind the congressional challenge of 1877. The challenge dealt with egregious “voting anomalies” in Louisiana, South Carolina and Florida. Namely, the very dubious handling of election ballots coupled with outright, physically violent suppression of black voters, who were 100% Republican back then.

President U.S. Grant had worked tirelessly during his two terms in the White House from 1868-1876 to enact, establish and ensure civil rights for newly freed slaves after the Civil War. He repeatedly sent federal troops into the South to protect black citizens from attacks by nascent white supremacist groups, such as White Line and the KKK.

When Grant decided not to run for a third term in 1876, Republicans in the North and South were understandably concerned that if the Democrat candidate, Samuel Tilden, won, all of the progress that had been made since 1865 during Reconstruction would go for naught. White male Democrats desperately wanted to regain control of government and commerce in the South.

They intimidated black and white Republican voters in the South in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. White Liners forced black voters to tell them who they worked for before they voted, which opened up the possibility of being fired from their jobs. As a result, only two Republicans voted in Yazoo County in Mississippi in November, and only one Republican voted in Tallahatchie County, certainly one noticeable “voting anomaly” in the 1876 election.

Tilden easily won the popular vote by 250,000 votes but only secured 184 of the 185 electoral votes necessary to win. President Grant was resigned to accept the results without full knowledge of the voting irregularities in the South when he told his fellow Republicans the day after the election: “Gentlemen, it looks to me as if Mr. Tilden was elected.” But he told the press later in the day: “Everything depends on a fair count,” as is always the case.

As he was attending a closing banquet for the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, he was handed an emergency telegram from Interior Secretary Zachariah Chandler that said a train he had sent with election supervisors to the South to verify results had been “Kukluxed,” which meant the KKK had wrecked the train and thrown it off the track.

Certainly another notable “voting anomaly.”

President Grant immediately dispatched federal troops to Florida, South Carolina and Louisiana to protect the vote counts. In a fairly prescient comment, Grant said: “[S]hould there be any grounds of suspicion of fraudulent counting on either side it should be reported and denounced at once… Either Party can afford to be disappointed in the result but the Country cannot afford to have the result tainted by the suspicion of illegal or false returns.”

Republican Rutherford B. Hayes ultimately prevailed with 19 votes from these three states and defeated Tilden 185-184 in the Electoral College, after a 15-member commission of five senators, five congressmen and five Supreme Court justices voted 8-7 in late February to declare Hayes the winner, just before his inauguration on March 4.

The United States survived that constitutional crisis, which occurred in the afterglow of the bloody Civil War. The United States will survive the constitutional crisis of 2021 as well.

Democrats might find a Biden presidency to be a Pyrrhic victory in the end. Once Republicans figure out exactly what happened in the swing states, whether it was all on the up-and-up or not, they will copy and improve every tactic and strategy Democrats, such as Stacey Abrams and election lawyer Marc Elias, did in 2020 and use them in what should be a good Republican election in 2022, and then most certainly in 2024.

After all, once Joe Biden is sworn in as president on Jan. 20, everything that was done to get him elected will carry with it the imprimatur of being legal. What is fair in love and war is certainly fair in politics.

(first published in North State Journal 1/6/21)

Do You Want Better People to Run for Public Office?
Support the Institute for the Public Trust Today

Visit The Institute for the Public Trust to contribute today

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.