Primary Source Spotlight: 1876 Contested Presidential Election

1876 election broadside

From America’s Library

On the night of the 1876 presidential election, Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes went to bed early. He assumed that he had lost the election to his opponent, Democrat Samuel J. Tilden. Tilden did win the popular vote that night, but the Republicans challenged the validity of the electoral votes from three states. (Under the Electoral College, each state chooses electors to vote for the president.) A candidate must win the electoral vote to become president.

Congress appointed a special Electoral Commission to make a decision on the matter. The commission was made up of five senators, five members of the House of Representatives, and five Supreme Court justices. In the end, the commission determined that Hayes was elected president by a margin of one electoral vote. 

Centennial election. The republican nominees

National Republican chart 1876

Republican star campaign song

Rutherford B. Hayes Campaign Song

“Hayes the True and Wheeler, Too!”

Roll along, roll along, shout the campaign battle song

Carnival of blood! Republicans to be massacred at the polls! Secret Democratic circular

A Hayes Indiana election ballot

A certificate for the electoral vote for Rutherford B. Hayes and William A. Wheeler for the State of Louisiana

Washington, D.C.–the Electoral Commission holding a secret session by candle-light, on the Louisiana question, February 16th

Ten white men and two Negroes who defrauded the American people out of their choice for president in 1876

The political farce of 1876

A truce – not a compromise, but a chance for high-toned gentlemen to retire gracefully from their very civil declarations of war

Select historical newspaper articles

More historical newspaper coverage

Counting the electoral vote – David Dudley Field objects to the vote of Florida illustration

Proceedings of the Returning board of the state of Louisiana. Election of 1876

The Proceedings of the Electoral Commission of 1877

How to become president; or, The new doctrine of election 1879

The Hayes-Tilden Electoral Commission” The Atlantic Monthly Volume 72, Issue 432, October 1893

The Hayes-Tilden disputed presidential election of 1876 1906

The American Presidency Project: Election of 1876 American Presidency Project

Proceedings of the Returning board of the state of Louisiana. Election of 1876 HarpWeek

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