The second administration of President Ulysses S. Grant, from 1872 to 1876, was marred by government corruption. As a result, both the Democrats and Republicans selected reform candidates to represent their parties in the presidential election of 1876. The fact that both candidates supported reform agendas led Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes to predict the election would be a close race. Hayes was right. The 1876 election proved to be the closest, most disputed elections in the 100-year-old nation's history and one that was punctuated by mean-spirited slogans.
Republicans for Rutherford
Although the Republicans had controlled Washington for several presidencies, the party carried scandalous baggage from Grant's administration. Hayes originally was only being considered as a running mate for more likely nominees such as James G. Blaine, former House Speaker, and Indiana senator Oliver P. Morton. Blaine's reputation was compromised, however, by accusations of corruption, and Morton's health was questionable. Hayes was well-liked by both regular and reform Republicans. He fought in the Civil War and served as governor of Ohio. Most importantly, he had an impeccable political and personal record.
Among the Democrats, there was nearly unanimous support for the nomination of former governor of New York Samuel J. Tilden. Tilden had become famous for bringing Boss Tweed and New York City's corrupt government to justice and for breaking up the criminal ring that controlled the repair and rebuilding of New York's canals. In Tilden, the Democrats felt they had their best chance in 20 years of putting a candidate in the White House. Southern Democrats saw a presidential victory as the surest way to end Reconstruction.
No Stumping Necessary
Unlike later presidential elections, the election of 1876 did not feature either candidate traveling the country, making speeches, or rousing public support at political rallies. Any campaigning beyond the candidate's publication of his acceptance letter was considered bad form. It was the job of state and local political parties to campaign for their respective candidates, with senators and congressman controlling the campaign rhetoric.
Slinging and Slogans
Though political campaigning in 1876 was done on a small scale, mud-slinging between Democrats and Republicans took on large-scale fervor. Democrats urged voters to end corrupt Republican administrations with their slogan, "Throw the rascals out." Republicans resorted to "waving the bloody shirt," suggesting Southern Democrats brought on the Civil War. "Not every Democrat was a rebel, but every rebel was a Democrat," was a popular Republican slogan. Former Union soldiers turned out to support the Republican candidate. In the South, the Red Shirts, a white Democratic paramilitary group, prevented black and white Republicans from voting. A popular pre-election trade card showing images of Hayes and Tilden with the words, "Of The Two Evils -- Choose the Least" reflected voters mistrust of both parties.
A Questionable Outcome
The results of the 1876 presidential election showed Tilden as winner of the popular vote and well ahead of Hayes in electoral votes. However, controversy arose over the electoral votes of Louisiana, South Carolina and Florida. It took an special election commission and the Compromise of 1877 -- which ended Reconstruction and secured Democratic support for Hayes -- to ratify the results and declare Hayes the election winner. (
- History.com: Ulysses S. Grant
- University of Virginia Miller Center: American President: A Reference Resource: Campaigns and Elections: The Campaign and Election of 1876
- HarpWeek: The Presidential Elections, 1860 to 1912: 1876, Hayes v. Tilden: Overview
- Virginia Historical Society: Election of 1876
- The Robinson Library: The Presidential Election of 1876
- History.com: Presidential Elections: Election of 1876
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