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The truth about the election of 1876

By       Message Gerald Scorse     Permalink
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The 2016 election taught me a bitter truth I'd never known before. You might like to know it too, so come along.

By percentages, Hillary Clinton's popular-vote margin over Donald Trump was the largest for a losing candidate since Samuel Tilden's quarter-million-plus margin over Rutherford Hayes in 1876. Unlike Trump, however, Hayes also trailed in the electoral vote. Since Hayes was behind by both measures, how then did he become president?

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The answer stunned me when I heard it for the first time on the Rachel Maddow Show a couple of days after November 8th.

Tilden led 184-165 in the Electoral College, but there were 20 disputed electoral votes: all those of Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina, and, oddly, one from Oregon. All 20 of those votes ultimately went to the Republican, Hayes, over the Democrat, Tilden (who, as I've said, handily won the popular vote and led by a large margin in the undisputed electoral vote).

The Democrats agreed to hand the presidency to Hayes on the condition that the federal government withdraw the occupying Union troops from the South. With that agreement, the Democrats effectively nullified the 13th amendment and the Emancipation Proclamation, and sentenced America's blacks to almost another century of oppression. That oppression continues to this day, this time at the hands of the Republican Party, with its relentless, state-based passage of voting restrictions.

I'm an American History major. Never, in any high school or college textbook that I read, were the facts that decided the election of 1876 made clear. It was always presented as a "disputed" election, but the resolution of that dispute, and its consequences, were never spelled out. The commission of a huge historical sin was glossed over as if it never happened.

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But it did happen. It lives with us to this day, and it will live with us for decades to come.

P.S. If you already knew this, I'm happy for you; I never knew it until I was 81 and two months.

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Gerald E. Scorse is a freelance writer living in New York. His op-eds have appeared in newspapers across the United States


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