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The Historian's Corner

The USA's Election of 1876

People think the USA had a wild electoral ride in November, 2000. The only other election to come close to it, pundits proclaim, was the election of 1876. In reality, the election of 1876 was much more of a circus once one takes into account all the behind-the-scenes dealings.

It's common knowledge Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes went to bed election night thinking he had lost, only to eventually get swept into the Oval Office on the strength of the electoral ballots of three disputed states awarded him and a compromise that ended radical reconstruction in the South. What's not generally known is the full extent of the back room wheeling and dealing that handed the election to Hayes over his opponent, Samuel Tilden.

Not only did the Republican deal-makers have to end Reconstruction, they had to give the Democrats a wide receiver and a first-round picks in the next two drafts. On top of that, they had to agree to a three-way deal with the Greenback party, where they traded their second-string quarterback to the Greenbacks, the Greenbacks sent a defensive tackle to the Democrats, and the Democrats sent a third rate punter named Theodore Roosevelt to the Grand Old Party.

"Teddy" Roosevelt never shone as a punter, but he later showed talent as a running back. He took MVP for the Republicans several years in a row, and was eventually part of their winning 1896 and 1900 teams. In a twist of fate, he was later traded to the Bullmoose party, where he finished off his career.

Another strange turn of the 1876 election was the matter of the 7th Cavalry's absentee ballots. General Custer and his unit were wiped out at the battle of Little Bighorn earlier that year. It seems as though several state party machines got hold of their records and registered the unit to vote. Custer himself had ballots cast for him in Illinois, California, Oregon, Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana. He voted Republican 5 times and Democratic once. Overall, the entire 7th Cavalry cast over 500 ballots, most of them Republican.

Even stranger was the ballot in Massachusetts. Republican bosses were taking no chances there: Cotton Mather, Judge Hathorne, and Miles Standish were among those to vote in the election. Ironically, not a single one of these men were alive when the United States became a nation. Not to be outdone, one supposes, the Democratic machines in New York state managed to get several hundred characters from the novels of Charles Dickens registered to vote, whereupon they dutifully voted a straight Democratic ticket.

Perhaps the strangest aspect of the 1876 election came from the hotly contested state of Florida. There, over 3000 voters somehow managed to cast votes for one Patrick Buchanan, an unknown write-in candidate not affiliated with any major party of the day. He did appear on the ballots, juxtaposed by Tilden's name in a manner many construed to be confusing. Zzzptm historical researchers have discovered such an anomalous turnout for a Patrick, P., or Pat Buchanan in Florida in 8 separate elections after that. One wonders if the votes for Buchanan this time around were really accidents or part of a Floridian electoral tradition that happened to coincide with an election in which a "Pat Buchanan" was an actual candidate.

Truth can be stranger than fiction...

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