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Lewis Morris / Sep. 29, 2020

Parallels Between the Election of 1876 and 2020?

History proves again that we're not living in entirely unprecedented times.

Even in good times, it’s hard for some people to gain a sense of historical perspective. But in an age when leftist dogma has seized control of the news media, social media, and the cultural zeitgeist, it’s pretty much impossible to gain a true understanding of history.

Donald Trump was president for barely 24 hours in 2017 before leftist political pundits proclaimed him the worst president in American history. According to their twisted view of the world, Trump is worse than Hitler and everything he does is harming America on an unprecedented scale. Of course, in one sense it’s easy to dismiss this as hyperbole designed to divide us. But the sad news is that this strategy is working in large part because the American public doesn’t have even a middling sense of its history.

Take, for instance, the concerns swirling about the outcome of the 2020 election. The Left is making every attempt to undermine its legitimacy by claiming that Trump won’t concede if he loses, and if he wins it will be because it’s the most corrupt election in history. Really? Most corrupt presidential election in history? Only someone who doesn’t know our history would say that.

The most corrupt presidential election by far is the election of 1876. The contest during America’s centennial year between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden was decided by nothing short of a backroom deal that established generations of segregation and reversed the legal gains made by blacks after the Civil War.

1876 was a tough year for the country. The economy was still reeling from the 1873 depression, which was the worst economic calamity to date. Ulysses S. Grant’s administration had turned out to be one of the most corrupt in the nation’s history, riddled with men on the take thanks in part to a president whose military skills on the battlefield far outweighed his political instincts in the nation’s capital. Through a series of controversial and politically motivated decisions, the Supreme Court was systematically undoing the work of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments that had freed the slaves and given them equal protection under the law. The South, which had been under federal military control since 1865, remained a hotbed of violence. Blacks and whites who showed respect for or represented federal authority were persecuted, attacked, and even murdered.

Grant contemplated running for a third term, but his odds for reelection were long. Thus, Ohio Governor Rutherford B. Hayes became the Republican standard-bearer. While Democrat Samuel Tilden bested Hayes in the popular vote by more than 250,000 votes, Tilden failed to win a majority in the Electoral College. Disputes and irregularities in Louisiana, South Carolina, Florida, and Oregon threw the election into chaos. Among the claims were confusion over the design of ballots, over-voting (South Carolina reported a voting rate of 101%), and widespread intimidation against Republican voters. Oregon’s Democrat governor attempted to negate a Republican elector by claiming that he was not qualified.

Any of this sound familiar?

Anger in the country bubbled to the surface. In Ohio, someone took a shot at Hayes’s residence. Mobs formed in cities around the country, and Grant called the Army to alert in Washington. The Democrat-controlled House did not trust the Republican Senate to faithfully count the electoral votes, and the Republican Senate did not trust the House to faithfully carry out its constitutional duty to decide the election once the regular voting process had yielded no result.

A 15-person commission was formed, made up of five representatives, five senators, and five Supreme Court justices. After intense deliberation, this electoral commission voted to award the election to Hayes. Democrats agreed to accept the result on the condition that federal troops be removed from the last two Southern states still under Reconstruction rule: South Carolina and Louisiana. Was it coincidence that these two states were also overtaken by mob violence on Election Day? Don’t count on it.

The end of Reconstruction in the South meant a rapid return of the Democrats to political control of the region. State by state, they stripped blacks of property rights and used poll taxes, violence, and intimidation to disenfranchise blacks across the South. Virtually all the black officials in local and state governments elected during the Republican era were voted out of office within one or two election cycles. The era of Jim Crow had begun.

Could the 1876 election be replayed this year? There are certainly parallels to be drawn judging by the mood in the streets, the thuggery of one side (the Democrats, again), the lack of respect for the system by some of the citizenry, and the corruption and greed of some of those we have elected to run it.

Despite these eerie commonalities, it’s wrong to assume that the 2020 election will be the worst in the nation’s history. We tend to look at our own times as the best or the worst in history for no other reason than we are living here now, and we have no real sense of perspective for what came before us. That’s a shame because if we could take an honest look at the election of 1876, we might learn a few things about the frailty of our Republic, the trappings of power, and the nature of mob mentality. That knowledge would help us avoid repeating history.

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