Political fallout from 2020 presidential election looking like 1876

Jul 25, 2022, 5:00 PM
second debate...
In this combination image of two photos showing both President Donald Trump, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

SALT LAKE CITY — How was the presidential election of 1876 like 2020’s?

Both saw allegations of voter fraud. Both saw attempts to overturn the election results. The result from these elections remain among the most disputed in US history.

Both also experienced election violence, and disfranchisement of predominately-Republican Black voters.

Texas closes hundreds of polling sites, making it harder for minorities to vote in 2020 election.

Retired University of Utah professor and constitutional law scholar Wayne McCormack shares some more similarities between the two presidential contests held 144 years apart.

Hayes vs. Tilden 

Republican Rutherford B. Hayes was not certified as the winner of the election (winning by one electoral vote, although he received fewer votes than Democrat Samuel Tilden*) until March 2 — 115 days after the Nov. 7 vote and three days before he was inaugurated in Washington, D.C., according to The Washington Post.

Back then, presidents were inaugurated in March, not January. Before the election of 1876, a Republican president — Ulysses Grant — occupied the White House, just like 2020.

Grant, who led Union Armies to victory over the Confederacy in the Civil War, also oversaw Congressional Reconstruction to remove the last vestiges of slavery after the war. Grant declined to seek a third term in 1876.

The 1876 election had the single highest turnout in American history, 81.8%, according to Salon. Whereas the US Census Bureau reported that the 2020 presidential election had the highest voter turnout of the 21st century, 66.8%.

“Before the Southern states sent their electoral votes in for Tilden, they were rejected by Congress on the basis that the Southern states had not been restored to their status as states in the Union,” McCormack said.

The 1876 election also was the second of five U.S. presidential elections in which the winner did not win a plurality of the national popular vote.

“So we had an election that was basically just thrown out in Congress, and Congress picked President Hayes on the compromise,” McCormack said. “The electoral votes were never certified in 1876.”

Dems, Republicans reach a compromise

Initially, Tilden won 184 electoral college votes to Hayes’s 165, with 20 votes from four states unresolved.

The Compromise of 1877 said Democrats would give all 20 contested electoral votes to allow Hayes to become president. But, only if Republicans pulled the last remaining federal troops out of the South. This would officially end the Reconstruction era and abandon Blacks to the racist whims of Southern whites. 

“The end of Reconstruction then went into the Jim Crow laws and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and the worst of the violent right-wing white supremacists,” McCormack said

Also, in the 1876 election, Oregon’s Democratic Gov. La Fayette Grover disliked that Hayes won his state, as reported by Salon, and tried to offset that by declaring one of the Republican electors ineligible, so he could be replaced with a pro-Tilden Democrat. Sound familiar?

*Like Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, Tilden also won the popular vote but lost the election. In that election, candidate Donald Trump also said he would not accept a Clinton victory.


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Political fallout from 2020 presidential election looking like 1876