How Republicans Stole the Presidency in 1876 - And How They're Doing It Again in 2000
by William Ruha
For any serious student of history there is a familiar Republican taint to the events in Florida.
In the election of 1876, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes fully expected Democrat Samuel Tilden to triumph, and when the first returns seemed to confirm this, Hayes went to bed, believing he had lost.
This is not terribly dissimilar to the impartial correct Florida exit polls reported by the media on November 7, showing Democrat Al Gore to have won Florida, and thus the 2000 Presidential election.
Only, whereas Hayes, an Ohio gentleman was willing to accept his certain defeat and retire for the night, George W. Bush was wide awake in Austin discussing the disaster in Florida with the state's governor, brother Jeb, and hastily placing phone calls to cousin John Ellis at the Fox Network in an attempt to snatch victory back from certain defeat.
Perhaps someone in the GOP is a serious historian. On election night 1876, in New York Republican headquarters, Republican National Chairman Zachariah Chandler, aware of a loophole and wrangling several inside deals with southern political leaders in Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida, wired leaders to stand firm with the message, "Hayes has 185 votes and is elected."
134 years later, the same tactic - albeit more sophisticated media - was used: word went out across national television from Bush cousin John Ellis of the Fox Network that George W. Bush had in fact taken Florida and won the election with 271 electoral votes (a clever advance cover story for Jeb Bush's operatives to do whatever was necessary in Florida to reverse Gore's win and ensure George W. Bush's victory.)
Just as Hayes lost the popular vote by a margin of 264,000 votes (4,300,000 to 4,036,000), so too did Bush lose to Gore by almost the same total: 262,991 votes: (49,921,267 to 49,658,276).
Hayes' election depended upon contested electoral votes in the south: Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida, as does Bush's in the latter state.
Just as the political and legal wrangling went on for months in the election of 1876, so too are we witnessing a repeat of this throughout November and doubtless well into December.
Republican Hayes was in a do-or-die situation in 1876. All the disputed electoral votes would have to break his way in order to win. A single lost vote would elect Democrat Tilden. This is almost identical to Bush's current 246 total that requires all of Florida's 25 electoral votes and every other pledged Republican electoral vote to eke out a single vote margin victory with 271.
A century-and-a-third ago, another branch of government was needed to resolve the apparent impasse. In January 1877 Congress established an Electoral Commission to decide the dispute. The commission, made up of eight Republicans and seven Democrats, determined all the contests in favor of Hayes by eight to seven.
The same is apparently being done today, whether it is the Republican-appointed members of the US Supreme Court, the Republican-dominated Florida State Legislature, or the Republican "Independent" Miami-Dade County election commission board that voted to stop the recount (assisted as it were by the intimidating GOP rent-a-Brown-Shirts.)
Hayes was elected by a single electoral vote, 185 to 184. If Bush triumphs it will by a similarly narrow 271 to 267.
In 1876 the sweep of contested electoral votes in the southern states had been arranged when Northern Republicans promised southern Democrats a Cabinet post, Federal patronage, subsidies for internal improvements, and most importantly, withdrawal of troops from Louisiana and South Carolina. Hayes followed up on his pledge to "restore local self-government" with the withdrawal of federal troops from the contested southern states in a political strategy to effect the building of a "new Republican party" in the South, to which white businessmen and conservatives would rally.
This was of course, the Nixon "Southern strategy" 100 years earlier, and has been the GOP geo-political blueprint in presidential elections up to the current time.
Just as the Republican Party of Hayes' times won the presidency by a margin of a single electoral vote after cutting every deal possible in the south, so too, has George W. Bush been making his whisker-thin electoral margin possible by cutting deals with Jeb, Katherine Harris, Florida GOP members and others crucial to the outcome.
George Santayana once observed, "Those who do not learn from history are cursed to repeat it."
The fix is in. Again.