CBS Sunday Morning, ran a wonderful piece today about the presidential election of 1876. Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio, was the winner even though a guy you’ve probably never heard of from New York, Samuel Tildon, won by a huge margin of the popular vote. Tildon, won the popular vote by 250,000 ballots but lost the electoral college after three southern states threw their electors at Rutherford B. Hayes.
The thing to keep in mind here, is that Hayes was a Republican, and at that time, the Republican Party was still the actual (real) party of Lincoln, the man who just a few years before had signed the Emancipation Proclamation and got the Civil War fired up. Tildon, was a Democrat, who opposed the party of Lincoln.
For years to come the south would be known as the “Solid South,” in that it would be solidly democratic, opposed to the party of lincoln which freed the slaves and set the south on a path to reconstruction. The “Solid South” remained that way for decades, all the way up to Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in the 1960’s. At that time, millions of white southerners, still stinging from losing the Civil War, left the Democratic Party and became Republicans, something Republican candidates would use in years to come, employing race-baiting to drive whites to the ballot box, while using voter-suppression to keep Black people away. You might know it as “The Southern Strategy.”
So what does this have to do with Rutherford B. Hayes and the election of 1876? A great deal, perhaps.
Tildon’s supporters demanded that the election be given to him, because he had won the popular vote by a wide margin. Hayes and the Republicans said that would never do, because they had won the electoral college, so by law, Hayes had won the election, regardless of the popular vote.
There was considerable consternation, even talk of another civil war to settle the matter. Instead, a small group of powerful political movers and shakers got together in a smoke-filled room and came up with “The Compromise of 1877.”
The deal they made was that Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican, would be given the election. In return, Tilden’s supporters were promised an end to reconstruction in the south, calling out federal troops and stripping away the protections reconstruction afforded Black people, who, not long before, had been enslaved.
Got that? The “Solid South” got approval for the overtly racist policies of Jim Crow while the party of Lincoln, got the White House. And here we are today, with the Solid South having flipped from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party after JFK and Lyndon Johnson came along and tried to restore some of what the death of reconstruction had taken away.
Voter suppression, race-baiting, one side threatening to refuse the outcome of the election unless their side wins, with a system that is still no less confused in some respects than it was in 1876.
We have been here before. Thanks to CBS Sunday Morning, for casting some light on the subject and bringing up the point that the country was founded by a clubby group of wealthy landowners. It’s not much of a leap to understand that the electoral college was established to protect their best interests. Just imagine what might happen if the ignorant, unwashed masses should be bamboozled into electing someone who was running just to gin up publicity for himself and make as much money as possible? Someone who cared nothing for the people or the general welfare of the country? Someone without the intellect to understand the Constitution, provided he would ever take the time to actually read it?
That’s where the electoral college would enter the picture, overriding the misguided popular vote, throwing the bum out and saving the country from treachery and possible ruin. Which is exactly what it failed to do in 2016 after nearly opening the door on a second civil war in 1876.
Wouldn’t we be better off without it?
Many years ago someone told me that “This is a democracy. What most of the people want, is the way it’s going to be.”
Really? Not with the Electoral College in play.