Friday, Nov. 14, 2008

Samuel J. Tilden

Even by today's standards, the 1876 contest between Tilden and Republican rival Rutherford B. Hayes was exceptionally ugly. And it only got uglier when five states — Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Oregon — reported two sets of returns on Election Day. Congress created a special commission to settle the dispute, although few members attempted to conceal their partisan bias in eventually choosing Hayes. As the commission announced its results, an armed mob stood on Capitol Hill. Hoping to avoid bloodshed, Tilden decided not to fight the decision, even though he had received a clear majority of the popular vote. Historians would later suggest that Republicans brokered a secret deal with Southern Democrats, agreeing to withdraw federal troops overseeing Reconstruction efforts in the South if the disputed electoral votes went to Hayes. In the end, Tilden received 184 electoral votes to his opponent's 185.

The election took its toll on Tilden's health, and he retired from politics shortly thereafter, living as a recluse near Yonkers, New York. But his years as a corporate lawyer left him with a massive fortune, most of which he donated in his will to the construction of the New York City Public Library. He passed away in 1886 and had his most famous quote engraved on his tombstone: "I Still Trust in The People."