Page images



a return to silver subsidiary coinage found more or less impediment growing out of greenback or non-redemptionist ideas. Other questions came to the front in connection with administration, which it is not the purpose of this history to record, although in many of these the writer took an interest. Some had relation to the life-saving and letter-carrier systems, the repression of dangers at sea, the repeal of the registry laws of vessels, the purchase of foreign-built vessels and the supervision of steamships. Various contrivances came to the front in respect to our public debt, together with legislation concerning the public lands, railroads, and railroad grants and their forfeiture. In the discussion of these questions the military at the polls were too often forgotten.

The people of this country had hoped by the apparent ascendency of Democrats to power in 1876, that men who, like Samuel J. Tilden, in New York, had, in their various states, been connected with the overthrow of fraud and the vindication of honesty in the administration of affairs, would bring the business of the government into the realm of ethical science; and that they would regard office as a trust, to be executed for the common weal. The public voice then demanded with no uncertain sound that the executive branch of the government should be taken out of the hands of the Republican party. The Democracy saw that Governor Tilden had acted his part nobly and well as governor of the State of New-York, hence they elected him President of the United States. They were prepared to believe that a new dawn had arisen upon our democratic-republican form of government; but how dark was their disappointment! The Republican party, which had legalized the infractions of every wise law, stole another term of power! It had cured none of the trouble in the South. It had not given a staff to business decrepitude. It had left the states as the prey of swindlers and usurpers. It had made itself the supple tool of all reckless enterprises. It was harsh and proscriptive. It used its power so odiously that the centennial year of 1876 thundered its denunciation, but after all, the end of that party was still afar off, because Democracy failed of arousal to a sense of the great wrong which was committed by the electoral count of the following year, which will be discussed in the next two chapters.





N the history of elective governments no such strain was ever put upon human nature as that which tried the patience, forbearance, and patriotism of the people of this country during the proceedings for the counting of the Presidential vote in 1876–277. A case like that one could never occur again without sanguinary results. How the will of the people was then defeated by malevolence, greed, fraud, and the breach of every legal bond, the sequel will show.

Clouds thick and threatening obscured the horizon when the Forty-fourth Congress met at its closing session, in December, 1876. There was an evident determination on the part of the Republican leaders not to surrender the reins of power. There was as resolute a purpose on the part of the Democracy to gather, at all hazards, the fruits of the victory which they believed they had fairly won. There seemed to be no alternative but civil war. The situation was indeed grave. The Congress was divided politically into hostile camps. The Senate was Republican, the House Democratic. The all-absorbing, war-threatening questions were: Had the President of the Senate, by virtue of his office, the right to count the electoral votes? Did the Constitution invest him with discretionary power to decide what were and what were not the electoral votes of a state? Must both



houses of Congress acquiesce in counting the votes of a state before they could be counted? Or would the objection of either house be fatal to any electoral returns? These questions perplexed the people at large as well as Congress. Peace, unless one or the other party surrendered its claim of victory, seemed out of the question. No middle ground appeared possible. The horrors of another civil war loomed up before the affrighted vision. In the war for the Union it was section arrayed against section; but in this which seemed to be now threatening it would be neighbor against neighbor, father against son, brother against brother.

On the third day of that session of Congress the electoral colleges met in the several states. As had been anticipated, double sets of returns were prepared and forwarded from South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana, and two claimants appeared for one office of elector in far-off Oregon. Petitions poured into Congress from commercial organizations and good citizens of all parties and all sections, anxiously praying for a peaceful settlement of the Presidential question. In the wisdom and the patriotism of that body was now the only reliance for averting bloodshed. A few days after the meeting of the electoral colleges, December 14th, Mr. Proctor Knott, of Kentucky, then a member of the House, and now the governor of that state, known to fame as the immortalizer of "Duluth," initiated a response to the urgent demands of the country. He proposed a committee of five members whose duty it should be, acting in conjunction with a similar committee on the part of the Senate, to consider the whole question of the disputed votes, and to recommend to Congress a course to be followed. The resolution was adopted almost with unanimity. On the 22d of December, "Forefather's Day," the Speaker, Mr. Randall, of Pennsylvania, announced the select committee which the resolution called for A like committee had already been named in the Senate. Messrs. Edmunds of Vermont, Morton of Indiana, Conkling of New-York, Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, Republicans; and Thurman of Ohio, Bayard of Delaware, and Ransom of North Carolina, Democrats, composed the Senate committee. Messrs. Payne of Ohio, Hewitt of New-York, Hunton of Virginia, Springer of Illinois, Democrats; and McCrary of Iowa, Hoar of Massachusetts, and Willard of Michigan, Republicans, composed the House committee.

A fair proportion of the wisdom and patriotism of Congress was believed to be embodied in these selections. Mr. Payne made arrangements for a preliminary examination of the precedents relating to the counting of electoral votes. Nothing else was done until after the holiday recess. The country began to breathe more easily. Congress had awakened to the situation. Each house seemed to be doing its best to avert the threatened anarchy. Still, there was sufficient uneasiness to paralyze trade and commerce. The clouds were not all dispersed. After the holiday recess was over, Mr. Payne and his coadjutors of the House committee settled down to business promptly.

The Senate committee under the lead of Mr. Edmunds, did the same. Almost at the outset it became evident that the two parties, as represented in the committees, would not agree on the question regarding the extent or limitations of the powers and duties of the President of the Senate in the matter of counting the disputed electoral votes. Several plans of accommodation were proposed, but all of them led straight to one of two results, namely, either the seating of Tilden, or the seating of Hayes. They were, therefore, sure to encounter the opposition of either the Republican Senate or the Democratic House. In this situation there was no prospect of Congress reaching a point where it would perform its constitutional duty of declaring who had been elected President. Could Congress constitutionally abrogate or delegate that high prerogative? The committees had serious doubts on this question, but some conclusion must be reached. Nine propositions were submitted at the first meeting of the House committee after New Year's Day. Among these the fifth contained the germ of thought out of which grew the famous Electoral Commission. This proposition suggested the enactment of a law creating an independent tribunal which should be authorized to count the vote, and to determine any specific questions of law or of fact which might be involved in such proceeding.

Curiously enough, each committee, acting separately, without consultation or even knowledge of what the other was doing or contemplating, took up almost simultaneously the same idea of an independent tribunal. When the House committee met on Jan. 10, 1877, Mr. McCrary, of Iowa, a lawyer of excellent ability, now a United States judge, submitted the draft of a bill for an independent tribunal. This tribunal was to consist of members of the United States Supreme Court,― the Chief Justice and a number (in blank) of associate justices, in the order of their seniority of commission. The Chief Justice was promptly ruled out. An objection was raised by a Democratic member of the committee that Mr. Chief Justice Waite had been heard, the previous summer, to express himself in terms of personal hostility to Mr. Tilden, such as better befitted a partisan than a judge. Whether this was so or not, the doubt as to his bias had its effect. It should be here said, in justice to Mr. Waite, that at a subsequent stage of the discussion a personal friend of his, speaking for him to the committee, stated that it was the Chief Justice's earnest desire that his name should not be considered in connection with the proposed commission The plan finally agreed upon by the House committee favored an independent tribunal, to consist of the five senior associate justices of the Supreme Court. These were Justices Clifford, Swayne, Davis, Miller, and Field. Two of these were known as Democrats, two as Republicans, and Mr. Justice Davis' political affinity was in doubt. Thus the political balance so much sought for seemed to be happily attained.

Mr. McCrary's bill made the decision of the proposed tribunal binding,



unless both houses of Congress should vote to overrule it. His Democratic associates insisted on an amendment to the effect that the decision of the tribunal should have no binding quality or effect unless concurred in by both houses. To this the Republicans would not consent, and the change was made without their help. The House bill, besides providing for an evenly balanced tribunal, contemplated a hearing of the questions in dispute on their merits. To these five eminent judges were to be referred “the certificates objected to, together with the objections, and all papers and evidence in the possession of the President of the Senate, or of either of the houses of Congress relating thereto." Power was to be granted them "to send for persons and papers, and to compel the attendance of witnesses; also to cause testimony to be taken before one or more commissioners, to be appointed by them for that purpose." This was before the aliunde device for cheating the people had been concocted. The proposed inquisitorial power would enable the tribunal of learned justices to strip the mask from fraud, and at the same time would not bind them to admit that a lie became truth by being so labeled under sealing wax and red tape.


Thus far the two committees were in ignorance of each other's moveEach preserved its own secrets inviolably. Mr. Payne, of Ohio, the chairman of the House committee, was then a member of the Committee upon Banking and Currency, of which the writer was chairman. They met every day, in their historic room the Speaker's room when the House sat in the old hall; the room in which John Quincy Adams saw the "last of earth." Mr. Payne and the writer held close relations. These began in 1855, when Mr. Payne was a candidate for governor against Mr. Chase. But this and other olden intimacies growing out of the Douglas and anti-Lecompton contest had not magic sufficient to open the cave where the mysterious ingots of political opulence were hidden in 1877. The clerk of the Banking and Currency committee was Mr. Milton H. Northrup, of Syracuse, New-York. He had been appointed by the writer. His trustworthiness led Mr. Payne to appoint him as clerk to the House committee upon the electoral count. He was, and still is, the custodian of the archives of that remarkable star chamber. Whether he has since divulged them to any one, the authenticity of this relation should divulge to the logical mind. But from neither the chairman, Mr. Payne, nor his clerk, Mr. Northrup, could the writer, at that time, by any torture of inquisition, obtain the least hint of the proceedings. The secrets of that prison-house were so well kept that not even the acutely-scenting press correspondents had been able to learn that such a bill was being considered. The first intimation the writer, or any one outside the committee, had of its propositions, was from the bill itself, after it had received its consummation of bud and bloom and been printed by order of the committees.

In response to an invitation from the chairman of the Senate commit

« PreviousContinue »