From Wed Nov 29 10:27:00 2000
Date: Tue, 28 Nov 2000 22:56:05 -0600 (CST)
From: Michael Eisenscher <>
Article: 110116
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Rigged elections in 1876: Black freedom crushed by Electoral College

By Vince Copeland, [28 November 2000]

Excerpted from Chapter 34 of Market Elections by Vince Copeland, entitled 1876: Stuffing ballots, smothering Black freedom.

This story of rigged elections begins with the election of 1876, the one that was really the fountainhead of modern political corruption—that is, the legal and illegal corruption of imperialist democracy.

When the election returns of Nov. 7, 1876, had all come in, the Democratic candidate, Samuel J. Tilden, had beaten the Republican, Rutherford B. Hayes, by 4,288,546 popular votes to 4,034,311, and 184 Democratic votes in the Electoral College to 165 for the Republicans.

After several months of maneuvering and of almost unbearable tensions throughout the country, however, it was announced on March 2, 1877, that Hayes, not Tilden, was the victor, with 185 electoral votes to Tilden’s 184. ...

The extra votes for Hayes were supplied by South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana—three states whose elections had been challenged by the Republicans on the morning of November 8, 1876.

What compelled these states to reverse their votes and give the election to the party that had prosecuted a war against the ruling class of these very states just a decade before?

A national Electoral Commission controlled by the Republicans formally effected the change. But as part of the deal, it promised these states’ rulers, and in fact the whole South’s rulers, that Reconstruction would be definitely ended and the last of the then-revolutionary Union troops would be withdrawn from their occupation of the South.

On the other hand, it really was true that these states—and nearly all the Southern states—had rigged the elections, particularly against the Black voters. But if the Republicans had initiated a drive to reverse this, it would have meant a continuation of Reconstruction, something they themselves did not want.

The story of the 1876 switch of votes is not only one of corruption at the polls but of a betrayal of colossal proportions. It was directed first of all against the Black people, second against the white majority of the North who had sacrificed so much in the Civil War, and third against the poor whites of the South, who were now slowly turned into lynch-mad servants of the very class that oppressed them most.

Thus the election of 1876, although not the first or the last rigged election in U.S. history, was clearly the worst.

Set stage for modern capitalist politics

It definitely pronounced the end of Black democracy in the so-called Reconstruction, and, partly for that reason, set the stage for the Tweedledum-Tweedledee character of modern capitalist politics.

In restoring so much of the power of the Southern ruling class, it gave these reactionary Bourbons more legislative power—by population—than they had ever had before.

The old five for three clause in the Constitution had been eliminated by the war. (Every five nonvoting Black slaves had been counted as three people in determining population for congressional representation.) Five Black people were now counted as five.

The only catch was that, as in slave days, they still could not vote. ...

To further understand the scope of the betrayal of 1876, we have to remember that the Republican Party was the organizer of the North in the Civil War, the chief political advocate of Black liberation. Its smaller radical wing in Congress identified itself to a great extent with the Black masses, fighting hard but unsuccessfully for the division of the plantations into free farms for the oppressed.

The Democratic Party, on the other hand, had been the party of reaction, the party of the slaveholders, and even in the North was generally their ally. Tilden himself had opposed the war between the states, as the Democrats called it.

Then how, it might be asked, did the Democrats of those days get enough votes in the North to tip the balance?

For one thing the cities were now growing very fast, and the big businessmen were now riding so hard and heavy upon the workers that Democratic Party machines grew fat by attacking big business and the Republicans. (Of course, the Democratic bosses secretly took bribes from the Republican capitalists whenever they could get them. The principal graft of Tammany Hall, for instance, came from its shakedowns of rich Republicans.)

Secondly, the corruption of the Republican administration of Ulysses S. Grant had been so great it disgusted many of the very people who had supported the war the most.

This is a very well known fact of U.S. history. What is not so well known or well understood is that big business had waged the war in the first place not just for personal and political corruption, but fundamentally for land-swindling, treasury-plundering, people-robbing capitalist development—only incidentally and grudgingly freeing the slaves.

So the Democratic Tilden ran as a reformer, although he had secretly allied himself with the extremely corrupt Boss Tweed of New York City’s Tammany Hall before being maneuvered to join the powerful New York Times campaign against Tweed. ...

Northern capital in the saddle

The Northern Democrats who before the Civil War were the subordinate ally of the slaveholders now became the dominant ally. Tilden, for instance, did not even have to balance his ticket with a Southern vice-presidential candidate to get the Southern Democratic vote.

... [A]lthough the Northern Democrats were now the dominant ally of the Southern Democrats in national politics, they stood for restoring as much of the slaveholders’ former power as was compatible with Northern capitalist rule of the whole country.

The Republicans supposedly were against this.

But the majority of the Republican leadership had been secretly helping the former slaveholders to regain their former political power in the South—first of all by allowing them to beat down the Black people.

The election deal that promised the Southern ruling class a free hand in the South was thus only the parliamentary side of the bloody counter-revolution that the Democratic Southern ruling class had already carried out. Its consummation set the seal of legality, Republican consent, and finality to the armed suppression of Black freedom. ...

Both Republican and Democratic parties were, from then on, the exclusive parties of U.S. big business with no other significance (besides the enrichment of professional bourgeois politicians) than to continue the rule of big business with one or another reformist or reactionary method.