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Facts of Reconstruction, The

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<SPAN name="CHAPTER_XVII" id="CHAPTER_XVII"></SPAN>CHAPTER XVII</h2> <h3>THE HAYES-TILDEN CONTEST. THE ELECTORAL COMMISSION</h3> <p>Although the action of the returning boards in South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida, gave Mr. Hayes a majority of one vote in the Electoral College, the Democrats, who were largely in the majority in the National House of Representatives, were evidently not willing to acquiesce in the declared result,&mdash;claiming that Mr. Tilden had been fairly elected and that he ought to be inaugurated.</p> <p>Hon. Henry Watterson, of Kentucky,&mdash;who was at that time a member of the House,&mdash;delivered a fiery speech in which he declared that a hundred thousand armed men would march to Washington to see that Mr. Tilden was inaugurated. The situation for a while looked very grave. It seemed as if there would be a dual government, Hayes and Tilden each claiming to be the legally elected President. To prevent this was the problem then before Congress and the American people. Conferences, composed of influential men of both parties, were being frequently held in different parts of the city.</p> <p>The creation of an electoral commission to pass upon and decide the disputed points involved was finally suggested, and was accepted by a majority of both parties. The name of the originator of this suggestion has never been made public; but it is believed by many that Senator Edmunds, of Vermont, was the man, since he was the principal champion of the measure in the Senate. Subsequent events appeared to indicate that Hon. Wm. M. Evarts of New York, was also an influential party to the scheme, if not the originator of it. At any rate, no one seemed to have been sufficiently proud of it to lay claim to its paternity. It was merely a temporary scheme, intended to tide over an unpleasant, and perhaps dangerous, condition which existing remedies did not fully meet. It was equivalent to disposing of the Presidency by a game of chance,&mdash;for the composition of the proposed commission was, politically, purely a matter of chance.</p> <p>As finally agreed upon, the measure provided for a commission to be composed of fifteen members,&mdash;five from the House, five from the Senate, and five Justices of the Supreme Court. As the Democrats had a majority in the House, it was agreed that they should have three, and the Republicans two of the five members of that body. Since the Republicans had a majority in the Senate it was agreed that they should have three, and the Democrats two of the five members of that body. Of the five justices of the Supreme Court, two were to be Republicans and two, Democrats; the fifth Justice to be an independent,&mdash;or one who was as near an independent as could be found on the bench of that Court.</p> <p>When the bill creating this commission came before the House I spoke against it, and voted against it, for two reasons. In the first place, I believed it was a dangerous precedent to subject the Presidency of the United States to such a game of chance as was contemplated by the bill then under consideration. Either Hayes or Tilden had been elected, and the result ought to be ascertained according to legal forms. In the second place, I had a suspicion that it was the outgrowth of an understanding or agreement which would result in the abandonment of Southern Republicans by the National Administration.</p> <p>Mr. Lamar, for instance, did not hesitate to declare that it was more important that the South should have local self-government than that the President should be a Democrat. In other words, what Southern Democrats wanted was to be let alone,&mdash;was to have the National Administration keep its hands off, and allow them to manage their own affairs in their own way, even if that way should result in a virtual nullification, in part at least, of the War Amendments to the Federal Constitution.</p> <p>I had a suspicion that this concession had been granted upon condition that the southern Democratic leaders in Congress would consent to the creation of the proposed commission, and to the ratification of its decision, whatever that decision might be. To such a bargain I did not care to be even an innocent party. My suspicions were strengthened by the fact that the principal opposition among Democrats to the creation of the commission and to the ratification of its decision came from northern Democrats. Southern Democrats, with a few notable exceptions, not only favored the creation of the commission and the ratification of its decision, but even the fiery Watterson was induced to hold his peace and to give expression to his righteous indignation through the medium of a silent vote. That my suspicions were well founded subsequents events more than demonstrated. I took the position that Mr. Hayes had been legally elected, at least according to the forms of law and in the manner prescribed by the Constitution,&mdash;and that he should, therefore, be duly inaugurated even if it should be necessary for President Grant, as Commander-in-chief of the Army, to use the military force of the Government for that purpose. I contended that, having been thus legally elected, Hayes should not be subjected to the chance of losing his title to the office and that the incoming President should not be bound by any ante-inauguration pledges, which, in the opinion of some, would have a tendency to cast a cloud upon his title to the office. But the bill was passed and the commission was duly appointed.</p> <p>At this point the game of chance turned in favor of the Republicans. It was generally understood that Justice David Davis, of Illinois, would be the fifth Justice to be placed on the commission. He was said to be an Independent,&mdash;the only member of the Supreme Court that could be thus classed politically. But, in point of fact, he was more of a Democrat than an Independent. Had he been made a member of the commission it is more than probable that Mr. Tilden, and not Mr. Hayes, would have been made President. The Legislature of Illinois was at that time engaged in an effort to elect a United States Senator. The Legislature was composed of about an equal number of Republicans and Democrats,&mdash;three Independents holding the balance of power. The Independents at length presented the name of Justice David Davis as their choice for Senator. In order to make sure of the defeat of a Republican, the Democrats joined the Independents in the support of Justice Davis, which resulted in his election. This took place only a few days before the time appointed for the selection of the commissioners.</p> <p>As soon as it was announced that Justice Davis had been elected to the Senate the Republican leaders in Congress insisted that he was no longer eligible to a seat on the Electoral Commission. This was at first strongly combated by the Democrats, who contended that the Justice was only a Senator-elect, and that he did not cease to be a member of the Court until he tendered his resignation as such; this he was neither required nor expected to do until shortly before the beginning of his term as a Senator. But the Republicans pressed their objections so strongly that the Democrats were induced to yield the point, and Justice Bradley was selected as the fifth Justice. Next to Davis, Bradley came as near being an Independent as any member of the Court. Although he had been appointed as a Republican by President Grant,&mdash;as had Justice Davis by President Lincoln,&mdash;yet he had rendered several decisions which gave the Democrats hope that he might give the deciding vote in their favor and thus make Mr. Tilden President. In this they were disappointed; for it turned out that the substitution of Bradley for Davis made Hayes President of the United States. It would, perhaps, be unfair to say that the decisions of the commission were rendered regardless of the evidence, the law, and the arguments, yet it so happened that every important point was decided by a strict party vote,&mdash;eight to seven.</p> <p>In this connection it will not be out of place to refer to a scene that was created on the Democratic side of the House by Hon. Ben. Hill, of Georgia. Mr. Hill entered the House one afternoon, having just returned from the Supreme Court Chamber, where the commission was in session. He remarked to one of his colleagues in a low tone that he had just returned from where the sessions of the commission were being held, and that while there the important and valuable information had been imparted to him that on a most vital point the Democrats could with absolute certainty depend upon the vote of Mr. Justice Bradley.</p> <p>"Can that be possible?" exclaimed his excited and highly elated colleague.</p> <p>"Yes," replied Mr. Hill, "there can be no doubt about it. I know whereof I speak. It came to me through a source that cannot be questioned."</p> <p>"Then wait until I can call several of our friends," replied his colleague, "I want them to hear the good news at the same time it is heard by me, so that we can rejoice together."</p> <p>Mr. Hill was soon surrounded by an eager, excited, and interested group of anxious Democratic members. "We are now ready," said his delighted colleague, whose face was covered with a smile of satisfaction, "to hear the good news."</p> <p>"Well," replied Mr. Hill, whose manner was grave and whose countenance gave every evidence of deep emotion, "whenever a motion to adjourn is made by a Democratic member of the commission we can safely depend upon the vote of Mr. Justice Bradley being cast in the affirmative."</p> <p>The heads of the anxious group immediately fell in deep disappointment and despair. But, of course, they did not fail to see the irony of Mr. Hill's remark. It did transpire that whenever a motion to adjourn was made by a Democratic member of the commission it was usually carried by a vote of eight to seven,&mdash;Mr. Justice Bradley voting in the affirmative with the Democrats. On no other question, however, could they depend on his vote.</p> <p>The decision of the Electoral Commission was finally rendered in favor of Mr. Hayes by a strict party vote,&mdash;eight to seven. Strong and bitter opposition to the approval of the decision was made in the House by quite a number of northern Democrats, but the majority of southern Democrats, aided by such northern Democrats as represented districts having large commercial interests,&mdash;interests that are at all times willing to pay any price for peace,&mdash;accepted the decision, and Mr. Hayes was allowed to be peacefully inaugurated.</p> <hr /> <h2>
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