Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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DISPUTED ELECTIONS (IN U. S. HISTORY). When the electors have failed to give any one a majority of all the votes, the house of representatives, voting by states, and each state having one vote, was empowered by the original terms of the constitution to choose a president from the two highest candidates on the list. Amendment XII. enlarged the limits of choice to three candidates, and directed the senate in like case to choose a vice-president from the two highest candidates for that office. (See CONSTITUTION, III., EXECUTIVE.) There have been three such disputed presidential elections in our history, and one (1876) in which the majority of electoral votes was disputed.


—I.: (1800). In the election of 1796 it had been generally agreed by the leading men of both parties, as a concession to the personal dignity and feelings of the candidates, that Jefferson and Burr, and Adams and Pinckney, should receive, as far as possible, equal consideration from the electors. The independent judgment of the electors prevented the faithful observance of this agreement, and it was more formally renewed by a congressional caucus of each party in 1800, apparently without reflection that a rigid adherence to it by both parties would certainly result in no choice, since only the highest candidate on the list became president. Both parties adhered to the agreement, except that one federalist elector (in Rhode Island) was acute enough to give his second vote to John Jay. Burr, it has been charged, on doubtful authority, endeavored in like manner to gain one vote on Jefferson in New York. Feb. 11, 1801, Jefferson and Burr were found to have a tie vote, 73 each (see ELECTORAL VOTES), and the house, in which the federalists had a majority both of members and of states, proceeded to choose between the two democrats. In anticipation the house had settled, Feb. 9, the rules for balloting, which became precedents for 1824. Their most important provisions were as follows: "2. That the senate should be admitted. 3. That the balloting should not be interrupted by any other business. 4. That the house should not adjourn until a choice was made. 5. That the balloting should be in secret session. 6. That the representatives should sit by states; that each state should ballot separately, cast its ballot in duplicate, marked with the name of its choice or with the word "divided," into its own ballot box; that two general ballot boxes should be provided, the duplicate state ballots going into separate boxes; that each state should have a teller; that, if the results of the count of the two boxes tallied, the result of the ballot should be announced, but that, if the two reports disagreed, the ballot should be null and void. 7. That, as soon as any person had a majority of the state ballots, the speaker should announce his election."


—Partly to balk the evident desire of the democrats for Jefferson, and partly from an idea that Burr would be less dangerous to the commercial interests of the country, the federalist caucus had determined to vote for Burr for the presidency. Had all the federalist representatives obeyed the caucus, Burr would have been elected president at once; but the single federalist member from Georgia, one federalist member from Maryland, and one from North Carolina, whose representatives were evenly divided, decided to conform to the wishes of their constituents, and vote for Jefferson. This gave him the state vote of Georgia and North Carolina, and divided that of Maryland. Jefferson was thus sure of eight states, all those south of New England except Delaware, Maryland and South Carolina; and Burr of six states, Delaware, South Carolina, and all New England except Vermont, which, with Maryland, was divided. There was thus still no choice by the house, Jefferson lacking one of a majority of the 16 states. Bayard, of Delaware, Morris, of Vermont, and Craik and Baer, of Maryland, while yielding to the decision of the federal caucus and voting for Burr, very early came to a common agreement that, as any one of them, by voting for Jefferson, could at any time give him a majority of the states, they would not allow the balloting to be prolonged to any dangerous extent.


—The balloting continued for a week, the house having 19 ballots on Wednesday, Feb. 11; nine on Thursday, Feb. 12; one on Friday, Feb. 13; four on Saturday, Feb. 14; one (the thirty-fourth) on Monday, Feb. 16; but all with the same result, eight states for Jefferson, six for Burr, and two divided. This protracted uncertainty was enlivened by frequent caucusses of both parties, by the presence of sick members who had been carried into the house in their beds and remained there to insure their votes, and by the angry and exaggerated rumors which naturally floated out from the secret sessions to the people outside. The federalists were charged (and justly in the case of some of them) with a design to prolong the balloting until the expiration of Adams' term, March 3, and then either to leave the government to the strongest and most active, or, by special act, to give it in trust to the federalist chief justice, John Marshall, who was then also acting as secretary of state. In any such event the democrats, after debating a proposition to call an extra session of the next congress in March by a proclamation signed by Jefferson and Burr, in one of whom the presidential title was vested, seem to have decided to have the middle states seize the capital by a militia force and call a general convention of the states to provide for the emergency, and revise the constitution. For all this nervous agitation there was no occasion while Bayard was in the house, and exerted his influence, as he always did, for good; but it was very fortunate that at this session congress had changed its meeting place from a large city to the little village of Washington, and had thus avoided all danger of interference by mobs.


—For seven days the house remained in session, nominally without adjournment, though, after sitting out the first night, the resolution not to adjourn was evaded by taking recesses as convenience demanded. Monday, Feb. 16, the four associate federalists decided that the party experiment had gone far enough, and that, if a guarantee for the civil service could be obtained from Jefferson, Burr should have but one more ballot. Tuesday, Feb. 17, the thirty-fifth ballot took place with the usual result, and, an hour afterward, the thirty-sixth ballot began. Jefferson had given the necessary guarantee through a friend: Morris, therefore, by absenting himself, allowed his democratic colleague to cast the state vote of Vermont; Craik and Baer, by casting blank ballots, made Maryland democratic, and Jefferson received 10 state votes out of 16 and was elected. Delaware and South Carolina voted blank ballots. The vice-presidency devolved on Burr, for whom the New England states, except Vermont, voted to the end. Jefferson entered office without any feelings of gratitude to the federalists who had given him the position, but with great irritation against them for having voted blank instead of voting directly for him, and his account is to be taken with caution.


—II.: (1824). The dissolution of the federal party after 1815 had left nominally but one political party, the democratic-republican, in the United States. But the debates in congress alone will show that there was still the abiding difference between those voters in the north who wished to construe the constitution broadly, for the benefit of commerce and a strong federal government, and those in the south and west who wished to construe the constitution strictly, for the benefit of agriculture and the conservation of the state governments, and that the all-prevailing democratic-republican party was really divided into two factions, strict constructionist and broad constructionist. In 1820 and 1821 these two branches of the party opposed each other, though not under distinct party names, in animated contests for the speakership of the house. The want of regularly organized parties, with recognized principles, only resulted in the degradation of the presidential election of 1824 into a personal contest between John Quincy Adams, secretary of state, Henry Clay, speaker of the house, William H. Crawford, secretary of the treasury, and Andrew Jackson, who, when nominated by his state legislature, had resigned his position as senator and become a private citizen of Tennessee. Of these the two first named were broad constructionists, federalists in reality, though they would have scouted the name, and the two last named were strict constructionists. In the presidential election Albert Gallatin, who had been nominated by the congressional caucus for the vice-presidency, had no votes, being ineligible, and John C. Calhoun, of South Carolina, was generally supported by the friends of all the presidential candidates. The electors failed to choose a president (see ELECTORAL VOTES), and the duty of choosing between Jackson, Adams and Crawford, the three highest candidates on the list, devolved upon the house. In balloting, the rules of the house in 1801 were adopted, after much opposition to the exclusion of the public. Clay standing fourth on the list, was ineligible, and the whole struggle in the house turned on the success of the other candidates in winning the Clay vote. This, very naturally, went to Adams, though only as a choice of evils, and the result of the first ballot, Feb. 9, 1825, was 13 states for Adams, seven states for Jackson, and four states for Crawford. Adams thus became president.


—Jackson had received a plurality of the popular and the electoral vote, and the general feeling that the working of the constitution had done him an injustice aided greatly in carrying him triumphantly into the presidency four years after. (But see DEMOCRATIC-REPUBLICAN PARTY, IV.)


—A more patent result in politics was the charge, first advanced by George Kremer, of Pennsylvania, in the house, and by his own confession without one tittle of evidence, that a "corrupt bargain" had been made between Adams and Clay, by which the former was to receive the Clay vote in the house, and the latter the position of secretary of state in Adams' cabinet. Adams' subsequent nomination of Clay to this very position was, to the democratic mind, incontrovertible proof of this corrupt union of New England and Kentucky, "of the puritan and the black-leg." This charge lay like a stumbling-block in Clay's path, eluding however his eager search for an authority until 1827, when it was formally reiterated by Jackson himself, on the authority of James Buchanan, representative from Pennsylvania, who at once declared Jackson's impression "erroneous." And yet the charge was renewed quadrenuially for 20 years after the only authority ever alleged had fully repudiated any responsibility for it. (See CLAY, HENRY.)


—III.: (1836). Feb. 8, 1837, the electors having failed to choose a vice-president, (see DEMOCRATIC-REPUBLICAN PARTY, IV.), the senate, from the two highest candidates on the list, chose Richard M. Johnson by a vote of 33 to 16 votes for Francis Granger. (See ELECTORAL VOTES.)


—IV.: (1876). The origin of the dispute over the result of the presidential election of 1876 may be found in the constitutional provision that each state shall appoint electors "in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct." Of the 369 electors, 184, one less than a majority, had, without question, voted for the democratic candidates, Tilden and Hendricks; but at least 20 of the remainder were disputed. In the three southern states of Florida, South Carolina and Louisiana, the legislatures had directed the counting of the popular vote for electors to be done by returning boards, with plenary power to cast out the entire vote of any county or parish in which fraud or force had vitiated the election. By exercising this power the returning boards of Florida and Louisiana had converted an apparent democratic popular majority into an apparent republican majority, and given certificates to the republican electors. It was known before February, 1877, that double returns had been sent by the democratic and republican electors of the three states named, and from Oregon. (See ELECTORAL COMMISSION, for the facts in this case.) It was impossible to give the votes in the alternative (see ELECTORS), for, by a single vote from any of the states above named, Tilden and Hendricks would be seated. By the twenty-second joint rule the democratic house could have thrown out all the doubtful states and given the democratic candidates a majority; but the republican senate had repealed the joint rule, Jan. 20, 1876, and some of its members began to assert the arbitrary and absolute power of the vice-president to "decide which were legal votes.' Under these circumstances the electoral commission was created, whose decision was only to be reversed by concurrent vote of both houses. As each decision of the commission in favor of the republican elector was announced to the two houses, the senate voted to sustain it, and the house to reject it, by strict party votes, and the commission's decision held good. In each of the states of Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont, one elector was objected to as holding an office of trust or profit under the United States; but both houses concurred in admitting all these votes. After a session lasting from Feb. 1, 1877, until 4:10 A.M., of March 2, the vote was finally announced as 185 to 184 for the republican candidates, Hayes and Wheeler. (See ELECTORAL VOTES.)


—See (I.) 5 Hildreth's United States, 402; 1 von Holst's United States, 168; 2 Gibbs' Administrations of Washington and Adams, 488; 7 J. C. Hamilton's United States, 425; 9 John Adams' Works, 98; 6 Hamilton's Works, 480-523 (and Bayard's letters there given), 2 Randall's Life of Jefferson, 573; 2 Tucker's Life of Jefferson, 75, 510; 3 Jefferson's Works (ed. 1829) 444, and 4:515 (Ana); 1 Garland's Life of Randolph, 187; Parton's Life of Burr, 262; 3 Sparks' Life and Writings of Morris, 132; 2 Benton's Debates of Congress. (II.) 2 von Holst's United States, 4; 3 Parton's Life of Jackson, 54; 1 Colton's Life of Clay, 290; Private Correspondence of Clay, 109; 1 Benton's Thirty Years' View, 47; Sargent's Public Men and Events, 70; 2 Hammond's Political History of New York, 177; 8 Benton's Debates of Congress. (III) 13 Benton's Debates of Congress, 738. (IV.) 23, 24 Nation; Appleton's Annual Cyclopadia, 1876-7; Tribune Almanac, 1877; Congressional Record, 1877; and authorities under ELECTORAL COMMISSION.


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