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By One Vote: The Disputed Presidential Election of 1876.

By One Vote: The Disputed Presidential Election of 1876. By Michael F. Holt. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2008. 300 pp.

This book explains why the presidential election of 1876 was the closest and most controversial in American history. Peeling back the layers of national politics, Michael F. Holt presents fresh perspectives on the candidates, their parties, and the election's results. Holt analyzes the series of circumstances leading to the unusual method of counting the electoral votes in 1877-Congress's creation of an extraordinary Federal Electoral Commission comprised of senators, congressmen, and U.S. Supreme Court justices. Holt's account will add to anyone's understanding of these significant events in the history of the American presidency.

Holt provides valuable insights on how Republicans had slipped in popularity in the four years before the 1876 elections. A major economic depression undercut Americans' attachment to the Grand Old Party (GOP). As Reconstruction grew more controversial, scandals and dishonesty rocked the Republican administration of President Ulysses S. Grant. Democrats displayed high hopes for winning the presidency.

By 1876 a number of factors combined to help Republicans regain their footing. Notable among these, Holt points out how Colorado's statehood in 1876 benefited the Republicans. In Colorado, Republicans outnumbered Democrats, virtually assuring the GOP of the new state's three electoral votes. Rutherford B. Hayes, honest and modest but having credentials as a heroic Union army veteran, won a new term as governor of Ohio in 1875. Disputations related to Catholics in politics won back some voters to the GOP. The contentious and arcane "money question" dogged politicians in the post-Civil War years. Northeastern Democrats fixated on their "sound money" concerns. Instead of unifying their party by making President Grant's failures in Reconstruction their paramount issue, northeastern Democrats failed to understand southern Democrats' mania to dump the surviving Republican Reconstruction governments in Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida. Holt demonstrates that this division hurt Democrats when they needed to be absolutely unified. Furthermore, the Democrats' presidential candidate, Governor Samuel J. Tilden of New York, had made his reputation by exposing scandal in Tammany Hall, bastion of his party in New York City. Thus, Tammany Hall failed to fall into line behind Tilden.

These factors added up to assist Republicans after they nominated Hayes for president, but Holt confirms the importance of Reconstruction itself. Republicans, such as orator Robert G. Ingersoll, "waved the bloody shirt" and reinvigorated federal army veterans with a blistering speech, staining Democrats as "copperheads" and the party of treason. Critics branded Tilden and his campaign manager, Horatio Seymour, as men who had shirked their military duty to the Union. In the South, Confederate veterans used intimidation, violence, and vote fraud on an unprecedented scale, doing everything possible to win each state, particularly, the three where Republicans still held governorships. Holt argues that subsequent investigations provided enough indications or evidence to make a plausible case that Republicans had carried or should have carried Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida.

After carefully describing the special circumstances in Oregon giving that state's disputed electoral vote to Hayes, Holt reaches another significant and ironic conclusion in the process of explaining how all other disputed votes were awarded to Hayes. Republicans, not Democrats, sustained the states' rights of Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida, where state legislatures, not courts or questionable returning boards, confirmed their electoral votes. Republicans on the Federal Electoral Commission accepted the legislatures' validation rather than allowing courts to "go behind the returns" and reassign the votes to Tilden.

As someone thoroughly familiar with nineteenth-century America, Holt offers textured assessments of party leaders, along with eight tables giving voter analysis of key results. Holt spices his work with political cartoons by Thomas Nast, an acerbic observer of U.S. political shenanigans, and wraps up his study by discussing several features of the Bush-Gore disputed presidential election of 2000. This volume is a welcome addition to the University Press of Kansas's "American Presidential Elections Series."

--Joseph G. Dawson III

Texas A & M University
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Author:Dawson, Joseph G., III
Publication:Presidential Studies Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Aug 9, 2011
Words:662
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