Jerry Kopel


Happy birthday, Colorado! On August 1st, 1876, Colorado was admitted into the union as a state. So did Coloradans, as state citizens, vote in the 1876 presidential election ? Sorry, that didn't happen, and it was part of the deal the enabled Colorado to become a state.

The 1876 presidential election between Rutherford Hayes (R) and Samuel Tilden (D) was the most corrupt presidential election in our history, leading up to and including the November, 1876 vote.

Tilden won the popular vote on Nov. 7th, 1876, 4,300,590 to Hayes 4,036,298. Tilden had 184 electoral votes, and needed one more to become president. But final outcomes were being held up in South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana. Those three states eventually sent in competing sets of Democratic and Republican ballots to Washington.

Hayes really had won in South Carolina and probably Florida, but Louisiana had definitely voted for Tilden and its eight electoral votes should have gone to him. Tilden had a majority of 9,000 Louisiana votes out of 207,000 cast. Matthew Josephson, in "The Politicos" writes:

"Supported by Republican `visiting statesmen' not to mention regiments of Federal soldiers, the Louisiana Returning Board proceeded to accept the testimony of perjurers, thieves, and prostitutes, and to throw out the ballots of whole parishes, until over 13,350 Democratic votes were canceled and a Hayes majority of over 4,000 was produced."

The disputed certificates arrived in Washington in early December, and for many weeks the country didn't know who was to be president. The Democratic House and the Republican Senate agreed on a compromise. A 15 member electoral commission was appointed to decide the contested ballots. There were five House members, five from the Senate, and five justices of the Supreme Court.

Politically, the commission had seven Republicans, seven Democrats and an independent Supreme Court Justice David Davis of Illinois. But Davis suddenly resigned from the court to accept a U.S. Senate position from Illinois. His replacement was Republican Supreme Court Justice Bradley. The commission voted 8 to 7 for the Republican electors, giving Hayes 185 to Tilden's 184 electoral votes.

Would Tilden call on his followers to march on Washington? No. On Feb. 26, 1877, representatives of the two parties met in secret at the Wormley Hotel in Washington. The Democrats would abandon claims to the presidency. In return, the Republicans promised that "Federal troops which enforced the constitutional amendment giving Negroes the full rights of citizens would be removed from the South." They were removed, and that was when reconstruction ended.

Josephson writes that after Hayes was sworn into office, critics began calling Rutherford Hayes, "Rutherfraud" Hayes.

What was Colorado's role in all this? Multimillionaire Jerome Chafee was a crony of President Grant. Chafee wanted to be a U.S. Senator and, along with competitor Henry Teller, controlled the Colorado Republicans. In 1874, Democrats elected Thomas Patterson as territorial delegate to Congress. According to Marshall Sprague in his "Colorado, A History":

"It frightened the Republicans in Washington into passing an enabling act for Colorado statehood on March 3, 1875, on Chafee's assurance that the new state's three electoral votes would go to the Republican candidate for president, Rutherford B. Hayes, who might need them to win."

Sprague was in error in discussing Hayes as a Republican candidate back in 1875, but correct in discussing Republican concern. Hayes was a minor potential candidate at the time of the June, 1876 Republican convention. When the convention stalled after six ballots, Hayes was chosen as "a third rate nonentity, whose only recommendation is that he is obnoxious to no one" according to Henry Adams, and "necessary for party harmony".

The "deal" between Chafee and Grant can be found in Volume One of the Colorado statutes. It follows Article 27 of the state constitution, was adopted in convention on March 14, 1876 and is entitled "Schedule". The pertinent language is Section 19 and 20:

Section 19. "The general assembly shall, at their first session, immediately after the organization of the two houses and after the canvass of the votes for officers of the executive department, and before proceeding to other business, provide by act or joint resolution for the appointment by said general assembly of electors in the electoral college,

"and such joint resolution or the bill for such enactment may be passed without being printed or referred to any committee, or read on more than one day in either house, and shall take effect immediately after the concurrence of the two houses therein, and the approval of the governor thereto shall not be necessary."

Section 20. "The general assembly shall provide that after the year 1876 the electors of the electoral college shall be chosen by direct vote of the people."

Having the Colorado legislature choose how to elect the electors for the U.S. Presidency is provided in the federal constitution, Article 2, Section 1 (2) "Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors..."

But the language in Sections 19 and 20 of the Schedule unlawfully took away the power of the legislature to decide WHETHER to allow voters in Colorado to elect the electors. An 1885 Colorado Supreme Court decision points out the Schedule was basically "to preserve existing laws until the legislature, the proper law-making body, can be convened..."

The vote on adopting the state constitution was held July l, 1876 with 15,443 in favor and 4,062 against, and President Grant declared Colorado to be the 38th state on August 1st.

Republicans pretty much swept the state executive branch on election day, Oct. 3rd, 1876 starting with Governor John Routt who won 14,154 to 13,316. But the margin of victory in most of the statewide elections was paper thin. Republicans Chafee and Teller also became the U.S. Senators from Colorado and Republicans won the Colorado House and Senate.

The Colorado legislature convened Nov. 1, 1876 and on Nov. 2 and 3 the House and Senate passed HB 1. The very first bill passed by the STATE legislature was to call for the House and Senate to meet in "Joint Convention" at 10 a.m. November 7th and elect the three presidential electors.

Would Coloradans have voted for Hayes three electors if they had had the chance? Probably so. But Colorado voters are known for their contrariness and the statewide votes were close. What if they had decided that Tilden could do more for them than Hayes?

Hayes "won" the presidential electoral votes 185 to 184. Even with South Carolina, Florida and Louisiana, he would have lost 182 to 187 if Colorado voters would have had the opportunity to vote and had voted Democratic.

Home  Full archive  Biographies  Colorado history  Colorado legislature  Colorado politics   Colo. & U.S. Constitutions  Ballot issues  Consumer issues  Criminal law  Gambling  Sunrise/sunset (prof. licensing)


Copyright 2015 Jerry Kopel & David Kopel