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Historically Speaking

The Electoral College: Bad News for the Dems

By Tom Morrow

The Electoral College, which officially elects and confirms the winner of presidential elections, has not be kind down through the years to the Democrat candidates. Five times in electing U.S. presidents, Democrats have won the popular vote, but lost the presidency to the Electoral vote.

Samuel Jones Tilden

Samuel Jones Tilden

The first Democrat to lose to the Electoral College was Andrew Jackson, but he came back four years later to win. Others weren’t so lucky.

Democrats Samuel J. Tilden, Al Gore, and most recently, Hillary Clinton, are the only presidential candidates to win the popular vote without being elected president. Jackson lost the 1824 election after winning the popular vote, however, he made a comeback and was elected to the presidency in 1828. Grover Cleveland won the popular vote in all three of his elections in which he was the Democratic nominee — 1884, 1888, and 1892 — but he lost the presidency in 1888 because Republican nominee Rutherford B. Hayes won more electoral votes.

The election of 1876 closely mirrored the most recent (2016) presidential election as being one of the most contentious in U.S. history. Hayes lost the popular vote to Tilden but he won an intensely disputed electoral college vote after a Congressional commission awarded him 20 contested electoral nods. The result was the Compromise of 1877, in which the Democrats acquiesced to Hayes’s election.

Tilden was considered the front-runner for the Democratic nomination when he ran again in the 1880 campaign. And, like Hillary, Tilden was done in by electronic messaging. He lost all chances of obtaining victory when Tilden suffered a blow in October 1878. The Republican-leaning New York Tribune claimed to have unearthed and decoded secret “cipher” telegrams sent by Tilden’s agents at the height of the 1876 electoral dispute. The telegrams apparently offered bribes to electoral vote-counters in the contested states: $50,000 for Florida, $80,000 for South Carolina, and $5,000 for the single vote from Oregon.

Rutherford Hayes

Rutherford Hayes

Tilden, of course, denied all knowledge of such dispatches and appeared voluntarily before a Congressional sub-committee in New York City to clear himself of the charge. The attempt to implicate him in corrupt transactions failed, and he was cleared of any personal wrongdoing. Nevertheless, Tilden’s political opponents endeavored to make capital out of the ‘Cipher Dispatches’ in subsequent campaigns. The controversy somewhat damaged Tilden’s reputation for honesty, and he did not run anymore.

So, when present-day folks complain the most recent election was the worst ever, they’d better go back and read up on political history. Our 2016 election pales compared to some of the election campaigns during the 1880s.

And, the media? If you think present-day media is biased, history has a lot to say about the newspaper wars during those contentious elections of the 1880s. Nasty name-calling and dirty tricks were bountiful, commonplace and expected. It was all part of daily entertainment.


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