January 27, 1877

Thomas Nast


Presidential Election 1876;

Tilden, Samuel J.;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

No caption

This Harper’s Weekly cartoon by Thomas Nast concerns the Electoral Commission Act passed by Congress to resolve the disputed presidential election of 1876.

In that election, the electoral vote returns were disputed in three Southern states—Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina, as was the eligibility of one elector in Oregon. Democratic nominee Samuel J. Tilden narrowly won the popular vote, but needed one more electoral vote for a majority in the all-important Electoral College. Republican nominee Rutherford B. Hayes need all 20 of the disputed electoral votes to become president. After much acrimony and mutual recriminations, Congress passed the Electoral College Act in January 1877, which established a commission of five Senators, five Representatives, and five Supreme Court justices to decide the issue.

This cartoon registers the dissatisfaction that many Republicans, including candidate Rutherford Hayes, felt about the Electoral Commission Act: “Compromise—Indeed!” reads the caption. Democrats, on the other hand, widely supported the law, despite misgivings by candidate Samuel Tilden. Dominating this picture is the image of the cocked pistol and bullwhip, their meaning reinforced by menacing quotes—“Tilden or Blood”—printed on a profusion of papers. To cartoonist Thomas Nast, at this point, the commission was merely an institutionalized way to allow Democratic coercion to prevail.

Subsequently, however, the presumptive 15th member of the Electoral Commission, Justice David Davis, was elected to the U.S. Senate by the Illinois state legislature. Davis was assumed to be sympathetic to the Democratic position, so when his place on the commission was taken by Justice Joseph Bradley, a Republican, cartoonist Thomas Nast’s view of the compromise improved considerably. In the end, the Electoral Commission would vote eight to seven to grant all the disputed electoral votes, and hence the presidency, to Hayes.

Robert C. Kennedy

April 19, 2024

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