“All American presidential elections have been contested except for the first, in 1789, and the ninth, in 1820. In the ninth, President James Monroe ran for reelection and won 231 out of 235 electoral votes (with three abstentions and one dissenting vote for John Quincy Adams). That election is evidence of an organic national unity that is now as extinct as the western frontier.
America has also had at least two stolen presidential elections, as well as one that was almost stolen in 1800, and one in 1860 whose outcome was rejected by half the country, leading to a four-year civil war and a geopolitical division that persists to this day. That America “survived” this civil war depends on the meaning of the verb and ignores the obvious implication that what happened once can happen again.
One of the stolen elections happened in 1960, when tow Democrat political machines, one in Texas and the other in Illinois, manufactured enough votes to decide a close election in favor of John F. Kennedy. The closeness of the vote likely made it easier to steal – Kennedy won the popular vote by only 118,000 votes out of 68 million cast. The shift of two States in the Electoral College would have elected Nixon.
The other definitely stolen election, in 1876, is worth examining in detail . . . and about what a party in power will do to stay in power – especially when it is convinced that it deserves to do so. This time it was the Republicans who stole it. After suffering a severe defeat in congressional elections two years before, a Grant administration wracked by scandals and the country still reeling from the financial panic of 1873, the Republicans entered 1876 with a weak hand.
Yet the Republicans won the election with a bold plan to disenfranchise white voters in three Southern States still under military occupation 11 years after the war: Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina.
By midnight of election day, it appeared Democrat Samuel Tilden of New York had defeated Republican Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio.
Northern General Daniel Sickles arrived at Republican headquarters and hatched a plan. The defeated Republican governors were instructed to not concede the election; the New York Times was enlisted to promote a narrative of a contested election; and finally, a delegation of Republican leaders, lawyers and bags of Lincoln greenbacks headed for New Orleans, Columbia, Tallahassee and Baton Rouge, to oversee election audits.
Sickle’s strategy for challenging the legitimacy of the result was to have his bagmen allege that white Democrats intimidated freedmen to keep them from voting, which was grounds under reconstruction law for canceling an equal number of white votes.
The morning edition of the New York Times declared the new reality: “A Doubtful Election.” The second morning edition proclaimed not only Oregon but South Carolina and Louisiana for Hayes. As Republican leaders had worked out their plan to steal the 1876 election, they knew their party still controlled all the levers of power and the trappings of legitimacy necessary: the Supreme Court, the White House, the Senate, and most importantly, the State canvassing boards in the three Southern States.”
(“As American as a Stolen Election,” H.A. Scott Trask. Chronicles Magazine, August 2023, excerpts pp. 7-8)