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Can You Hold Your State?

November 7, 2019

John C. Reid had been taken prisoner by the Confederates in 1864.  His bitter experience at Andersonville was the beginning of his hatred for the Democratic Party.  Twelve years later Reid was the managing editor of the New York Times, and he was at the office while the Presidential returns were still coming in.

In order to win the Presidency in 1876 a candidate had to garner 185 Electoral votes.  The day after the election Democrat Tilden definitely had 184 while Republican Hayes had only 166.  If Hayes were to win, he would have to get all the remaining Electoral votes.  Since all these votes were in three states of the former Confederacy, and since Southern white supremacists invariably voted against the party of Lincoln, John Reid thought the Republicans had lost the White House.

Then some prominent Democrats began inquiring about the results.  What were the latest returns?  Were any of the three states in the Tilden column?  What was the projection?

On election night both candidates believed Tilden had been elected President.  The next day many newspapers reported the same.  But at 3:45 A.M. on the second day after the election John C. Reid suddenly realized the Democrats were unsure of the outcome.  Perhaps there was still a way to get the remaining 19 votes assigned to Hayes.

Reid quickly contacted the Republican chairman and received permission to send the following telegram to the Republican leadership in the South.  “Hayes is elected if we have carried South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana.  Can you hold your state?  Answer immediately.”





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