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Resolving the Electoral Crisis

November 21, 2019

In 1881 they would be engaged in political combat that would end with the resignation of one followed by the assassination of the other, but in the aftermath of the 1876 Presidential election Senator Conkling and Congressman Garfield each played a role in resolving the Electoral crisis.  The 12th Amendment merely states:  “The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted.”  According to Conkling this meant the President of the Senate did not have the Constitutional right to determine which set of Electoral returns would be counted.

Garfield and Conkling were Republicans.  The Senate was controlled by Republicans.  If the Senate had been able to determine which set of conflicting returns would be counted, the Republican candidate would have been awarded an Electoral College victory.  Although Conkling and Garfield wanted their candidate to win, they did not want the victor to appear illegitimate.

After consulting with President Grant, Conkling proposed the formation of an Electoral Commission.  Conkling reasoned: “…the Constitution requires Congress to declare a President.  The two houses employ this tribunal as auxiliary, as eyes and hands.  We don’t delegate this power.  We keep it all.  This is our own ministration.”  Congressman Garfield was not convinced and did not vote for the legislation, but when asked to be part of the Commission, he dutifully accepted the role.

Garfield was joined by six other Republicans, seven Democrats, and one independent.  The Democrats were very pleased with the independent chosen.  They were certain he would be the deciding vote in their favor.  They even began to look for a way to reward him in advance, thus guaranteeing the outcome.


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