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The Oregon Complication

December 12, 2019

In 1860 44% of Florida’s population was in slavery.  In Louisiana and South Carolina the numbers were 47% and 57% respectively.  Lincoln freed the slaves in these and other states of the Confederacy in 1863, but they did not have the right to vote until passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870.  The former slaves voted overwhelmingly for the Republican Presidential candidate in 1872 and 1876, but Democrats did their best to suppress that vote.  1876 was the last time a Republican won all three states until Richard Nixon defeated George McGovern in 1972.

In 1876 it was obvious that voter suppression had occurred in Louisiana and South Carolina, but irregularities in the Florida vote were not so easy to determine.  If Florida were to go Democratic that year, Samuel Tilden would be elected President.  Meanwhile, a controversy arose regarding the Oregon electors.  Oregon had three Electoral votes for Republican Rutherford Hayes, but one of the electors was disqualified.  The Democrat governor tried to appoint a Democrat to replace him.  This would have given Tilden the Presidency even without the votes of Florida, Louisiana, or South Carolina.

When considering the vote in Louisiana, Oregon, and South Carolina, it was reasonable to assume the fifteen commissioners appointed by Congress would vote 8 to 7 in favor of Hayes.  The only place where the Democrats had a real chance was Florida.  They had hoped Associate Justice David Davis would vote in their favor, but he had resigned from the Supreme Court and was no longer eligible to serve on the Electoral Commission.  Since there were no Democrats or independents left on the Court, the Commission was forced to accept another Republican.  His decision regarding the Florida vote would determine who won the 1876 Presidential election.

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