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Deal or No Deal?

January 16, 2020

Did the Wormley Conference seal the deal?  That’s what historians believed for the next 74 years.  They believed there was a deal where Republicans agreed to remove troops from the South in exchange for an end to the Democratic filibuster that was slowing the Electoral vote count.

In 1951 historian C. Vann Woodward published Reunion and Reaction: The Compromise of 1877 and the End of Reconstruction.  Woodward challenged the notion that the Wormley Conference was responsible for Rutherford Hayes becoming the 19th President.  If we examine Congressman James Garfield’s diary, we will find evidence to support Woodward’s thesis.

The day after the Wormley Conference, Garfield wrote: “The Democrats were manifestly determined to prevent a report before the two Houses should adjourn for the day.”  If there had been a deal, why were the Democrats still so obstinate?

The day after that was February 28, and Garfield wrote: “The Democrats filibustered with all their might to prevent the completion of the count.”

On March 1 Garfield wrote: “The Count was resumed.  The filibusters were more determined than ever.  To affect the credit of the [Electoral] Commission the Democrats are threatening to bring in a resolution for my expulsion as a question of privilege.”  Now the Democrats were resorting to a personal attack on Garfield.

How long could this go on?  “We continued the struggle over Vermont until 11 o’clock at night.”

Vermont?  Weren’t Florida, Louisiana, Oregon, and South Carolina the only states in question?  Why Vermont?  The Democrats needed only one Electoral vote in order to win the Presidency, and they took every opportunity to find that vote.

The Electoral vote count did not end until long after midnight.  Garfield wrote:  “At fifteen minutes after four [A.M. on March 2, 1877], the Senate having come to the House, the count was completed and Hayes was announced elected as President.”

But this was not the end of the Democrats’ expressions of displeasure.



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