The Full Wiki

Samuel J. Tilden: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Samuel Jones Tilden

In office
1875 – 1876
Preceded by John Adams Dix
Succeeded by Lucius Robinson

Born February 9, 1814(1814-02-09)
New Lebanon, New York, U.S.
Died August 4, 1886 (aged 72)
Yonkers, New York, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) None
Profession Politician, Lawyer
Religion Christian

Samuel Jones Tilden (February 9, 1814–August 4, 1886) was the Democratic candidate for the U.S. presidency in the disputed election of 1876, one of the most controversial American elections of the 19th century. A political reformer, he was a Bourbon Democrat who worked closely with the New York City business community, led the fight against the corruption of Tammany Hall, and fought to keep taxes low.


Early life and career

Samuel Tilden in his youth

Tilden was born in New Lebanon in New York State. He was descended from Nathaniel Tilden, an early English settler who came to America in 1634. He studied law at Yale, then transfered to New York University where he graduated in 1837.[1] He was admitted to the bar in 1841, becoming a skilled corporate lawyer, with many railroad companies as clients in the shaky railroad boom decade of the 1850s. His legal practice,[2] combined with shrewd investments, made him rich.

In 1848, largely on account of his personal attachment to Martin Van Buren, he participated in the revolt of the “Barnburners” or Free-Soil faction of the New York Democrats. He was among the few such who did not join the Republican Party and, in 1855, was the candidate of the Soft faction for New York State Attorney General.

After the Civil War, Tilden became chairman of the Democratic State Committee and soon came into conflict with the notorious Tweed ring of New York City. Corrupt New York judges were the ring's tools, and Tilden, after entering the New York State Assembly in 1872 to promote the cause of reform, took a leading part in the judges' impeachment trials. By analyzing the bank accounts of certain members of the ring, he obtained legal proof of the principle on which the spoils had been divided. As a reform-spirited Governor in 1874, he turned his attention to a second set of plunderers, the “Canal Ring”, made up of members of both parties who had been systematically robbing New York State through the maladministration of its canals. Tilden succeeded in breaking them up.

His successful service as governor gained him the presidential nomination.

Presidential election of 1876

Campaign poster for the election of 1876.

During the 1876 presidential election, Tilden won the popular vote over his Republican opponent, Rutherford B. Hayes, proving that the Democrats were back in the political picture following the Civil War. But the result in the Electoral College was in question because the states of Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina each sent two sets of Electoral Votes to Congress. (There was separately a conflict over one elector from Oregon, who was disqualified on a technicality.)

Republicans had taken over the state governments in the South during Reconstruction, but were unpopular with the overwhelmingly Democratic white southerners, many of whom resented what they perceived as interference from the North and blamed the Republicans for the Civil War. However Republicans were almost universally preferred by the South's newly enfranchised blacks. By 1876 white southerners had regained control of most southern states, but in one state with a black majority (South Carolina) and two with very large black minorities (Louisiana and Florida) Republicans still held power. Democrats used violence and intimidation to keep blacks from the polls, while Republicans used such violence as an excuse to throw out election returns they didn't like as invalid. Democrats claimed that Republicans weren't simply disallowing votes tainted by violence but also legitimate returns that favored the Democratic party. Both sides claimed victory though the Democratic claim was tainted by violence and the Republican by fraud. As a result, one set of Electoral Votes from each of these three states had cast their ballots for the Republican Hayes, and another set had cast their ballot for the Democrat Tilden. Without these three states, Tilden had won 184 Electoral Votes, but needed 185 to win the Presidency. If he had taken even one state, he would have become President. However, if Hayes were to win all the contested votes, he would receive 185 Electoral Votes and win the election. Because the Constitution does not address how Congress is to handle such a dispute, a constitutional crisis appeared imminent.

Samuel Jones Tilden

While the Republicans boldly claimed the election, Tilden mystified and disappointed his supporters by not fighting for the prize or giving any leadership to his advocates. Instead he devoted more than a month to the preparation of a complete history of the electoral counts over the previous century to show it was the unbroken usage of Congress, not of the President of the Senate, to count the electoral votes.[3]

Congressional leaders tried to resolve the crisis by creating a 15-member Electoral Commission that would determine which set of votes were valid. The Commission consisted of five members from the Republican-controlled Senate (three Republicans and two Democrats), and five from the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives (three Democrats, two Republicans). The remaining five members were chosen from the Supreme Court– originally two Republicans, two Democrats, and independent Justice David Davis. Davis, however, was elected to the US Senate from Illinois, resigned from the Court and turned down the commission appointment. (Ironically, the election of Davis was the brainchild of Tilden's nephew who assumed it would secure his commission vote for the Democratic side.) Justice Joseph P. Bradley, a Republican, was named to replace him. The Commission voted 8-7 along party lines to award all the votes to Hayes. The dispute, however, did not end, as some Democrats threatened to filibuster in the Senate. Eventually, enough were dissuaded from this action. Some say this was the result of a political deal, the so-called Compromise of 1877 whereby the Democrats agreed to Hayes's election and he agreed to withdraw all federal troops in the South, bringing an end to Republican Reconstruction in the South. In fact, Hayes had long before, in his letter accepting the Republican nomination, indicated his desire that the South enjoy "the blessings of honest and capable local government" (but only with guarantees that the states would guard the civil rights of the freedmen).[4]

Upon his defeat, Tilden said, "I can retire to public life with the consciousness that I shall receive from posterity the credit of having been elected to the highest position in the gift of the people, without any of the cares and responsibilities of the office."

The Cipher Dispatches

Tilden's chances for the presidency suffered a blow in October 1878 at the hands of the Republican New York Tribune. The Tribune managed to unearth and decode secret "cipher" telegrams sent by Tilden's agents at the height of the 1876 electoral dispute, apparently offering bribes to vote-counters in the contested states: $50,000 for Florida, $80,000 for South Carolina, and $5,000 for the single vote from Oregon.

Tilden denied emphatically all knowledge of such dispatches, and appeared voluntarily before a Congressional sub-committee in New York City to clear himself of the charge. The attempts to implicate him in corrupt transactions were not successful and he was cleared of any personal wrongdoing. However, his political opponents endeavored to make capital in subsequent campaigns, out of the so-called 'Cipher Dispatches'. Even though the charges were false, the scandal damaged Tilden. No longer could he pose as the pure, untarnished "reformer" above the normal grubby plane of politics, his principal calling card in 1876.[5]

Later life

Samuel Tilden

Tilden counseled his followers to abide quietly by the result. His health failed after 1876 and he retired from politics, living as a recluse at his country home, Greystone, near Yonkers, New York. He died a bachelor in 1886. In reference to the 1876 election, Tilden's gravestone bears the words, "I Still Trust in The People".

Of his fortune (estimated at $7,000,000) approximately $4,000,000 was bequeathed for the establishment and maintenance of a free public library and reading-room in the City of New York; but, as the will was successfully contested by relatives, only about $3,000,000 of the bequest was applied to its original purpose; in 1895, the Tilden Trust was combined with the Astor and Lenox libraries to found the New York Public Library, whose building bears his name on its front.

The Samuel J. Tilden House at 15 Gramercy Park South, where he lived from 1860 until his death is now used by the National Arts Club.




  • Bigelow, John The Life of Samuel J. Tilden Vol 2 revised and edited by Nikki Oldaker ISBN 0-9786698-1-9, ISBN 978-0-9786698-1-2 (2009)
  • Oldaker, Nikki Samuel Tilden, the Real 19th President, ISBN 9780978669805
  • Flick, Alexander C. Samuel J. Tilden (1939), the standard biography
  • Flick, Alexander Clarence. Tilden, Samuel Jones, Dictionary of American Biography, Volume 9 (1936)
  • Paul Leland Haworth, The Hayes-Tilden Disputed Presidential Election of 1876, (1906) The standard accounting.
  • Roy Morris, Fraud of the Century: Rutherford B. Hayes, Samuel Tilden, and the Stolen Election of 1876, New York (2003) A modern popular retelling.
  • David Quigley. Second Founding: New York City, Reconstruction, and the Making of American Democracy. Hill and Wang (2004) ISBN 978-0-8090-8513-2
  • William Rehnquist, Centennial crisis: the disputed election of 1876, Alfred Knopf, New York (2003) Coverage of the election and subsequent dispute, focusing on the Supreme Court.

Primary sources

  • Letters and Literary Memorials of Samuel J. Tilden. Edited by John Bigelow. Volume I (1908) online edition
  • Letters and Literary Memorials of Samuel J. Tilden. Edited by John Bigelow. Volume II (1908) online edition
  • The Writings and Speeches of Samuel J. Tilden. Edited by John Bigelow. Volume I (1885) online edition
  • The Writings and Speeches of Samuel J. Tilden. Edited by John Bigelow. Volume II (1885) online edition

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
John Adams Dix
Governor of New York
1875– 1876
Succeeded by
Lucius Robinson
Party political offices
Preceded by
Horace Greeley
Democratic Party presidential candidate
Succeeded by
Winfield Scott Hancock

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address