17

In researching my answer to Can electors "flip the ticket?", I re-examined the results of the election of 1872. As stated in that answer, 1872 was an interesting election, not for the result (Grant beat Greeley decisively), but rather for the allocation of Greeley's votes. Three days after the popular election, Greeley went crazy. Within a month, he was dead.

When the electoral college met, Greeley's electors were essentially unpledged - the three that voted for Greeley ultimately had their votes invalidated. Eighteen of them did I what would have expected - they voted for Benjamin Brown, the Vice Presidential candidate. What I don't get is why 42 of them voted for Thomas Hendricks. Hendricks was not nominated by the Liberal Republican or Democratic parties (Greeley was running on behalf of both). Indeed, everything I read on the internet says that he was mostly focused on getting elected as governor of Indiana.

Hendricks later went on to become Samuel J. Tilden's VP running mate in 1876 (the one time I believe the electoral result truly was stolen), and eventually became Grover Cleveland's Vice President in 1884, just prior to Hendricks' death in 1885. Clearly, Hendricks' popularity was on the ascendent - but what compelled the electors to select him as Greeley's replacement?

Why the sudden upswell of votes for a guy who wasn't even on the ticket?

  • This is a fascinating question, and one I don't think can be answered via internet research. Someone is going to need to head to a library and find an old book on the topic I'd guess. – ihtkwot Nov 26 '14 at 16:38
  • At a guess, the Democratic Party put his name forward as a replacement. Since they'd lost the election, it is only a nominal honor like winning a "Career" Oscar. – Oldcat Dec 18 '14 at 18:54
  • Considering the favourable terms negotiated and received by Democrats in exchange, one can hardly say they lost. – Pieter Geerkens Jul 18 '15 at 22:50
2
+25

The electors were likely looking toward the future, anointing Hendricks as future (Vice) Presidential material. Hendricks was a Hoosier of national prominence who could help the Democratic Party make inroads into the North in 1876. Benjamin Brown retired from politics after the election, so there was no need for the electors to defer to him. And anyway, Brown was from Missouri which was so solidly Democratic that it went for Greeley by 16 points even in the Republican blowout of 1872.

By contrast, Indiana was the swing state of the era, giving it the potential to decide a close election. Look at the list of close states in 1876, 1880, and 1884. All three were tight elections in terms of the popular vote. Democrats narrowly won Indiana in 1876 and 1884 (with Hendricks on the ticket) and narrowly lost it in 1880 (without Hendricks on the ticket). Indiana was the closest state Democrats won in 1876 and the closest state they lost in 1880. Hendricks was quite literally the difference maker.

Ticket balance explains a lot, but factionalism also would have been a factor. Greeley/Brown were originally nominated by the Liberal Republicans. The Democrats only reluctantly supported Greeley in order to avoid splitting the anti-Grant vote and going down to an even more certain defeat. The uneasy Liberal Republican-Democratic fusion dissolved upon Greeley's death, freeing the un-pledged electors to shift their support wherever they wanted. Likely, it was the Democratic electors who voted for Hendricks over Brown. Hendricks had been a Democrat throughout his political career (never joining the Liberal Republicans), whereas Brown had helped found the Republican Party in Missouri. Solid Democrats in the electoral college would have preferred supporting the solid-D Hendricks over the uncertain Brown as a simple matter of party loyalty.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.