Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A Political Hayes


Near the end of his second term, Grant began hinting that he would be open to a third.  An anti-Catholic Methodist bishop, Gilbert Haven (1821-1880), made a speech in Boston in which he declared that Grant, a fellow-Methodist, was “the only man who could conquer their enemies.”[1]  The Boston Herald, evidently more cognizant of the growing power of the Catholic Church, and fully aware that the Catholic vote had handed Grant his second term, cautioned the president against running on an anti-Catholic platform.
Hayes: Better anti-Catholic credentials than Grant.
All but assured that the electorate, Catholic, Protestant, Jew, or atheist, would not be able to stomach Grant for a third term, the Republicans put forward Rutherford Birchard Hayes (1822-1893).  Hayes’s anti-Catholic credentials were far superior to those of Grant, tainted as the latter’s were with political expedience.
Hayes agreed to accept the nomination on condition that the Party not “let the Catholic question drop out of sight.”[2]  He was selected in the June 1876 convention as a compromise candidate on the seventh ballot.  Included in the official platform of the Party was a plank declaring that the public school system was the bulwark of the nation and recommending the adoption of a constitutional amendment prohibiting aid to any institution under the control of a religious organization.[3]
The Democrats believed Hayes’s nomination gave them the best chance of victory they had enjoyed for many years.  They nominated Samuel Jones Tilden (1814-1886), the governor of New York, whose landslide win two years before had put him at the top of the list of Democratic presidential hopefuls.  To allay fears that the Party was taking orders from the Vatican, the Democrats adopted a resolution in support of the public school system with Tilden’s approval.
Samuel J. Tilden, President ... or nearly.
Despite the Democrats’ efforts to distance the Party from the Catholic question, the Republicans took every opportunity to stir up anti-Catholic sentiment.  Pamphlets were circulated throughout the country alleging that Church leaders were ordering the faithful to vote for Tilden under penalty of sin.  When the House of Representatives, controlled by the Democrats, passed a diluted and unenforceable version of the Blaine Amendment that seemed to open the door to government aid to church schools, Hayes denounced it as “Jesuitical.”[4]
When the results of the election were tallied, the Republican New York Tribune declared Tilden the winner by a narrow margin.  He had swept the South and won states in the North that the Republicans had assumed were in Hayes’s pocket.  Tilden very nearly defeated Hayes in Hayes’s home state of Ohio.
The Republicans challenged the results in Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina.  After four months of recounting votes and cutting deals with southern Democrats to accept the recalculations, Republican-appointed election commissions announced that Hayes, not Tilden, was the winner in the recounted states.
James Cardinal Gibbons
The decision was handed over to Congress.  After receiving Republican promises to end Reconstruction, withdraw occupation troops, and spend millions rebuilding infrastructure, southern Democrats decided in favor of Hayes.  After debates lasting eighteen hours, Hayes was declared the winner at 4:00 a.m. on March 4, 1877 by a single electoral vote.
Possibly in part to counter the growing anti-Catholic hysteria, James Cardinal Gibbons (1834-1921) wrote his bestselling Faith of Our Fathers, published in late 1876.  Directed to explaining the Catholic Church to Protestants, the book may have helped calm some of the frenzy stirred up by the campaign, and possibly prevented Hayes from carrying out his program, although nativist agitation against aid to Catholic schools was to continue down to the present day.
#30#


[1] Marlin, 101.
[2] Ibid., 102.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., 103.

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