Politics and War > Compromise of 1877
In May 1877, the City’s newspapers followed the developing controversy. Which would it be: Samuel J. Tilden or Rutherford B. Hayes? Or – the most shocking possibility – could it be both?
The previous fall, the two presidential candidates had received nearly the same number of electoral votes. In disputed states – South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida – the balloting had been marred by violence and roguery, and almost no hope existed for a generally acceptable tally. “The way out of this unfortunate condition is not by any … novelty of plan in counting the votes,” opined the New York Herald, “but by an exhibition of manliness and probity on the part of leading men.” Despite such useful suggestions, the crisis continued and people started murmuring about a second Civil War.
The Compromise of 1877 allowed Hayes, the Republican, to take office. Tilden, the Democrat, exacted guarantees that the government would remove the last U.S. troops from Louisiana and South Carolina, ending – in effect – the federal commitment to Reconstruction. Furthermore, Southern politicians were promised an increase in Northern capital investment – a condition of specific interest to several of the Chamber’s railroad men.
But, this was old news by May. The story the newspapers were covering had to do with the fifth annual Chamber of Commerce banquet. Newly seated President Hayes was the guest of honor, but reporters claimed that Tilden had also been invited. Despite the insistence by George Wilson, the Chamber’s Secretary, that the event was “purely social” and would “ignore politics entirely,” the press was not assuaged. It was said that Tilden had been approached sotto voce, sounded out with great discretion, so as to avoid embarrassment.
Wilson denied it, explaining the manner in which all invitations had been extended:
“He made out a list of the names of the guests to be invited, commencing with the President of the United States and his Cabinet; next the Senators and Representatives from New-York City, the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and State Controller, the Mayor and prominent City officials, judiciary and prominent members of the Bar, clergy, &c.”
He confessed to one innovation only; because the new Delmonico’s was not as capacious as its old location on 14th Street, the number of invitations had been reduced from 350 to 200.
At the banquet, on May 14, President Hayes got three cheers as the guest of honor. He made a brief toast to “early, decided, encouraging evidences of a revival of business prosperity throughout the country,” received more applause, and sat down. Samuel J. Tilden, fortunately, did not have to witness this, his rival’s latest triumph. He had regretfully declined the chamber’s invitation.