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Our flag is still there!


Sun, Dec 3rd, 2000
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Monday, November 27, 2000

By the time you read this, our great national "civics lesson" might finally be over and we’ll know if our next president is the one some call Tweedle-dee or the other one called Tweedle-dumb. But don’t count on it -- I could have said the same thing three weeks ago.

I’ve always preferred history as a subject over civics. Civics is like a colorless foggy November day, while history sparkles with sunlight, drama and intrigue. Civics is a small stuffy room filled with political hacks and dry bureaucrats and history is the entire human spectacle spread out like a picnic smorgasbord on the 4th of July.

So with that in mind I thought I’d poke around in the archives of the local Fillmore County papers of 1876, the last time our nation endured such a constitutional and presidential crisis, such as the one we’re enduring now.

The custom in 1876, I discovered, was that presidential candidates did not campaign publicly -- something that should be written into law as quickly as possible by the new congress in the coming year!

The two candidates that year were Ohio governor Rutherford B. Hayes (Republican) and his Democratic opponent, New York governor Samuel J. Tilden. The nation was still sharply divided and crippled by the memory of the Civil War.

Hayes set out to portray his opponent and the Democrats as being the party of "slavery, rebellion, repression, and corruption." While Tilden, of course, said the same things regarding Hayes and the Republicans.

A few days after the election, in the November 11, 1876, issue of the Chatfield Democrat, the headline shouted out: "GLORIOUS!! Victory, Victory! The Agony is Over! Tilden & Hendricks Certainly Elected. The North and South shake hands over the Bloody Chasm and forget the Past. The Republican Party Annihilated in the Centennial Year!!"

This was obviously wishful thinking on the part of the Democrat, as it quickly became apparent that the election was too close to call, and neither candidate had garnered the magical number of electoral votes necessary to claim victory. Sound familiar?

The Preston Republican took a more cautious approach than the Chatfield paper and waited over a month before writing: "If it is any fun for the Democrats to play fight still, and imagine they are not whipped out of their boots, we have no objections."

The Republican went on to describe their candidate, Hayes, as a "singularly well poised, symmetrically-developed man, free absolutely from hobbies, vanities or affectations; (a man) never in a state of agitation or excitement. His tongue, unlike his mind, is not active, and is under the most perfect government."

The quandary that the U.S. government was thrown into and the multi-layered complexities of the situation would take dozens of pages to try to explain, that is, if I understood them in the first place – a statement that I could also make about the on-going Florida situation in November, 2000.

In 1876 though, the thought of another war to settle the presidential chaos was a distinct possibility. After all, the Civil War had only ended eleven years earlier.

With this in mind, the Chatfield Democrat editorialized: "Our earnest desire is that if another war is forced upon our unhappy country by the Republican party leaders, that they themselves may be the first victims."

And then to throw little more fuel on the political fire the paper wrote: "Gov. Hayes recently said: ‘No honorable man would accept the Presidency if elected by fraud.’ Then, as he cannot possibly be elected otherwise than by fraud, he cannot, as an ‘honorable man’, accept the position. We shall see what we shall see."

The threat of war and all-out anarchy continued right up until a week before inauguration, (March 5, back then) when Hayes was finally declared the winner and the next president of the United States.

Throughout the entire four-month affair the Chatfield Democrat placed a banner above its editorial page of a waving American flag with the words "Our Flag is still There!" Still, the editor of the Democrat was not willing to give up the fight easily and hurled one last salvo of indignation at the Republicans, calling the new president ‘Hasty Hayes’, while others across the nation referred to him as ‘Rutherfraud’.

"To complete the great fraud of electing Hayes as rapidly as possible," the Democrat wrote, "he was secretly sworn into office at the White House on Saturday night. There was suspicion in the minds of the leaders that he might refuse the empty honor, and they actually forced him to take the oath before the proper time. Such is the desperation radicalism, in this day of political sin and corruption."

The Rushford Star reported a grand celebration by its local Republicans called the "Jollification Meeting". The paper reported that "200 persons assembled and participated in one of the grandest indoor celebrations Rushford has ever passed through. "The tables were loaded with good things, and each person played an active part in consuming a share. There were speeches and toasts and "good feeling predominated throughout and the jokes, stories and incidents were told in a happy manner."

Conclusion: Rutherford Hayes served only one term in office, honoring a promise he made during the campaign, that he would not seek re-election.

Whatever happened to Tilden is unclear as history doesn’t pay much attention to losers.

By Al Mathison

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