Columns » Bob McCord

Close races not new


Newsweek and several other publications have written how long and slimey the presidential race has been and that the voting probably will be so close that many days, even weeks and maybe months will pass before we know who won. I, too, am weary of the mud-slinging. Writing the day before the election, I hope that the winner gets so many votes that the loser has no grounds to go to court. However, as rough as this campaign was, it’s a tea party compared with some others. In the campaign of 1824, Andrew Jackson got more popular votes and Electoral College votes than John Quincy Adams. However, there were several other candidates who got votes from their states, and this kept Jackson from getting a majority of the votes in the Electoral College. Therefore, the decision then went to the House of Representatives. The speaker of the House, Henry Clay, had been promised by Adams that he would become secretary of state if he won, so Clay saw to it. Four years later, Jackson, a popular major general in the War of 1812 and known as “Old Hickory,” challenged Adams again. He was so well-liked that he was nominated three years before the election. Adams went after Jackson in every way, according to Paul Johnson, author of “A History of the American People.” Adams put out a handbill that listed 18 persons Jackson was said to have murdered. Later, Jackson was greeted with a charge that his wife was a bigamist and adulterer — a charge that put her in bed. She died a short time later, and Jackson always believed that she was killed by his political enemies. “Old Hickory” retaliated, accusing Adams of fornication and procuring American virgins for Russian rulers while he was an ambassador in that country. He also called Adams an alcoholic and a Sabbath-breaker, and because Adams had put a pool table in the White House, Jackson accused him of introducing “gambling furniture.” “Old Hickory” won by a margin of 139,000 in 1828 and got a clear majority in the Electoral College. He made a dramatic entrance as president. It was he who invented the “spoils system” by instantly firing all of the employees who had been hired by Adams. An even closer race took place in 1876. Samuel J. Tilden, a Democrat, got 252,000 more votes than Republican Rutherford B Hayes, but Hayes became president because he got one more vote than Tilden in the Electoral College There was bitterness and confusion for four months before the country had a new president. Hayes was a three-time governor of Ohio, a popular, deeply religious teetotaler and hero of the Ohio Volunteers in the Civil War. But Tilden, who as governor of New York had overthrown the notorious Tweed Ring, got 203 votes in the Electoral College while Hayes got only 166. Republican members of Congress complained that blacks had been kept away from the polls in South Carolina, Florida and Lousiana, and they wanted to appoint an Electoral Commission of 15 members — five from the Senate, the House and the Supreme Court — to arbitrate the problem. The commission argued for weeks. Finally, the Democrats from Southern states said they would vote with the Republicans and approve another count of the electoral vote if Hayes would agree to end Reconstruction of the South by withdrawing all of the federal troops who had occupied the Southern states since the end of the Civil War. Fifty-six hours before the day of inauguration, the House and the Senate finally voted to change the Electoral College count to Hayes 185, Tilden 184. Hayes was president and Reconstruction was ended. This and what happened in 2000 when Bush became president even though Al Gore got 537,179 more votes makes many Americans want to do away with the Electoral College. Let the people’s vote determine who lives in the White House. But I’m not sure I’d agree to do it that way. I think it would invite too many people to run for president and that the little towns around the country would never see a live presidential candidate. The needs of a state or a group of states could easily be ignored. And knowing how sloppy some polls are operated, what would we do if our new president was elected by a very close vote? George Edwards III, a political scientist at Texas A&M and author of “Why the Electoral College Is Bad for America,” told the New York Times: “If George Bush gets the most votes and John Kerry wins the Electoral College, then reform is a real possibility.” Well, I would have to agree with that.

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