The New International Encyclopædia/Electoral Commission
ELECTORAL COMMISSION. In United States history, the body of men provided for by an act of Congress, approved January 29, 1877, to settle certain disputed questions in regard to the electoral votes of several States in the Presidential election of 1876. As the counting of the electoral votes in the presence of the two Houses of Congress proceeded according to custom, it had been found that there were conflicting certificates from four different States — Florida, Louisiana, Oregon, and South Carolina; and the two Houses were unable to agree in any case which certificate should be received as genuine. The Senate at the time was controlled by the Republican Party, the House of Representatives by the Democratic Party, and there was thought to be danger of civil disturbances on account of certain questions likely to arise in the counting of the electoral votes. Under these circumstances, a majority of each of the two political parties in Congress agreed to create a commission to be composed of five Senators chosen by the Senate; five members of the House of Representatives, chosen by that body; and five associate justices of the Supreme Court, four of whom were designated by the act of Congress, and the fifth of whom was to be selected by the four — to which commission should be referred, for judgment and decision, the question which of two or more conflicting certificates received from any State of the votes cast by the electoral college of such State for President and Vice-President in the election of 1876 was the certificate provided for in the Constitution of the United States. The judgment of the commission in any matters referred to it, unless set aside by the concurrent action of the Houses of Congress, was to be final. The proposed law was thereupon enacted, and the Senate appointed three Republicans and two Democrats, and the House of Representatives three Democrats and two Republicans as members of the commission. Of the four associate justices of the Supreme Court who were named in the law, two were understood to be Democrats and two Republicans; and these selected as the fifth associate justice to serve with them upon the commission, Mr. Justice Bradley, a Republican. The commission was constituted as follows: Justices Clifford, Strong, Miller, Field, and Bradley; Senators Edmunds, Morton, Frelinghuysen, Thurman, and Bayard; and Representatives Payne, Hunton, Abbott, Garfield, and Hoar. Upon the illness of Senator Thurman, his place was filled by the choice of Senator Kernan. The certificates and accompanying papers were successively referred to the commission, which proceeded to hear argument upon the questions involved. A notable group of distinguished lawyers participated in the conduct of the case, William M. Evarts, Stanley Matthews, E. W. Stoughton, and Samuel Shellabarger representing the Republicans, and Judge J. S. Black, Matthew H. Carpenter, Charles O'Conor, J. A. Campbell, Lyman Trumbull, Ashbel Green, Montgomery Blair, George Hoadley, William C. Whitney, R. T. Merrick, and A. P. Morse representing the Democrats. The result in the ease of each State was a decision of the commission, by a vote of 8 to 7 — the vote following the line of party division in the body — that the certificate of the electoral votes cast for Hayes and Wheeler, the Republican candidates for President and Vice-President, was the certificate which contained the lawful electoral vote of said State, and that the other certificates were illegal and void. The Republican Senate concurred in this judgment in each case, while the Democratic House of Representatives dissented. The decision of the commission, therefore, according to the terms of the statute, became irrevocable; the electoral votes were counted accordingly; and Rutherford B. Hayes and William A. Wheeler were found duly elected, by a majority of one electoral vote, respectively President and Vice-President for a term of four years, from March 4, 1877. The controlling question before the commission was whether — an electoral certificate being in form according to law, as those in favor of the Republican candidates were — it was competent for Congress or the commission to go behind the same and take evidence modifying or explanatory (aliunde) in support of alleged irregularities and frauds committed before such certiticate was issued. Upon this question the Democrats in Congress and in the commission took the affirmative, while the Republicans took the negative. The full proceedings of the commission were published as part iv., vol. v. of the Congressional Record of 1877.