Skip to Main Content

Rutherford B. Hayes and the Disputed Election of 1876

50 min
  • Evaluate Congress’ decision to devise an “extra-constitutional” solution to the electoral vote controversy of 1876.

Students will:

  • Trace the events that led to the election of Rutherford B. Hayes.
  • Analyze the provisions of the US Constitution that describe the presidential election process.
  • Evaluate Congress’ appointment of a special commission in absence of any constitutional provision for disputed electoral vote counts.
  • Predict solutions should a similar situation arise in the future.

  • Handout A: Rutherford B. Hayes and the Disputed Election of 1876
  • Handout B: Setting the Scene
  • Handout C: What Would You Do?
  • Handout D: Tilden’s Response to the Election

To create a context for this lesson, students complete Constitutional Connection: Electing The President.

Have students read Handout A: Rutherford B. Hayes and the Disputed Election of 1876 and answer the questions.

Have five students present the brief role play in Handout B: Setting the Scene.

Go over the questions from Handout A and clarify any questions students have.


Have students work in small groups to skim the parts of The United States Constitution that pertain to the election of the President in 1876: Article II and the Twelfth Amendment.

Ask students: According to the Twelfth Amendment, who is responsible for the actual counting of the votes? Who has the authority to decide, in the event of a dispute, which set of votes to count? The Amendment is not clear about who counts the votes. It might be reasonably inferred that, since the President of the Senate is directed to “open all the certificates,” he has the authority to decide which set of votes to count.

Have students remain in their small groups to brainstorm responses to the questions on Handout C: What Would You Do?

Have students share their responses to the last two questions and have the class vote on the best solution.


Have students complete Handout D: Tilden’s Response to the Election. Next class, have students share their paraphrases, as well as their responses to question eight.

Historians still debate whether Hayes entered office rightfully. A similar set of questions reappeared in 2000, when the nation faced another close election with a controversial settlement. Have students research the presidential elections of 1876 and 2000. How did the political solution devised in 1876 result in a political outcome? Contrast the process and solution in 1876 with those in 2000.

Cartoonist Thomas Nast chronicled the developments of the campaign and election of 1876 in Harper’s Weekly. Use the materials available at to review Nast’s approach to the events. Have students select two or three cartoons they believe would be most important to tell the story of the election of 1876. Then challenge students to create their own cartoons.

Student Handouts

Related Resources