#2. Elections Can Be Stolen
Where You See it Today:
Well, we're gonna have to wait about a month to know for sure on this one. Sorry, but if you're desperate to find an example of a modern stolen election, we just don't know what to tell you.
Who Made it Cool:
1876 saw the end of the Grant administration, one of the most corrupt in American history. At a time when reform was important, the Democrats responded by nominating Samuel Tilden, the governor of New York who was already an established successful reformer and an enemy of corruption.
At the time Republicans weren't as fond of words like "successful" and "reformer," and preferred to nominate "some guy." Hey, look, Rutherford Hayes is some guy. Okay, him.
If Hayes had any opinions, he kept them to himself. Hayes was chosen not for his policies or his ability to speak or his track record, but because, up to that point, he hadn't stolen anything or pissed anyone off. Hayes was described by Henry Adams as "a third-rate nonentity, whose only recommendation is that he is obnoxious to no one." Not obnoxious? What more can we ask for? Let's make him president.
For Hayes' Vice President, Congressman William Wheeler was chosen despite the fact that Hayes had no idea who he was and the two had never met until weeks after the nomination. Why not? They really just didn't give a shit.
So the results start coming in on Election Day, and Tilden is winning. Several newspapers announced Tilden's victory. Hayes even wrote a letter of concession. Sure, there were, like, four states left to count, but it was estimated that they would almost certainly favor Tilden. The election was in the bag!
Not quite. Republican agents were mobilized to make sure everyone voted in those states, with most of the agents armed with hundreds of thousands of dollars to make sure everyone voted correctly. Some votes in favor of Tilden were disputed, and by "disputed" we mean they were thrown in the trash (in Key West, Florida, for example, an entire box of votes that had Tilden ahead of Hayes 401-59 were tossed).
Tilden, seen here staring at a trash can, where the Tilden votes were "stored."
After weeks of bribery and madness, a committee was chosen to decide the election. The committee just happened to feature eight Republicans against the seven Democrats, and they just happened to vote in favor of Hayes. So, nominated for his history of not stealing, Rutherford B. Hayes stole the shit out of the presidency.
#1. The Presidential Election is a Total Crap Shoot
Where You See it Today:
Who Made it Cool:
Incredibly, none of the above have gone down as the dumbest campaign in history. The one that takes the title got a lot of help from the political media, which was just as sensationalizing and incompetent 124 years ago.
In 1884 the insanely corrupt James G. Blaine ran against the Grover "The Only Thing Anyone Remembers About Me From History Class is that I Served Two Nonconsecutive Terms" Cleveland.
Here's Blaine, beating up some Chinese people for no reason.
For a while, all that was said of Grover Cleveland was that he was remarkably fat (which was true) until the Buffalo Telegraph published a story detailing Cleveland's dark history. According to the article, he had an affair with a widow named Maria Halphin, who had borne a child. Suddenly, Cleveland wasn't fat anymore. He was an adulterous, drunk, bastard-producing bastard with "no business running for president." (Also, fat.)
The media, ever the short sited and loud mouthed guardian of the political system, took this and ran with it, maintaining that, if elected, Cleveland would bring his "harlots" with him to the White House. Soon, every fatherless child was believed to be Cleveland's, with mothers everywhere coming out of the woodwork with sob stories. It was getting closer to election time and it looked like Blaine was going to win, even though he was horribly corrupt and inept as a politician, because that was still better than some fat, drunken bastard-machine.
The truth was that Halphin did have a kid. Cleveland didn't know if it was his or not, but he still paid child support to Halphin regularly, just in case. He never claimed anything to the contrary. But, that story wasn't as loud and juicy and boob-filled as the story that his opponents were spreading, so it simply didn't stick.
It almost worked, too. The electoral votes had Cleveland at 183 and Blaine at 182, with New York still left to count. Blaine was the heavy favorite to win New York, while Cleveland was just heavy. And then a miracle intervened.
On Election Day, a remarkably huge rainstorm hit upstate New York, home to tons and tons of Republican voters at the time who, as a result of the pouring, stayed home instead of voting that day. Blaine lost New York and the election.
So, in American Politics, even when one candidate is honest, decent and fit for office, he can't beat a corrupt, manipulative inept politician for the highest office our country has to offer on his own. He needs a bizarre weather pattern to back him up.
So ... were we supposed to learn something from this? What's the lesson, here? Pray for rain? Anyone can grow up to become president, provided they have a weather machine? Maybe the lesson is just that the system doesn't work. In which case, no, no we haven't learned a thing.