Counting the Electoral Votes, February 1877

"Washington, D.C.—The Electoral Contest—The United States Senators Entering the House of Representatives, with the Electoral Certificates, to Re-open the Joint Session, February 12th."
Unidentified Artist, after Harry Ogden
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
March 3, 1877


Counting the Votes in February 1877

Counting the votes for president and vice president of the United States in the House of Representatives, for Hayes and Wheeler. For the first time in the history of the Senate was the votes of the several states carried over from the Senate Chamber in wooden boxes to the House. They were formerly carried over in packages tied up with red tape and never before had the person carrying them to be guarded by a guard of police. (February 9, 1853 I carried, the electoral votes over in a morocco-covered box, just as was used for stationery). On one occasion just before the Senate started to go over to the House, there was a friend of mine came to me and told me to be on my guard. To look out, that he was informed that they, somebody, he was not told, intended, when we reached the Rotunda, to shoot me and take the boxes and destroy the votes. I told him I had no fears that I did not believe anything of the kind, that the American people had more sense than to attempt anything of the kind and I was right, no effort was made whatever. The boxes, I handed one to Mr. Ferry, as he was the originator of them, and he had them sent to his home in Michigan.

Quite a laughable scene took place in the House over the duplicate returns from the state of Vermont. The joint meeting of both houses refused to receive it, and it disappeared very mysteriously. It seems that one of the pages of the Senate had possession of it and the House demanded him to tell how he came in possession of it. He refused, and they kept him in custody for several hours and at last concluded it was of no importance and let him go. His name is George McNeir. He still has it in his possession and it has never been opened. [21C12A-21C12C]

Editor's Note:

The 1876 presidential election left uncertain whether the next president would be Republican Rutherford B. Hayes or Democrat Samuel J. Tilden. Although Tilden narrowly won the popular vote, 20 electoral votes from four states were in dispute (Florida, Louisiana, Oregon, and South Carolina), preventing either candidate from claiming an electoral majority. Not until the traditional counting of the electoral votes in a joint session of Congress would the issue be decided. Knowing that the controversy would only intensify during the count, Congress established the Electoral Commission to solve the impasse that was sure to arise.

People, Places, & Things:

  • Rotunda - The Rotunda is the ceremonial center of the Capitol, where state funerals have been held for presidents, beginning with Abraham Lincoln, as well as for distinguished members of Congress, military heroes, and eminent citizens. Visiting heads of state have been received in the Rotunda, and memorable individuals and events celebrated. It is decorated with frescoes, paintings, and sculptures.
  • Thomas White Ferry (Republican - MI) U.S. senator 1871-1883.
  • Page - For more than 175 years, messengers known as pages have served the U.S. Senate. Page duties consist primarily of delivering correspondence and legislative material within the Capitol complex. Other duties include preparing the Senate Chamber for Senate sessions, and carrying bills and amendments to the presiding officer’s desk.