Long before Richard Nixon and Watergate, the nation suffers through another long political nightmare–the election of 1876.
The Presidential contest has now entered another stage. Hayes has received on the face of the returns 185 votes, having secured the three disputed States, and Tilden has also received 185 votes by the aid of one disputed vote from Oregon, from which State Hayes claims three. The Tilden vote from Oregon has been secured in appearance, at least, by the award of a certificate to the Democratic candidate having the next highest number of votes to a Republican candidate who was found to be disqualified by reason of his being a postmaster. There has been a good deal of legal lore expended on the matter in the newspapers, and the conclusion to which it all points seems to be that nothing but proof of knowledge of the disqualification on the part of the voters of the State would suffice to make the election of the Republican a nullity and give the place to the Democrat having the next highest number of votes, and of course no such proof is forthcoming. But we dare say Cronin’s — the Democrat — appearance in Washington with a certificate, regular in form, will furnish tine Democrats with a sort of excuse for a contention over the right of Congress to go behind the returns — that is, the House will probably try to use the case its a means of compelling the Senate to look into the work of the three Returning Boards. Whether the move will succeed or not there is no use in trying to calculate, but it is quite certain that if successful it will only make confusion worse confounded. In the first place, whatever moral weight the Democratic position now has in the struggle over the vote will be destroyed by any effort, even though it be only a piece of tactics, to use such a performance as Cronin’s as a determining agency. What the public is now most interested in is the election of somebody in a manner that will command general confidence. A technical victory would therefore do the Democrats no good. They would have no popular support in trying to force the Senate to count a vote cast by a person who was plainly not elected by a majority of votes in his State, and in the event of a deadlock they would therefore be sure to be defeated; nor, if suc-cessful, can Tilden afford to take office on such a vote. No man can afford to take the Presidency on any quirk or quibble, or in virtue of any merely technical rule. So that the law of the Cronin affair is really of but slight practical importance.
In the second place, if the practice of going behind the returns be established, we probably have seen the last of orderly and decisive elections. Every close election would be disputed before Congress met, and, when it did meet, there would invariably be a controversy over the count and a demand for further enquiry, and committees would be despatched to make reports which would settle nothing, and merely furnish materials for partisan articles in the newspapers and inflame the passions of the politi-cians. The local quarrels and intrigues in all the States would be transferred to Washing-ton, and converted, like those of South Carolina and Louisiana, into national questions over which the whole country would be convulsed, and about which, nevertheless, no-body at a distance would base the means of forming a reliable opinion. Moreover, “in-timidation” being the vague thing it is, every unprincipled governor, working for re-election or trying to help his party, would have, as we believe Kellogg has, a direct and powerful motive for not policing the State or repressing crime. It would always be the interest of the party in power in any Southern State to promote disorder and let crime go unpunished in order to have a stock of “outrages” ready at election time. In fact, we see nothing but chaos as likely to result from the assumption of ”judicial functions” by Con-gress in the matter of counting the electoral vote, and we trust that, in spite of Republi-can precedents, any attempt to perpetuate the practice in February next will be de-feated. The Government could never stand the strain of having Congress act as a Na-tional Returning Board with judicial powers. Nor does the proposal to impose the duties of such a Board on the Supreme Court seem any more commendable. We do not be-lieve the Court would long bear up under them. The judges would be the object of frantic denunciation after each ”count”; and the last party would, when in power, have as part of its programme schemes for packing the Court in readiness for the next Presidential election, by increasing the number of judges or otherwise, and their credit and authority would rapidly decline under suspicions of all sorts that would settle down on them. In fact, there is only one course open to us in this matter and that is to let the States man-age their own elections and accept the result as they give it. We cannot make State governments better than the population of the State that wants to have them. It must be remembered, too, that the performances of the Southern Returning Boards have owed most of their importance of late to the closeness of the contest, and we suspect that they will always be a source of fraud and dispute under any circumstances. When the politicians of a State find that they have a casting vote Satan is pretty sure to enter into them, and nothing the rest of the country can do will hinder him.