Samuel Tilden Biography

Samuel J. Tilden
Governor Samuel J. Tilden of New York.

Samuel Jones Tilden was a leading political figure of the 19th Century. He served as Governor of New York State and was the Democratic candidate for president in 1876, perhaps the most unusual presidential election in United States history.

Born in 1814 in New Lebanon, NY, Tilden was educated at what later was to become New York University, where he studied law. Admitted to the bar in 1841, Tilden was extremely successful as a lawyer, boasting many corporate clients, including several of the railroads. He became a strong partisan of Martin Van Buren in New York State Democratic politics. Tilden was a Free-Soiler, but unlike other Free-Soil Democrats of the 1850's, he did not join the new Republican party and later disapproved of the Civil War. As state Democratic chairman after 1866 he sought reform and gathered much of the evidence of corruption that broke up the notorious "Tweed Ring" in 1871.

Elected governor of New York in 1874, he continued building his reputation for reform by attacking and breaking the "Canal Ring," individuals whom had made millions of dollars illegally from contracts for the repair and extension of the state's lucrative canals.

Tilden's reputation as a reformer led his party to nominate him as their candidate for President. Rutherford B. Hayes was the Republican nominee. The campaign resulted in one of the most famous election disputes in American history. Tilden received a small majority of the popular vote, but there were disputed returns of electoral votes from Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina and a contest over the vote of one Oregon elector. To settle the question, which was not covered by the Constitution, Congress created an electoral commission of five U. S. senators, five members of the House of Representatives, and five Supreme Court justices. Seven were Republicans and seven were Democrats, and there was one independent. When the independent was named U. S. Senator from Illinois, he was replaced by a Republican on the commission. The commission voted along party lines, and awarded Hayes all the disputed electoral votes, giving him a majority of one, 185 to 184. This vote took place on on March 2, 1877, just two days before the new president was to be sworn in. Tilden discouraged further disputes by his party. In what became known as the "Hayes - Tilden Compromise," Hayes became president, and the military occupation of the southern states, which had been in effect since the end of the Civil War, and was a major Democratic campaign issue, was ended.

Samuel Tilden died in 1886 in Yonkers, NY. In his will he left 3 million dollars toward the establishment a free public library in New York City. In 1895 this trust was joined with the Astor and Lenox libraries to form the New York Public Library.

In 1917, after being known initially as Camp Rockaway, Fort Tilden was renamed in his honor.

Last updated: July 12, 2022

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