What a week! The stories that follow from World writers in Austin, Nashville, Florida, and other dramatic venues show the color and suspense of events on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. But if the question comes to whether a presidential candidate will accept defeat or will instead provoke a constitutional crisis, we should remember and contemplate the reaction of two men: Samuel Tilden and Richard Nixon.
Samuel Tilden, Democratic candidate for the presidency in 1876, won the popular vote not by a whisker but by three percentage points. The electoral college at that time had 369 votes; Tilden should have ended up with a clear majority of 204. He did not narrowly lose Florida, like Al Gore apparently did this year, but won it readily, along with Louisiana, South Carolina, and many other states.
But Republicans, through a complicated set of circumstances, found crooked ways to claim victory in Florida and her Southern sisters. Republicans and Democrats that year filed competing slates of Electoral College members. I won't take you at this time through the enormously complicated details, but the political and Constitutional battle lasted from November until early March, with Republicans eventually gaining dominance.
Democrats were furious; some marched toward Washington, threatening a new civil war. But Tilden discouraged further contesting of the vote, and some less civil party leaders gave in after receiving concessions from the Republicans: removal of troops from the South, one seat in the Cabinet, and some pork-barrel expenditures.
Richard Nixon, not normally known as one of the gentlemen of American politics, did not extract similar concessions when he agreed not to contest his narrow 1960 election loss to John F. Kennedy. Some of his advisers wished to fight on, since even untrained eyes detected massive vote fraud in Chicago and other cities. Nixon, though, argued that the need of the United States for a settled transfer of power from a Republican to a Democratic administration was more important than his own political satisfaction.
We've had many reports in recent years about "defining deviancy down"-lowering our moral standards. The future of the United States may rest on whether the losing candidate this year is more ruthless and less patriotic than the man who once had to announce, "I am not a crook."