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Some 1876 Presidential Campaign Tokens

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Eighteen seventy-six was a year of celebration, disappointment and turmoil for The United States. The plus side the nation was observing its 100th anniversary, and Philadelphia was hosting a large world's fair celebration. On the negative side the economy was still weak from a major recession, the Panic of 1873, and President Ulysses S. Grant was completing the second term of an administration that had been rocked by five major scandals. Although Grant had emerged as the preeminent Civil War general, in civilian life he had proved to be an inept administrator who was easily duped by his friends and associates. The list of scandals was especially troubling.


• In 1869 James Fisk and Jay Gould attempted to corner the gold market. To further their scheme, they paid the president's brother-in-law to influence Grant on their behalf. To further their cause they hosted Grant on Fisk's yacht to give the impression that the president supported their scheme. Fisk and Gould were able to raise the price from $140.00 to $163.50 per ounce before Grant caught on the scheme. Grant ordered the secretary of the treasury to sell $4 million worth of gold which ended Fisk - Gould scheme, but resulted in massive losses for many investors.

• The Crédit Mobilier scandal was a money laundering scheme in which officers of the Crédit Mobilier holding company skimmed millions of federal taxpayer dollars for themselves by paying inflated prices for supplies and equipment that were used to build the Union Pacific Railroad. In an effort to keep a lid on the scandal, those officers offered stock to members of Congress at deep discounts in exchange for the lawmakers' inaction over the matter. Included among the bribe recipients were Speaker of the House and future vice president, Schuyler Colfax, and future president James Garfield.

• Treasury secretary, William A. Richardson appointed John D. Sanborn as a special agent to collect delinquent taxes. Later it was revealed that Sanborn collected more than $400,00 and kept half for himself. This revelation prompted treasury secretary Richardson to resign.

• Hundreds of whisky distillers and federal officials were accused of diverting millions of spirit tax dollars into their own pockets. When the scandal broke Grant vowed to bring all of the guilty parties to justice. When scandal reached the president's personal secretary, Orville Babcock, however, Grant interceded on his friend's behalf. Still 110 conspirators were convicted.

• It was revealed the secretary of war, William Belknap, to taking annual kickbacks from merchants at Indian trading posts. After first he had covered his malfeasance by having the payments made to his wife. When she died, he started taking them directly. Belknap avoided impeachment by resigning before the Senate could begin its proceedings.


Given this list of scandals it was no surprise that the were running scared in the 1876 presidential election. To divert attention from their ethics problems, the GOP nominated Ohio governor, Rutherford B. Hays, for president. Hays' record was above reproach, and as a state governor he was a "Washington outsider."

The countermove was to nominate New York governor Samuel J. Tilden. Tilden was a lawyer who had made a fortune in real estate. He had also been a very active reformer during his time as New York governor.

As a group all 1876 campaign medalets are scarce. Most collectors do not realize that until they try to fill the 1876 hole in their political sets. The most common Hays - Tilden varieties are the "generic" pieces feature a bust of the presidential candidate on the obverse and the vice presidential candidate on the reverse. Here are examples of each of these types of pieces.


One of the Hays "generic" tokens




And an example of a Tilden piece




Of greater interest are those pieces that covered the major issues of the campaign which both sides issued before and after the election. Here are two issue oriented pieces that emphasized the reformer qualifications for each candidate. The dies for both pieces were issued by the same die maker although to date that artisan as not been identified.

The Hays piece features a bust of the candidate on the obverse with the legend, "Honest Money ... Honest Government" around the outside with Hays' name, "Rutherford ... B. Hays," enclosed within that. The reverse featured a bust of Hays' running mate, William A. Wheeler, with his name around the edge.




The second piece, which was made for the Tilden campaign, expressed a similar message. The obverse features a bust of the candidate with the legend, "The Aggressive Leader of Reform" around the outside with Tilden's name "Samuel J. Tilden." The reverse featured Tilden's running mate, Thomas A. Hendricks.




Both of these tokens are scarce, but I have found the Tilden piece more difficult to find. I recently purchased this piece from a dealer who had acquired it at the Ford auction. It is a silver piece, and in the past I have avoided buying examples of political tokens in silver because such items were undoubtedly made for collectors of the period and not primarily for the campaigns. This time I went against my past policy because I have seen only one other of these pieces offered for sale in brass. I decided that it was time to grab the opportunity.


The 1876 presidential election turned out to be anything by an example of honest government; it fact it was quite the opposite. On election night the Party national chairmen did some math and figured that if he could impound the vote in three southern states, Florida, Georgia and Louisiana, that he could deny Tilden a majority in the Electoral College by one vote. He telegraphed the military governors who still in power in those states and had them hold up the results.


After a lot of backroom deals that will never be recorded in history a panel that was made of five members each from the Senate, House and Supreme Court voted 8 to 7 along party lines to give all the votes from those three states to Hays. The final Electoral vote count was Hays 185, Tilden 184.


This piece has gone too long as it is, but if there is subsequent interest we can look at the consequences of this election travesty. It would not be pretty for the people whom the radical claimed to represent.


I'll go back and fix the silly "spoons" later if there is interest. I wrote at least part of this piece for another project. Here's a hint: Tilden was the Donkey Party candidate and Hays was the Elephant Party candidate.

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Great post Bill. The more in depth you look into past politics, the more today's elected officials look like girl scouts. That's not to say I'm pleased with any of them, but just goes to show what wealth and power can do to a man/woman.


Cool medals. Good luck finding the Tilden in brass. Do you know how many they made? How long have you been searching?



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Great post Bill. The more in depth you look into past politics, the more today's elected officials look like girl scouts.


No, I disagree. Today's guys are just as bad if not worse.


• The Chairman of House committee that writes the tax laws was caught not reporting tens of thousands of dollars in income. His excuse was he didn't know law, which was bull because even the average person knows that rent income is reportable. What was done to him? Nothing. He got off without even a tax penalty. The average person would have had their assets seized, and they might have ended up in jail.


• People who contribute money to the "right" politicians get millions of taxpayer dollars to run corporations that are involved in "approved" industries. When the companies go bust and the money disappears, not one is held accountable.


• A high ranking member of the House of Representatives used insider information to profit from a purchase of stock. Had the average citizen been caught doing that, they would have faced jail time. What happened to the high ranking House member? Nothing. She pocketed the profits. When members of the news media questioned her on it, she got away with stonewalling the issue and the news media backed down.


• A high ranking bureaucrat, who is said to be an expert in a politically correct branch of science, in a politically correct department in the executive branch of the government draws a salary of over $200,000 a year. His salary is beyond what he is supposed to be legally paid given his level. In addition to that he does not show up to work for almost two years. His excuse is that he is on a covert assignment for a super secret national security agency of the government. In the mean time he travels all over the world staying in the best hotels living high on the hog all on the government's dime. His boss never checks to see if he really is on this "special assignment." He isn't. He just used it as an excuse to hold a no-show job. Will anything happen to him? I doubt it.


I hid the names and the names of the departments here to stay out of the political realm, but you get the idea. I think that things today worse than ever.


And here's a kicker for you. The scandals that I wrote about during the Grant administration are totally discounted by some politically correct historians because they prefer to praise him for his other politically correct endeavors, which frankly didn't amount to much and were ineffective in the long run.


George Orwell had it right. We are headed toward "1984" if we are not there already.




As for the mintages of these tokens, I really don't know very much except for the fact that there are not very many of them available today. I would imagine that the silver piece has a mintage of less than ten because they often made "limited editions" of such pieces back in the day to get better prices from collectors.


As for the tokens that were used "down in the trenches," I'd say that you are looking a few hundred with maybe a 10% survival rate. These 1876 pieces were made in limited quantities. For other better financed campaigns, the mintages and the survival rates were higher.


People don't realize it, the 1860 Lincoln campaign had more money than perhaps the other three candidates combined. For that reason many Lincoln items are not that rare, but they are very popular. As it is for most things demand is more important than supply. If you have a lot people chasing something, the price will go up even if it is relatively common.


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Bill, as always, what a fantastic post full of history and information! I always enjoy reading your posts and I look forward to many more. Thank you for sharing your coins and your knowledge.

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Excellent and informative post. Some very neat pieces.

Thanks for sizing the photos nicely so I didn't have to do an East-West scroll to read the responses !



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Excellent and informative post. Some very neat pieces.

Thanks for sizing the photos nicely so I didn't have to do an East-West scroll to read the responses !




The way this site works, that usually does not happen. The pictures fix themselves if they are too big.


I know what you mean and it drives me nuts ATS. :insane:

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