CLOSE

The Top-Secret Inauguration of Rutherford B. Hayes

When President-Elect Rutherford B. Hayes raised his hand and took the oath of office on the East Portico of the Capitol on March 5, 1877, his supporters breathed a sigh of relief. The ceremony marked the end of a lengthy, acrimonious debate between his Republicans and the Democrats over the results of the previous year’s election. Some even believed the tension might threaten to spill over into another Civil War.

Democratic nominee Samuel Tilden had earned the popular vote, and 184 of the 185 votes he needed in the Electoral College. But allegations surfaced that Tilden’s seeming victory was thanks, in part, to voter intimidation and fraud in key states like Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina. A special Congressional committee was formed to sift through the paper trail, leaving the outcome in doubt for months.

Hayes being sworn in ended all speculation. But only a handful of people observing the ceremony knew that the celebration taking place that Monday was merely for show: Hayes had been sworn in during a secret ceremony two days earlier, in the presence of outgoing president Ulysses S. Grant. And history still isn’t quite sure why.

In the years following the Civil War, Reconstruction and bitter feelings had created a state of discontent. For the 1876 election, both of the major political parties knew the country would be looking for a president who was tempered in his actions.

The Democrats sided with Samuel Tilden, who made his name as governor of New York by breaking up a corrupt political scene headed by “Boss” Tweed; Republicans backed Rutherford B. Hayes, a Civil War veteran and Ohio governor who was so moderate in every aspect of his life—he abstained from alcohol—that it would be virtually impossible for him to stir up any radical opposition.

Political pundits who predicted a tight race weren’t disappointed. As the results began trickling in on November 7, 1876, Democrats crowned Tilden as the victor, with a winning popular vote margin of 250,000. But four states—Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Oregon—quickly became areas of contention. Democrats were plagued by allegations of intimidating newly empowered black voters to side with Tilden in three of those key territories; Democrats accused Republicans of foul play in Oregon.

Hayes needed 185 electoral votes. He had 184 to Hayes’s 165. Twenty electoral votes were in doubt. As the weeks went by, no one knew who the President-Elect was.

To break the logjam, Congress appointed a special Electoral Commission to investigate the results. Five Republican Congressmen joined five Democrats and five Supreme Court justices. It took them until February 1877 to come to a majority vote of 8-7 in favor of Hayes. He was President-Elect by one commission vote, possibly the narrowest margin of victory in any presidential election.

That decision did little to soothe the Democrats, who were incensed that their idea of the rightful winner was being denied his seat in the Oval Office. Extensive filibustering took place in the House that delayed acknowledgment of the commission’s decision. Rumors began to swirl that Tilden’s more ardent supporters might show up to Washington armed, with an eye on kidnapping Hayes so Tilden would be invited to take his place. One irate Tilden supporter shot a bullet into the window of Hayes’s home.

As Hayes and his wife, Lucy, began making the trip from Ohio to Washington, they had no idea if he was actually president. They were still traveling when they got the official announcement, which was made on March 2. The Democrats had finally ceded their point, albeit with concessions: They’d gain a Democrat postmaster general, as well as the removal of federal troops from government buildings, effectively ending Reconstruction.

When Hayes arrived in Washington on March 3, he was invited to dinner by outgoing president Ulysses S. Grant. At some point during the evening, Grant took Hayes to the Red Room in the White House and stood nearby as Supreme Court Justice Morrison B. White administered the oath of office. After the kidnapping rumors and the Democratic response, Grant may have desired a private and controlled inauguration that couldn’t be disrupted.

The two returned to dinner, their guests unaware of what had just taken place. As a result, March 3 was a day when the country had two commanders-in-chief.

The (second) Hayes inauguration. Senate.gov

Hayes had his official ceremony two days later. With Democrats appeased by the concessions, there were no disruptions. Still, Grant walked Hayes to the podium, protective of the President-Elect until his last moments as president were completed.

The U.S. Senate’s official reason for Hayes being sworn in early cites the calendar as the main issue. Inauguration day fell on a Sunday that year, and the Constitution contains no explicit protocol for what to do. To not swear in Hayes on Sunday and wait until Monday would technically mean the country would be without a president for a day. Dwight Eisenhower took similar dual oaths in 1957 for that reason.

But few elections had been as hotly contested as Hayes vs. Tilden, with the scars of the war still fresh. Grant may have seen potential for Democrats to disrupt the ceremony to the point where he felt it best to make Hayes’s appointment official as soon as possible. To delay might have meant Grant’s exit on March 4 would leave a void in office.

In the end, Hayes was as advertised, almost demure in his service—he and his wife even banned alcohol from the White House—and exited in 1881 just as quietly as he had come in.

It would’ve taken a true political historian to notice that his March 5 inauguration was a duplicate, but there was one clue for the observant. When Hayes arrived at the East Portico to be sworn in, he was sitting on the right of his carriage, a spot that was always reserved for just one person: the President of the United States.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
holidays
A Brief History of Black Friday
iStock
iStock

The unofficial start of the holiday shopping season is often referred to as the busiest shopping day of the year. But where did this tradition start and just how big is it? Here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions about Black Friday. Hopefully they'll give you some good talking points tomorrow, when you line up outside Best Buy at 4 a.m.

HOW DID BLACK FRIDAY BECOME SUCH A BIG SHOPPING DAY?

It's hard to say when the day after Thanksgiving turned into a retail free-for-all, but it probably dates back to the late 19th century. At that time, store-sponsored Thanksgiving parades were common, and once Santa Claus showed up at the end of the parade, the holiday shopping season had officially commenced.

In those days, most retailers adhered to an unwritten rule that holiday shopping season didn't start until after Thanksgiving, so no stores would advertise holiday sales or aggressively court customers until the Friday immediately following the holiday. Thus, when the floodgates opened that Friday, it became a huge deal.

SO RETAILERS WERE ALWAYS HOPING FOR AN EARLY THANKSGIVING?

You bet. They weren't just hoping, though; they were being proactive about it. In 1939, the Retail Dry Goods Association warned Franklin Roosevelt that if the holiday season wouldn't begin until after Americans celebrated Thanksgiving on the traditional final Thursday in November, retail sales would go in the tank. Ever the iconoclast, Roosevelt saw an easy solution to this problem: he moved Thanksgiving up by a week. Instead of celebrating the holiday on its traditional day—November 30th that year—Roosevelt declared the next-to-last Thursday in November to be the new Thanksgiving, instantly tacking an extra week onto the shopping season.

BRILLIANT! HOW DID THAT WORK OUT?

Not so well. Roosevelt didn't make the announcement until late October, and by then most Americans had already made their holiday travel plans. Many rebelled and continued to celebrate Thanksgiving on its "real" date while derisively referring to the impostor holiday as "Franksgiving." State governments didn't know which Thanksgiving to observe, so some of them took both days off. In short, it was a bit of a mess.

By 1941, though, the furor had died down, and Congress passed a law that made Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November, regardless of how it affected the shopping day that would become known as Black Friday.

WHY CALL IT BLACK FRIDAY?

If you ask most people why the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday, they'll explain that the name stems from retailers using the day's huge receipts as their opportunity to "get in the black" and become profitable for the year. The first recorded uses of the term "Black Friday" are a bit less rosy, though.

According to researchers, the name "Black Friday" dates back to Philadelphia in the mid-1960s. The Friday in question is nestled snugly between Thanksgiving and the traditional Army-Navy football game that's played in Philadelphia on the following Saturday, so the City of Brotherly Love was always bustling with activity on that day. All of the people were great for retailers, but they were a huge pain for police officers, cab drivers, and anyone who had to negotiate the city's streets. They started referring to the annual day of commercial bedlam as "Black Friday" to reflect how irritating it was.

SO WHERE DID THE WHOLE "GET IN THE BLACK" STORY ORIGINATE?

Apparently store owners didn't love having their biggest shopping day saddled with such a negative moniker, so in the early 1980s someone began floating the accounting angle to put a more positive spin on the big day.

DO RETAILERS REALLY NEED BLACK FRIDAY TO TURN AN ANNUAL PROFIT?

Major retailers don't; they're generally profitable—or at least striving for profitability—throughout the entire year. (A company that turned losses for three quarters out of every fiscal year wouldn't be a big hit with investors.) Some smaller outlets may parlay big holiday season sales into annual profits, though.

IS BLACK FRIDAY REALLY THE BIGGEST SHOPPING DAY OF THE YEAR?

It's certainly the day of the year in which you're most likely to be punched while reaching for a Tickle Me Elmo doll, but it might not be the busiest day in terms of gross receipts. According to Snopes.com, Black Friday is generally one of the top days of the year for stores, but it's the days immediately before Christmas—when procrastinators finally get shopping—that stores make the serious loot. Black Friday may, however, be the busiest day of the year in terms of customer traffic.

Snopes's data shows the 10-year span from 1993 to 2002, and in that interval Black Friday was never higher than fourth on the list of the year's busiest shopping days by sales volume. In 2003 and 2005 Black Friday did climb to the top of the pile for sales revenue days, but it still gets stiff competition from the week leading up to Christmas, particularly the Saturday right before the big day.

DO PEOPLE REALLY GET INJURED ON BLACK FRIDAY?

Sadly, yes. One of the most tragic Black Friday incidents happened in 2008, when 34-year-old seasonal employee Jdimytai Damour was killed after a crowd of hundreds of people from the approximately 2000 people waiting outside knocked him own and stampeded over his back after the doors opened at 5 a.m. at the Wal-Mart on Long Island, New York.

In 2010 in Buffalo, New York, several shoppers were trampled trying to get into a Target. One of the victims, Keith Krantz—who was pinned against a metal door support and then shoved to the ground—told a CNN affiliate he thought he would be killed. “At that moment, I was thinking I don't want to die here on the ground,” Krantz said.

In Murray, Utah, 15,000 shoppers swamped a mall with such force, the local police had to respond to break up skirmishes and fistfights, and keep shoppers from ransacking stores.

In 2008, a fight broke out between a young girl and a man at another Wal-Mart store in Columbus, Ohio, over a 40-inch Samsung flat-screen television. It was $798, marked down from $1000. The New York Times reported that the not-so-aptly-named Nikki Nicely, 19, leaped onto a fellow shopper’s back and began pounding his shoulders violently when he attempted to purchase the television. “That’s my TV!” shouted Ms. Nicely, who then took an elbow to the face. “That’s my TV!” The fight was broken up by a police officer and security guard. “That’s right,” Nicely cried as her adversary walked away. “This here is my TV!”

HOW CAN THIS KIND OF THING BE AVOIDED?

In an effort to keep a few would-be clients from personal injury law firms, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) created a special checklist for retailers expecting large crowds.

So what’s OSHA’s advice? Consider using bullhorns. Hire a team of police officers. Be prepared for “crowd crushing” and “violent acts.” Set up barricades. And, above all else, if charging shoppers come running, stay out of the way.

Haley Sweetland Edwards contributed to this story, portions of which originally appeared in 2009.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Hess Corporation
arrow
Pop Culture
A Speedy History of the Hess Truck
Hess Corporation
Hess Corporation

Unless you know someone crazy about air fresheners or caffeine pills, holiday gifts purchased at gas stations don’t usually provoke much excitement. But if you were one of the millions who grew up in the northeast, the annual release of the Hess toy truck at Hess gas stations—usually green, always labeled with a Hess logo, always boxed with batteries—was and is as much a part of the holiday as Santa Claus and his sleigh.

The idea for an affordable, quality children’s toy sold at service stations at thousands of Hess locations in 16 states was courtesy of Leon Hess, the college dropout-turned-fuel magnate who began selling oil door-to-door in 1933 and graduated to gas stops by 1960. Hess decided he would trump the cheap merchandise given away by gas stations—mugs, glassware—by commissioning a durable, feature-heavy toy truck modeled after the first oil tanker he ever bought for his company. Unlike most toys of the era, it would have headlights that really worked and a tank that kids could either fill up or drain with water.

Most importantly, Hess insisted it come with batteries—he knew the frustration suffered by kids who tore into a holiday present, only to discover they’d have to wait until it had a power source before it could be operated.

The Hess Tanker Truck went on sale in 1964 for $1.29 and sold out almost instantly. Hess released the toy again in 1965, and then introduced the Voyager Tanker Ship in 1966. For the next 50 years, hardly a year went by without Hess issuing a new vehicle that stood up to heavy play and offered quality and features comparable to the “real” toys on store shelves. Incredibly, fathers would wait in line for hours for an opportunity to buy one for their child.

The toy truck became so important to the Hess brand and developed such a strong following that when the company was bought out in 2014 and locations converted to the Speedway umbrella, new owners Marathon Petroleum promised they would keep making the Hess trucks. They’re now sold online, with the newest—the Dump Truck and Loader, complete with working hydraulics and STEM lesson plans—retailing for $33.99. Bigger, better toy trucks may be out there, but a half-century of tradition is hard to replicate.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios