Democrat Samuel J. Tilden won the popular vote by just about 250,000 over Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, but he was one vote short of a majority in the Electoral College. But a cloud hung over the results in four states. The Republicans charged that Democrats had intimidated black voters in the states of Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina. And in Oregon, one of Hayes' electors was ruled ineligible because he was a federal office holder, and the Democratic governor appointed someone from his own party in the man's place.
With no clear winner two months after the election, Congress passed a law in January 1877 creating an Electoral Commission to decide the dispute, which seemed like a fair-minded solution. The commission had five legislators from each party and five Supreme Court justices — three Democrats, two Republicans and one independent, Justice David Davis. But Tilden's side made what in retrospect was a dumb miscalculation, by marshaling Democrats in the Illinois state Senate to appoint Davis to the U.S. Senate. They thought it would sway him to support Tilden, but instead, he resigned, and a Republican justice, Joseph P. Bradley, took his place. The commission then voted along party lines to give Hayes the presidency [sources: PBS, Miller Center, Supreme Court Historical Society].