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Fraud of the Century

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Fraud of the Century. Rutherford B. Hayes, Samuel Tilden, and the Stolen Election of 1876. By Roy Morris, Jr. (Simon & Schuster: 20034. Pg. 320.) ISBN: 0743255526.

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - September 28, 2003

As the country once again prepares for a new presidential election, I doubt that anyone would want to face another debacle as the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. This contested election, and the tomfoolery surrounding the debate over the 'butterfly ballots' and the televised counting of the 'hanging chads' will have historians and political scientist debating for decades over the validity of Bush's accession to the presidency. Could such a problem ever happen again? Probably, after all, the Bush Gore election was not the first 'questionable' presidential election in the United States!

In Fraud of the Century, Roy Morris, Jr. takes an intriguing look at the contentious 1876 electoral contest between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden. Hayes was a Republican and the governor of Ohio, and Tilden was the governor of New York and a Democrat. When the votes were counted, Tilden had won the popular vote, nonetheless, the Republican controlled Electoral Commission ruled that the presidency belonged to Hayes.

Morris takes the reader on an exciting journey into the past and brings people and the events surrounding this disputed election to life. He describes the events leading up to the election and how the election itself was carried out. He then goes on to describe the political battle that raged between the two camps over the election results. The political battle threatened at times to escalate into a full fledge physical confrontation. The fighting went on for four long months and almost refragmented a country that was still recovering from a disastrous civil war. When the dust settled, Hayes was president, but like Bush's election, his presidency was tainted by the specter that he had won his seat by nefarious means.

Fraud of the Century is a fascinating book, both for the events that it recounts but also due to the easy comparisons that can be made between the 1876 and 2000 presidential elections. This book paints an authoritative and vivid picture of an election won by fraud, and it is well backed-up with information detailing how the fraud was carried out. (Like its modern day counterpart, Florida was a major player in the controversy.)

Fraud of the Century was written for a general audience, and it reads more like a thriller than a history book. Morris, a noted historian and biographer, explores a decisive and often-overlooked period in American history. He also shows the repercussions that emanated from this massive fraud, one of the most distressing of which was the enactment of the Southern segregation laws.

I highly recommend this intriguing book to anyone interested in American history, political controversies, or who is simply looking for an edifying and rousing book to read. For students and those interested in learning more about this election, Morris has included a detailed set of endnotes and a functional bibliography. The one item that students will find that this book lacks is an index. Otherwise, it will serve as an excellent introduction to this contentious and pivotal moment in American History.

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