By 1876, the (white) leadership of the Hayes Party was fed up with rebuilding. The radical Republican Party of the 1860s quickly faded into the past. The significant, if incomplete, steps towards complete freedom and equality that black Americans had taken since the end of the Civil War, as well as the political power they had gained, had already been pushed back in much of the south and were extremely vulnerable in the rest of the region. Without federal troops on the ground to help enforce black rights amid a hostile and powerful white majority, those rights and power would soon disappear completely in the former Confederate states.
The Democratic candidate was New York Governor Samuel Tilden. Tilden played a leading role in overthrowing William "Boss" Tweed of Tammany Hall and his organization, and in preventing the Erie Canal Ring from fraud and theft. He then set his reputation as a reformer in the democratic nomination. However, Tilden was not progressive. On economic issues, the Democratic Party of its day was dominated by business interests and led by so-called Bourbon Democrats like Tilden and later President Grover Cleveland.
On racist issues, Tilden ran on a party platform in 1876 that called for an end to both reconstruction – condemned as "the rape of carpet bag tyranny" – and the federal enforcement of equality for black southerners. For the most part, these rights only existed in Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida – three states where federal troops remained and where white segregationist Democrats did not yet dominate. In other words, Tilden was directly allied with Jim Crow segregationists. Indeed, the Southern Democrats carried out widespread voter intimidation and violence during the election campaign. The infamous Hamburg massacre, carried out by white supremacist terrorists known as "red shirts", had taken place only a few months earlier on Independence Day in South Carolina.
Back to election day. Late in the evening, it looked like Tilden would become the next president. His lead in the referendum was considerable – he won 51% to 48% and remains the only candidate to win over 50% of the referendum and not become president. Tilden had already blocked 184 votes, one of which was less than a majority, and the leader of the Republican Party decided it was time to empty a bottle of whiskey as his services seemed no longer needed.