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Centennial Crisis

Centennial Crisis

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Written by William H. RehnquistAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by William H. Rehnquist

  • Format: Trade Paperback, 288 pages
  •  
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • On Sale: January 4, 2005
  • Price: $14.00
  • ISBN: 978-0-375-71321-7 (0-375-71321-2)
Also available as an eBook.
about this book

Near midnight on Election Day in November 1876, the returns coming into Republican National headquarters signaled a victory for the Democratic presidential candidate, Samuel J. Tilden. But alert Republican leaders saw that if all the states still doubtful or disputed went for their candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes would be elected. Word was sent out to four southern states that their returns were crucial for a Hayes victory. Thus Chief Justice William Rehnquist begins this remarkable account of one of American's greatest political dramas, a crisis that was not resolved for nearly four months, on March 2, 1877, only two days before Inauguration Day.

In his gripping story, Rehnquist tells how each party maneuvered to buy votes in the southern states, how the country slid into Congressional, judicial and public turmoil, and how the creation in January of an Electoral Commission (comprised of five Democrats, five Republicans and five Supreme Court justices) was opposed by both candidates. When that body's deciding vote was cast by Justice Joseph Bradley, public outcry reached such a fever pitch that the presidential swearing-in had to be held on a Sunday in near secrecry.

Reaching beyond the history of a contentious election, the Chief Justice describes the political climate and economy of America in the 1870's, packing his narrative with biographical sketches of the central participants and opening a window on events in that decade that have long been overlooked. In a compelling epilogue we learn the occasions when Presidents, ranging from George Washington to Lyndon Johnson, have asked Supreme Court justices to arbitrate disputes, settle treaties or serve on investigating commissions. Almost always the justices were berated and attacked for their decisions.

Would it be better for them to have refused the president’s request? The Chief Justice has some surprising answers.


“Provocative. . . . An engaging and precise account of the bewildering political episode at once remote in time and in culture from our own contested election but strangely familiar as well.” —The Washington Post

“Highly recommended. . . . Rehnquist takes the reader through the major congressional and Supreme Court debates of the 1860s and 1870s . . . fill[ing] in this tumultuous background with brisk, confident strokes. . . . He has a keen eye for good stories and quirks of character, and a forceful expository style.” —The New York Sun

“An immensely readable work. . . . Rehnquist makes a convincing case.” —New York Post

“In this terrific and valuable work, Chief Justice Rehnquist re-creates one of the most dramatic presidential elections in American history. The wealth of biographical detail and the superb discussion of the intriguing issues involved bring the principal actors in this fascinating controversy to vivid life.” —Doris Kearns Goodwin, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt

“As a historian Rehnquist is first-rate. The story of the Hayes-Tilden square-off of 1876 is perhaps the most surreal political imbroglio America has ever produced. And this is the most literate, judicious, and wise retelling of that bizarre election ever written.” —Douglas Brinkley, director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans

“Speak[s] pointedly to recent and current events. . . . Rich with subplots and engaging characters.” —Austin American-Statesman

“Rehnquist narrates [the] events [of the 1876 election] clearly . . . [and] offers colorful portraits of the two presidential candidates and members of the Court.” —The Nation

“An earnest book . . . [about] an intensely interesting period in American history.” —Los Angeles Times