Samuel J. Tilden

Is your surname Tilden?

Research the Tilden family

Samuel J. Tilden's Geni Profile

Share your family tree and photos with the people you know and love

  • Build your family tree online
  • Share photos and videos
  • Smart Matching™ technology
  • Free!


Samuel Jones Tilden

Birthdate: (72)
Birthplace: New Lebenon, New York, USA
Death: August 4, 1886 (72)
Immediate Family:

Son of Elam Tilden and Polly Younglove Tilden

Occupation: Govenor of New York
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
view all

Immediate Family

About Samuel J. Tilden

Samuel Jones Tilden (February 9, 1814 – August 4, 1886) was the Democratic candidate for the U.S. presidency in the disputed election of 1876, one of the most controversial American elections of the 19th century. He was the 25th Governor of New York. A political reformer, he was a Bourbon Democrat who worked closely with the New York City business community, led the fight against the corruption of Tammany Hall, and fought to keep taxes low.

Early life and career

Tilden was born in New Lebanon in New York State. He was descended from Nathaniel Tilden, an early English settler who came to America in 1634. He studied law at Yale, then transferred to New York University where he graduated in 1837. He was admitted to the bar in 1841, becoming a skilled corporate lawyer, with many railroad companies as clients in the shaky railroad boom decade of the 1850s. His legal practice, combined with shrewd investments, made him rich.

In 1848, largely on account of his personal attachment to Martin Van Buren, he participated in the revolt of the “Barnburners” or Free-Soil faction of the New York Democrats. He was among the few such who did not join the Republican Party and, in 1855, was the candidate of the Soft faction for New York State Attorney General.

After the Civil War, Tilden became chairman of the Democratic State Committee and soon came into conflict with the notorious Tweed ring of New York City. Corrupt New York judges were the ring's tools, and Tilden, after entering the New York State Assembly in 1872 to promote the cause of reform, took a leading part in the judges' impeachment trials. By analyzing the bank accounts of certain members of the ring, he obtained legal proof of the principle on which the spoils had been divided. As a reform-spirited Governor in 1874, he turned his attention to a second set of plunderers, the “Canal Ring”, made up of members of both parties who had been systematically robbing New York State through the maladministration of its canals. Tilden succeeded in breaking them up.

His successful service as governor gained him the presidential nomination.

Presidential election of 1876

During the 1876 presidential election, Tilden won the popular vote over his Republican opponent, Rutherford B. Hayes, proving that the Democrats were back in the political picture following the Civil War. But the result in the Electoral College was in question because the states of Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina each sent two sets of Electoral Votes to Congress. (There was separately a conflict over one elector from Oregon, who was disqualified on a technicality.)

Republicans had taken over the state governments in the South during Reconstruction, but were unpopular with the overwhelmingly Democratic white southerners, many of whom resented what they perceived as interference from the North and blamed the Republicans for the Civil War. However Republicans were almost universally preferred by the South's newly enfranchised blacks. By 1876 white southerners had regained control of most southern states, but in one state with a black majority (South Carolina) and two with very large black minorities (Louisiana and Florida) Republicans still held power. Democrats used violence and intimidation to keep blacks from the polls, while Democrats claimed that Republicans weren't simply disallowing votes tainted by violence but also legitimate returns that favored the Democratic party. Both sides claimed victory though the Democratic claim was tainted by violence and the Republican by fraud. As a result, one set of Electoral Votes from each of these three states had cast their ballots for the Republican Hayes, and another set had cast their ballot for the Democrat Tilden. Without these three states, Tilden had won 184 Electoral Votes, but needed 185 to win the Presidency. If he had taken even one state, he would have become President. However, if Hayes were to win all the contested votes, he would receive 185 Electoral Votes and win the election. Because the Constitution does not address how Congress is to handle such a dispute, a constitutional crisis appeared imminent.

While the Republicans boldly claimed the election, Tilden mystified and disappointed his supporters by not fighting for the prize or giving any leadership to his advocates. Instead he devoted more than a month to the preparation of a complete history of the electoral counts over the previous century to show it was the unbroken usage of Congress, not of the President of the Senate, to count the electoral votes.

Congressional leaders tried to resolve the crisis by creating a 15-member Electoral Commission that would determine which set of votes were valid. The Commission consisted of five members from the Republican-controlled Senate (three Republicans and two Democrats), and five from the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives (three Democrats, two Republicans). The remaining five members were chosen from the Supreme Court– originally two Republicans, two Democrats, and independent Justice David Davis. Davis, however, was elected to the US Senate from Illinois, resigned from the Court and turned down the commission appointment. (Ironically, the election of Davis was the brainchild of Tilden's nephew who assumed it would secure his commission vote for the Democratic side.) Justice Joseph P. Bradley, a Republican, was named to replace him. The Commission voted 8-7 along party lines to award all the votes to Hayes. The dispute, however, did not end, as some Democrats threatened to filibuster in the Senate. Eventually, enough were dissuaded from this action. Some say this was the result of a political deal, the so-called Compromise of 1877 whereby the Democrats agreed to Hayes's election and he agreed to withdraw all federal troops in the South, bringing an end to Republican Reconstruction in the South. In fact, Hayes had long before, in his letter accepting the Republican nomination, indicated his desire that the South enjoy "the blessings of honest and capable local government" (but only with guarantees that the states would guard the civil rights of the freedmen).

Upon his defeat, Tilden said, "I can retire to public life with the consciousness that I shall receive from posterity the credit of having been elected to the highest position in the gift of the people, without any of the cares and responsibilities of the office."

Tilden is one of four candidates for President who won the popular vote but lost the presidential election, the others being Andrew Jackson in 1824, Grover Cleveland in 1888 and Albert Gore, Jr. in 2000.

The Cipher Dispatches

Tilden's chances for the presidency suffered a blow in October 1878 at the hands of the Republican New York Tribune. The Tribune claimed to have unearthed and decoded secret "cipher" telegrams sent by Tilden's agents at the height of the 1876 electoral dispute, apparently offering bribes to vote-counters in the contested states: $50,000 for Florida, $80,000 for South Carolina, and $5,000 for the single vote from Oregon.

Tilden denied emphatically all knowledge of such dispatches, and appeared voluntarily before a Congressional sub-committee in New York City to clear himself of the charge. The attempts to implicate him in corrupt transactions were not successful and he was cleared of any personal wrongdoing. However, his political opponents endeavored to make capital in subsequent campaigns, out of the so-called 'Cipher Dispatches'. Even though the charges were false, the scandal damaged Tilden. No longer could he pose as the pure, untarnished "reformer" above the normal grubby plane of politics, his principal calling card in 1876.

Later life

Tilden counseled his followers to abide quietly by the result. His health failed after 1876 and he retired from politics, living as a recluse at his 110-acre (0.45 km2) estate, Graystone,(Greystone) near Yonkers, New York. He died a bachelor in 1886 at Graystone on August 4, 1886 at 8 a.m. He is buried at Cemetery of the Evergreens at New Lebanon in Columbia County, New York. In reference to the 1876 election, Tilden's gravestone bears the words, "I Still Trust in The People".

Of his fortune (estimated at $7,000,000) approximately $4,000,000 was bequeathed for the establishment and maintenance of a free public library and reading-room in the City of New York; but, as the will was successfully contested by relatives, only about $3,000,000 of the bequest was applied to its original purpose; in 1895, the Tilden Trust was combined with the Astor and Lenox libraries to found the New York Public Library, whose building bears his name on its front.

The Samuel J. Tilden House at 15 Gramercy Park South, he owned from 1860 until his death is now used by the National Arts Club.

The Gov. Samuel J. Tilden Monument was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. The Graystone property is now known as Untermyer Park and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.


There is a Tilden Street in an area of Wichita Falls, Texas, where the streets are named for the U.S. presidents Van Buren through Garfield (excluding Pierce, Andrew Johnson and Lincoln). Tilden runs parallel between Grant Street and Hayes Street, as if he had won the presidency in 1876.

There also is a Tilden Street in the city of Richmond, Virginia, as well as Washington, D.C.

There is a Tilden Street in The Bronx, NYC ,A Tilden Project and a Tilden Avenue in Brooklyn, NYC.

There is a Tilden Street in Raleigh, NC intersecting Glenwood Avenue, one of a series of parallel streets honoring U.S. Presidents including Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Cleveland.

There is a Tilden Ave. in the city of Utica, New York.

Samuel J. Tilden High School in Brooklyn, New York and Tilden Elementary School in Hastings, Minnesota are named in honor of Tilden.

There is a school called Tilden MS in Rockville, Maryland.

The former United States Army installation, Fort Tilden, on the Rockaway Peninsula in New York City (now part of the Gateway National Recreation Area), is named after him.

In 1887, the town of Burnett in Nebraska was re-named Tilden by the U.S. Post Office after Samuel J. Tilden. The change was made because mail from nearby Bennett kept getting mixed up with Burnett's mail.

The former Dog Town, Texas is now Tilden, Texas.

There is a Tilden Township in Pennsylvania named after him.

1926 A statue of Tilden stands at 112th Street and Riverside Drive in Manhattan.

The Tilden Mine in Marquette County, Michigan is also named after Tilden, the founder of the Cliffs Iron Company in 1864.

A Liberty merchant ship named Samuel J. Tilden was built for WWII. It was sunk in the Air Raid on Bari Italy on December 2, 1943

The popular story of the birth of the Manhattan cocktail is that it was first served at the Manhattan Club in New York City in 1874 in honor of Tilden.

view all

Samuel J. Tilden's Timeline

February 9, 1814
New Lebenon, New York, USA
August 4, 1886
Age 72