1876 by Gore Vidal

I regard politics of the country as an ongoing comedy, which, this evening, has suddenly sheered of into wildest farce.

Gore Vidal was feisty, elegant, clever and witty. A prolific, versatile writer. A notorious fueder. A giant of literature. Perhaps, the last of his kind.

1876, is the third volume of Vital’s Narratives of Empire, a series of books examining the history of America. Like his previous book Burr, is set mostly in New York City. It is a novel written as a memoir with Charles Schermerhorn Schuyler, as a narrator.  Charlie has just returned to New York, with his daughter Emma, the widowed Princess D’Agrigente, after living in Europe for over 30 years.  It is the eve of the centennial year’s controversial election between Samuel H. Tilden, the Democratic Governor of New York and Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican Governor of Ohio.

The fact that I can longer tell a prostitute from a fine lady is the first sign that I have been away [from NYC] for a very long time.

Having lost all of his money in the Panic of 1873, the financial crisis that become known as the Long Depression, Charlie hopes to rebuild part of his fortune and secure a good marriage for Emma. Working as a journalist for the New York press, he moves around in the political cycles and in the American elite and wealthy class that owns vast sums of money. He witnesses the scandals of Grant’s second administration, and the financial chicaneries that often involved the railroad barons.

He chronicles the events, the tactics and the conflicted resolution that brought Hayes in the U.S presidency, despite the fact that that Samuel Tilden won the popular vote and led the electoral college. But the electoral votes in the three southern states of Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina were disputed as each party reported its candidate had won the state. After almost four months, from November into late February, of increased tensions, the Congress established a 15-member Electoral Commission to resolve the issue of who was to become the nation’s next president.  The commission voted 8-7 to award the votes of these three states to Hayes. Money played a big part, too.

As the deals were hammered out to settle the election, Hayes agreed to end Reconstruction in the South giving the states the ability to treat African Americans as they saw fit. After leaving office, in 1881, Hayes devoted himself to the cause of educating African-American children in the South.

1876 is daring, beautiful, witty and insightful. Just how much of the account is historically accurate we do not know. But as Charlie Schuyler says, “There is not history, only fiction of varying degrees of plausibility. What we think to be history is nothing but fiction.”

It is remarkable that in a suit filled on December 2016 by a member of the Electoral College at disrupting Trump’s path to presidency, his attorneys made a reference at the turmoil cased in 1876 after “disputes concerning electors from multiple states dragged out for months after Election Day.’