Samuel J. Tilden

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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. 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.[1] 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,[2] 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.

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