Electoral misconduct: allegations of bribery and corruption.
Petition presented: Mar. 7, 1877
Referred to committee: Mar. 17, 1877
Committee report: June 15, 1878
No Senate action
Result: Retained Seat
When the 1876 Samuel J. Tilden-Rutherford B. Hayes presidential contest failed to produce a victor, partisans of both sides feverishly attempted to manipulate electoral votes in several pivotal states, one of which was Oregon. There, Democratic Governor La Fayette Grover cooperated with plans to assist Tilden, his party's candidate. Using some technical pretext, Grover disqualified a Republican elector and substituted a Tilden man on the state's electoral commission. In a complex series of events, which included the illegal delivery of voting lists and certificates of election, the Democrats established a fraudulent electoral commission and cast their votes for Samuel Tilden. Ultimately, a national electoral commission voided the unlawful proceedings and gave the three Oregon votes to Hayes, but the role played by Governor Grover left bitter feelings among many Oregon citizens.
Statement of the Case
When La Fayette Grover was elected to a term in the Senate to begin March 4, 1877, his opponents in Oregon immediately prepared formal protests. Before Grover could be sworn in, his Oregon colleague, John H. Mitchell (Republican) presented a petition charging the senator-elect with bribery and corruption to secure his office. The petition also alleged that Grover had lied to the Senate's Committee on Privileges and Elections about granting the certificate of appointment to the substitute presidential elector.
Democratic and Republican senators alike, weary of the constant investigations of credentials, resisted denying Grover his seat. Even staunch Republican Roscoe Conkling (NY) called for Grover's admission. During the debate on March 8, 1877, he pointed out that there was a prima facie case for seating Grover and conducting any investigation afterwards. Oregon met all the conditions: the state was in the Union and had a single legislature that had carried out the election for U.S. senator; there was one undisputed governor who had issued unchallenged credentials to the senator-elect; and there was no question regarding the individual's qualifications. The Senate agreed that Grover should be seated, and he took the oaths of office that day.
On March 9, Grover asked the Senate to investigate the charges against him. A reluctant Senate, convinced the investigation would be both time-consuming and expensive, finally voted on March 17 to send the matter to the Committee on Privileges and Elections. It authorized the committee, if necessary, to send a subcommittee to Oregon to collect testimony and spend up to $10,000 for that purpose.
Response of the Senate
On June 15, 1878, the committee report reaffirmed the hesitancy members voiced fifteen months earlier when Grover requested the investigation. The committee stated that it found no evidence to sustain the charges against Grover. Concurring in this view, Eli Saulsbury (Democrat-DE), a member of the subcommittee that had held hearings in Oregon, added a statement including some of the testimony to demonstrate that it vindicated Grover. Apparently convinced that no evidence had been found to support the charges, the Senate took no further action on the matter.
La Fayette Grover completed his Senate term in 1883 and returned to the practice of law. He died in 1911.
Source: Adapted from Anne M. Butler and Wendy Wolff. United States Senate Election, Expulsion, and Censure Cases, 1793-1990. S. Doc. 103-33. Washington, GPO, 1995.
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