As the debate advanced in the Senate, and the bill was examined and privately discussed by members of both Houses, it was more and more evident that it would become a law. The tide of feeling in its favor rose higher every day, and the response from most parts of the country greatly aided it. On the morning of January 25, the bill passed the Senate, and it passed the House on the 26th. It might have received the signature of the Chief Magistrate on the following day, but President Grant was absent in Maryland, attending, I believe, some exposition of mechanical industry. But, on the 29th, the bill was not only signed by the President, but was returned to the Senate with a message of cordial approval. On the 30th, the Commissioners were all elected. The Senate chose the following gentlemen: Edmunds, Morton, Frelinghuysen, Thurman, and Bayard. The House chose Representatives Payne, Hunton, Abbott, Garfield, and Hoar. The Justices who had already been designated by the bill were Clifford, Strong, Miller, and Field; and these gentlemen agreed upon Mr. Justice Bradley as the fifteenth member of the Commission. On the 1st of February, the Commission organized with Mr. Justice Clifford as president, and notified both House and Senate of the fact. On the same day, as was provided by the new law, the counting of the electoral vote commenced, and was the absorbing object of attention in both Houses, and I might almost say in the whole country, until it was completed on the 2d of March.
The members of both Houses and both parties came together with cheerful faces in the Hall of the House of Representatives to begin the count. Hope and good humor prevailed on all sides. The spectacle was one of unusual interest and had attracted visitors from remote parts of the country. At one o’clock P. M., the doorkeeper of the House announced that the Senate of the United States was at the door. The Senators, preceded by their proper officers, were immediately admitted and received by the Representatives standing. The ceremonial prescribed by the law was duly observed. The President of the Senate was seated in the Speaker’s chair, as president of the joint meeting. At his left sat the Speaker, and in front and below sat the subordinate officers of both Houses. The Senators occupied the body of the Hall upon the right of the presiding officer. Two tellers were appointed on the part of each House. The burdens of the presiding officer, Senator Ferry of Michigan, who had been made President of the Senate upon the death of Vice-President Wilson, were greatly lightened by the guidance and support afforded by the new law; but his duties were still delicate and arduous, and were performed with a dignity, watchfulness, impartiality, and painstaking correctness which secured general commendation. The counting went on briskly through the earlier States of the alphabetical list, Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, and Delaware. It was immaterial who counted the votes of these States. They could count themselves. But when the State of Florida was reached, double certificates were opened, and objections were at once heard from different parts of the Hall. Both certificates, together with the various objections and all papers in the case, were then sent to the Commission. That tribunal was occupied until the 9th of February in reaching a result which was not achieved without much wearisome investigation and listening to many arguments from both sides. On the 10th this decision was laid before the joint meeting of Congress. It was found that the seven men upon the Commission who had been chosen avowedly as Democrats had voted for the Tilden electors; the seven men who had been chosen as Republicans had voted for the Hayes electors; and the conservative member had determined the result by voting with the Republicans. Objections were at once raised to the decision, and the two Houses separated, the Senate voting to sustain it, and the House voting the opposite, which, of course, left it binding under the law. It would have been singular had there not been a somewhat marked change in the feeling of the parties in regard to the operation of the law after this decision. It may be thought that, when the law was passed, there was no further peril; and this would indeed have been true except for disorderly and obstructive methods. The result of the vote must be announced before twelve o’clock on the 4th of March. The time was becoming short. Owing to delays, some of them unnecessary, the vote of Florida was not counted until the 12th. This left only sixteen full working days to complete the count. There were still three States with double returns, which of course would be sharply contested and must be referred to the Commission, which was a judicial body and could not be hurried. Minor difficulties were being raised for a purpose, it was thought, which increased the delay. But the majority of both Houses stood by the arrangement, and the great machine, though heavy and slow, still ground on. The vote of Louisiana was counted on the 20th, that of Oregon on the 24th, and both were counted for Hayes. On the last day of February, when there were but three more working days, the vote of South Carolina had not been counted, which was also true of Vermont and Wisconsin, in regard to both of which captious objectors were waiting their opportunity. It was at this point that there broke forth a bitter and persistent opposition by means of dilatory motions. This opposition, at one time, assumed such proportions as to fill patriotic minds with alarm lest the declaration of the final result should not be reached. This calamity to the country might not have been averted, bad not the man of the occasion been found in Samuel J. Randall, the Democratic Speaker of the House. He was a warm partisan, but a man of firmness and conscience in regard to his obligations to the Constitution and the laws. His oath to support these was not to him an unmeaning form. He had a clear conviction that it was his duty not to permit the object of the electoral law to be defeated by any factious policy of obstruction. He had a strength of will equal to the emergency, and he put it to good use. On the 24th of February, the Speaker, in declining to entertain a motion which, though parliamentary and suitable in itself, was dilatory in effect, made a ruling, involving a principle of the highest importance and of the greatest practical value for all legislative bodies. I give his words. The Chair “rules that when the Constitution of the United States directs anything to be done, or when the law under the Constitution of the United States, enacted in obedience thereto, directs any act by this House, it is not in order to make any motion to obstruct or impede the execution of that injunction of the Constitution and the laws.” After that decision there was comparative good order for two or three days. On the 28th of February, the Speaker having refused to entertain a motion which was of a dilatory character, a member appealed from the decision of the Chair. The Speaker refused to entertain the appeal. Then followed a scene of great clamor and confusion, the obstructionists insisting upon it that the Chair should admit the appeal. But as that officer only gripped his gavel the tighter, and his always long under jaw seemed to be growing longer, they had to abandon the effort. We then had comparative quiet until the following day, when the disorder reached its height and was, at times, of almost a threatening character. From ten o’clock A. M. on the 1st of March until four o’clock A. M. on the 2d, we were constantly in our seats. Owing, perhaps, to an understanding reached among themselves, the previous night, the obstructionists made a united and desperate effort to waste the time of the House by dilatory motions. During much of this time, the Speaker stood in his place deciding questions of order in the midst of noisy and hostile demonstrations. He was subjected to a strain upon voice and nerve and physical strength such as few men could have endured. At times he was visited with a storm of questions and reproaches. Would he not entertain a privileged motion? He would not. Would he not put a motion for a recess? a motion for a call of the House? a motion to excuse some member from voting? a motion to reconsider? a motion to lay something on the table? He would not. Were not these motions in order under the rules? They were. Would he not then submit some one of them to the House? He would not. Was he not an oppressor, a tyrant, a despot? He was not. Would he not then put some dilatory motion? He would not. Would he not entertain an appeal to the House from his own decision? He would not. Why would he not? Because of his obligations to law. This is a condensed statement of a struggle which was going on for several hours. The scene was varied on one or two occasions by a proposal that the House proceed at once to the election of a President of the United States, which, of course, was ruled out of order.