Harper’s Weekly – July 7, 1877

In 1876, the winner of the November 7, 1876 election between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden could not be decided until the 19 electoral votes of four contested states — Louisiana (8), South Carolina (7), Florida (3) and Oregon (1) — were determined. If Tilden received just one vote, he would be President.

The so-called Returning Boards in each state would make the decisions, and had to deliver their returns to Congress by December 6. The four states submitted ten returns in total, so a 15-man Electoral Commission was established to determine which sets of returns to accept. After some unexpected twists, the Commission voted 8-7 in favor of Hayes for all four states, so he won 185-184. That happened on March 2, 1877, two days before his inauguration.

Nast’s cartoon featured Tilden and Thomas Hendricks, his running mate, as embalmed Egyptian mummies, waiting for the 1880 campaign. It was the first of fourteen images over seven years that would use the mummy theme.

In addition to the embalming (enduring life) feature, Nast emphasized the shriveled stroke victim’s apparent health problems. Now, the mum part of “mummy” took on a third meaning, referring to Tilden’s stoic silence during the entire post-election controversy.