Election Frauds of 1861

At the general election in November, 1861, as is ordinarily the case in a year immediately following a Presidential election, there was a light vote polled,  but comparatively little interest manifested. The election laws had been so amended as to give any inspector of elections the power to take the affidavit required by law to be made by any person who, not being registered, desired to vote on the day of election. Every person authorized to take such affidavits was also required to so do without making any charge or receiving any fee therefore. The more remarkable attempts at fraud were those which were made during the evening of election day, and with respect tot he returns and the canvassing of the votes.

In the Twelfth Election District of the Eighth Ward, at the close of the polls, one Tashay, a legally-appointed canvasser, appeared for the purpose of entering upon the discharge of his duties. Resistance was made by one Armstrong, who stated that there were already two canvassers acting who were certified as having been appointed by William M. Tweed, in his capacity as a member of the Board of Supervisors. it subsequently appeared that similar certificates were in existence for use in such Election districts as a vacancy in the position of canvasser might from any cause occur.

As Mr. Tweed was himself a candidate for the office of Sheriff of the county at that election, the matter caused much comment whereupon that gentleman declared that he gave no such certificates, and that such as were presented or used were forgeries.

At the Charter election, on the third day of December, there were three candidates for Mayor__George Opdyke (Republican), C. Godfrey Gunther and Fernando Wood (Democrats). Great interest was taken in the election, and the friends of each candidate exerted themselves tot he uttermost. The returns, as announced on the evening of election day, showed the election of Mr. Opdyke. No sooner was this apparent, than efforts were made to deprive him of his certificate, under the pretence of errors in the returns as published in the daily papers.

The amended City Charter of 1857 required the district canvassers to file the returns of their respective districts with the clerk of the Common Council within twenty-four hours after the closing of the polls. In the following districts the law was not complied with, the returns being held back, as was believed and charged, for purposes of manipulation: the Fifth district of the Fourth ward; the Second district of the Seventh ward; the Tenth district of the Ninth ward; the Fifteenth district of the Eleventh ward; the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth districts of the Eighteenth ward; the Sixth district of the Twenty-first ward; and the Sixth district of the Twenty-second ward.

Warrants were obtained for the arrest of the canvassers in these districts, and the announcement was made in the editorial columns of the Tribune that great precautions had been taken on the evening of election day to obtain three accurate lists of the votes cast in each election district, as the same were certified to by the canvassers or poll clerks. One of these lists was in the possession of the Board of Police, another was in the hands of Mr. Horace Greeley, and a third was held by the friends of Mr. Opdyke.

The Evening Express (Democratic), with an air of indifference to the charges made of fraud about to be perpetrated contained the following:

The Mayoralty Contest

There continues to be in the city a good deal of discussion as to who is really elected Mayor__Opdyke or Gunther.

Through some bad working of the presses of the printer who printed the Gunther tickets, there were distributed many ballots printed thus: C. Godfrey Gunt , C. Godfrey Gunthe ,C. Godfrey Gunth ,Dfrey Gunther ,Godfrey Gunther.

It is claimed that there are five to twenty of such tickets in the 220 districts. Some of them, probably, were returned by the inspectors; others not. The Board of Canvassers will have, or should have, before them all these irregularly printed tickets: and if they number five in the 220 districts, it may make a change in the result. We know nothing, of course, but what we hear, and we give these as the reports of the day.

To this, Mr. Greeley, who throughout the long canvass made by the Board of Aldermen as a Board of Canvassers, watched the proceedings with great interest, replied:

Yes, you do, neighbor! "know" a good deal more than "nothing" in the premises. You know that your reporters brought you in no returns or reports of these "Gunt" or "Gunth" votes on Tuesday evening; that the case was the same with all the other papers: that nothing was heard of any such votes at Tammany Hall that night, any more than at Mozart, or 618 Broadway; and that there never were any five times 220 votes east thus defective and imperfect. In short, you know you are lending yourself to base uses, and you ought to be ashamed of it.

On the 6th of December the Board of Aldermen commenced the canvass of the votes. The first districts counted were portions of the Ninth and Fifteenth wards and the Sixteenth ward.'

During the canvass of the votes cast for Mayor in the Ninth ward, one of the Republican members of the Board asked as a personal favor that any discrepancies which might be found in the returns canvassed that day, should be laid over until the morrow, as he was unavoidably and unexpectedly called upon to absent himself for the day. To this Alderman Henry W. Genet replied, "The only discrepancy that can arise is, that Gunther is elected instead of Opdyke." After the completion of the canvass of votes in the Seventh and Ninth Aldermanic districts, the question was put by the president as to whether any other member was ready to proceed. This was responded to in the affirmative by Alderman Froment, but Mr. Genet declared that it was "too late," and moved a recess until the following day at eleven o'clock, which was carried, the Board having been in session less than four hours, and not a single vote for "Gunthe" or "Gunth" or "Grunter" being found.

On the 7th, the votes of the Twenty-first and Eleventh wards were canvassed, when, no member of the Board present being ready to proceed with any other district, a further adjournment was had until Monday, December 9th, at ten o'clock. That the conspiracy to cheat Mr. Opdyke out of his certificate had not yet been abandoned was apparent from the following editorial in the New York Leader of December 6th__the second day of the canvass, a weekly Democratic journal edited by the then County Clerk:

The Mayoralty

As we go to press, in view of the developments which have thus far been made in the county canvass, we feel justified in congratulating the people of the city of New York upon the election of Mr. Gunther to the mayoralty. The Tribune and other journals are seeking to intimidate the Board of Canvassers in the discharge of their trust. But we trust that the duty devolving on this Board will be discharged fearlessly, and in vindication of the right.

"The developments which have (had) thus far been made in the county canvass" were the addition of twenty-three votes to the majority previously reported for Mr. Opdyke, and the exposure of the fact that no votes had been cast for "Gunthe" or "Grunther." Yet the city was kept in a state of disquiet by such statements as the above, while prominent Democratic leaders boldly asserted that the result of the completion of the canvass would be the seating of Mr. Gunther. To a Republican who remonstrated with one of the more open conspirators respecting the declared attempt to be made to falsify the returns, the reply was made, "Why Opdyke's majority isn't over three hundred." Surely no person with a majority of not over three hundred could expect to receive a certificate of election. On Monday, December 9th and Tuesday, the 10th, the work of canvassing was continued, and much progress made. Thanks to the vigilance of the Tribune, the Republicans and all other good and order-loving citizens had become aroused to the iniquity contemplated, the liveliest interest was taken in all the proceedings of the Board, and their every move was watched with jealous scrutiny. Its effect on their future proceedings soon became apparent.

When, during the canvass of the votes polled in the Seventh ward, the Sixth Election district was reached, Alderman Bagley stated that the canvassers of that district refused to give up the return that should have been forwarded to him, and there-upon moved that they be ordered to appear before the Board with the return. This was ordered, but Joseph Holdridge, the Democratic canvasser of the district in whose possession the return was, failed to appear, whereupon his two Republican associates sent to the Board the following letter, accompanied by a duplicate return:

New York, December 10th, 1861.

The undersigned, canvassers of the Sixth Election district of the Seventh ward, respectfully state that the votes cast in said district were legally and properly canvassed, and the returns of the same, with the affidavits of unregistered voters, and a copy of each of the printed tickets, duly inclosed and securely sealed; that Edward Merritt was deputized to deliver one of said returns to the clerk of the Common Council which was done and Joseph Holdridge, another of the canvassers, was deputized to deliver the other of said returns to the Hon. James Bagley, the Alderman of the Fourth Aldermanic district: Mr. Holdridge asserts that he delivered the said returns to Ald. Bagley, by leaving the same at his residence, but upon investigation we learn, with regret, that such was not the case, and that Ald. Bagley never received said returns.

We therefore deliver the returns herewith sent as a duplicate. They are made up from minutes kept by the undersigned at the time of canvassing the votes, and by us happily preserved.

Edward Merritt }
Geo. Terwilliger, } canvassers

To the Hon. James Bagley, Alderman of the Fourth district.

This duplicate return was accepted as an original, and the vote in the district was found to be for Opdyke, 198, for Gunther, 123, for Wood, 132.

It was subsequently ascertained that the original return committed to Holdridge to deliver to Alderman Bagley, and which never was so delivered, was seen a day or two after election under the arm of an individual in a saloon in Centre street, and that the person there having it in custody remarked at the time that there was "a chance of somebody being counted out of an election." This was the last ever seen of the original return. Mr. Opdyke's having seventy-five majority in the district over Gunther may not have had anything to do with its mysterious disappearance, but there were those who could never wholly disconnect the two facts. At all events the disclosure of this proceeding and the increased watchfulness of the Republicans, had at once a marked effect upon those who had contemplated the fraud of counting Mr. Opdyke out, and the canvass proceeded without further excitement until the 13th inst., when it was completed and Mr. Opdyke declared to be chosen Mayor by a majority of six hundred and thirteen (613). Perhaps allusion should here be made to another instance of fraud perpetrated at the same election.

While the canvassers in the First Election district of the Nineteenth ward were engaged, on the night of election in counting the votes cast for Alderman and Councilman, two persons, respectively named John Egan and John H. Cooley, interrupted their proceedings by throwing upon the table among the charter ballots then being canvassed, a quantity of other tickets, and so intermixing them as to prevent the canvassers from arriving at any certain result as to the votes polled for the respective candidates. By resolution of the Board of City Canvassers the attention of the Grand Jury and the District Attorney was called to the fact.

Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Election Frauds of 1861
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: The Election and Naturalization Frauds In New York City 1860-1870 by John I. Davenport, New York 1894.
Time & Date Stamp: