Three events in American political history have been called a corrupt bargain: the U.S. presidential election of 1824, the Compromise of 1877 and Gerald Ford’s 1974 pardon of Richard Nixon.
Congress Chooses the President
In the 1824 election, without an absolute majority in the Electoral College, the 12th Amendment dictated that the Presidential election be sent to the House of Representatives, whose Speaker and candidate in his own right, Henry Clay, gave his support to John Quincy Adams and was then selected to be his Secretary of State.
In the 1876 election, accusations of corruption stemmed from officials involved in counting the necessary and hotly contested electoral votes of both sides, in which Rutherford B. Hayes was elected by a congressional commission.
The Electoral Commission was a temporary body created on January 29, 1877, by the United States Congress to resolve the disputed United States presidential election of 1876. Democrat Samuel J. Tilden and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes were the main contenders in the election. Tilden won 184 electoral votes, one vote shy of the 185 needed to win, to Hayes’ 165, with 20 electoral votes from four states unresolved. Both Tilden and Hayes electors submitted votes from these states, and each claimed victory.
Facing an unparalleled constitutional crisis and intense public pressure, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and the Republican-controlled Senate agreed to formation of the bipartisan Electoral Commission to settle the election. It consisted of fifteen members: five each from the House and the Senate, plus five Supreme Court justices. Eight members were Republicans; seven were Democrats. The Commission ultimately voted along party lines to award all twenty disputed votes to Hayes, thus assuring his electoral victory by a margin of 185–184. Congress, meeting in a joint session on March 2, 1877, affirmed that decision, officially declaring Hayes the winner by one vote. Giving rise to the Electoral Commission Act.
Electoral Commission Act
The election dispute gave rise to a constitutional crisis: Democrats, who fervently believed that they had been cheated, threatened “Tilden or blood!”, while Congressman Henry Watterson of Kentucky declared that an army of 100,000 men was prepared to march on Washington unless Tilden was declared President. Barely a decade had passed since the conclusion of the American Civil War, therefore such threats of violence were taken quite seriously.
Since the Constitution did not explicitly indicate how Electoral College disputes were to be resolved, Congress was forced to consider other methods to settle the crisis. Many Democrats argued that Congress as a whole should determine which certificates to count. However, the chances that this method would result in a harmonious settlement were slim, as the Democrats controlled the House, while the Republicans controlled the Senate. Several Hayes supporters, on the other hand, argued that the President pro tempore of the Senate had the authority to determine which certificates to count, because he was responsible for chairing the congressional session at which the electoral votes were to be tallied. Since the office of president pro tempore was occupied by a Republican, Senator Thomas W. Ferry of Michigan, this method would have favored Hayes. Still others proposed that the matter should be settled by the Supreme Court.
In late December, both the House and the Senate each established a special committee charged with developing a mechanism to resolve the issue. The two committees ultimately settled upon creating a commission that would count the electoral votes and resolve questions arising during the count. Many Republicans objected to the idea, insisting that the President pro tempore should resolve the disputes himself. Rutherford Hayes charged that the bill was unconstitutional. However, enough Republicans joined the Democrats to ensure its passage. On January 25, 1877, the Senate voted in favor of the bill 47–17; the House did likewise the next day, 191–86. The Electoral Commission Act (19 Stat. 227) was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on January 29, 1877.
The Act provided that the Electoral Commission was to consist of fifteen members: five representatives selected by the House, five senators selected by the Senate, four Supreme Court justices named in the law, and a fifth Supreme Court justice selected by the other four. The most senior justice was to serve as president of the Commission. Whenever two different electoral vote certificates arrived from any state, the Commission was empowered to determine which return was correct. The Commission’s decisions could be overturned only by both houses of Congress.
1974 pardon of Nixon
1974 pardon of Richard Nixon was described as a “corrupt bargain” by critics of the disgraced former president. The critics claimed that Ford’s pardon was quid pro quo for Nixon’s resignation, which elevated Ford to the presidency. The most public critic was US Representative Elizabeth Holtzman, who, as the lowest-ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, was the only representative who explicitly asked whether the pardon was a quid pro quo. Ford cut Holtzman off, declaring, “There was no deal, period, under no circumstances.
Is there a path for for President Trump?
Congress Chooses the President: In theory if the objections in congress result in removing electoral votes below the threshold of 270 then the 12th amendment of the Constitution would be required to resolve the vote. This is a long shot and will not likely happen.
Congressional Commission: Republicans in several battleground states put up their own sets of electors for President Donald Trump. This sets the stage for dueling slates of electors on Jan. 6, where Vice President Mike Pence decides whether to accept or reject them.
None of these electoral votes have been deemed “official” so it is unlikely they will be considered by the joint session of congress.