From his home in Chattanooga, Tenn., Morris talked about the bitter battle over the disputed results, the chicanery that cast the entire election in doubt and the shrewd tactics that turned Hayes into a winner.
Q: Set the scene for us. What happened during the presidential election of 1876?
A: The Democratic nominee was Samuel Tilden, governor of New York, and the Republican nominee was Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio.
The country had just lived through eight years of the Grant administration and all its scandals. Tilden got the nomination because he was a squeaky clean reformer and had run the fight against Boss Tweed corruption in New York. Hayes got the nomination as a kind of compromise.
On election night, both candidates went to bed thinking Tilden had been elected because he had massive majorities of votes.
He was ahead by the modern equivalent of 1.3 million votes. In terms of the Electoral College, he needed 185 and he had 184 definitely.
Q: That's when an infamous character named Daniel Sickles entered the picture, right?
A: He'd been a Union general and a congressman and was notorious because he shot and killed an unarmed man who was having an affair with his wife, Francis Scott Key's nephew. Sickles was acquitted in the first acquittal based on a temporary insanity defense.
On election night, he was going to back to his house on Fifth Avenue in New York City and dropped by the Republican national headquarters a few blocks away to see what was going on.
There was only one person there, a clerk who was boxing up the office. He said, "Tilden's been elected."