Had the Democrat Samuel J. Tilden (1814–1886) won the election of 1876, the United States probably would not have been much different at all. Presidents are made—or broken—by the times in which they govern. Great presidents, such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, led the country through times of peril. James Buchanan and other presidential disappointments failed to provide leadership when it was sorely needed.
Had Tilden won the election, he would probably have been just another Gilded Age president of the United States. Tilden was a brilliant, honest, and munificent man. But a Tilden presidency would probably not have altered American history very much.
The Republican Rutherford B. Hayes won the disputed election of 1876. Tilden won the popular vote, but a dubious deal gave Hayes all the disputed Electoral College votes. His victory hastened the end of the Reconstruction (1865–1877). But the Reconstruction was winding down anyway. Had Tilden won, it might have lasted a few more years, but its end was inevitable, as both the North and South were tired of the Reconstruction.
The outcome of the disputed 1876 election should have led to the abolition of the Electoral College. But the Electoral College still exists, and the popular vote is sometimes ignored in American presidential elections.