Rutherford Birchard Hayes was the 19th President of the United States (1877–1881). As president, he oversaw the end of Reconstruction, began the efforts that led to civil service reform, and attempted to reconcile the divisions left over from the Civil War and Reconstruction.
Rutherford Birchard Hayes was born in Delaware, Ohio, on October 4, 1822. His family had settled there after moving from Dummerston, Vermont, five years earlier. His father, also named Rutherford Hayes, decided to move from Vermont to what was then the American West to find new opportunities. He went there with his wife, Sophia, their two children, and Sophia's brother, Sardis Birchard.
Hayes's father did quite well in Ohio over the next few years. He bought land and built a large house, but he died during a malaria epidemic two months before the future president was born, leaving his widow with three children, a farm, and two houses. She rented out the farmland and one of the houses in the town of Delaware to give herself a steady income.
Hayes was a frail youngster, and his mother was very protective of him, even more so after the accidental drowning death of his brother Lorenzo when the younger boy was two years old. She kept him isolated and gradually taught him to read and write at home, although he began attending private schools by age nine, with tuition paid by his uncle Sardis.
Hayes went on to Kenyon College in Ohio, and graduated first in his class in 1842. Then he went on to Columbus, Ohio, to study law before entering Harvard Law School. He went back to Ohio after he got his degree, and was admitted to the bar, beginning a practice at East Sandusky with the help of his uncle, who had become a wealthy department store owner.
After graduation, he did lawyering with his partner, Ralph P. Buckland. His most noteworthy accomplishment at the time was his work on a successful campaign to change the name of the town from East Sandusky to Fremont.
Hayes became more ambitious with his career in 1849, when he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, a thriving and important western town. He quickly made a reputation there as a lawyer by often presenting shrewd defenses in the most difficult cases.
As Hayes became more politically active, he helped found the Ohio branch of the Republican Party, which had been established nationally in 1854 by attracting members of the former Whig Party as well as the shortlived Free-Soil and American parties. All these parties were opposed to the expansion of slavery into newly settled territories.
Meanwhile, Hayes continued to cultivate his interest in books by joining the local Literature Club of Cincinnati, where he met many of the city's powerful citizens.
He was chosen to fill the vacant city solicitor position by the City Council in 1858, and the next year, he was elected to the job. He strongly supported the candidacy of fellow Republican Abraham Lincoln in his successful election to the presidency in 1860.
Hayes had taken only a mild interest when Southern states began seceding from the Union following Lincoln's election. However, when Confederate troops attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina in April 1861, he was galvanized into action, and organized about three dozen members of his fellow Literary Club members and led them in military drills. As the war spread, he was commissioned as major of the 23rd Ohio Infantry.
Rutherford Hayes proved to be an effective war leader and a brave soldier. He was wounded several times. Within a year, he showed his courage by leading nine companies of soldiers to safety after they were overwhelmed by a surprise attack by Confederate troops in Parisburg, Virginia. Later he commanded a regiment in the Battle of South Mountain that was attacked by Confederate forces led by General Robert E. Lee. He was leading an expedition against Confederate troops in Lynchburg, Virginia, when the Civil War ended in 1865 with General Lee's surrender.
Meanwhile, Hayes's popularity back home grew with reports of his heroism on the battlefield. He was nominated as a Republican candidate for Congress in 1864, while he was still in uniform. He declined a request to go home and campaign, but even without campaigning, he won the election easily in a mostly Democratic district.
His first term in Congress was relatively uneventful, but he became more active after his reelection to a second term. Hayes supported the Republican policy of Reconstruction and was chairman of a committee on the Library of Congress, the nation's library. He secured funds to expand its collection of books on science, putting together his two main interests in life: books and science.
He ran successfully for governor of Ohio in 1867 and served two terms, during which his state ratified the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, addressing voting rights of former slaves. Ohio State University was also established during his tenure as governor.
Hayes wanted to retire from public life after his second term, but he was convinced by the Republicans to run again for Congress in 1872. He lost the election, but his presence on the Republican ticket helped the presidential candidate, Ulysses S. Grant, carry the state.
Then Hayes kept the promise he had made himself and retired from public life, and he and his family moved to Fremont to live with his uncle, Sardis Birchard. When Birchard died in 1874, he left his substantial wealth to the Hayes family, as well as his imposing mansion, Spiegel Grove.
Hayes's retirement turned out to be a short one. Even though he had lost the congressional race in 1872, the loyalty he showed to embattled President Grant made him a winner as far as the Republicans were concerned, and they talked him into running for governor again. The party was losing power in Ohio at the time, and its need for an appealing candidate was close to desperate. Hayes won the election for them, and his victory brought him more national attention among Republicans. He became their dark-horse candidate for president the following year.
Hayes immediately declared that if he were elected he wouldn't run for a second term, a stand that helped him promote a major campaign issue—restoring a nonpartisan civil service system. Hayes intended to invest into his administration if he were elected president. He proved, indeed, to be a model of integrity. But his actions were greatly overshadowed by a tainted election and by deeply embedded partisan and sectional differences.
The political environment in the United States of the mid-1870s was ripe for controversy. The federal policy of Reconstruction was intended to restore the relationship between the former Confederate states and the federal Union, to oversee the transition of the newly freed slaves into citizens, and to help convert the Southern economy from one based on slave labor to one based on paid labor.
The presidential election of 1876 became a dispute that challenged the very workings of the American political system. Vote counts in Florida and South Carolina were close and were tainted by claims of fraud and intimidation by the Democrats.
In January, after several sessions, Congress established an electoral commission to resolve the issue. It was made up of fifteen members—seven Republicans, seven Democrats, and one independent from among five senators, five representatives, and five Supreme Court justices.
The Republican majority followed a strict party line and Democrats did everything they could to disrupt the proceedings. The dispute wasn't settled until shortly before the date the new president was to be inaugurated. Probably not surprisingly, the twenty disputed electoral votes went to Hayes. In a deal that is often called the Compromise of 1877, the Republican candidate was declared the winner, but Democrats were appeased too. They were assured that federal troops would be removed from the South, that a Southern Democrat would be selected to serve in Hayes's cabinet, and that legislation awarding a federal subsidy for the proposed Texas and Pacific railroad would be passed.
Most of the country came around to the inevitability of the decision, but a large number of newspapers couldn't resist calling the new president Rutherfraud B. Hayes.
The major themes of Hayes's inaugural address were "permanent pacification of the country," the return of self-government to the Southern states, and the need for civil service reform. He wasn't able to resolve political conflicts between Republicans and Democrats, but he was effective in ending Reconstruction, reforming the civil service, and strengthening the economy.
In disassembling Reconstruction, Hayes first turned to the situation in the states of South Carolina and Louisiana. Each of them had two state governments policed by federal troops. After meeting with the rival governors of South Carolina, he withdrew the troops, and the state had a single government again.
Federal troops had also been stationed in Louisiana to preserve order, but the responsibility was turned back to the state, and troops were withdrawn from there, too. Reconstruction ended as the Southern states regained their independence from federal occupation.
In June of 1877, Hayes began acting on civil service reform in June of 1877. He issued an order prohibiting government officials from taking part in "the management of political organizations, caucuses, conventions, or election campaigns." Those who went against this presidential order were immediately suspended.
President Hayes's financial policy helped bring the economy out of the doldrums associated with the Panic of 1873, and it also ensured economic stability. Hayes insisted on paying off the national debt. He favored the principle of "sound money," giving all paper currency a single value based on the country's gold reserves. During the Civil War, the government had printed bank notes promising money to the holder, which resulted in an increased money supply and widespread inflation. Hayes managed to delay bills allowing the unlimited coinage of silver and refunding of the national debt, but Congress eventually succeeded in overriding his vetoes.
In 1880, Hayes gained American approval for a French firm to begin construction of the Panama Canal. A basic policy statement called the Monroe Doctrine explained the position of the United States on the activities of European countries in the Western Hemisphere, and since its declaration, the United States had been consistently opposed to European presence in the Americas.
Hayes vetoed a bill restricting Chinese immigration-Railroad builders had encouraged Chinese immigration for years to help meet their labor needs, but many Americans wanted to stop the Chinese presence from growing any larger.
As Hayes's term came to a quiet close, he was not considered a candidate for reelection. His public career ended with his retirement from the presidency, and he returned to Spiegel Grove in Fremont, Ohio. Over the next few years, he worked to improve veterans' organizations, and he served as a trustee of the Peabody Fund for the education of underprivileged children in the South.
After falling ill in Cleveland, Hayes went home once more to Fremont, where he died at Spiegel Grove on January 17, 1893. He was buried there next to his wife, Lucy, who had died four years before him.
Lucy Hayes was a Methodist to the core of her soul, but her husband had been baptized a Presbyterian and attended the Episcopal church most Sundays. After they were married, of course, he went to the Methodist church unth his wife, but he never formally joined it. "I am not a subscriber to any creed," he said. "I try to be a Christian. Or rather I want to be a Christian and do Christian work." He gave money, as well as time, to many denominations. As president he instituted Sunday night hymn-singing to the executive mansion. However, throughout his political career, he campaigned often for the strict separation of church and state.
Lucy Webb Hayes's strong abolitionist views influenced "Rud," as she called her husband, to begin defending runaway slaves who were being tracked into the North. Slave owners could claim their "property" and go back to the South with their recaptured slaves to the South under the terms of the Compromise of 1850, a group of bills that included allowing Texas to enter the Union as a slave state and California as a free state.
"My task was to wipe out the color line, to abolish sectionalism... I am forced to admit the experience was a failure."
"Fighting battles is like courting girls; those who make the most pretensions and are boldest usually win."
Quotes from others about the person
“,"The policy of the president has turned out to be a give-away from the beginning. He has nulled suits, discontinued prosecutions, offered conciliations in the South, while they have spent their time in whetting their knives for any Republican they could find."
—Congressman James A. Garfield”