The Life of Rutherford B Hayes

President Rutherford B Hayes

President Rutherford B Hayes

 The 19th President of the United States

President Hayes won one of the most fiercely contested elections in American history. Hayes brought dignity, honesty and moderate reform to the White House.

Born in Ohio, in 1822, Rutherford B Hayes was educated at Kenyon College and later at Harvard Law School. He eventually moved to Lower Sandusky, in Ohio, where he became a very successful Whig lawyer.

Hayes Enters Politics

Like his predecessor, Ulysses S Grant, Hayes also fought in the American Civil War. Hayes was wounded in action at the Battle of South Mountain in Maryland. Hayes was wounded a total of five times during the course of the war and was eventually promoted to the rank of brevet major general. Following the war, he chose to remain in the army. Meanwhile, a group of Republicans in Cincinnati nominated Hayes for the House of Representatives. Hayes accepted the nomination, but would not actively campaign, saying that, “any officer fit for duty at this crisis who would abandon his post to electioneer…ought to be scalped.”

Hayes won the election by a landslide and was seated in Congress in December, 1865. Hayes would also serve three terms as the Governor of Ohio between 1867 and 1876.

Hayes’ safe liberalism, party loyalty and war record was enough to win him the Republican presidential nomination in 1876. His opponent was Samuel J Tilden, the Governor of New York.

Hayes’ Presidential Campaign

Even though a number of prominent Republicans, including Mark Twain, campaigned for him, Hayes expected the Democrats to win. As a result, when the first returns started coming in on election night, Hayes went to bed, believing that he had lost. However, Republican National Chairman Zachariah Chandler told Hayes’ supporters to stand firm, saying, “Hayes has 185 votes and is elected.” Hayes was able to capture 4,300,000 votes, while Tilden received 4,036,000 votes. The popular vote did not decide the election, however. In order for Hayes to win, he had to win the electoral votes in several key battleground states including Louisiana, South Carolina and Florida. Hayes had to win all of these electoral votes in order to win the election, while Tilden only had to win one.

Months of speculation and uncertainty followed. In January, 1877 Congress established an electoral commission made up of eight Republicans and seven Democrats. All of the electoral contests in question were resolved in favour of Hayes, who won the Electoral Vote, 185 to 184. Rutherford B Hayes became the 19th President of the United States.

President Hayes

Meanwhile, northern Republicans had promised southern Democrats at least one Cabinet position, Federal patronage and the withdrawal of troops from Louisiana and South Carolina.

However, Hayes insisted on making all of his appointments based on merit. As a result he filled his cabinet with what he called “men of high calibre.” He angered many Republicans when he appointed a former confederate soldier to his cabinet, along with a political defector, viewed by many as a traitor to the party, since 1872.

Hayes pledged to protect black rights in the south, but at the same time he also promised to return self-government to the former Confederate states. This meant withdrawing troops from the south. Hayes hoped that this would lead to a strengthening of the Republican Party in the south.

Many southern leaders favoured Republican economic policies and approved of Hayes’ fiscal responsibility. However, they faced defeat in the poles if they were to actually join the Republican Party. As a result Hayes was not able to win over the south, even though many of his ideas found favour there.

Hayes announced in advance that he would only serve one term. Following the end of his time in office, Hayes retired to his home in Fremont, Ohio. He died in 1893.


Rutherford B Hayes. The White House. US Government. June 30/09

The copyright of the article The Life of Rutherford B Hayes in Modern US History is owned by Terry Long. Permission to republish The Life of Rutherford B Hayes in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.

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