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Rutherford B. Hayes, the 19th President of the United States

Full Name Rutherford Birchard Hayes
Born October 4, 1822 in Delaware, Ohio
Died January 17, 1893 (aged 70)
Spouse Lucy Webb Hayes
Children 8, including Birchard, Webb, Rutherford, and Fanny
Political Party Republican
Presidential Term March 4, 1877 – March 4, 1881
Occupation Lawyer, Politician
Alma Mater Kenyon College, Harvard Law School
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Rutherford Birchard Hayes was the 19th president of the United States, serving from 1877 to 1881. Though his presidency was relatively uneventful, he is remembered for his role in bringing an end to Reconstruction and restoring self-government to the South after the Civil War.

Early Life and Education

Hayes was born on October 4, 1822 in Delaware, Ohio to Rutherford Hayes Jr. and Sophia Birchard. Tragically, his father died of a sudden fever just 10 weeks before Hayes was born, leaving his mother a grieving widow with two young children. Despite the difficult circumstances, Sophia worked tirelessly to provide for her family, instilling in young "Rud" (as he was known as a boy) principles of hard work, education, and abolitionism from a very early age.

After completing preparatory school, Hayes enrolled at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio in 1838. He thrived in the school‘s rigorous academic environment, taking classes in classical languages, math, and science. He graduated with highest honors in August 1842. Hayes then attended Harvard Law School, completing his studies in 1845.

After being admitted to the Ohio bar, Hayes moved to Lower Sandusky (later Fremont) to begin his law practice. It was there that he met Lucy Webb, a young woman of many talents and interests, including abolitionism. Despite her family‘s objections, the two were married on December 30, 1852 and would remain devoted partners for nearly 40 years.

Early Political Career

Hayes got his start in politics in the late 1840s, giving speeches and canvassing locally on behalf of Whig Party candidates like Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott. His efforts led to his election as city solicitor of Cincinnati in 1858 as part of the Cincinnati City Council. This role first put Hayes in contact with a talented young lawyer and fellow Whig named William Howard Taft, who assisted Hayes on several cases.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Hayes left his law practice to join the Union Army, seeing it as his patriotic duty. Despite his lack of military experience, he was commissioned as a major in the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry that summer. Hayes proved a brave and capable leader, seeing action in numerous battles, including South Mountain and Winchester. He was wounded four times and had several horses shot out from under him. By the end of the war, Hayes had risen to the rank of brevet major general.

After the war, Hayes returned to politics, this time as a Republican. He served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1865–1867 before turning his sights to Columbus. Hayes went on to serve three terms as the governor of Ohio from 1868–1876, winning each election by a comfortable margin. As governor, he enacted fiscal reforms, expanded educational opportunities, and pushed for equal rights for African Americans.

Election of 1876

In 1876, Hayes secured the Republican nomination for the presidency, with businessman William A. Wheeler as his running mate. The Democrats nominated Samuel J. Tilden, the reformist governor of New York. The election proved to be one of the most contested in American history.

On election night, Tilden won 184 electoral votes—just shy of the 185 needed to win—to Hayes‘s 165, with 20 votes from four states unresolved. Both camps claimed victory in those states. A 15-member electoral commission was formed to review the contested votes, ultimately awarding all 20 to Hayes after deliberations, giving him a one-vote margin in the electoral college.

However, Democrats agreed to accept the commission‘s decision only if Republicans ended Reconstruction and withdrew federal troops from the South. Despite believing he had won legitimately, Hayes accepted these terms, hoping to unify the nation.

“My task was to wipe out the color line, to abolish sectionalism, to end the war and bring peace.” – Rutherford B. Hayes

Presidency (1877-1881)

As promised, Hayes promptly removed federal troops from Southern capitals after taking office. This marked the effective end of the Reconstruction Era, allowing white Democrats to regain control in the South at the expense of African American rights. It was a controversial compromise, but Hayes felt it was necessary to heal the nation‘s wounds.

Other key events and policies under Hayes‘s administration:

  • Ended the corrupt spoils system and initiated civil service reform, appointing reformers to his cabinet.
  • Cracked down on border tensions with Mexico and Native American raids in the West using the U.S. Army.
  • Vetoed the Bland-Allison Act, which would have expanded silver coinage, keeping the country on the gold standard.
  • Deployed troops to quell the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, one of the nation‘s largest labor uprisings.
  • Oversaw the completion of the Washington Monument and advocated for funds to build the National Zoo.
  • Championed educational opportunities, especially for women and African Americans.

True to an earlier pledge, Hayes did not seek re-election, though some encouraged him to run again. He left office in 1881 after just one term, succeeded by James A. Garfield.

Post Presidency and Death

After leaving the White House, Hayes and Lucy returned to their home of Spiegel Grove in Fremont, Ohio. Hayes busied himself with educational charities and causes. He helped oversee the establishment of the John F. Slater Education Fund for the education of Southern African Americans. He also served as a trustee at Ohio State University until his death.

Hayes suffered from heart trouble in his later years. He died from complications of a heart attack on January 17, 1893 at the age of 70. His last words were, "I know that I‘m going where Lucy is." Hayes was buried in Fremont, Ohio and was survived by his wife Lucy and their eight children.

Legacy

Though his single term was relatively unremarkable, Hayes left a lasting impact in a few key ways:

  • Ended Reconstruction: His compromise to remove federal troops allowed white supremacist "Redeemer" governments to take control in the South, rolling back many post-Civil War reforms.
  • Civil Service Reform: Hayes ended the corrupt spoils system and initiated reforms to the federal appointment system that remain in place today.
  • Washington Monument: Hayes oversaw the completion and dedication of the iconic obelisk monument in the nation‘s capital.
  • Education: He promoted educational opportunities for women and African Americans, helping establish federal education aid.

While a lower-tier president in historical rankings, Hayes is remembered as a principled leader who helped mend the nation after years of Civil War and upheaval. He stood by his convictions and worked tirelessly to provide equal opportunities for education and advancement to women and minority groups.