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Rutherford Birchard Hayes (October 4, 1822 January 17, 1893) was an American politician, lawyer, military leader and the 19th President of the United States (1877–1881). Hayes was elected President by one electoral vote after the highly disputed election of 1876. Losing the popular vote to his opponent, Samuel Tilden, Hayes was the only president whose election was decided by a congressional commission.

Early life

Hayes was born in Delaware, Ohiomarker, on October 4, 1822. His parents were Rutherford Hayes (January 4, 1787 Brattleboro, Vermontmarker July 20, 1822 Delaware, Ohiomarker) and Sophia Birchard (April 15, 1792 Wilmington, Vermontmarker October 30, 1866 Columbus, Ohiomarker). His father, a storekeeper, died ten weeks before his birth, thus making Hayes the second U.S. president born after the death of his father, Andrew Jackson being the first. An uncle, Sardis Birchard, lived with the family and served as Hayes' guardian. Birchard schooled a young Hayes in Latin and Ancient Greek, and contributed much to his early education. Birchard was close to him throughout his life and became a father figure to him.

Hayes attended the common schools and the Methodist Academy in Norwalkmarker. He graduated from Kenyon Collegemarker in Gambier, Ohiomarker in August 1842 at the top of his class. He was an honorary member of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity (Delta Chi chapter at Cornell), though he had already graduated after the Fraternity Chapter was Chartered. After briefly reading the law in Columbusmarker, he graduated in 2 years from Harvard Law Schoolmarker in January 1845. He was admitted to the bar on May 10, 1845, and commenced practice in Lower Sandusky (now Fremontmarker). After dissolving the partnership in Fremont in 1849, he moved to Cincinnatimarker and resumed the practice of law.

Rutherford and Lucy Hayes on their wedding day, December 30, 1852.

On December 30, 1852, Hayes married Lucy Ware Webb. They had eight children (Sardis, James, Rutherford, Frances, Scott, and three died young). In 1856, he was nominated for but declined a municipal judgeship, but in 1858 accepted appointment as Cincinnatimarker city solicitor by the city council and won election outright to that position in 1859, losing a reelection bid in 1860.

Military service

Upon moving to Cincinnatimarker Hayes had become a member of a prominent social organization, the Cincinnati Literary Club, whose members included Salmon P. Chase and Edward Noyes among others, and upon outbreak of the Civil War the Literary Club made a military company. He was also a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F). Appointed a major in the 23rd Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry, by Ohio Governor William Dennison Jr., he originally served as regimental judge-advocate but then was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and proved competent enough at field command that by August 1862 he had been promoted to Colonel and soon after received command of his original regiment after being wounded in action at the Battle of South Mountain, Maryland on September 14, 1862. Though other presidents served in the Civil War, Hayes was the only one that was wounded. He was wounded five times.

Brevetted to Brigadier General in December 1862, he commanded the First Brigade of the Kanawha Division of the Army of West Virginia and turned back several raids. In 1864, Hayes showed particular gallantry in spearheading a frontal assault and temporarily taking command from George Crook at the savage Battle of Cloyd's Mountain and continued with Crook on to Charlestonmarker. Hayes continued commanding his Brigade during the Valley Campaigns of 1864, participating in such major battles as the Battle of Opequonmarker, the Battle of Fisher's Hill, and the Battle of Cedar Creekmarker. At the end of the Shenandoah campaign, Hayes was promoted to Brigadier General in October 1864 and brevetted Major General. Hayes had been wounded three more times and had four horses shot from under him during his campaigning.

Hayes and McKinley

It was during his command of the 23rd Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry that Hayes met William McKinley Jr., who would later become the 25th President of the United States. Both become fraternal brothers of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.). Hayes promoted McKinley twice under his military command, including once for an act of bravery at Antietam. During Hayes' first Ohio gubernatorial race, McKinley engaged in political campaigning and rallying for Hayes' election by "making speeches in the Canton area". Later, as Governor of Ohio, Hayes provided political support for his fellow Republican and Ohioan during McKinley's bid for congressional election.

Political service

Hayes began political life as a Whig but in 1853 joined the Free Soil party as a delegate nominating Salmon P. Chase for Governor of Ohio.

While still in the Shenandoah in 1864, Hayes received the Republican nomination to Congress from Cincinnati. Hayes refused to campaign, stating "I have other business just now. Any man who would leave the army at this time to electioneer for Congress ought to be scalped." Despite this, Hayes was elected and served in the Thirty-ninth and again to the Fortieth Congresses and served from March 4, 1865, to July 20, 1867, when he resigned, having been nominated for Governor of Ohio. Through the powerful voice of his friend and Civil War subordinate James M. Comly's Ohio State Journal (one of the state's most influential newspapers), Hayes won the election and served as governor from 1868 to 1872. He was an unsuccessful candidate in 1872 for election to the Forty-third Congress, and had planned to retire from public life but was drafted by the Republican convention in 1875 to run for governor again and served from January 1876 to March 2, 1877. Hayes received national notice for leading a Republican sweep of a previously Democratic Ohio government.

Election of 1876

A dark horse nominee (James G. Blaine had led the previous six ballots) by his convention, Hayes became president after the tumultuous, scandal-ridden years of the Grant administration. He had a reputation for honesty dating back to his Civil War years. Hayes was quite famous for his ability not to offend anyone. Henry C. Adams, a prominent political journalist and Washington insider, asserted that Hayes was "a third rate nonentity, whose only recommendation is that he is obnoxious to no one." Understandably, because of Hayes' relative anonymity and perceived insignificance, his opponent in the presidential election, Democrat Samuel J. Tilden, was the favorite to win the presidential election and won the popular vote by about 250,000 votes (with about 8.5 million voters in total).

Hayes/Wheeler campaign poster
Four states' electoral college votes were contested. To win, the candidates had to muster 185 votes: Tilden was short just one, with 184 votes, Hayes had 165, with 20 votes representing the four states which were contested. To make matters worse, three of these states (Floridamarker, Louisianamarker, and South Carolinamarker) were in the South, which was still under military occupation (the fourth was Oregonmarker). Additionally, historians note, the election was not fair because of the improper fraud and intimidation perpetrated from both sides. A popular phrase of the day called it an election without "a free ballot and a fair count." For the next four years, Democrats would refer to Hayes as "Rutherfraud B. Hayes" for his allegedly illegitimate election, as he had lost the popular vote by roughly 250,000 votes.

To peacefully decide the results of the election, the two houses of Congress set up the bi-partisan Electoral Commission to investigate and decide upon the actual winner. The commission consisted of 15 members: five from the House, five from the Senate and five from the Supreme Court. In total, the Commission consisted of 7 Democrats, 7 Republicans and Independent Justice David Davis, who upon being elected to the senate resigned his seat on the Court, and thus in effect from the Commission. Joseph P. Bradley, a Supreme Court Justice, took his place. Bradley, however, was a Republican and thus the ruling followed party lines: 8 to 7 voted to award Hayes all the contested 20 electoral votes.

Key Ohio Republicans like James A. Garfield and the Democrats, however, agreed at a Washington hotel on the Wormley House Agreement. Southern Democrats were given assurances, in the Compromise of 1877, that if Hayes became president, he would pull federal troops out of the South and end Reconstruction. An agreement was made between them and the Republicans: if Hayes' cabinet consisted of at least one Southerner and he withdrew all Union troops from the South, then he would become President. This agreement restored local control over the Southern states, and ended national control over the state and local organs of government in the former Confederate states.

Presidency 1877–1881

Because March 4, 1877 was a Sunday, Hayes took the oath of office in the Red Room of the Executive Mansion (White Housemarker) on March 3, becoming the first president to take the oath of office in the White House. This ceremony was held in secret, because the previous year's election had been so bitterly divisive that outgoing President Grant feared an insurrection by Tilden's supporters and wanted to ensure that any Democratic attempt to hijack the public inauguration ceremony would fail, Hayes having been sworn in already in private. Hayes took the oath again publicly on March 5 on the East Portico of the United States Capitolmarker, and served until March 4, 1881. Hayes' best known quotation, "He serves his party best who serves his country best," is from his 1877 Inaugural Address.

Civil service reform

Hayes ordered an executive order that forbade federal office holders from taking part in party politics and protected them from receiving party contributions. When Hayes enforced this order at the New York Customs House, the nations largest revenue colletion agency, it created conflict with Senator Roscoe Conkling, who was in charge of civil service employment in New York state and leader of a Republican faction known as the "Stalwarts". Hayes removed many employees at the New York Customs House, including Chester A. Arthur, in an effort to "clean house" and stop party corruption. Conflict between Hayes and Conkling exacerbated when Hayes made efforts to reconcile with old Confederate states.

Domestic policy

Hayes' most controversial domestic act apart from ending Reconstruction came with his response to the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, in which employees of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad walked off the job and were joined across the country by thousands of workers in their own and sympathetic industries. When the labor disputes exploded into riots in several cities, Hayes called in federal troops, who, for the first time in U.S. history, fired on the striking workers, killing more than 70. Although the troops eventually managed to restore the peace, working people and industrialists alike were displeased with the military intervention. Workers feared that the federal government had turned permanently against them, while industrialists feared that such brutal action would spark revolution similar to the European Revolutions of 1848.

Foreign policy

In 1878, Hayes was asked by Argentinamarker to act as arbitrator following the War of the Triple Alliance between Argentina, Brazilmarker and Uruguaymarker against Paraguaymarker. The Argentines hoped that Hayes would give the Gran Chaco region to them; however, he decided in favor of the Paraguayans. His decision made him a hero in Paraguay, and a city (Villa Hayesmarker) and a department (Presidente Hayesmarker) were named in his honor. A regional historical museum was named for him as well as schools, roads, and a soccer team (Los Yanquis, Spanish for the Yankees). At the Rutherford B. Hayes elementary school in Villa Hayes is a bronze bust of Hayes, which was donated by the Hayes family in the 1950s.

Hayes attempted to build the Panama Canalmarker, as he thought that a Central American canal should be under US-control. At the time, the French were making plans to build a canal designed by Ferdinand de Lesseps. De Lesseps would later be forced to appear in a congressional committee to testify about the international connections of his company. However, the canal was delayed due to political reasons, including the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty. The canal would be built under American-control years later under Theodore Roosevelt.

Civil Rights

Hayes withdrew troops from the Reconstructive states and as a gesture of good will decorated Confederate war graves on Memorial Day, 1877. Hayes wanted to assimilate African Americans into White society with paternalistic protection by encouraging the growth of Republican Reconstruction ideals in states that were reluctant to enforce civil rights. Hayes did not regard making deals with Democrats as abandoning civil rights agenda for African Americans. However, by 1878, Hayes opinions about Reconstruction had changed, "My task was to wipe out the color line, to abolish sectionalism; to end the war and bring peace...I am reluctantly forced to admit that the experiment was a failure." During the Hayes administration "Jim Crow" laws spread around the country that prevented African Americans from voting. Hayes was reluctant to redeploy federal troops to enforce the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The withdrawal of federal troops within the first two months of the Hayes Presidency is considered by many historians as "the great betrayal" to African Americans. Without federal protection segregation of public accommodations and white supremacy in politics was permitted in many states throughout the country. Republicans abandoned African voters who were left to fend for themselves.

Hayes vetoed bills repealing civil rights enforcement four times before finally signing one that satisfied his requirement for black rights. However, his subsequent attempts to reconcile with his Southern Democrat opposition by handing them prestigious civil service appointments both alienated fellow Republicans and undermined his own previous attempts at civil service reform. Hayes also vetoed a bill that would have prevented further Chinese immigration into the United States.

During his presidency, Hayes signed a number of bills including one signed on February 15, 1879 which, for the first time, allowed female attorneys to argue cases before the Supreme Court of the United Statesmarker.

Notable legislation

Other acts include:

Significant events during his presidency

Administration and Cabinet

Official White House portrait of Rutherford B.

Supreme Court appointments

Hayes appointed two Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States:


Hayes did not seek re-election in 1880, keeping his pledge that he would not run for a second term. He had, in his inaugural address, proposed a one-term limit for the presidency combined with an increase in the term length to six years.

Hayes served on the Board of Trustees of Ohio State Universitymarker, the school he helped found during his time as governor of Ohio, from the end of his Presidency until his death.

Rutherford Birchard Hayes died of complications of a heart attack in Fremontmarker, Sandusky County, Ohiomarker, at 12:00 p.m. on Tuesday January 17, 1893. His last words were "I know that I'm going where Lucy is." Interment was in Oakwood Cemetery. Following the gift of his home to the state of Ohio for the Spiegel Grove State Parkmarker, he was reinterred there in 1915.

A high school was named after him in his birth hometown, Delaware, OH, Rutherford B. Hayes High School.


Hayes was the youngest of four children. Two of his siblings, Lorenzo Hayes (1815–1825) and Sarah Sophia Hayes (1817–1821), died in childhood, as was common at the time. Hayes was close to his surviving sibling, Fanny Arabella Hayes (1820–1856), as can be seen in this diary entry, written just after her death:
July, 1856. My dear only sister, my beloved Fanny, is dead! The dearest friend of childhood, the affectionate adviser, the confidante of all my life, the one I loved best, is gone; alas! never again to be seen on earth.

With Lucy Ware Webb, Hayes had the following children:

  • Birchard Austin Hayes (1853-1926)
  • James Webb Cook Hayes (1856-1934)
  • Rutherford Platt Hayes (1858-1927)
  • Joseph Thompson Hayes (1861-1863)
  • George Crook Hayes (1864-1866)
  • Fanny Hayes (1867-1950)
  • Scott Russell Hayes (1871-1923)
  • Manning Force Hayes (1873-1874)

Writings and speeches

Monday, March 5th, 1877 Inaugural Address:

See also


  3. Rutherford B. Hayes. Accessed November 1, 2009.
  4. Ex-President Hayes Dead; Neuralgia of the Heart the Cause. He Was Stricken Last Saturday at the Home of His Son in Cleveland - Taken Home Ill, but Expected to Recover - Obituary Sketch, The New York Times, January 18, 1893. Retrieved on November 30, 2007.
  5. Ohio Historical Society | Ohio Governors

External links

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