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Rutherford Birchard Hayes (no relation to Isaac) was born in 1822 in Ohio, the state he called home until he died there of a heart attack in 1893. (Rutherford B. Hayes, 2006)  In between he was a lawyer, a congressman, the governor of Ohio, and the 19th president of the United States (that’s the United States of America, not Mexico).

Stop me if any of this sounds familiar...

When Hayes became president in 1876, the office of the presidency had gone from one of respect to that of a joke.  The First President Johnson, who became president after Lincoln’s assassination, was so awful that he barely escaped being impeached, only to be followed by eight years of almost constant scandal under Grant. (Polakoff)

Keeping in mind that back in 1876, the Democrats are what we now call Republicans, and the Republicans are what we now call Democrats, Hayes barely won the election over the Democratic candidate Samuel J. Tilden.  In fact, Tilden won the popular vote by around 250,000 votes,  but held just a one vote lead in the Electoral College with three southern states still being contested:  South Carolina, Louisiana, and, of course, Florida.  In those three states, each party declared their candidate the victor, which led to Hayes being the only president whose election was decided by a congressional commission. (Card)  The Commission declared Hayes the victor only two days before he assumed office on March 4, 1877. (Polakoff)

If nothing else, Hayes is known for bringing an air of respectability back to the Presidency.  With what definitely does not sound familiar, Hayes felt ambivalence “when his political ambition clashed with his strict sense of morality, which told him that a man might gladly accept high office but should not actively seek it.”  (Polakoff)  As well, Hayes appointed men to his staff based on their ability to do the job (whether they were in his party or not), not on what political favours he owed.  He also sought to reform the Civil Service.  (Polakoff)  Not surprisingly, doing things for the good of the country rather than the good of his party didn’t make him friends with many politicians. (Polakoff)

Even though the Civil War had ended more than a decade before Hayes took office, there was still the niggling question of what to do with the South.  Northern troops were still stationed in Louisiana and South Carolina, and though African Americans had been declared free, they were living in terror in many of the Southern states, such as Mississippi.  The problem was how to return complete power to the Southern states and still guarantee the rights – and safety – of free African Americans.  Even though Hayes was willing to grant many concessions to the South, including appointing Southerners to his cabinet and withdrawing all federal troops from the South (which ended Reconstruction), the Republican party was still soundly trounced in the 1878 mid-term elections. (Polakoff)

While dealing with the ever-troublesome South, during Hayes presidency, railroad workers who refused to take yet another pay cut so the rich railroad barons could be even richer, went on strike.  The domestic violence that followed was only surpassed by the Civil War.  Even though Hayes, for his part, handled the crises relatively well, that’s not the sort of thing a president wants for his...or her legacy. (Polakoff)

After four years, which also included some minor skirmishes with Mexico, questions about the Panama Canal, and the first of many immigration reforms (this time involving Chinese immigrants in western states), Hayes concluded that it was good enough, and he kept his promise to only serve one term. (Polakoff)

Following his service, Hayes “became the most active former chief executive prior to Jimmy Carter,” (Polakoff)  devoting his time to helping the poor, minorities, and immigrants, believing “...that education and manual training would help all people achieve better lives.”  He was also concerned with, “...improving conditions in prisons, and promoting universal education.”  (Card)  Go figure.

Several “firsts” for Hayes include his being “the first president to take the oath of office in the White House” and having the first telephone and typewriter in the White House.  He also began the tradition of the children’s Easter Egg Roll on the White House Lawn in 1878. (Card)  And, following his death, he became the first president to have a presidential library.  (Rutherford B. Hayes, 2015)

Hayes also signed the “Act to Relieve Certain Legal Disabilities of Women,” in 1879, which made it legally possible for women attorneys to argue cases before any US federal court, and that’s exactly what Belva Lockwood did in 1880, becoming the first woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court. (Rutherford B. Hayes, 2015)

As well, Hayes wife Lucy is known for several “firsts.”  She was the first First Lady to graduate from college, (Rutherford B. Hayes, 2015), and the first First Lady to be called “First Lady.” (Card)  Showing her affiliation with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, she also got all alcoholic beverages removed from the White House.  (Rutherford B. Hayes, 2006)  So it only goes to show that you can never have the good without also having the bad.


Work Cited

Card, Nan.  “Biography of Rutherford B. Hayes.”  2005.  Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center.  06 Feb. 2015.  http://www.rbhayes.org/hayes/president/

Polakoff, Keith Ian.  “Rutherford B. Hayes.”  2002.  Encyclopedia.com.  06 Feb. 2015.  http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Rutherford_Birchard_Hayes.aspx

“Rutherford B. Hayes.”  2006.  The White House.  06 Feb. 2015.  http://www.whitehouse.gov/1600/presidents/rutherfordbhayes

“Rutherford B. Hayes.”  2015.  History.  03 Feb. 2015.  http://www.history.com/topics/us-presidents/rutherford-b-hayes