• Rutherford Hayes was born in Ohio and spent nearly his whole life in the state, attending Kenyon College, working as a lawyer in Lower Sandusky and Cincinnati, fighting for Ohio’s 23rd Volunteer Infantry, serving as representative and governor for the state, and retiring to Fremont after his presidency.
• His election to president was controversial. As states reported their returns, it became likely that Samuel Tilden, the Democratic nominee, would win the election. But three states were close, and if Hayes won all of them he would have one more electoral vote than Tilden. After a massive investigation and, eventually, a Republican-heavy “Electoral Commission,” Hayes was declared the winner despite losing the final popular count by 250,000 votes.
• Democrats attempted to prevent Hayes’ win through a filibuster but after a series of meetings with Republicans, ended the delay tactic. No evidence remains to verify what was discussed in these meetings, but historians have speculated that Republicans convinced Democrats to stop the filibuster in exchange for troops to cease propping up the final Reconstruction governments in South Carolina and Louisiana.
How he defined the office
• Hayes did not oversee any major national or international conflicts, or implement any long-term American policies. But he remained scandal-free and represented the nation as an upright statesman.
Successes and failures
• Although Hayes is often most remembered for his decision on Reconstruction, he proved a great administrator. He ushered the United States currency back to full conversion with gold reserves. He implemented reforms in civil service to ensure that government officials received their positions on merit rather than through patronage. Hayes also weeded corruption out of Congress after scandal within President Grant’s administration.
• During the Great Railroad Strike in 1877, he ordered troops to troubled areas in order to protect life and property, but the troops were nonetheless used to break the strike. This set a precedent for years of the federal government coming to the aid of state governments and corporations against worker movements.
• He supported a policy of education for Native Americans, resulting in a movement to acculturate tribes to white-American standards. This was seen as a progressive move at the time.
• On Reconstruction: “My task was to wipe out the color line, to abolish sectionalism, to end the war and bring peace. To do this, I was ready to resort to unusual measures, and to risk my own standing and reputation with my party and the country.”
Rutherford B. Hayes