Monday, August 8, 2016

Rutherford B. Hayes: The end of reconstruction

Rutherford B. Hayes, a republican, was the 19th President of the United States.  He became president in one of the most contested elections in American history, and oversaw the nation through the end of the reconstruction period following the Civil War.

In 1842 he graduated valedictorian of his class at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.  He then studied at a Columbus law office for a year before entering Harvard, where he earned a law degree in 1845.  He began a practice in Lower Sandusky, although he moved his practice to Cincinnati in 1849 where he became a successful lawyer.  At this time he was a Whig.

Because of his opposition to slavery he was drawn to the republican party.  When the Civil War started he offered his services to the State of Ohio, and Governor William Dennison appointed him major of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry.  He saw a lot of action, rose up the ranks, and was wounded four times.  

He was still in the army in 1864, Cincinnati republicans nominated him for Congress.  He refused to campaign as he believed that would be a dishonor to the military.  He did, however, accept the nomination, and was elected to Congress.  He did not take his seat until the Union had won the war, and was reelected in 1866.

In 1867 he was elected governor of Ohio.  He retired after his second term in 1872, although he was elected governor again in 1875.  It was at this time that his fellow republicans nominated him to run for president. He faced off against Democrat Samuel J. Tildon, who won the popular vote by a count of 4,288,311 to 4,288,546.  

At first count Tildon had won 184 electoral votes and Hayes had won 165.  This left 20 electoral votes that were unresolved, although Hayes would have to win every single one of these votes in order to become president.  Believing he had been defeated, he went to bed.  

The 20 electoral votes were disputed in four states.  Both parties in Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina had reported their candidate had won.  In Oregon one of the electors was declared illegal and replaced. The dispute was over who would win these 20 electoral votes. 

For several months the nation was held in limbo as uncertainty reigned.  Then, in January 1877, Congress established an ad hoc electoral commission to resolve the dispute composed of eight republicans and seven democrats.  The results were completely along party lines, as every single one of the 20 electoral votes were given to Hayes by a vote of 8 to 7.  This gave Hayes the Presidency by an electoral vote of 185 to 184.  

Compromise of 1877 was then made between republicans and democrats in the House allowing the results of the electoral commission to take effect in exchange for the removal of troops from the states in contention. Northern republicans also promised southern democrats one cabinet post in the Hayes administration, and subsidies for internal improvements

Before Hayes was inaugurated, Grant acted by removing troops from Florida.  After his inauguration Hayes removed troops from South Carolina and Louisiana.  White republicans left with the troops, and white democrats were allowed to take over leadership in these states.  This left black republicans in the cold and feeling betrayed.  

This compromise was very controversial.  So Hayes secretly took the oath of office in the Red Room of the White House.  He decided that appointments should be made on merit and not based on politics.  So angered some republicans by choosing one person for a cabinet office who was an ex-Confederate, and another who had bolted to become a liberal republican in 1872.

Hayes hoped that by removing the remaining troops from the south he could instigate peace in the region, and create a republican majority in the south.  However, neither he, nor his republican successor -- James A. Garfield -- were able to create this republican majority.

Regardless, after all the scandals of the Grant administration, Hayes was seen as a very trustworthy man who brought honesty and respect back to the White house.

The following are facts about his presidency.
  • He was the first president to take the oath of office in the White House
  • Of all the Civil War Heroes to become president, he was the only one shot four times
  • His wife -- Lucy Webb Hayes-- was the first wife of a president to have a college degree
  • His wife was also the first wife of a president to be referred to as the first lady
  • He was the first president to be elected by a congressional commission
  • He was the only president elected by one electoral vote (still the closest election ever)
  • He was the first president to lose the popular vote and win the presidency
  • He was the first president to travel to the west coast
  • He was the first president to have a typewriter
  • He was the first president to use a phone
  • He began the "Easter Egg Roll" on the White House lawn in 1878
Lucy Webb wanted to have an alcohol free world, and so she banned alcohol from the White House.  She also championed and succeeded to obtain a ban of alcohol in army forts.  

He made a pledge that he would only serve one term, and he honored this pledge.  

The Compromise of 1877 is still seen as a controversy to this day.  The results called for the end of reconstruction, and ultimately resulted in many southern states returning to their pre-Civil War ways, working to the detriment to blacks in the south.  

Further Reading: