19th President of the United States Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881)

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Rutherford Birchard Hayes (October 4, 1822 – January 17, 1893)

Rutherford B. Hayes was the U. S. President responsible for ending the Reconstruction Period following the Civil War by removing Federal troops from the S

Hayes was born in Delaware Ohio in 1822. His family roots dated back to 17th century New England. His parents were recent transplants to Ohio having moved there shortly before Rutherford’s birth. “Rud”, as he was known by his family, was born several months after his father’s death. Despite the hardship of being left a widow with two young children, his mother proved up to the task of providing a good home environment for her children.

Hayes’ Education and Career

Considering the era and family circumstances, Rud received a better than average education and in 1842 graduated as valedictorian from Kenyon College in Ohio.

Rud decided to pursue a career in law. Learning the law, while working at a firm in Columbus, Ohio, did not prove a fruitful experience for Hayes. For that reason, he enrolled at Harvard Law School from which he graduated in 1845 and was admitted to the Ohio bar in that year.

For several years the law business was slow and in late 1849 he moved to Cincinnati where as time passed he became well established and well regarded as a criminal lawyer.

While in Cincinnati, building up his practice he became enamored with Lucy Webb from his hometown of Delaware, Ohio. Lucy Webb at the time was enrolled at Cincinnati Wesleyan Female College. They would later marry in 1852 and Lucy Webb became the first college educated First Lady of the Land when Hayes was later elected to the Presidency.

Hayes was not an abolitionist but did not favor slavery. In the pre-Civil War years he became involved in defending runaway slaves who sought escape from the South via Kentucky into the free state of Ohio. In this endeavor he appears to have been supported by his wife.

Hayes opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 but was not drawn into a political side following the fragmentation of the Whig Party in Ohio. Law and his growing family more than politics consumed his energies.

Distinguished Civil War Military Career

At the time of the Civil War, Hayes was approaching fifty years of age, had no military background, a growing family which would eventually encompass eight children. Yet he enlisted and distinguished himself at the Battle of Antietam.

By the end of the Civil War, Hayes had risen from the volunteer ranks to become a brigadier general and brevetted as a major general.

Return to Civilian (and Political) Life

Even before the end of the War, Hayes was nominated and elected in 1864 to a seat in the United States House of Representatives which did not convene until December 1865. He supported radical Reconstruction for the South.

He resigned from Congress to run for the Governorship of Ohio and was elected to two terms 1868-1872 and 1876-1877, at which time he would be elected to the Presidency.

During his years as Governor he was instrumental in the foundation of Ohio State University.

Presidential Campaign of 1876

The campaign of 1876 began with the Republican frontrunner, James G. Blaine, beening tainted with the brush of corruption. Also, to Hayes favor in this campaign was the location of the Republican Convention in Cincinnati. Although there were several contenders, Hayes would prevail on the seventh ballot.

Hayes lost the popular vote by approximately 48,000 votes yet was elected President by just one electoral vote in the highly disputed election of 1876 running against Samuel J. Tilden. A congressional commission decided the outcome of the election by awarding Hayes disputed Electoral College ballots. Perhaps an informal deal called the Compromise of 1877 was struck where the Democratic Party whose candidate was Samuel Tilden agreed not to block Hayes from the Presidency.

Hayes’s Presidency

Hayes’s presidency was marked by ordering federal troops to suppress The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 which would have crippled the nation. He ended Southern Reconstruction by removing troops from the South. By removing Federal troops, Hayes gave White Southerners power to remove African Americans from the voter rolls creating the Jim Crow South.

On administrative affairs he began gradual civil service reforms. In 1880 he kept his pledge not to run for a second term and retired quietly to his home in Fremont, Ohio.

Later in life he became the model for the post-presidency, using his prestige to advocate for charity and education. His most questionable action was perhaps his participation in the Compromise of 1877. By acknowledging and fulfilling his pledge not to seek a second term, Rutherford Brichard Hayes was able to put the Nation’s welfare above personal ambition.