Rutherford B. Hayes


Rutherford Birchard Hayes, born October 4, 1822 in Delaware, Ohio, and died January 17, 1893 in Fremont, Ohio, was an American lawyer, military officer and statesman. He was the 19th president of the United States, serving from 1877 to 1881. After a contested election in 1876, he oversaw the end of Reconstruction and restored confidence in the federal government. Hayes, a member of the Republican Party, was a reformer, and his decisions helped to heal the divisions that had arisen from the Civil War while paving the way for broad reform of the administration.

Hayes studied law and became a lawyer in Cincinnati from 1858 to 1861. At the beginning of the Civil War, he joined the Union army. After five wounds, he gained a reputation for bravery in battle and received the rank of major-general. When the conflict ended, he was elected to the House of Representatives for the Republican Party from 1865 to 1867 and then left Congress when he was nominated as the Republican candidate for Governor of Ohio. He was elected and served from 1868 to 1872. At the end of his term, he returned to law practice and became governor again between 1876 and 1877.

In 1876, Hayes was elected president after one of the most fraudulent and contested elections in American history. Although Democratic candidate Samuel Jones Tilden won a majority of the popular vote, Hayes was declared the winner by a single vote in the Electoral College after weeks of controversy. The result was the Compromise of 1877, in which the Democrats accepted Hayes’ victory in exchange for an end to the military occupation of the southern states of the United States. This led to the fall of Republican governments and the creation of the Solid South, designating Democratic domination of the South for nearly a century.

Hayes believed in the benefits of meritocracy, equal opportunity regardless of race or color, and upward mobility through education. As president, he initiated modest administrative reforms that paved the way for future reforms in the 1880s and 1890s. He restored unity to the United States by appointing former Confederate Southern Democrats to his administration. He vetoed the Bland-Allison Act, which would have reintroduced bimetallism and increased inflation, believing that maintaining the gold standard was essential to economic recovery after the crash of 1873. His policies toward Native Americans anticipated the assimilation program of the Dawes Act of 1887. Hayes kept his promise not to run for a second term and left the White House after four years to return to Ohio, where he became an advocate of social and educational reform.

Childhood and family

Rutherford Birchard Hayes was born in Delaware, Ohio on October 4, 1822. He was the son of Rutherford Hayes and Sophia Birchard. Hayes’ father, a Vermont merchant, brought his family to Ohio in 1817 but died ten days before his son was born. Sophia, who never remarried, was left alone to raise young Rutherford and his sister, Fanny, the only two of the four children to reach adulthood. Sophia’s younger brother, Sardis Richard, lived with the family for a few years. He was very close to Hayes, who considered him a father figure and contributed to his education.

On both his mother’s and father’s sides, Hayes’ family had strong roots in New England. His earliest ancestor emigrated from Scotland to Connecticut in 1625. Hayes’ great-grandfather, Ezekiel Hayes, was a militia captain during the American War of Independence, but his son, also named Rutherford, left his home in New Haven during the war for the relative peace of Vermont. Sophia’s ancestors arrived in Vermont at about the same time and most of her relatives outside of Ohio continued to reside there. John Noyes, an uncle by marriage, was Rutherford’s father’s partner in Vermont and later elected to Congress. His cousin, Mary Jane Noyes Mead, was the mother of sculptor Larkin Goldsmith Mead and architect William Mead. John Humphrey Noyes, the founder of the Oneida community, is also one of her cousins.

Studies and beginning of his legal career

Hayes went to public school in Delaware, Ohio, and in 1836 was enrolled in the Methodist school in Norwalk. A good student, he transferred to a preparatory class in Middletown, Connecticut, where he studied Latin and ancient Greek. He returned to Ohio where he entered Kenyon College in Gambier in 1838. He enjoyed life at Kenyon and was a brilliant student; he joined various student societies and became close to Whig Party ideas. He graduated with honors and was valedictorian of his class in 1842.

After a brief stint as a lawyer in Columbus, Ohio, Hayes moved east and entered the prestigious Harvard Law School in 1843. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in law and was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1845 and opened his law practice in Lower Sandusky (now Fremont). Business was initially light, but he attracted some clients and represented his uncle Sardis in a land dispute. In 1847, Hayes fell ill with what doctors thought was tuberculosis. Thinking that a change of climate would help, he considered joining the Mexican-American War, but on the advice of his doctor, he went to see his family in New England. After his return, Hayes and his Uncle Sardis made a long trip to Texas to visit Guy M. Bryan, Kenyon’s classmate and distant relative. Business remained slim upon his return to Lower Sandusky and Hayes decided to settle in Cincinnati.

Business in Cincinnati and marriage

Hayes arrived in Cincinnati in 1850 and opened a practice with John W. Herron, a Chillicothe attorney. Herron later joined a well-established firm and Hayes formed a new partnership with William K. Rogers and Richard M. Corwine. Business was more plentiful in Cincinnati and Hayes enjoyed life in a big city; he joined the Literary Society of Cincinnati and the Odd Fellows Club and attended services at the Episcopal Church without becoming a member. Hayes courted his future wife, Lucy Webb, in Cincinnati. His mother had encouraged Hayes to get close to Lucy a few years earlier, but Hayes considered her too young and focused his attention on other women. Four years later, Hayes began to spend more time with Lucy. They became engaged in 1851 and were married on December 30, 1852 in Lucy’s mother’s house. Over the next five years, Lucy gave birth to three sons: Birchard Austin (1853), Webb Cook (1856) and Rutherford Platt (1858). Lucy, a Methodist, abstainer and abolitionist, influenced her husband’s political positions even though he never formally joined her church.

Hayes had begun his legal career dealing primarily with commercial disputes, but he became known as a lawyer in criminal cases where he defended several accused of murder. In one case, he pleaded insanity, which saved his client from the gallows, but she was committed. Hayes was asked to defend fugitive slaves who were criminals under the recent Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Since Cincinnati was separated from Kentucky, a slave state, only by the Ohio River, such cases were numerous. As a staunch abolitionist, Hayes found the defense of fugitive slaves both rewarding and politically useful because it increased his standing in the new Republican party. Hayes declined a Republican offer to become a judge in 1856. Two years later, some Republicans again offered him a judgeship, and he considered it until the city solicitor’s position also became vacant. He was elected by the city council and his appointment was confirmed by an election to that office in April 1859 for two more years.

West Virginia and South Mountain

As the southern states began to secede after Abraham Lincoln’s election as president in 1860, Hayes was not enthusiastic about the idea of a civil war to restore the Union. Considering that the two sides might be irreconcilable, he suggested that the Union “let them go. Although Ohio had voted for Lincoln in 1860, voters turned away from the Republican party after secession and the Democrats and Know-Nothings won the municipal elections in April 1861 by a wide margin, ousting Hayes from his position as solicitor. Hayes formed a new partnership with Leopold Markbreit and returned to his law practice. After the Confederacy bombed Fort Sumter in April, Hayes abandoned his doubts and joined a volunteer company of his friends in the Literary Society. In June, Governor William Dennison appointed several officers from the volunteer company to command positions in the 23rd Ohio Infantry. Hayes was promoted to the rank of major, and his schoolmate and friend Stanley Matthews was appointed lieutenant colonel; a future president also joined the regiment as a private: William McKinley.

After a month of training, Hayes and the 23rd Regiment were sent to West Virginia in July 1861 as part of the Kanawha Division. The unit spent several months in the rear until September when it faced the Confederates at Carnifex Ferry in what is now West Virginia and successfully repelled them. In November, Hayes was promoted to lieutenant colonel (Matthews had been appointed colonel in another regiment) and led his troops into the interior of West Virginia where they settled for the winter. The division resumed its advance the following spring and Hayes organized several raids against the Confederates during which he was slightly wounded in the knee. In September 1862 Hayes’ regiment was sent east to support General John Pope’s Army of Virginia at the Second Battle of Bull Run. The regiment arrived too late for the battle but joined the Army of the Potomac as it rushed north to cut off General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia as it advanced into Maryland. Advancing north, the 23rd Regiment faced the Confederates at the Battle of South Mountain on September 14. Hayes led a charge against an entrenched position and was shot in the left arm, fracturing his bone. One of his men made a tourniquet to stop the bleeding and he continued to lead his soldiers. The regiment participated in the Battle of Antietam, but Hayes was unavailable for the rest of the campaign. In October, he was promoted to colonel and commanded the 1st Brigade of the Kanawha Division as a brevet brigadier general.

Shenandoah Army

The division spent the following winter and spring near Charleston in present-day West Virginia away from the enemy. Hayes did not engage in combat until July 1863 when the division clashed with John Hunt Morgan’s cavalry at the Battle of Buffington Island. Returning to Charleston for the rest of the summer, Hayes spent the fall encouraging the men of the 23rd Regiment to re-enlist, and many did. In 1864, the army’s command structure in West Virginia was reorganized and Hayes’ division was assigned to George Crook’s Army of West Virginia. Advancing through southwestern Virginia, they destroyed Confederate salt and lead mines. On May 9, they engaged Confederate troops at the Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain where Hayes and his men captured enemy entrenched positions. Union troops pursued the routed Confederates and destroyed their supplies.

Hayes and his brigade were sent to the Shenandoah Valley for the 1864 campaign. Crook’s troops were attached to Major General David Hunter’s Army of the Shenandoah. Lexington was taken on June 11 and as Hunter’s troops advanced south toward Lynchburg, they destroyed the railroads as they went. Hunter believed the troops at Lynchburg were too strong and Hayes returned to West Virginia. He considered Hunter lacking in aggressiveness and wrote in a letter that “Crook would have taken Lynchburg. Before the army could make another attempt, Confederate General Jubal Anderson Early’s raid into Maryland forced the Union troops to retreat north. Early’s army intercepted them at Kernstown on July 24 and Hayes was slightly wounded in the shoulder.

On the retreat to Maryland, the army was again reorganized and Major General Philip Sheridan replaced Hunter. In August, Early began to withdraw along the Shenandoah Valley, pursued by Sheridan. Hayes’ troops led the assault at the Battle of Berryville and advanced to Opequon Creek where they broke the opposing lines before pursuing the Confederates south. They won two more victories at Fisher’s Hill on September 22 and at Cedar Creek on October 19. At Cedar Creek, Hayes sprained his ankle when he fell from his horse and suffered a minor head wound. Hayes’ command caught the attention of his superiors and Ulysses S. Grant later wrote of Hayes that “his conduct in the field was marked by remarkable daring and by qualities beyond that of mere personal courage.

Cedar Creek marked the end of the campaign. Hayes was promoted to brigadier general in October 1864 and brevetted to major general. Around this time, Hayes learned of the birth of his fourth son, George Crook Hayes. In the spring of 1865, the war ended quickly with Lee’s surrender to Grant at the Battle of Appomatox. Hayes visited Washington, D.C. in May and participated in the Grand Review of the armies after which the 23rd Regiment was disbanded and Hayes left the army.


While serving in the Army of the Shenandoah in 1864, Hayes received the Republican nomination for Ohio’s 2nd congressional district. When his friends asked him to leave the army to campaign, Hayes refused, stating that “an experienced officer who would abandon his duty to seek a seat in Congress should be scalped.” Instead, Hayes wrote numerous letters to the voters explaining his political positions and was elected over the incumbent, Democrat Alexander Long, by 2,400 votes.

When Congress convened in December 1865, Hayes was part of a large Republican majority. He considered himself a moderate but generally voted with the Republican radicals to keep the party together. The main legislation in Congress was the 14th Amendment to the Constitution protecting former slaves which passed both houses in June 1866. Hayes’ political views were aligned with those of his Republican colleagues on the issue of Reconstruction: the South should be reintegrated into the Union but not without adequate protections for blacks. In contrast, President Andrew Johnson wanted to bring the former secessionist states back into the Union as quickly as possible without first ensuring that they had passed laws protecting the rights of newly freed slaves, and he proposed amnesty for most of the former Confederate leaders. Hayes and many Republicans disagreed with this view. They worked to defeat Johnson’s plan and passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 to protect black rights. Re-elected in 1866, Hayes returned to the lame duck session of Congress to vote for the Tenure of Office Act, which prevented Johnson from dismissing members of his cabinet without congressional approval. He also voted for civil service reform, which drew votes from many reform Republicans but did not pass. Hayes continued to vote with his majority in the 40th Congress on the Reconstruction Acts but resigned in July 1867 to run for governor.

Governor of Ohio

With his popularity as a congressman and because of his status as a former soldier, Hayes was considered by Ohio Republicans to be an excellent candidate for the 1867 election. He campaigned for an amendment to the Ohio constitution that would guarantee black voting rights. Hayes’ opponent, Allen Granberry Thurman, made the amendment the central issue of the campaign and both candidates campaigned wildly with speeches throughout the state primarily on the issue of suffrage. The election was a disappointment for the Republicans because the amendment was defeated and the Democrats had won a majority in the Ohio Assembly. Hayes thought he had lost as well, but the vote count gave him a lead of 2,983 votes out of 484,603 votes cast.

As a Republican governor with a Democratic legislature, Hayes did not have much power over decisions made, especially since the governor of Ohio does not have veto power. Despite these restrictions, Hayes oversaw the construction of a school for the deaf and dumb and reform of girls’ education. He approved the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson and sought his conviction, but the process failed in the Senate by one vote. Nominated for a second term in 1869, Hayes once again campaigned for equality for black Ohioans and sought to portray his Democratic opponent George H. Pendleton as a racist. Hayes was elected with an increased majority, the Republicans gained a majority in the legislature and passed the 15th Amendment to the Constitution that guaranteed voting rights for African Americans. With a Republican majority, the second term was more pleasant for Hayes and he was pleased to see expanded voting rights and the creation of Ohio State University. He also proposed tax cuts and prison reform. Having chosen not to run for re-election, Hayes retired from politics in 1872.

Private life and return to politics

As Hayes prepared to leave office, several delegations of reform Republicans urged him to run against Ohio’s also-Republican Senator John Sherman. Hayes declined the offers to preserve party unity and return to civilian life. Hayes wanted to devote himself to his family and his two new children, Fanny and Scott, born in 1867 and 1871 respectively. Hayes initially sought to promote a railroad extension in his home town of Fremont and spent the rest of his time managing some property he had purchased in Duluth, Minnesota. Not having retired entirely from politics, Hayes hoped to be appointed to the Cabinet but was disappointed to receive only an offer as assistant treasurer in Cincinnati, which he declined. He also agreed to run for his old seat in the House of Representatives in 1872 but was not disappointed when he lost the election to a former Kenyon College classmate, Henry B. Banning. In 1873, Lucy gave birth to a new son, Manning Force Hayes. That same year, the Panic of 1873 shook up the American economy and Hayes’ business. His uncle Sardis Birchard died soon after, and the family moved to Spiegel Grove, the large house Hayes had built. Hayes preferred to stay out of politics so that he could pay off debts incurred during the panic, but when the Republican convention chose him in 1875 for governor, he accepted. The campaign against the Democratic candidate William Allen focused primarily on Protestant concerns about possible financial aid to Catholic schools. Hayes was opposed to such funding and although he was not known to be personally anti-Catholic, he used anti-Catholic fervor in his campaign. Hayes was elected governor by a margin of 5,544 votes.

Election campaign

Hayes’ success in Ohio immediately elevated him to the top of the ticket for the 1876 presidential election. The Ohio delegation to the Republican convention was united behind him, and Senator John Sherman did everything in his power to carry Hayes’ nomination. In June 1876 the convention began with James G. Blaine of Maine as the favorite. Blaine of Maine as the favorite. Blaine won a large lead on the first ballot but failed to muster a majority. When he failed to win a majority of votes, the delegates sought a new candidate, and Hayes was chosen on the seventh ballot. The convention then chose Representative William A. Wheeler of New York State to run for vice president, a man of whom Hayes had recently said, “I am ashamed to ask: Who is Wheeler?”

The Democratic candidate was Samuel J. Tilden, the governor of New York State. He was considered a formidable opponent who, like Hayes, had a reputation for honesty. Tilden was also a supporter of the gold standard and civil service reform. Both candidates ran a “stoop campaign,” typical of the era, in which the candidate did not campaign personally but received delegations and made speeches from his own home. The poor economy had made the ruling Republican Party unpopular, and Hayes believed he would lose the election. Above all, the Republican Party was suffering from its image after the numerous corruption scandals during the Grant administration. Senator James Grimes described his party as “the most corrupt and debauched political party that has ever existed anywhere in the world.

Both men focused their efforts on the swing states of New York and Indiana as well as the three southern states of Louisiana, South Carolina and Florida, where Reconstruction governments were still in place. Republicans emphasized the danger of allowing Democrats to govern the nation when Southern Democrats had started the Civil War only 15 years earlier and the threat that a Democratic administration would pose to the recent civil rights of blacks in the South. For their part, Democrats pointed to Tilden’s record of achievement in contrast to the corruption of the Grant administration.

The campaign was one of the most fraudulent in American history. Black voters were intimidated throughout the South. Ballots were tampered with in large numbers in Oregon, South Carolina, Florida, Louisiana and Georgia. In Florida, the Central Railroad gave its employees numbered ballots for the Democratic Party and warned that any employees whose ballots did not turn up would be fired. Trains carrying ballot boxes to locations deemed to be pro-Democratic were attacked by both Democrats and Republicans and the ballot boxes stolen. In Washington, Republicans set up a “mail ring” that embezzled large sums of money to finance Hayes’s campaign, bribe officials and buy votes. Other Republicans did the same in New York.

As the election returns came in, it became clear that the outcome would be very close. The Democrats had won most of the southern states as well as New York, Indiana, Connecticut and New Jersey. The popular vote was also in favour of Tilden, but the Republicans realized that if they won the last three southern states under military occupation and some western states, they could gain a majority in the Electoral College.

Controversy over results

By November 11, three days after the election, Tilden had won 184 electoral votes, one short of the majority. Hayes had 166, and the 19 votes from Louisiana, South Carolina and Florida were still in doubt. Because of widespread fraud by both parties in the three contested states, the results were uncertain and both Republicans and Democrats claimed victory. To complicate matters, one of the three electors in Oregon (won by Hayes) had been disqualified, reducing the number of votes for Hayes to 165 and the number of contested votes to 20.

There was considerable debate as to whether the Democratic House or the Republican Senate had sufficient authority to decide the fate of the Southern states’ votes. In January 1877, with the issue still unresolved, Congress agreed to refer the problem to a bipartisan election commission that would be authorized to determine the fate of disputed votes. The commission was to be composed of five representatives, five senators and five Supreme Court justices. In order to respect the balance of the two parties, the commission would have seven Democrats, seven Republicans and Justice David Davis, an independent respected by both sides. The balance was upset when the Democrats in the Illinois General Assembly elected Davis to the Senate to get his vote. However, Davis disappointed them by using his election to the Senate as an excuse to withdraw from the commission. Since all the other justices were Republicans, Justice Joseph P. Bradley, considered the most independent of them, was chosen as the fifteenth member of the commission. The commission met in February and the eight Republicans gave the 20 undecided votes to Hayes. The Democrats were angered by this decision and prevented Congress from accepting the commission’s decisions.

As Inauguration Day approached on March 4, leaders of both parties met at Wormley’s Hotel in Washington, D.C. to negotiate a compromise. In exchange for Democratic acceptance of the commission’s decision, Hayes would withdraw federal troops from the South and agree to the election of Democratic governments in the remaining Southern states under military occupation. The Democrats agreed, and Hayes was elected president on March 2.


Since March 4, 1877, was a Sunday, Hayes was sworn in privately on Saturday, March 3, in the Red Room of the White House. He was sworn in publicly the following Monday on the East Portico of the U.S. Capitol. In his inaugural address, Hayes tried to ease the tensions of the past few weeks by declaring “he who serves his party well serves his country well. He promised to support “peaceful, honest and wise local governments” in the South, as well as civil service reforms and a full return to the gold standard. Despite these conciliatory messages, many Democrats never considered Hayes’ election legitimate and called him “Rutherfraud” or “His Fraudulency.

Civil rights and the end of Reconstruction

Hayes had been a strong supporter of Republican Reconstruction policies throughout his political career, but the first significant act of his presidency was to end Reconstruction and lift the trusteeship on the Southern states. Even without the terms of the compromise signed at Wormley’s Hotel, Hayes would have had difficulty continuing the policies of his predecessors. The House of Representatives was controlled by a Democratic majority that refused to fund troops stationed in the South, and even among Republicans, the will to pursue Reconstruction was weakening. Only two states were still under military governments when Hayes became president, and without troops to enforce them, the civil rights of African Americans were quickly threatened.

Hayes’ subsequent attempts to protect the rights of blacks in the South were ineffective, as were his attempts to rebuild Republican influence in the South. He did, however, succeed in countering congressional efforts to weaken federal control over federal elections. Congressional Democrats voted to fund the military in 1879 with a legislative rider that repealed the Force Acts. These laws, passed during Reconstruction, made it a crime to prevent someone from voting because of their skin color. Hayes was determined to protect black voters and vetoed the legislation. The Democrats did not have the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto but they passed a new bill with the same rider. Hayes vetoed it once more and the process was repeated three times. Finally, Hayes signed the bill without the problematic rider, but Congress refused to pass the bill funding federal officers to enforce the Force Acts. The election laws remained in effect but the funds to enforce them were restricted.

Hayes then attempted to reconcile Southern social mores with the newly granted civil rights by using patronage with Southern Democrats. Hayes wrote in his diary, “My task was to erase the race question, abolish bigotry, end the war and bring peace. For this I was prepared to resort to unusual measures and to risk my position and reputation in the party and the country. All his efforts were in vain; Hayes failed to convince the South to accept the idea of racial equality and failed to convince Congress to enforce the Civil Rights Act of 1875.

Civil service reform

Hayes was determined to reform the system of appointing officials, which had been based on the spoils system since the presidency of Andrew Jackson. Instead of appointing supporters to high office, Hayes preferred to reward merit after a competitive examination that all candidates had to pass. Immediately, Hayes’ call for reform pitted him against the stalwarts, or pro-deprivation wing of the Republican Party. Senators from both parties were accustomed to being consulted on nominations and turned against Hayes. Among these opponents, New York Senator Roscoe Conkling was one of the most vocal. To show his commitment to reform, Hayes appointed one of his strongest advocates, Carl Schurz, as Secretary of the Interior and asked him and William M. Evarts, his Secretary of State, to organize a special committee to develop new rules for federal appointments. John Sherman, the secretary of the Treasury, asked attorney John Jay to investigate the New York customs office where many of Conkling’s followers were located. Jay’s report suggested that the office was so full of campaign appointees that 20 percent of the employees were useless.

Although he could not convince Congress to end the spoils system, Hayes issued an executive order prohibiting federal administrators from making campaign donations and participating in politics. Chester A. Arthur, the collector of customs at New York Harbor, and his subordinates Alonzo B. Cornell (en) and George H. Sharpe, all Conkling supporters, refused to obey the order. In September 1877, Hayes asked for the resignations of the three men, who refused to give them. He nominated Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., L. Bradford Prince and Edwin A. Merritt, all supporters of Evarts, Conkling’s rival in the Senate, to replace them. The Senate Commerce Committee, which Conkling chaired, voted unanimously to reject these nominations, and Merritt was appointed only because Sharpe’s term was expiring.

Hayes had to wait until July 1878 when, during the senatorial vacancy, he dismissed Arthur and Cornell and replaced them with Merrit and Silas W. Burt respectively. Conkling opposed these appointments when Congress reconvened in February 1879, but both were approved. During the latter part of his term, Hayes urged Congress to adopt reforms and used his last State of the Union address to Congress on December 6, 1880, to promote the idea. While no such changes were passed during Hayes’ presidency, his efforts provided a basis for the Pendleton Act of 1883 signed by President Chester Arthur. Hayes allowed some exceptions to the ban on donations, which allowed George C. Gorham, secretary of the Republican committee, to solicit contributions from public officials during the 1878 mid-term elections.

Hayes also had to deal with corruption in the postal service. Mail delivery was being contracted out, and with the rapid expansion westward, the number of new postal routes was increasing rapidly. The awarding of contracts on these star routes led to significant corruption, and in 1880 Schurz and Senator John A. Logan asked Hayes to stop it and fire the second assistant Postmaster General, Thomas J. Brady, the alleged leader of the fraud scheme. Hayes terminated the contracts on the new star routes, but the existing contracts were still valid. The Postmaster General, Horace Maynard, said the public wanted their mail delivered with “certainty, speed and safety” and did not care how the postal routes were set up. Democrats accused Hayes of putting off an inspection so as not to hurt Republican chances in the 1880 election but did not use the scandal because members of both parties were involved. Historian Hans L. Trefousse later wrote that Hayes “barely knew the prime suspect and certainly had no connection with the corruption. Although both Hayes and Congress reviewed the contracts and found no clear evidence of corruption, Brady and the others were indicted for conspiracy in 1882. After two trials, the defendants were acquitted in 1883.

Great strike of the railway workers

In his first year as president, Hayes faced the largest strike the United States had ever seen, the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. In order to make up for the financial losses incurred during the Panic of 1873, the major railroad companies had cut their employees’ wages several times in 1877. In July, workers on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad stopped work in Martinsburg, West Virginia, to protest the wage cuts. The strike quickly spread to the New York Central, Erie and Pennsylvania railroads, and strikers soon numbered in the thousands. Fearing a riot, Governor Henry M. Mathews (he did so, but when they arrived on the scene, they found only a peaceful demonstration. A riot did break out in Baltimore on July 20, however, and Hayes ordered troops from Fort McHenry to support the governor in his suppression, but when they arrived the riot was over. Pittsburgh was then subject to violence, but Hayes was reluctant to send troops when the governor had not asked for them. Other disgruntled citizens joined the railroad workers in the riots, and after a few days he decided to send in federal troops to protect government property and gave Major General Winfield Scott Hancock command of the situation. This was the first time federal forces had been used to break a strike against a private company. The unrest spread to Chicago and St. Louis, where strikers blocked the railroad infrastructure. By July 29, the riots were over and federal troops returned to their barracks. Although no federal soldiers killed any strikers or were killed, the clashes between the national militia and the strikers caused several deaths on each side. The railroads were initially victorious as the workers returned to work and the wage cuts were maintained. However, public opinion saw them as responsible for the violence and the strike, and they had to improve working conditions and did not make any further wage cuts. The bosses congratulated Hayes, but his personal opinion was more ambiguous; as he wrote in his diary, “The strikes have been broken by force but no real remedy has been found. Can’t something be done by educating the strikers, by judicious control of the capitalists, by applying a clever general policy to end or reduce the evil? The railroad strikers are, as a rule, fair, sober, intelligent and industrious men.”

Debate on the currency

Hayes was confronted with two issues concerning money. The first was the coinage of silver and its relationship to the gold standard. The Coinage Act of 1873 ended the minting of silver coinage for all coins over one dollar in order to more effectively link the dollar to the value of gold. The ensuing deflation made the effects of the Panic of 1873 all the more severe by making it more difficult for debtors to repay debts incurred when the currency was weaker. Farmers and workers demanded a return to bimetallism to achieve inflation that would restore wage and property values. Democratic Representative Richard P. Bland of Missouri proposed a law that would require the United States to mint as much silver as miners sold to the government to stem the scarcity of money and help debtors. William B. Allison, a Republican from Iowa, proposed an amendment in the Senate limiting minting to four million dollars a month and the Bland-Allison Act passed both houses in 1878. Hayes feared that the act would lead to inflation that would ruin commerce and he considered inflating the currency to be dishonest and vetoed the bill. However, Congress overrode the bill for the first and last time during Hayes’ presidency.

The second question concerned United States Notes or greenbacks, a form of fiat currency introduced during the Civil War. The government accepted these bills when paying taxes, but unlike ordinary dollars, they were not exchangeable for gold. The Specie Payment Resumption Act of 1875 allowed the Treasury to redeem these bills for gold to remove them from circulation and create a single currency backed by the gold standard. Sherman supported this measure and began stockpiling gold in anticipation of the upcoming exchanges. The public knew they could exchange their greenbacks for gold, but when the law went into effect in 1879, very few did. Only 130,000 of the $346,000,000 outstanding were redeemed. Combined with the Bland-Allison Act, this measure was an acceptable compromise between inflationists and deflationists, and when the economy recovered, the turmoil over greenbacks and the gold standard subsided for the remainder of Hayes’ term.

Foreign Policy

Most of Hayes’ foreign policy was devoted to Latin America. In 1878, following the War of the Triple Alliance, he arbitrated a border dispute between Argentina and Paraguay. Hayes settled the dispute by awarding the Gran Chaco region to Paraguay, and Paraguay thanked him by renaming a city (Villa Hayes) and a department (Presidente Hayes) in his honor. Hayes was also concerned about the project of Ferdinand de Lesseps, the builder of the Suez Canal, to build a canal through the Isthmus of Panama, which belonged to Colombia. According to him, “Our commercial interest is superior to that of all other countries, as is the relationship of the canal to our power and prosperity as a nation. (…) The United States has the right and the duty to assert and maintain its authority to intervene in any inter-oceanic canal that crosses the isthmus. Concerned about a possible repeat of the French intervention in Mexico in 1866, Hayes was determined to firmly enforce the Monroe Doctrine. In a message to Congress, he expressed his opinion on the canal: “The policy of this country is a canal under American control… The United States will not agree to surrender that control to any European power or combination of European powers.

The Mexican border also attracted Hayes’ attention. Throughout the 1870s, “outlaw bands” frequently crossed the border to carry out attacks in Texas. Three months after taking office, Hayes authorized the army to pursue bandits even if they crossed the Mexican border. Porfirio Díaz, the Mexican president, protested and sent troops to the border. Tensions eased, however, when Díaz agreed to pursue the bandits on his soil and Hayes promised not to let Mexican revolutionaries raise troops in the United States. Violence on the border diminished, and in 1880 Hayes revoked the order authorizing prosecution in Mexico.

Outside of the Western Hemisphere, China was Hayes’ primary concern. In 1868, the Senate had ratified the Treaty of Burlingame, which allowed unrestricted immigration of Chinese into the country. With the contraction of the economy following the Panic of 1873, Chinese immigrants were blamed for driving down workers’ wages. During the Great Railroad Strike, anti-Chinese riots broke out in San Francisco and a third party, called the Workers’ Party, was formed with the primary goal of stopping Chinese immigration. In response, Congress passed a bill in 1879 that abrogated the 1868 treaty. Hayes vetoed the bill because he believed that the United States should not abrogate treaties without negotiations with the country concerned. The veto was welcomed by liberals in the East, but Hayes was violently attacked in the West. In their fury, the Democrats in the House of Representatives attempted to launch impeachment proceedings against him, but they failed when the Republicans prevented the creation of a quorum by refusing to vote. After the veto, Assistant Secretary of State Frederick William Seward suggested that the two countries agree to reduce immigration, and he and James Burrill Angell negotiated with China for that purpose. Congress passed a new law on the subject after Hayes left office, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Amerindian politics

Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz implemented Hayes’ Native American policy and began by preventing the War Department from taking control of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Hayes and Schurz pursued a policy of cultural assimilation of Native Americans that would allow the tribes to be self-sufficient and at peace with the settlers. The land distribution system was favored by the liberal reformers of the time, including Schurz, but its later implementation was to the detriment of the Native Americans who saw their land sold at low prices to speculators. Both men reformed the Bureau of Indian Affairs to reduce corruption and give greater responsibility to Native Americans on their reservations.

Nevertheless, several conflicts with Native American tribes occurred during his presidency. The Nez Perce led by Chief Joseph rose up in June 1877 after Major General Oliver O. Howard ordered them to move to a reservation in Idaho. The Nez Perce were defeated and the tribe embarked on a 1,800-mile flight eastward. In October, after a decisive battle at Bear Paw in Montana, Chief Joseph surrendered and General William T. Sherman ordered the deportation of the tribe to Kansas where they remained until 1885. This conflict with the Nez Perce was not the last in the West as the Bannocks revolted in the spring of 1878 and attacked nearby settlements before being defeated by Howard’s army in July. In 1879, the Utes executed Indian agent Nathan Meeker for attempting to convert them to Christianity. The ensuing White River War ended with the Utes being driven from their lands in Colorado.

In 1876, Congress decided to move the Poncas tribe from Nebraska to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). Because the new land was unsuitable for agriculture, the tribal leaders refused to move there and recalled the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie that guaranteed their territories in Nebraska. Nevertheless, they were forcibly removed and Chief Standing Bear filed suit against Schurz’s decision to move them into Indian Territory. In Standing Bear v. Crook, the district court found that the Native Americans were protected by habeas corpus and therefore had rights. The Poncas were therefore compensated for their former lands that had been allotted to the Sioux. In a message to Congress in February 1881, Hayes stated that he would “give these injured people the measures of rehabilitation demanded by justice and humanity.”


Hayes and his wife Lucy were known for their no-drinking policy in the White House, which earned the first lady the nickname Lemonade Lucy. Hayes’ first White House reception featured wine. Hayes, however, was dismayed by the drunken behavior at ambassadorial functions in Washington, D.C., and this prompted him to follow his wife’s temperate convictions. Alcohol was no longer served at the White House. Critics accused Hayes of parsimony, but he spent more money (often from his personal finances) by ordering that all the money saved by eliminating alcohol be used for lavish entertainment. His temperance policy increased his support among Protestants, and although Secretary of State Evarts quipped that “the water flowed like wine” at White House receptions, the policy was a success and convinced prohibitionists to vote Republican.

Judicial Appointments

Hayes appointed two associate justices to the Supreme Court. The first was to replace David Davis, who had entered the Senate during the controversy following the 1876 presidential election. Hayes appointed John M. Harlan to the position. Harlan had been an unsuccessful candidate for governor of Kentucky and had been the organizer of Benjamin Bristow’s campaign for the 1876 Republican convention; Hayes had also considered him for the position of attorney general. Hayes put his name forward in October 1877 but was criticized for his lack of experience. His nomination was confirmed, however, and he remained on the Court for 34 years, where he was a staunch and often outspoken advocate for civil rights. In 1880, a seat became available after the resignation of Justice William Strong. Hayes appointed William Burnham Woods, a Republican carpetbagger judge in an Alabama district court. Woods stayed on the Court for six years and disappointed Hayes by interpreting the Constitution in a manner similar to that of the Southern Democrats.

Hayes tried unsuccessfully to fill a third empty seat in 1881. Judge Noah Haynes Swayne resigned in the hope that Hayes would appoint Stanley Matthews, who was a friend of both men. Many senators opposed the appointment because they saw Matthews as too close to the interests of the railroad companies, especially those of Jay Gould. The Senate postponed a vote on his nomination. The following year, when James A. Garfield entered the White House, he again nominated Matthews. This time the Senate confirmed his nomination by one vote. Matthews served for eight years until his death in 1889, and his ruling in Yick Wo v. Hopkins in 1886 advanced Hayes’ and his own ideas about protecting the rights of ethnic minorities.

Hayes also appointed four circuit court judges and sixteen district court judges.

As he had promised in 1876, Hayes did not seek a second term in 1880. Satisfied with the victory of Republican James Garfield, he advised him on appointments to his administration. After his successor was inaugurated, Hayes and his family returned to Spiegel Grove. Although he remained a loyal Republican, Hayes was not disappointed by Grover Cleveland’s victory in 1884 because he agreed with his ideas on civil service reform. He was also pleased with the political rise of his comrade in arms and protégé, William McKinley.

Hayes became an active advocate for educational reform and sought federal grants for all children. He saw education as the best way to bridge the divisions in American society and a means to self-improvement. In 1887, Hayes was appointed to the board of trustees of Ohio State University, the school he had helped found when he was governor of the state. He encouraged vocational education and wrote, “I preach the gospel of work, I believe that skilled labor is part of education.” He unsuccessfully urged Congress to pass a bill drafted by Senator Henry W. Blair that would have authorized federal aid for education for the first time. Hayes made a speech in 1889 encouraging black students to apply for grants for higher education. One such student, W. E. B. Du Bois, earned a doctorate in 1892 and became a strong advocate for civil rights. Hayes also advocated reforms to improve prison conditions.

Hayes was greatly affected by his wife’s death in 1889 and wrote that the “soul of Spiegel Grove was gone” when she died. After Lucy’s death, his daughter Fanny stayed with him and he enjoyed visits from his grandchildren. In 1890 he chaired the Lake Mohonk Conference on the Negro Question, a gathering of reformers in upstate New York to discuss racial issues. Hayes died of a heart attack in his home on January 17, 1893. His last words were, “I know I am going to Lucy. President-elect Grover Cleveland and Ohio Governor William McKinley led the funeral procession to Oakwood Cemetery in Fremont.

After the bequest of his home to the State of Ohio in 1915, Hayes was reburied there. The following year, the Rutherford B. Hayes Memorial Museum was the first presidential library in the United States to be dedicated with funds from the State of Ohio and the Hayes family.

He is played by Joseph King in the film The Flag of Humanity by Jean Negulesco released in 1940 and John Dilson in Buffalo Bill by William A. Wellman released in 1944.

He appears as a main character in the Lucky Luke album L’Homme de Washington published in 2008 after appearing as a secondary character in the album Sarah Bernhardt published in 1982.

In John Ealer’s The American West series, he was played by Jim Jackman in 2016.



  1. Rutherford B. Hayes
  2. Rutherford B. Hayes
  3. La fille de Herron, Helen épousa par la suite le futur président William Howard Taft. (Barnard 2005, p. 167)
  4. Deux autres fils, Joseph et George étaient morts en bas âge. (Trefousse 2002, p. 31, 42)
  5. Prénommé ainsi en l’honneur de son ami et ancien compagnon d’armes, Manning Force. (Trefousse 2002, p. 59)
  6. L’électeur John W. Watts de l’Oregon fut disqualifié car il tenait une « charge de confiance ou de profit », en violation de la clause 2 de la section 1 de l’Article II de la Constitution. (Hoogenboom 1995, p. 279)
  7. Puchta, Herbert; Stranks, Jeff (2010) [2004]. «It’ll never happen» [Nunca sucederá]. English in Mind (en inglés). Cambridge University Press. p. 76. ISBN 9788483237908.  |fechaacceso= requiere |url= (ayuda)
  8. Barnard, Harry (2005) [1954]. Rutherford Hayes and his America. Newtown, Connecticut: American Political Biography Press. ISBN 978-0-945707-05-9
  9. Ari Hoogenboom, The Presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes (1988)
  10. Hamilton, Neil A. (2010). Presidents: A Biographical Dictionary. Washington, DC: Facts on File. p. 163. ISBN 978-0-8160-7708-3
  11. «Rating the Presidents of the United States, 1789–2000: A Survey of Scholars in History, Political Science, and Law». Federalist Society. Washington, DC. 16 de novembro de 2000
  12. Otis, John (30 de outubro de 2014). «The Place Where Rutherford B. Hayes Is A Really Big Deal». NPR. Washington, DC
  13. a b L. Pastusiak: Prezydenci Stanów Zjednoczonych Ameryki Północnej. s. 395.
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