Rutherford Birchard Hayes

Rutherford B. Hayes: Legacy of Compromise and Change

Rutherford Birchard Hayes, the 19th President of the United States, assumed office in 1877, marking the end of the tumultuous post-Civil War period known as Reconstruction. Born on October 4, 1822, in Delaware, Ohio, Hayes rose to prominence as a Union officer during the Civil War and later became a key figure in the political landscape of the late 19th century. His presidency is often remembered for the controversial circumstances of his election and his efforts to heal the wounds of a divided nation. This article by Article Block delves into the life, career, and presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes, exploring the challenges he faced during Reconstruction and his legacy in American history.

Early Life and Education

Rutherford B. Hayes was born into a politically active family on October 4, 1822. His father, Rutherford Hayes, was a successful farmer and store owner, while his mother, Sophia Birchard Hayes, instilled in him a love for education. Young Hayes attended local schools and, in 1838, enrolled at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. Graduating with top honors in 1842, he went on to attend Harvard Law School, earning his law degree in 1845.

Early Career and Marriage

After completing his legal studies, Hayes returned to Ohio and established a successful law practice in Lower Sandusky (now Fremont). His legal career flourished, and he became involved in local politics. In 1852, he married Lucy Webb, a woman who would become a significant influence on his life and career. Lucy Hayes was an advocate for education and women’s rights, and her progressive views would later shape her role as the First Lady.

Military Service in the Civil War

The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 saw Hayes voluntarily enlist in the Union Army, despite having no prior military experience. Rising through the ranks due to his leadership skills and bravery, he eventually reached the rank of brevet major general. Hayes participated in several key battles, including the Battle of South Mountain, the Battle of Antietam, and the Battle of Cedar Creek. His distinguished service and valor in battle earned him the respect of his peers and superiors.

Post-War Political Career

After the Civil War, Hayes turned his attention to politics. He served as a U.S. Congressman from 1865 to 1867 and then as Governor of Ohio from 1868 to 1872. As governor, he pursued policies promoting education, prison reform, and civil service reform. His dedication to public service and his ability to bridge gaps between different factions within the Republican Party positioned him as a rising star in American politics.

The Election of 1876

The presidential election of 1876 was one of the most controversial and disputed elections in American history. Hayes ran as the Republican candidate against Democrat Samuel J. Tilden. The results were inconclusive, with Tilden winning the popular vote but neither candidate securing a majority in the electoral college. The outcome hinged on disputed electoral votes from four states: Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Oregon.

The Compromise of 1877

As the nation teetered on the brink of a constitutional crisis, a special Electoral Commission was established to resolve the disputed results. The commission, comprised of members of the House, Senate, and Supreme Court, ultimately awarded all of the contested electoral votes to Hayes, securing his victory. In exchange for their support, Southern Democrats extracted a promise from Hayes to withdraw federal troops from the South, effectively ending Reconstruction.

Reconstruction Policies and the New South

Rutherford B. Hayes assumed the presidency on March 4, 1877, and immediately faced the daunting task of guiding the nation through the aftermath of the Civil War. Hayes was committed to promoting reconciliation between the North and the South, and his policies reflected a desire to move away from the divisive issues that had characterized Reconstruction.

One of his first acts as president was to fulfill the promise made during the Compromise of 1877. Hayes withdrew federal troops from the Southern states, effectively ending the era of Reconstruction. This decision was met with mixed reactions, as it signaled the federal government’s retreat from enforcing civil rights and protecting the rights of newly freed African Americans.

Hayes also sought to promote economic development in the South, encouraging investment in infrastructure and industry. His vision for the “New South” aimed at fostering economic growth and healing regional divisions. However, this approach did little to address the underlying racial tensions and social inequalities that persisted in the region.

Civil Service Reform

While Hayes’ presidency is often overshadowed by the contentious circumstances of his election and the end of Reconstruction, he made significant contributions to civil service reform. In 1883, the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act was passed, marking a milestone in efforts to professionalize the federal bureaucracy. The act established the Civil Service Commission, which aimed to end the widespread practice of political patronage and ensure that government positions were filled based on merit rather than political affiliation.

Hayes appointed key reformers to the Civil Service Commission, including Dorman Bridgman Eaton and Theodore Roosevelt, who later became the 26th President of the United States. The establishment of the Civil Service Commission marked a crucial step toward creating a more efficient and professional federal government.

Native American Policy

Rutherford B. Hayes also made notable contributions to Native American policy during his presidency. In 1880, he signed the Indian Appropriations Act, which provided funding for the education of Native American children. This act reflected Hayes’ belief in the importance of education as a means of promoting assimilation and integration.

Hayes’ administration continued the policy of concentrating Native American tribes onto reservations, a practice that had been established in previous decades. While he advocated for education and cultural assimilation, his policies often overlooked the rights and autonomy of Native American communities.

His Works:

Railroad Expansion: Hayes supported the expansion of the railroad system as a means of promoting economic development and connecting different regions of the country. Railroads were crucial for transportation, facilitating the movement of goods and people, and supporting the growth of industry.

Infrastructure Investment: The Hayes administration advocated for investments in infrastructure, including the improvement of roads, bridges, and waterways. These projects aimed to enhance transportation and facilitate trade, contributing to the economic development of both the North and the South.

The “New South” Vision: Hayes promoted the idea of a “New South” that would move away from the agrarian and plantation-based economy of the pre-Civil War era. He encouraged investments in industrialization and sought to attract northern capital to the South, believing that economic development would help bridge regional divides.

Civil Service Reform: While not a traditional infrastructure project, the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883, signed into law during Hayes’s presidency, marked a significant development in the structure of the federal government. The act aimed to professionalize the civil service, reduce political patronage, and ensure that government positions were awarded based on merit.

Native American Policy: The Indian Appropriations Act of 1880, signed by Hayes, allocated funds for the education of Native American children. While not a comprehensive development project, it reflected Hayes’s emphasis on education as a tool for assimilation and integration.

Healing Regional Divisions: Hayes prioritized reconciliation between the North and the South, particularly after the contentious election of 1876 and the withdrawal of federal troops from the Southern states. While this was not a specific project, his efforts to ease tensions and promote unity were crucial for the nation’s overall development.

Currency Reform: The Resumption Act of 1875, though enacted before Hayes took office, had a significant impact during his presidency. The act aimed to return the country to the gold standard by resuming the redemption of greenbacks in gold. This move was intended to stabilize the economy and restore confidence in the nation’s currency.

Economic Policies: Hayes pursued policies aimed at fiscal responsibility and reducing government expenditures. While these policies were not specific development projects, they were part of a broader strategy to create a stable economic environment.

Legacy, Historical Assessment and Death

Rutherford B. Hayes’ presidency is often remembered for the circumstances of his election, the Compromise of 1877, and the end of Reconstruction. His commitment to civil service reform and efforts to promote reconciliation in the aftermath of the Civil War are also significant aspects of his legacy. While Hayes faced criticism for his withdrawal of federal troops from the South, some historians argue that he pragmatically navigated a delicate political situation to avoid further conflict.

In terms of racial issues, Hayes’ presidency is viewed with ambivalence. The withdrawal of federal troops contributed to the rollback of civil rights advancements in the South, leading to the implementation of discriminatory Jim Crow laws and the disenfranchisement of African Americans. However, Hayes’ commitment to civil service reform and his vision for a “New South” demonstrated a desire for economic and regional healing.

The Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, a key accomplishment of Hayes’ administration, had a lasting impact on the structure of the federal government. The establishment of the Civil Service Commission laid the groundwork for the modern civil service system, reducing political patronage and promoting a more professional and merit-based government.

Rutherford B. Hayes, the 19th U.S. President, passed away on January 17, 1893, at the age of 70, at his home in Fremont, Ohio. His death resulted from complications related to a heart attack. Hayes was interred at Oakwood Cemetery in Fremont, where he rests alongside his wife, Lucy.

Final Words

Rutherford B. Hayes’ presidency occupies a unique place in American history. His tenure marked the end of Reconstruction and the beginning of a new era in which the nation grappled with the legacies of the Civil War. While his presidency faced challenges and controversies, Hayes’ contributions to civil service reform and his efforts to promote national reconciliation continue to shape historical assessments of his legacy. Please provide your comments below, it will help us in improving this article. Thanks for reading!

Rutherford Birchard Hayes
19th President of the United States
Personal Details
Date of Birth : 4th  October 1822
Died : 17th  January 1893
Place of Birth : Delaware, Ohio, U.S.
Father : Rutherford Hayes
Mother : Sophia Birchard
Spouse/Partner : Lucy Ware Webb
Children : Birchard Austin, Webb Cook, Rutherford Platt, Joseph Thompson, George Crook, Fanny, Scott Russell, Manning Force
Alma Mater : Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio
Professions : Politician, Lawyer
Career History

Served As:     19th President of the United States
Time Period:  March 4, 1877 – March 4, 1881
Predecessor:  Ulysses S. Grant
Successor:     James A. Garfield

Served As:      29th Governor of Ohio
Time Period:  January 10, 1876– March 2, 1877
Predecessor:  William Allen
Successor:      Thomas L. Young

Served As:       32nd Governor of Ohio
Time Period:   January 13, 1868– January 8, 1872
Predecessor:  Jacob Dolson Cox
Successor:     Edward Follansbee Noyes

Served As:      Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Ohio’s 2nd district
Time Period:  March 4, 1865 – July 20, 1867
Predecessor:  Alexander Long
Successor:     Samuel Fenton Cary

Famous quotes by Rutherford B. Hayes

“He serves his party best who serves the country best.”

“He serves his party best who serves the country best.”

“Every expert was once a beginner.”

“The President of the United States should strive to be always mindful of the fact that he serves his party best who serves his country best.”

“When the people are too much attached to savage independence, to be governed at all, it is a very serious thing to govern them at all; and the difficulty is much increased, if they are at the same time attached to a savage equality of wealth and conditions.”

“He who has no opinion of his own, but depends upon the opinion and taste of others, is a slave.”

“He who ceases to be a student has never been a student.”

“No evil can result from its inhibition more pernicious than its toleration.”

“We all need to be reminded that the vital force in our country has never yet been shown in legislation or politics, but always through the channels of education and of religion.”

“Conscience is the authentic voice of God to you.”

Controversies related to Rutherford B. Hayes

Compromise of 1877: The most significant controversy of Hayes’s presidency was the Compromise of 1877, a political deal that resolved the disputed results of the 1876 presidential election. In exchange for Southern support for his presidency, Hayes agreed to withdraw federal troops from the Southern states, effectively ending Reconstruction. This compromise led to the abandonment of civil rights for African Americans in the South and allowed the implementation of discriminatory Jim Crow laws.

Disputed Election of 1876: The election of 1876 itself was highly contentious. Samuel J. Tilden, the Democratic candidate, won the popular vote, but the electoral votes from Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Oregon were disputed. A special Electoral Commission was established to settle the matter, and it ultimately awarded the contested electoral votes to Hayes, securing his presidency. Many Democrats believed the election had been stolen, and the compromise that followed further fueled distrust in the political process.

End of Reconstruction: While the end of Reconstruction through the Compromise of 1877 was a political solution to a contested election, it led to significant consequences. The withdrawal of federal troops allowed Southern states to resume control, resulting in the erosion of civil rights gains for African Americans. The subsequent rise of segregation, voter suppression, and systemic discrimination in the South marked a dark chapter in American history.

Labor Strikes and Railroad Unrest: The late 19th century was marked by labor unrest, including the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. The strikes, sparked by wage cuts in the railroad industry, spread across the country. Hayes faced criticism for his response to the strikes, as he called in federal troops to suppress the unrest, leading to clashes with workers and significant tensions between labor and capital.

Civil Service Reform Opposition: While Hayes is celebrated for his support of civil service reform, his efforts faced opposition from within his own party. The “Stalwart” faction of the Republican Party, led by Senator Roscoe Conkling, opposed the idea of ending the spoils system, which led to internal party conflicts. The eventual passage of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act in 1883 was a victory for reformers but highlighted the resistance within the party.

Economic Challenges: Hayes faced economic challenges during his presidency, including the aftermath of the Panic of 1873. Dealing with economic depression and the resulting labor strikes tested the administration’s ability to manage the nation’s economic woes.

Academic References on Rutherford B. Hayes


“Rutherford B. Hayes: Warrior and President” by Ari Hoogenboom (1995)

“Rutherford B. Hayes: Statesman of Reunion” by Charles Richard Williams (1934)

“Rutherford B. Hayes and His America” by Harry Barnard (1954)

“Rutherford B. Hayes: One of the Good Colonels” by Hans L. Trefousse (2009)

“Hayes of the Twenty-Third: The Civil War Volunteer Officer” by Henry J. Cookinham (1922)

“The Election of 1876 and the End of Reconstruction” by Samuel Thomas (1972)

“Rutherford B. Hayes: And His America” by James A. Rawley (2012)


“Rutherford B. Hayes: The Missing Diary” by Ari Hoogenboom (1987)

“The Hayes-Tilden Electoral Commission: An Illustrated History” by Ari Hoogenboom (2003)

“The Politics of the Road: Rutherford B. Hayes and the Early Years of Good Roads” by Bruce D. Bomberger (1987)

“Rutherford B. Hayes and the Removal of the Troops” by Hans L. Trefousse (1958) – Mississippi Valley Historical Review

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