Rutherford B. Hayes (1822-1893) became President by a margin of one electoral vote in the most strongly disputed presidential election in the history of our nation. Congress ended the dispute and decided the winner by creating a special Electoral Commission.
Rutherford Birchard Hayes was born on October 4, 1822, in Delaware, Ohio, the fifth child of Rutherford Hayes, Jr., and Sophia Birchard Hayes. His family moved to Ohio from Dummerston, Vermont, in 1817. His father died was a successful store owner but died two months previous to the birth of Rutherford, or "Rud." Of a family of three boys and two girls, only Rutherford and one sister grew to adulthood. The children's guardian was a bachelor uncle, Sardis Birchard.
Hayes became a champion speller in elementary school. He attended private school in Ohio and Connecticut before entering Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, in 1838. He graduated at the head of his class there and then entered Harvard Law School the next year. He was admitted to the bar in 1845 after graduating from Harvard and started practicing law.
Hayes married Lucy Ware Webb on December 30, 1852. She was the daughter of a physician and a 1850 graduate of Wesleyan Female College in Cincinnati. Her intelligence and social grace was helpful to Hayes throughout his career, and she became the first President's wife to have a college degree. She was active in many moral causes of the day, including abolition of slavery, prohibition of alcohol, and aid to the poor. The Hayes had eight children, three of whom died in infancy.
Hayes was elected captain of a military drilling company when the Civil War began. He earned rapid promotions and distinguished himself during his four years in the Army. He was wounded four different times and had four horses shot from under him. He resigned from the Army with the rank of brevet major general on June 8, 1965.
Hayes received word that he had been nominated for the U.S. House of Representatives while fighting in the Shenandoah Valley. He refused to campaign for office because the outcome of the war was still in question. He won the election but was not seated until December 1865. He was reelected in 1866 but resigned in July 1867 after being nominated for governor of Ohio. He served three terms as governor. He was a courageous administrator and "worked hard for economy in government and for a strong civil service program based on merit rather than political influence.
Hayes won the Republican nomination as a compromise candidate at the national convention in June 1876. The national election brought great dispute. Four states - Louisiana, South Carolina, Florida, and Oregon - sent two sets of electoral returns, one submitted by Republicans and one submitted by Democrats. This resulted in twenty disputed votes. Congress appointed a 15-member Electoral Commission in January 1877 to settle the matter. Fifty-six hours before Inauguration Day, March 2, 1877, Hayes was formally announced as the winner.
Hayes was not a popular President at first. The Democrats charged that he had "stolen the election," and the Republicans were upset because he refused to bestow special favors to party politicians. He announced that he would serve only one term as President because he wanted to reform civil service. He based his appointments on merit rather than friendship or support. By the time he left office, most Americans respected him for his honesty and sincerity. He tried to live by this motto: "He serves his party best who serves his country best." He was studious and good-natured and enjoyed books more than politics.
President and Mrs. Hayes tried to set a good example in the White House for American families. They were respected for their hospitality, simplicity, and modesty. Mrs. Hayes won high praise for her moral standards. She would not serve alcoholic drinks, even at formal dinners and receptions. A typical day for the Hayes family began with morning prayers. The family would gather again early each evening for music and singing. Public receptions were held almost every evening, and everyone was welcome to visit the White House. President and Mrs. Hayes introduced the custom for children to roll Easter eggs on the White House lawn in 1878.
When President Hayes left office, he returned to his home at Spiegel Grove in Ohio and withdrew completely from politics. He became involved in philanthropic work in education, prison reforms, Christianity, and veteran affairs. Mrs. Hayes died in June 1889, and President Hayes died on January 17, 1893. He became ill in Cleveland and insisted that he "would rather die at Spiegel Grove than to live anywhere else. He is buried in Fremont. Spiegel Grove includes the Rutherford B. Hayes Library and Museum and is open to the public.
Important events from the world of President Hayes include: 1) The end of Reconstruction in 1877 when the last federal occupation troops left the South. 2) Flag Day was first celebrated officially on June 14, 1877. 3) H. O. Flipper was the first black cadet to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1877. 4) Famous books published during the Hayes Administration included Black Beauty (1877) and Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1880). 5) The woman's suffrage movement was proposed in the United States Congress for the first time in 1878. 6) The first woman lawyer practiced before the United Stares Supreme Court in 1879. Quotes and facts for this post came from an article by H. Wayne Morgan in World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 9, pp. 118-121.
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