Salute to President Rutherford Birchard Hayes (1877-1881)
Happy Presidents’ Day (2016)
Rutherford Birchard Hayes, the 19th President of the United States of America, was born on October 4, 1822 in Delaware, Ohio just north of Columbus. His birthplace is marked with a relatively small granite monument, which, as of the writing of this post, is in front of a BP gas station on the north side of U.S. Highway 36 in Delaware, Ohio.
His father died about ten weeks before he was born. As Divine Providence would have it, his uncle, Sardis Birchard, who was the younger brother of his mother, became a father figure to him. Uncle Sardis became quite successful and later provided for Rutherford’s (Rud’s) education expenses.
Uncle Sardis was rewarded for his generosity. Rud graduated as valedictorian from Kenyon College. It was there that he became interested in politics, particularly the Whig Party.
Rud obtained a Law degree from Harvard (yes, Uncle Sardis was quite generous) and he practiced law in Fremont and Cincinnati, Ohio. It was in Cincinnati that Rud Hayes met his future wife Lucy Webb, nine years his junior. He thought her too young to marry at first, but after the years passed the 30 year old Mr. Hayes married the 21 year old Lucy. They had three sons during the first five years of marriage and later a daughter named Fanny.
Lucy was young but Mr. Hayes respected her views and she influenced him on many issues, including teetotaling and the abolition of slavery. She was known as “Lemonade Lucy.” Her influence prompted Mr. Hayes to defend fugitive slaves during the 1850’s.
Mr. Hayes did not pursue political office for himself, and in fact, he turned down the opportunities at first. However, based on his good reputation among the people, it was demanded that he serve in some capacity. He began as the city solicitor in Cincinnati, but he lost his job as solicitor after the southern states seceded from the Union and the southern leaning citizens of Cincinnati voted the Republicans out, including Rutherford, in the next election.
At the start of War Between the States, Mr. Hayes did not support the war to restore the Union, but out of patriot duty he volunteered to join the 23rd Regiment of Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He rose to the rank of General and served in the 23rd with a later president, William McKinley. He was wounded in the Battle of South Mountain and served superbly in the Army of the Shenandoah, being recognized for bravery by General Grant.
After the War, General Hayes served as a congressman during the Reconstruction period. He had been elected in the fall prior to the end of the War even though he had refused to leave the battlefield to campaign. As a congressman, he was not as conciliatory toward the South as Presidents Lincoln, Johnson, and Grant. In fact, even after leaving Congress, he supported the impeachment of President Johnson because of Johnson’s conciliatory actions toward the South.
He was later convinced to run for the office of governor and became the governor of Ohio in 1867. In an unusual election the Democrats won the legislature, but Hayes won the governorship by a few thousand votes out of approximately 480,000 cast. While in office, Governor Hayes signed the bill that founded The Ohio State University. After one term as governor, Governor Hayes retired to his home Spiegel Grove near Fremont.
His election to the Presidency was even more unusual as in 1876 he attended the Republican Convention to support a friend for the top spot on the Republican ticket. However, the Convention was contentious and ended with a compromise candidate for the presidency, Rutherford B. Hayes.
On Election Day he lost the popular vote, but during the ensuing months he won the vote of the Electoral College when he was awarded the disputed electoral votes after another compromise. Apparently, the Democrats agreed to the Hayes presidency if Reconstruction was ended in the South. Hayes and the Republicans agreed, Hayes was elected, and the Union’s occupying troops were subdued.
During his presidency the United States returned to the gold standard which had been abandoned during the War. President Hayes also arbitrated a territorial dispute between Paraguay and Argentina and allowed government agents to pursue troublesome Mexican bandits into Mexico.
President Hayes served one term as President and retired. In his retirement from the Presidency, President Hayes was appointed a Trustee of The Ohio State University. He was preceded in death by his wife, which broke his heart.
President Hayes had a heart attack after giving a speech for The Ohio State University in Cleveland. He returned home to Spiegel Grove after the trip to Cleveland to convalesce, but being a tired man and ready to be with his Lucy again, he passed away in January 1893 from complications of the heart attack.
More may be learned about the President and Mrs. Hayes and the events during their lives at his Presidential Library and home, Spiegel Grove in Fremont, Ohio. If you enjoy history, it is an historic site worth the travel and time.
Quotes attributed to President Hayes:
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.
Conscience is the authentic voice of God to you.