Sunday, June 3, 2012

Things I Find Fascinating: 10 Things Everyone Should Know About Rutherford B. Hayes

Rutherford B. Hayes, 19th President of the United States

1)  Hayes gained the presidency in 1876 in the most fiercely disputed election in American history.  Long before Bush v. Gore, there was another highly controversial presidential election between Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican candidate, and Samuel J. Tilden, the Democratic candidate. Hayes lost the popular vote by 264,000 votes. But as we all know, the electoral vote is what really counts. Three days after Election Day, Tilden seemed to have won with 184 electoral votes, but that was one vote short of a majority. That didn't seem to matter too much, since Hayes had only 166 electoral votes. However, the electoral votes of Louisiana, South Carolina, and -- you guessed it! -- Florida were still in doubt. Voter fraud by both parties put the results in each of those states under scrutiny. Further complicating matters, one of the three electors from Oregon was disqualified, lowering Haye's total votes to 165, with 20 electoral votes (from the three states) still in question. If either candidate could legitimately claim the disputed votes, he would be elected president. By January of 1877, with the election still unresolved, Congress and President Ulysses Grant agreed to submit the matter to a bipartisan Electoral Commission, which would be authorized to determine the fate of the disputed electoral votes. After some further dispute about what persons should make up the Electoral Commission (it ended up being 6 Democrats, 8 Republicans, and 1 Independent), the Commission convened in February and voted by a majority to award all 20 electoral votes to Hayes. Democrats, outraged by the result, attempted a filibuster to prevent Congress from accepting the Commission's findings. Inauguration Day (March 4th) was quickly approaching, and somebody somehow had to come to a decision. Ultimately, Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders negotiated a compromise: Republicans promised that, in exchange for Democratic acquiescence in the Committee's decision, Hayes would withdraw federal troops from the South and accept the election of Democratic governments in the last "unredeemed" states of the South. The Democrats agreed, and on March 2nd (two days before Inauguration Day), Hayes was elected, and Reconstruction was over. (Side note: Some Democrats never fully accepted the legitimacy of Hayes' presidency, derogatorily nicknaming him "Rutherfraud" and "His Fraudulency.")

2)  Long before it was common or even generally accepted, Hayes was raised by a single mother.  Sadly, Rutherford's father (also named Rutherford) died ten weeks before his son was born. Hayes' mother, Sophia, brought up Rutherford and his sister Fanny almost entirely on her own. Sophia's brother, Sardis, stayed with the family for a time, and became somewhat of a father figure to the young Rutherford, but Sophia would never remarry.

3)  Hayes once practiced law with the father of a future First Lady.  Early in his law career in Cincinnati, Hayes opened a practice with a fellow lawyer named John W. Herron. Herron's daughter, Helen, later married William Howard Taft, who would become the 27th President of the United States.

4)  Hayes was wounded five times during his military service in the Civil War. When the war began, Hayes decided to leave his successful career in politics to join the Union Army. Throughout his service, Hayes earned a reputation for bravery in combat and was ultimately promoted to the rank of major general.

5)  Upon being elected President, Hayes pledged not to run for reelection at the end of his term. He kept his promise, returning to his family home, Spiegel Grove, in Fremont, Ohio. While this may not seem all that spectacular of a factoid, it's important to note that many, many politicians -- Presidents included -- have made similar claims, and have gone on to not only run for reelection, but actually be reelected.

6)  In 1878, following the Paraguayan War, Hayes arbitrated a major territorial dispute between the nations of Paraguay and Argentina. Hayes awarded the disputed land in the Gran Chaco region to Paraguay, and the Paraguayans honored him by renaming a city (Villa Hayes) and a department (Presidente Hayes) in his honor.

7)  During Hayes' presidency, considerable attention was given to the border between Mexico and Texas. Throughout the 1870's, "lawless bands" were often known to cross the Mexican border on raids into Texas. Three months after taking office, Hayes granted the Army the power to pursue bandits, even if it required them to cross into Mexican territory to do so. Mexican President Porfirio Díaz took exception to this order and sent his own troops to the border. Ultimately, Díaz and Hayes agreed to jointly pursue bandits and Hayes agreed not to allow Mexican revolutionaries to raise armies in the United States. Violence along the border decreased, and in 1880 Hayes revoked the order allowing pursuit into Mexico.

8) Hayes invoked a no-alcohol policy in the White House for the duration of his presidency. The first reception at the Hayes White House included wine; however, Hayes was dismayed at the drunken behavior at receptions hosted by ambassadors around Washington, D.C., leading him to follow his wife Lucy's temperance leanings. His temperance policy also paid political dividends, strengthening his support among Protestant ministers. The policy was also a success in convincing prohibitionists to vote Republican. As a result of this policy and her well-known advocacy of temperance, Hayes' wife was (not entirely affectionately) nicknamed "Lemonade Lucy."

9)  After his presidency, Hayes became an active advocate for educational charities, advocating federal education subsidies for all children. He believe that education was the best way to heal the rifts in American society and allow individuals to improve themselves. In 1889 -- less than 25 years after the end of the Civil War -- Hayes gave a speech encouraging black students to apply for scholarships from the Slater Fund, one of the charities with which he was affiliated. One such student, W. E. B. Du Bois, received a scholarship in 1892. Du Bois went on to become a prominent and well-known civil rights activist, author, historian, and sociologist in the first half of the 20th century.

10)  In 1916, the Hayes Commemorative Library and Museum became the first presidential library in the United States. Upon his death, Hayes' family home was donated to the state of Ohio to become Spiegel Grove State Park. Hayes' body was re-interred there in 1915, and the following year the library was opened, funded by contributions from the state of Ohio and Hayes' family.


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