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Rutherford Birchard Hayes
RUTHERFORD BIRCHARD HAYES, nineteenth President of the United States, was born at Delaware, Ohio, October 24, 1822. He came of a long line of sturdy, God-fearing, New England ancestry. He was of Scotch descent on his father's side, but the prevailing strain was English. George Hayes, from whom he descended in the sixth generation, came from Scotland to Windsor, Connecticut. The great-great-grandson of this George Hayes, who was named Rutherford, born at New Haven in 1756, migrated to Vermont. There he married Chloe Smith, a woman of remarkable strength of character, and reared a large family. He was a farmer, blacksmith, and inn-keeper at Brattleboro. Here his son Rutherford, the President's father, was born on January 4, 1787. He married Sophia Birchard, who was of English lineage. In 1817 the young couple removed to Delaware, Ohio. There the husband fell a victim to malarial fever in July, 1822, three months before the birth of the son destined to so great a career, leaving his wife a valuable farm. Sardis Birchard, her brother, who became a prosperous merchant at Lower Sandusky (Fremont), was her constant counsellor and the guardian of her two children. She lived till 1866.
The future President attended the village school and early began the study of Latin and Greek. Then he spent a short time at Norwalk, Ohio, Academy, and a year at isaac Webb's school at Middletown, Connecticut. In 1838, when barely sixteen, he entered Kenyon College at Gambier, Ohio, where he distinguished himself in his studies and in student activities, graduating in 1842 as valedictorian.
In his diary, which he began to keep in his junior year, he expressed a sentiment which was prophetic of his life. He wrote" "The reputation which I desire is not that momentary eminence which is gained without merit and lost without regret. Give me the popularity which runs after, not that which is sought for." In all his life he never solicited an office or sought promotion. Honors, distinctions, offices came to him unasked for, because men recognized his merit.
Almost immediately after graduation young Hayes began to study law in the office of Thomas Sparrow at Columbus. In August, 1843, he entered the Harvard law school where he enjoyed the tuition and friendship of Judge Story and Professor Greenleaf; while he attended also the lectures of Longfellow and Agassiz in literature and science. He finished his law courses in january, 1845. Returning to ohio he was admitted to the bar, and commenced practice at Lower Sandusky (Fremont) where in the following year he became a partner of Ralph P. Buckland, later a member of Congress. Bronchial trouble forced him to give up active work in 1848, when he spent a winter in Texas and a summer on the Atlantic coast. Then in the early winter of 1849-50 he established himself at Cincinnati where he soon made for himself a recognized place in the profession. At the same time he kept up his interest in letters, becoming a member of the Cincinnati Literary Club in which he mingled with many men of distinction or to become distinguished, such as Thomas Corwin, Salmon P. Chase, Moncure D. Conway, Stanley Matthews, and others. (This club, indeed, furnished the Union armies more than forty officers, many of them generals.)
On December 30, 1852, Mr. Hayes married Miss Lucy Ware Webb, the daughter of Dr. James Webb, then deceased, who had been a well-known physician of Chillicothe. She was a young woman of fine culture, of most winning personality, of gracious manners, and strong character, who throughout all the busy years to come was a constant source of help and inspiration to her husband. Meanwhile Hayes was winning forward in the law, several criminal cases in which he participated drawing public attention to him. In 1856 he declined a nomination to the Court of Common Pleas. In 1858 he was appointed city solicitor to fill a vacancy, and the following year he was elected to the same office, by a majority of over 2,500 votes, and served the public faithfully and satisfactorily. In April 1861 he failed of re-election, the entire ticket of his party being defeated. He at once resumed the practice of the law, but the war drums soon summoned him to sterner work.
Hayes had always been an anti-slavery Whig and Republican. He supported Clay in 1844, Taylor in 1848, Scott in 1852, and in 1856 worked earnestly for Fremont. Clay was his ideal. "I would start in life without a penny," he wrote in early manhood, "if by that Henry Clay could be elected president." He was an enthusiastic supporter of Lincoln, and he was one of the committee to escort Lincoln from Indianapolis to Cincinnati when the great commoner was on his way to Washington to be inaugurated. He recorded at the time his faith in Lincoln's ability to meet the impending crisis. On June 7, 1861, the Governor of Ohio commissioned him Major of the 23d Ohio Volunteers. The regiment was soon ordered to West Virginia, where it rendered effective service throughout the war except during the Antietam campaign in 1862, and during the operations of General Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley in 1864. October 24, 1861, he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel. On September 24, 1862, in the Antietam campaign, Hayes showed conspicuous gallantry in leading a charge at the battle of South Mountain. Here he was severely wounded, a minie ball shattering his left arm above the elbow. Before his wound was healed he returned to his regiment as Colonel. In 1863 his command was engaged in southwestern Virginia in efforts to cut the Confederate line of communication to Tennessee. There was much rugged campaigning and many engagements. In July of this year also Hayes commanded two regiments and a battery of artillery that was sent back to check John Morgan in his raid in southern Ohio. The year 1864 was full of stirring incident, incessant campaigning, and opportunities for valorous service for Hayes. In the spring he served under General Crook in the movement against the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad, and let a brigade in storming the enemy's works at the crest of Cloyd Mountain with noteworthy gallantry. Afterwards he participated in the march upon Lynchburg and in the operations thereabouts and covered the retreat in the perilous passage of the Alleghenies. In July, Hayes was ordered to the Shenandoah Valley where he took part with great credit in many important battles. At the battle of Winchester he performed a feat of extraordinary courage and daring. His brigade had the extreme right of Crook's command. His troops with the cavalry executed the turning maneuver which decided the fate of the day. In leading an assault upon a battery on an eminence he found in his way a morass over fifty yards wide. Without a moment's hesitation Colonel Hayes plunged in. His horse was quickly mired, and had to be abandoned and Hayes waded through alone under the enemy's fire. Waving his cap he signalled to his men to come over. When about forty had joined him he charged the battery and took it after a hand-to-hand fight, the enemy, trusting to the security of the position, having left it without infantry supports. The enemy fled in great disorder and Hayes reformed his lines and continued in pursuit. At Fisher's Hill, Crook with Hayes' brigade in the lead, executed brilliantly a flank movement through the mountains and woods to the enemy's left. He led repeated charges until the enemy's works with every piece of artillery had been captured. A month later, October 19, at Cedar Creek, Hayes displayed such courage and sagacity in checking the enemy's advance, and even after he had been severely injured by falling when his horse was shot under him, in rallying his men and aiding in forming the line, which Sheridan inspired to renewed effort after his famous ride from Winchester, that Crook on the battlefield grasped his hand and said: ":Colonel, from this day you will be a brigadier general." The commission bearing data of the battle soon reached him and on March 13, 1865, he received the rank of brevet major-general, "for gallant and distinguished services during the campaign of 1864 in West Virginia and particularly at the battles of Fisher's Hill and Cedar Creek, Virginia." Hayes was wounded six times, had four horses shot under him, and participated in a hundred battles great and small. General Grant in his memoirs says: "On more than on occasion in these engagements General R. B. Hayes, who succeeded me as President of the United States, bore a very honorable part. His conduct on the field was marked by conspicuous gallantry, as well as the display of qualities of a higher order than mere personal daring. Having entered the army as a major of volunteers at the beginning of the war, General hayes attained by his meritorious service the rank of brevet major-general before its close."
In August 1864, while he was in the field, he was nominated for Congress by the Republicans of the Second Ohio District (Cincinnati). To William Henry Smith, who wrote suggesting that he come home and make campaign speeches, he wrote: "Your suggestion about getting a furlough to take the stump was certainly made without reflection. An officer fit for duty who, at this crisis, would abandon his post to electioneer for a seat in Congress, ought to be scalped. You may feel perfectly sure I shall do no such thing." The district gave him a decisive majority and two years later re-elected him by an increased vote. In Congress he was a quiet, faithful, hardworking member. As chairman of the library committee he carried through measures of much benefit to the Congressional Library. He was an earnest advocate of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution and of the reconstruction measures of his party. In 1867, in the midst of his second term, the Republicans of Ohio nominated him for governor against Allen G. Thurman. After an exciting canvass, he was elected. Two years later he was re-elected over George H. Pendleton. In his first campaign for governor he vigorously advocated negro suffrage. In his second campaign he combatted the Democratic declaration in favor of paying the Government bonds with greenbacks. His messages to the legislature abounded in practical suggestions for reform of the tax laws, the election laws, the prison laws, and many other reforms which bore fruit. Under his administration the Soldiers' orphans' Home was established, the State University was founded, the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified and the State debt was reduced. At the expiration of his term, in 1872, he refused to be elected United States Senator by a combination of Republicans and Democrats against John Sherman. His friends in the Second District that year insisted that he stand again for Congress; the tide was running against the Republicans in Cincinnati and it was thought that Hayes if any man could be elected. He reluctantly accepted the nomination and made a vigorous campaign, pleading for an honest financial policy and civil service reform. While he ran much ahead of his ticket he was defeated. Soon after this he declined the position of United States assistant treasurer at Cincinnati offered to him by President Grant.
In 1873 General Hayes returned to Fremont and established himself at Spiegel Grove, which was given him by his uncle Sardis Birchard, whose chief heir he became on Mr. Birchard's death the following year. It was his fixed determination at that time completely to retire from politics and to spend the remainder of his life in learned leisure. But the people of Ohio would not have it so. In 1875, much against his wishes and after his positive declination, the Republican convention again nominated him for governor, against William Allen, then governor, a man of great popularity. The Democratic platform declared that the volume of the currency (that is, paper money) should be made and kept equal to the wants of trade; that the national bank currency should be replaced with greenbacks, and that customs dues should be payable at least to the extent of one half in greenbacks. The questions involved attracted the attention of the entire country to the Ohio canvass. General hayes made a most vigorous and unyielding sound money campaign and was elected. During the canvass it was predicted by many that, if Hayes were elected, he would be a formidable candidate for the presidential nomination in 1876. His brilliant and successful campaign increased such talk and his availability became more and more widely recognized. General Hayes himself refused to take any step toward securing the nomination. To a friend he wrote: "It is not for you or me to enroll ourselves in the great army of office-seekers. let the currents alone." The Ohio Republican Convention instructed the delegates to the Cincinnati Convention to vote for Hayes. Blaine, Morton, Conkling, and Bristow were the leading candidates. General Noyes presented Hayes' name to the convention. His strength slowly increased until, on the seventh ballot, he received 384 votes, when on motion of William P. Frye, of Maine, the nomination was made unanimous. On July 8, appeared the letter of acceptance, which was altogether admirable in tone and in matter. Advanced ground was taken in behalf of civil service reform; the speedy resumption of specie payments was advocated and stress was laid on the imperative necessity for the pacification of the South. The opposing candidate was Samuel J. Tilden, of New York, who had gained a reputation as a reformer in crushing the infamous Tweed ring in New York City, and by demolishing the canal ring, as Governor of New York State. He was, moreover, a most astute and skilled political organizer. The election was very close and resulted in a bitter controversy. Mr. Hayes throughout the crisis preserved a dignified bearing, awaiting calmly the result. On November 27, 1876, Mr. Hayes wrote a letter to John Sherman while the latter was at New Orleans which clearly gives his position. He said: "You feel, I am sure, as I do about the whole business. A fair election would have given us about forty electoral votes in the South--at least that many. But we are not to allow our friends to defeat on outrage and fraud by another. There must be nothing crooked on our part. Let Mr Tilden have the place by violence, intimidation, and fraud, rather than undertake to prevent it by means that will not bear the closest scrutiny." In all three States the Hayes' electors were declared elected. Thus, on the face of the returns, Mr. Hayes had 185 votes in the electoral college and Mr. Tilden 184 votes. So bitter was the controversy between the parties in the country at large and in Congress, so many doubts and difficulties were raised, that both parties in Congress, the Senate being Republican and the House Democratic, at last united in the creation of an extraordinary court or commission to which all disputed electoral votes were to be referred. The commission consisted of five senators, five representatives, and five judges of the Supreme Court, and its decision was to be final unless set aside by the concurrent vote of both houses of Congress. The commission by a vote of 8 to 7 refused to go behind the returns, holding that the certificates of the governors must be accepted. on March 2, the canvassing of the electoral votes was completed and Rutherford B. Hayes was declared duly elected President of the United States.
President Hayes was inaugurated Monday, March 5, having on the Saturday evening previously taken the oath of office privately at the White House, to prevent the possibility of an interregnum. His inaugural address covered much the same points as his letter of acceptance. In it occurred the apothegm oftener quoted than any other one thing said by Mr. Hayes: "He serves his party best who serves his country best." Mr Hayes named as his cabinet, William M. Evarts, Secretary of State; John Sherman, Secretary of the Treasury; George W. McCrary, Secretary of War; Richard W. Thompson, Secretary of the Navy; David M. Key, Postmaster General; Charles Devens, Attorney General; and Carl Schurz, Secretary of the Interior. It is acknowledged to have been one of the ablest cabinets in the history of the country. President Hayes at once directed his attention to the Southern situation. In the first entry made in his diary after his inauguration occur these words: "My policy is trust, peace, and to put aside the bayonet. I do not think the wise policy is to decide contested elections in the States by the use of the national army." These words afford the key to his Southern policy. After securing assurances from leading Southerners of peaceful intentions and a purpose to accord constitutional rights to all classes of citizens, President Hayes ordered the Federal troops recalled from South Carolina and Louisiana. This was in April 1877. The Republican administrations in both States immediately fell to the ground and the rival Democratic governments were established. Both North and South, Mr Hayes was widely commended for his course. People were tired of Federal interference in the South. The time was come when it was believed that all the Southern commonwealths should be left to work out their own salvation in their own way. This policy, to be sure, weakened the Republican party in the South and so was criticized by many partisans; but it strengthened the party among the great masses of the North. Probably no single act of Mr Hayes; administration was of more immediate or further reaching benefit to the country. There was a gradual subsidence of sectional animosity and the Southern question began rapidly to disappear from its position of first importance in the public mind. President Hayes' persistent conciliatory policy marked the completion of reconstruction so far as the National Government was concerned.
The other great features of the administration can be only briefly mentioned. First consistent effort was made by the President to minimize the evils of the spoils system and to advance the cause of civil service reform. In all this he was opposed and thwarted largely by the politicians of his own party. And yet he was able to secure the adoption of the merit system in the New York Custom House and Post Office which became valuable object lessons is the furtherance of the great reform. He defied "Senatorial courtesy" in the appointment of the Collector of Customs at new York, and then instructed him to conduct his office "on strictly business principles, and according to the rules which were adopted, on the recommendation of the civil service commission by the administration of General Grant." Then he added: "Neither my recommendation, nor that of the Secretary of the Treasury, nor the recommendation of any member of Congress or other influential person, should be specially regarded. Restrict the area of patronage to the narrowest possible limits."
Second, the financial history of the administration is most note worthy. Mr. Hayes was most strenuous in upholding the policy of an early resumption of specie payments, the way for which had been prepared by the resumption act of 1875. In his first message he declared against "any wavering in purpose or unsteadiness in methods" in this regard. His strength of purpose and conviction had much to do with keeping the country up to the mark of resumption, suffering as it still was from the depression succeeding the panic of 1873. A gold reserve was accumulated and when the date fixed by the law arrived the greenbacks had risen to the par with gold. Another feature of the administration's financial history was the successful refunding of the public debt by which an annual saving in interest of $15,000,000 was secured. Moreover it is not to be forgotten that Mr. Hayes vetoed the Bland-Allison Bill providing for the coinage of silver dollars of 412½ grains standard silver, accompanying his veto with a message of great force arguing against the wisdom of issuing full legal tender coins of less intrinsic than nominal value. This bill was passed over his veto, to be sure, and so the "silver" question entered upon its long and exasperating career in American politics.
Third, Mr. Hayes maintained the dignity and prerogative of the executive by refusing to be coerced into signing appropriation bills with obnoxious riders, intended to curtail the power of the President to execute laws disliked by the Democratic majority in Congress, but which laws Congress was powerless to repeal over the President's veto. In every contest of the sort the President finally triumphed.
Fourth, on March 1, 1879, Mr. Hayes, while sympathizing with the opposition to Chinese immigration, had the courage, in the face of a large popular demand, to veto the restriction bill, because it violated treaty obligations. In his last annual message he announced that a new treaty with China had been negotiated under which Chinese immigration could be regulated or suspended. Moreover, in the treatment of the Indians, in furthering the interests of the colored people, in the cause of education, Mr. Hayes urged and, so far as lay in his power, instituted, progressive measures. The resumption of specie payments was followed by a revival of business, and a general increase of prosperity. In November 1880 the country declared its approval of Mr. Hayes' administration by electing James A. Garfield as his successor by a decisive majority. Charles Francis Adams, who had supported his opponent, said of Mr. Hayes' administration: "Taken as a whole, it has been an administration which will bear comparison with the best and purest of all those which preceded it." And James G. Blaine wrote: "It was one of the few and rare cases in our history, in which the President entered upon his office with the country depressed and discontented and left it prosperous and happy; in which he found his party broken, divided, and on the verge of defeat, and left it strong, united, and prosperous. This was the peculiar felicity of General hayes' public career."
On the expiration of his term Mr. Hayes retired to Spiegal Grove, his home, at Fremont. To his neighbors he spoke in feeling appreciation of their hearty welcome. In the course of his speech he said: "The question is often heard, 'What is to become of the man--what is he to do--who, having been Chief Magistrate of the Republic, retires at the end of his official term to private life?' It seems to me the reply is near at hand and sufficient: Let him, like every other good American citizen, be willing and prompt to bear his part in every work that will promote the welfare and the happiness of his family, his town, his State, and his country. Wi this disposition he will have work enough to do, and that sort of work that yields more individual contentment and gratification than belong to the more conspicuous employments of the life from which he has retired."
In the full spirit of these words Mr. Hayes lived the twelve years that remained to him. He took great interest in the old soldiers; he was active in furthering the cause of the Grand Army; he was the first president of the Society of the Army of West Virginia, and he was for many years Commander of the Loyal Legion. He devoted much time, labor, and earnest attention to the cause of education; he was president of the board of trustees of the John F. Slater education fund, one of the trustees of the Peabody education fund, a trustee of the Western Reserve University at Cleveland, of the Ohio Wesleyan University at Delaware, and of The Ohio State University at Columbus. He was for many years the president of the National Prison Reform Association, an active member of the National Conference of Corrections and Charities, an earnest participant in the Lake Mohonk Indian Conferences; and a member of many other benevolent and educational organizations. From Kenyon College he received the degree of LL.D., in 1868; the same degree from Harvard in 1877, from Yale in 1880, and from Johns Hopkins in 1881.
Mr. Hayes was profoundly interested in American history from the earliest period. He collected a library chiefly of books relating to American history and biography of many thousand volumes, now preserved in Memorial Building. Mr. Hayes never lost his interest in politics in the large sense of the term, but after his retirement from the White House he rigidly abstained from discussing party questions for publication. He was most happy in his home life. The death of Mrs. Hayes in June 1889 was a crushing blow to him, and he was not reluctant to respond when the final summons came to him on January 17, 1893. He died as he had lived, a noble, faithful, true-hearted Christian gentleman who had met every responsibility and performed every duty that life laid upon him, honorably, conscientiously, and to the enduring good of his time and his country.
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