RUTHERFORD BIRCHARD HAYES
was born on October 22, 1822 in Delaware, Ohio, nearly three months after the
death of his father, Rutherford Hayes. The elder Hayes had left his native
Vermont in 1817 to emigrate to the West, bringing with him his wife, Sophia
Birchard of Wilmington, Vermont, his two young children and his wife’s
brother, Sardis Birchard. They settled in the town of Delaware, Ohio, where he
purchased an interest in a distillery and built a considerable house. He died of
the malarial epidemic that swept the region, leaving his wife with a child on
the way, to the care of her brother.
Rutherford B. Hayes was a sickly child and when he was three years old, his
older brother Lorenzo drowned, leaving his mother very apprehensive of young
Rutherford’s health and well-being. She kept him from school in his early
childhood and he became timid with an aversion to the rough and mischievous ways
of other boys. The boy’s sole companion was his sister Fanny, a bright active
tomboy, two years older than himself. When he did attend school, he was an
excellent student and gave his teachers no trouble. His uncle Birchard, who had
been devoted to the family, took a strong interest in the boy’s schooling and
decided to send young Hayes to a tutor in Connecticut where he remained for a
year. On his return, he was sent to Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio and he
graduated first in his class in 1842.
Hayes decided to pursue a law profession and began his studies at the office
of Mr. Thomas Sparrow in Columbus. With his uncle’s approval, he attended
Harvard Law School and received his degree in 1845. He was admitted to the Ohio
bar and went into practice with Ralph P. Buckland in Fremont. This partnership
lasted three years. Hayes uncle Sardis Birchard had by this time become a
wealthy banker and the Hayes family was benefiting from his wealth. In 1849,
young Hayes moved to Cincinnati, where he established his practice and made
contact with some of the leading men of the city. He also renewed his friendship
with his college schoolmate, Stanley Matthews and entered local politics in the
new Republican Party. Within a few years he had made a name for himself as a
criminal lawyer. Hayes mother had chosen a girl for him. She was Lucy Ware Webb,
whom Hayes had first met at his home in Delaware when she was 15. They became
engaged after she was graduated from Wesleyan Female College in Cincinnati and
they were married in December 1852. Hayes was then 30 and Lucy, although only 21
was warmhearted, popular and very religious. Their first son, Birchard Austin,
was born in 1853.
Hayes was a strong supporter of the Union, despite his hopes for a compromise
on the issue of the Civil War. When the War broke out, he answered the call for
troops in April 1861 and served the Union well for the next four years. He was
wounded four times and had four horses shot out from under him. In the spring of
1865 he was placed in command of an expedition against Lynchburg when the war
was brought to a close by Lee’s surrender.
Hayes was nominated and elected to Congress while still in the army, but he
refused to leave his command until the war was over. He took his seat I the
House in December 1865 and was reelected in 1866. He made few speeches and took
no part in the debates over reconstruction and always voted along party lines.
In 1867 and again in 1869, Hayes was elected Governor of Ohio. He proved a
capable and economical administrator, taking great interest in prison reform and
in hospitals for the mentally ill. His beloved sister Fanny had been
hospitalized more than once for mental illness.
In 1873 Hayes decided he was finished with politics and he retired with is
family to his uncle’s house, Spiegel Grove, in Fremont. His uncle died the
following year and left the bulk of his large estate (mostly land) to Hayes. The
Hayeses now had five children (three had died in childhood). The oldest boys,
Birchard, Webb and Rutherford were at college. At home were Fanny, seven and
Scott Russell, four. Hayes was the leading citizen of Fremont and was listed in
the directory as a “capitalist”. His retirement was brief, however, after
one year he was persuaded to run for Congress. He was defeated, but he ran
again, this time for Governor of Ohio in 1875. Hayes defeated Democratic
Governor William Allen, but only by 5,500 votes out of nearly 600,000 cast.
Although his victory was narrow, his success made him a strong presidential
possibility in 1876. The Republican Party liked him for many reasons, his
integrity being one, and Hayes himself thought he had a good chance and actively
sought and received their nomination.
Hayes Democratic opponent in 1876 was Samuel J. Tilden, the Governor of New
York. When the election returns were counted, Tilden had won the popular vote by
about 247,448 out of a total cast of 8,320,592. However, both men claimed an
electoral vote victory. There had been a controversy pending for some time in
Congress regarding the manner that the Electoral votes of several states were
counted and declared. The dispute was settled by the appointment of the
Electoral Commission of 1877. On March 2, 1877, the result of the proceedings
was the declaration of Rutherford B. Hayes by a vote of 185 electoral votes to
On March 5, 1877, Hayes was inaugurated. He realized that the presidency was
weak and the Congress strong, and he did not please many legislators with the
tone of his inauguration speech. “He serves his party best who serves his
country best” was his much-quoted statement. In April the last of the federal
troops were withdrawn from the South and the long period of reconstruction after
the Civil War was finally ended.
In June 1877, Hayes issued an executive order directing federal workers not
to take part in the management of political parties and campaigns and forbade
the parties to demand contributions from federal employees. His administration
uncovered a civil service scandal in the New York Custom House. Many of its
employees (Chester a. Arthur, later president of the United States, and Alonzo
B. Cornell, later Governor of New York, among them) ignored their jobs and
worked instead at Republican Party politics. Hayes sponsored a bill in Congress
for broad civil service reform and although the bill was defeated, it brought
public awareness to the need for reform.
Hayes firmness and disregard of all matters but those of principle and
conviction were displayed on many occasions. His purity of purpose, courage and
consistency were rarely questioned, but his Democratic opposition was bitter and
the support of Republicans was at best mediocre. He opposed the reelection of
Presidents and affirmed his not being a candidate for reelection under any
circumstances. He advocated an amendment to the constitution extending the
president’s term to six years and prohibiting reelections. At the end of his
term, Hayes retired quietly to his home in Fremont, Ohio. His public career
ended with his retirement and he led a tranquil life, appearing as a
distinguished guest at many public celebrations and reunions.
Hayes died on January 17, 1893 at Spiegel Grove, his home in Fremont, Ohio,
after suffering an apparent heart attack.
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