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Rutherford B. Hayes

04/03/187704/03/1881

Rutherford B. Hayes
Rutherford B. Hayes

Rutherford Birchard Hayes (October 4, 1822 – January 17, 1893) was the 19th president of the United States from 1877 to 1881, after serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and as governor of Ohio. A lawyer and staunch abolitionist, he had defended refugee slaves in court proceedings during the antebellum years.

The Republican Party nominated Hayes as its candidate for the presidency in 1876, where he won through the Compromise of 1877 that officially ended Reconstruction by leaving the South to govern itself. In office he withdrew military troops from the South, ending Army support for Republican state governments in the South and for the efforts of African-American freedmen to establish their families as free citizens. Hayes promoted civil-service reform, and attempted to reconcile the divisions left over from the Civil War of 1861–65 and the Reconstruction Era of 1865–77.

An attorney in Ohio, Hayes served as city solicitor of Cincinnati from 1858 to 1861. When the Civil War began, he left a fledgling political career to join the Union Army as an officer. Hayes was wounded five times, most seriously at the Battle of South Mountain in 1862. He earned a reputation for bravery in combat and was promoted to the rank of brevet major general. After the war, he served in Congress from 1865 to 1867 as a Republican. Hayes left Congress to run for governor of Ohio and was elected to two consecutive terms, from 1868 to 1872. Later he served a third two-year term, from 1876 to 1877.

In 1876 the Electoral College made Hayes president in one of the most contentious elections in U.S. history. He lost the popular vote to Democrat Samuel J. Tilden, but won an intensely disputed electoral-college vote after a Congressional commission awarded him 20 contested electoral votes. There resulted the Compromise of 1877, in which the Democrats acquiesced to Hayes's election on the condition that he withdraw remaining U.S. troops protecting Republican officeholders in the South, thus officially ending the Reconstruction era.

Hayes believed in meritocratic government and in equal treatment without regard to wealth, social standing or race. He ordered federal troops to guard federal buildings and in doing so restored order during the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. Hayes implemented modest civil-service reforms that laid the groundwork for further reform in the 1880s and 1890s. He vetoed the Bland–Allison Act (1878), which put silver money into circulation and raised nominal prices, insisting that maintenance of the gold standard was essential to economic recovery. Hayes's policy toward Western Indians anticipated the assimilationist program of the Dawes Act of 1887.

Hayes kept his pledge not to run for reelection, retired to his home in Ohio, and became an advocate of social and educational reform. Biographer Ari Hoogenboom said Hayes's greatest achievement was to restore popular faith in the presidency and to reverse the deterioration of executive power that had set in after Abraham Lincoln's assassination in 1865. Supporters have praised his commitment to civil-service reform and to the defense of civil rights, but historians and scholars generally rank Hayes as an average or slightly below-average president.


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Published in 28/08/2020

Updated in 19/02/2021

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