Rutherford B. Hayes (1822–1893) became the 19th president of the United States in 1877. His presidency was fraught with Reconstruction challenges after the end of the Civil War, as he tried to balance the hostilities between the Northerners and Southerners. He was the first president to be elected by the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote, which earned him the nickname “His Fraudulency” by his opponents.
Hayes was born on Oct. 4, 1822 in Delaware, Ohio. His father had passed away just two months before his birth. He received his education at Kenyon College and Harvard Law School and then practiced law for about five years.
His political career started when he was in the Army, fighting in the Civil War. Cincinnati Republicans nominated him for the House of Representatives, which he accepted, on one condition: that he not take office until after the North won the war. Hayes said, “an officer fit for duty who at this crisis would abandon his post to electioneer … ought to be scalped.”
Hayes ran for president in the 1876 election, but it looked like the Democrats were going to win, so he went to bed that night thinking he had lost. The Republican National Chairman Zachariah Chandler found a loophole and sent a wire saying “Hayes has 185 votes and is elected.” Samuel J. Tilden had the popular vote with 4,300,000, while Hayes had 4,036,000.
The presidential seat now depended upon electoral votes in Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina, which had been contested by Hayes’ campaign managers. As a result, each of the three states received two sets of ballots. For months, Congress tried to figure out how to accurately tell the results and finally created an Electoral Commission to make the decision. The group was made up of eight Republicans and seven Democrats. The race was so close that if Tilden received even a single electoral vote, he would win. On March 2, 1877, the Commission decided that all the contested votes would go to Hayes, making the final tally 185 for Hayes and 184 electoral votes for Tilden. This contentious dispute became known as the Tilden-Hayes affair.
President Rutherford B. Hayes
The Civil War had caused a lot of bad feelings between the Southern and Northern states. Hayes wanted to try and heal some of the rifts and included an ex-Confederate to his staff, which outraged some of the Northern supporters. He appointed more Southerners to federal positions and kept his promise to withdraw the troops from states that were still under occupation, which led to the end of the Reconstruction era.
Establishing rules for the federal civil service was another of his achievements, which also served to upset some of the members of his Republican Party. In June 1877, he issued an executive order that prohibited those who had federal appointments from being involved in political activity. Two individuals decided to ignore the president’s order and Hayes promptly removed Alonzo B. Cornell and Chester A. Arthur from their posts. In retaliation, their good friend Senator Roscoe Conkling got Cornell elected as governor of New York in 1879 and nominated Arthur as the Republican candidate in 1880 for the vice presidency.
Hayes’ presidency had been about building up the South and strengthening the Republican Party; however, the hostility between the northern and southern states was still too great and ended up almost virtually destroying the Republican Party in the South.
He chose not to run for president for another term and in retirement devoted his time to other causes such as educational opportunities for black youth in the South and prison reform. He died on Jan. 17, 1893 at the age of 70.