From Ohio History Central
President Rutherford Birchard Hayes was born in Delaware, Ohio, on October 4, 1822. His parents had moved to Ohio from Vermont in 1817. Hayes's father, Rutherford Hayes, Jr., was a farmer and whiskey distiller, and died two months before his son's birth. As a result, Hayes's mother, Sophia Birchard Hayes, and her brother, Sardis Birchard, raised Hayes and his sister Fanny.
Hayes received an excellent education. He began attending school while in Delaware, before enrolling in a Methodist seminary (a private high school) in Norwalk, Ohio. He also attended a private school in Middletown, Connecticut, that later became part of Wesleyan University. He received his degree from Kenyon College in 1842. Deciding that he wanted to become a lawyer, Hayes attended Harvard College and graduated in 1845.
Hayes returned to Ohio and opened a law practice in Lower Sandusky, now known as Fremont, Ohio. Hayes chose this small community because his uncle, Sardis Birchard, lived there. Lower Sandusky did not have a significant amount of work for a young attorney. After several years, Hayes chose to relocate his practice to Cincinnati, where he was much more successful. Originally associated with the Whig Party, Hayes became involved with the new Republican Party because of his opposition to slavery.
On December 30, 1852, Hayes married Lucy Ware Webb of Chillicothe, Ohio. Lucy Webb had graduated from the Wesleyan Women's College of Cincinnati. The couple had eight children, including seven sons and one daughter. Hayes continued to practice law, eventually becoming Cincinnati's city solicitor in 1858.
When the American Civil War began in 1861, Hayes volunteered for the military. Ohio governor William Dennison appointed him as a major in the Twenty-Third Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Hayes eventually rose to the rank of major general during the war and he was wounded several times. Because of his military service, Ohio Republicans decided that he was a good candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1864. Hayes resisted the nomination, stating, "an officer fit for duty who at this crisis would abandon his post to electioneer . . . ought to be scalped."
Hayes won the election. He resigned his military commission on June 9, 1865, to take his seat in Congress. By this time, the war was over and Reconstruction was just beginning. During his term in Congress, Hayes usually supported the Radical Republicans' goals for Reconstruction. Hayes also helped to develop the Library of Congress.
Although Hayes was reelected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1866, he soon resigned. The Republican Party had nominated him for governor of Ohio in 1867, in part because of his position on Reconstruction. The opposition candidate was Democrat Allen G. Thurman. The key issue of the campaign was whether African Americans should be given the right to vote. Supporting African-American suffrage, Hayes was successful in his campaign for governor. He also won reelection against George H. Pendleton in 1869. During his two terms as governor, Hayes supported Ohio's ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He also helped reform the state's mental hospitals and school system. Although the Republican Party wanted Hayes to run for a third term in 1871, he retired from politics and returned to his home called Spiegel Grove, near Fremont, Ohio.
Hayes's retirement from politics was brief. Republicans convinced Hayes to run for governor in 1875 against Democratic candidate William Allen. Once again, Hayes was successful. It was the first time that an Ohio governor had been elected to a third term.
Hayes's strong record as a Republican governor in Ohio made him appealing to national Republicans. They chose Hayes as their candidate for the presidency in 1876. In the Presidential Election of 1876, Hayes campaigned against Democrat Samuel J. Tilden, who was governor of New York. The election was closely fought, and in the end, Tilden won the popular vote by approximately 250,000 votes. In spite of this outcome, a dispute arose in the Electoral College. The voting returns from South Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, and Oregon were contested. If Hayes received the Electoral College votes from these states, he would win the election by a single vote (185 to 184), even though he had lost the popular vote.
The U.S. Congress appointed a special commission to determine how the disputed votes were to be counted. Initially, seven Democrats, seven Republicans, and one independent served on the committee. The independent eventually withdrew, and the Congress selected a Republican to replace him. The special committee voted to give Hayes all of the disputed Electoral College votes. The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate still had to agree to the committee's decision. The Republican-dominated Senate quickly ratified the committee's recommendations. The Democrats in the House planned to filibuster, refusing to let the issue come to a vote.
To ensure Hayes's election, Republican leaders negotiated an agreement with Southern Democrats in the House. The Republicans agreed to remove federal troops policing the South as soon as Hayes became president and to appoint at least one Southerner to the Hayes cabinet. Southern Democrats accepted this agreement and Hayes won all of the disputed Electoral votes. This agreement became known as the Compromise of 1877 and formally brought Reconstruction to an end.
As president, Hayes helped begin a federal civil service system in the United States. His administration also worked to improve the nation's monetary system. Hayes hoped to create more support for the Republican Party among white Southerners, but this goal was not fulfilled.
Hayes's wife Lucy had her own goals. She refused to allow alcohol to be served in the White House and acquired the nickname "Lemonade Lucy." The president supported his wife on this issue. Hayes had promised from the beginning that he would not seek a second term as president. He retired to his home in Fremont in 1881.
Hayes continued to work for reform of public education and prisons, among a number of other interests. He died at his home, Spiegel Grove, on January 17, 1893. Both he and his wife are buried on the estate. Today, the Rutherford B. Hayes Home and Presidential Center are open to the public and researchers.
- William Dennison Jr.
- American Civil War
- Presidential Election of 1876
- African Americans
- Radical Republicans
- First Women's Rights Movement
- Chillicothe, Ohio
- Kenyon College
- Lower Sandusky
- Whig Party
- Theodore Burton
- Delaware, Ohio
- Methodist Church
- Cincinnati, Ohio
- Republican Party
- Lucy W. Webb
- Democratic Party
- Allen G. Thurman
- George Pendleton
- Fifteenth Amendment
- United States Constitution
- William Allen
- Temperance Movement
- Fremont, Ohio
- Public Education
- Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- Spiegel Grove
- [Hayes Presidential Center]
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- Williams, Thomas Harry. Hayes of the Twenty-third: The Civil War Volunteer Officer. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994.