President Hayes: Foreign & Domestic Policies

Instructor: Evan Thompson

Evan has taught high school History and has a bachelor's degree in history with a master's degree in teaching.

The administration of Rutherford Hayes had several facets to its domestic and foreign policy. Let's look at some of the more memorable milestones of his presidency.

Rutherford B. Hayes' Domestic and Foreign Policy

Imagine the following scenario: A hotly contested American presidential election is taking place. The sitting president is retiring after serving for two terms. The voting results in three states are in dispute, and questions have arisen regarding the eligibility status of one member of the Electoral College in a fourth state. The Republican candidate emerges victorious -- despite gaining a lower amount of total popular votes nationwide -- and the Democrats howl in protest. The Republicans are accused of stealing the election. The winner is going to try to unite a bitterly divided nation.

Sound familiar? Well...this isn't about the 2016 Election. It's about the 1876 Election, where Republican Rutherford B. Hayes defeated Democrat Samuel Tilden by one Electoral Vote. The administration of Rutherford Hayes had several facets to its domestic and foreign policy: the Compromise of 1877, Civil Service Reform, a railroad strike, a return to the gold standard, treatment of the Native Americans, treatment of Chinese immigrants, and a canal connecting the Pacific and Atlantic.

President Rutherford B. Hayes
President Hayes

Compromise of 1877

After President Ulysses S. Grant decided not to run for a third term, the Republicans nominated Ohio Governor Rutherford B. Hayes. The Democrats countered with New York Governor Samuel Tilden. After a controversial (to put it mildly) election that was decided only two days before the inauguration, Hayes was elected president. Hayes' election came as the result of the informal Compromise of 1877. The Democrats agreed not to dispute Hayes' election, and the Republicans agreed to end military Reconstruction and appoint a Southern Democrat to the Cabinet. Hayes also promised to serve only one term, and he kept that promise.

Civil Service Reform

Hayes took office during an era that used the Spoils System, named in reference to the phrase, 'To the victor go the spoils.' Under the Spoils System, the president was expected to give federal office nominations to top people in his party, since they helped get him elected. Hayes felt that nominations should instead be based on merit, angering several top Republicans in the process. A federal law regarding this did eventually pass, but not until 1882, and it took a presidential assassination by a disappointed office-seeker to get it done.

Great Strike of 1877

A railroad strike by workers between the Northeast and the Midwest began in July and quickly spread to rail workers nationwide. The Great Strike of 1877 -- started over proposed wage cuts -- became violent, bringing governors to call in state militias to break it up. There were calls for President Hayes to send in the army, but he said he would only do so if asked to by the governor of that state, maintaining the principle of federalism. He did send in troops to help quell the violence in a few places, and the strike died down after about a month and a half.

Destruction of the Union Depot during the Strike
Union Depot Fire

Return to the Gold Standard

Since the mid-1860s, the US had printed paper money called greenbacks that were not backed up by gold. The greenbacks were subject to inflation, which made recovery from the economic recession of the early 1870s more difficult. Hayes and his treasury secretary, John Sherman, believed that the US should return to the gold standard, where all money was backed by gold.

Two years before Hayes took office, Congress passed the Specie Payment Resumption Act of 1875, which required the US Treasury to begin redeeming greenbacks for gold on January 1, 1879. There was a large group in Congress who believed in coining silver as well. They passed an act over Hayes' veto that mandated the coinage of silver, but Hayes and Sherman did so in a way that would minimize inflation. They coined silver at the minimum amount mandated by law, trying to make sure that the exchange rate of silver for gold was as close to the going market rate as possible.

Sherman also had the Treasury work diligently to stock up its gold reserves in order to prepare for the greenback redemption. When 1879 rolled around, there was enough gold in the US Treasury reserves to redeem the greenbacks. As a result, the US began its long period of recovery from the economic depression.

Native Americans

Hayes' predecessors pursued an aggressive policy of conquest and forced removal onto reservations when it came to the Native Americans. Hayes believed that what was best for the Native Americans was assimilation (becoming a part of something) into American society through education, private property ownership, and mastering a trade.

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