Rutherford Hayes: Presidency, Accomplishments & Facts

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  • 0:01 Who Was Rutherford B. Hayes?
  • 1:00 Hayes' Civil War Career
  • 1:50 Hayes' Politics
  • 3:12 President Rutherford B. Hayes
  • 6:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Daniel Vermilya
Rutherford B. Hayes was a Civil War general, a congressman, a Governor of Ohio, and the 19th President of the United States. His election in 1876 was one of the closest and most hotly contested elections in American history.

Who Was Rutherford B. Hayes?

In the latter years of the 19th century in the United States, there was a series of bearded presidents who have been largely forgotten to history. Most of them were Civil War veterans, most were from the state of Ohio, and they all had a big impact on the history of the United States. Rutherford Birchard Hayes, the 19th President of the United States is just one of these presidents.

Hayes was one of many presidents born in Ohio. He was born in 1822 and spent the early years of his life without his father, who died before Rutherford was born. His mother raised several children and ran a store in Delaware, Ohio. Hayes attended local schools and went to Kenyon College in 1838. He continued on to attend Harvard Law School, and became a lawyer practicing in Sandusky in the 1840s. He moved to Cincinnati in 1850, was married in 1852, and had several children by the start of the American Civil War in 1861.

Hayes' Civil War Career

In 1861, Hayes took up arms to defend the Union, being appointed a major in the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. The regiment initially fought in the Kanawha Division of the Union army, seeing service in what is now West Virginia. In 1862, during the Maryland Campaign, Hayes was the lieutenant colonel of the regiment. He was wounded in the left arm at the Battle of South Mountain on September 14, 1862. After recovering from his wounds, Hayes became a colonel and took command of a brigade in the Kanawha Division. He and his men remained in western Virginia for many months to come. In 1864 they took part in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign. Hayes was noted for bravery and gallant conduct under fire, drawing praise from Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant himself.

Hayes' Politics

Toward the end of the Civil War, Hayes was elected to congress as a Republican in the House of Representatives. He voted to pass important post-war legislation, such as the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted citizenship to all born in the U.S., including former slaves. He was a Republican who wanted to add safeguards for freed blacks in the South and make sure Southern states recognized the rights of former slaves before they were brought back into the Union.

Hayes also was one of the Republicans who disagreed with President Andrew Johnson on Reconstruction policies, policies regarding the re-admittance of southern states and enforcement of federal laws, voting against Johnson's agenda and for harsher policies regarding the states' remittance.

In 1867, Hayes was elected Governor of Ohio. He was re-elected in 1869, when he was able to secure a Republican state legislature and then govern as he saw fit. Hayes tried to expand voting rights and worked to found a state university to focus on agriculture and mechanics. This would eventually become Ohio State.

In 1872, Hayes retired from politics to a private life away from the public eye. He went to his home in Fremont, Ohio, to spend time with his children. After economic troubles that hit the nation, Hayes decided to get back into public life, and was elected Ohio governor again in 1875.

President Rutherford B. Hayes

With his return to office, Hayes was a perfect choice for the Republican presidential nomination in 1876. The Ohio delegation to the Republican convention pressed his candidacy. He was nominated after several ballots. His status as a Republican governor and war hero made him a perfect choice to run for president.

Hayes's entire life and presidency are best known for how he was elected to the office. Hayes's opponent in 1876 was the Democratic Governor of New York, Samuel Tilden. The 1876 election was one of the closest elections in American history. Tilden garnered a narrow margin of victory in the popular vote, but neither candidate received the majority of the Electoral College votes. Because of election fraud, there were 20 electoral votes up for grabs after the election, and both parties fought for them.

To resolve these problems, President Ulysses Grant, the 18th President of the United States, organized an Electoral Commission to decide the matter. Composed of Supreme Court Justices, Representatives, and Senators, this appeared to be the best way to make a decision. The committee decided in Hayes's favor, which enraged Democrats.

A compromise was reached between the two parties shortly before the new president was to be sworn in in 1877. Hayes and the Republicans agreed that, if the Democrats would withdraw their opposition and allow Hayes to take the presidency, all Federal troops in the South for reconstruction purposes would be withdrawn, ending the Union occupation of Southern states. Thus, Hayes became the 19th President of the United States in 1877

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