After the debacle of the Grant administration, the Republicans looked for a candidate "above reproach. " They found him in the Governor of Ohio, Rutherford B. Hayes. Born in Delaware, Ohio, October 4, 1822, Hayes was all that they could ask for.
A man of great dignity and presence, great probity, great Christian character, and a great military hero, he filled the bill at a time when "politician" was not a nice word. (It should be noted that in this period after the Civil War "waving the bloody shirt" was the general political practice. "I fit, bled, and died," rang out from the platforms both North and South.)
Historians sadly record the Hayes administration. While nothing like the Johnson vendetta (there has never been anything like that), Hayes never seemed to be able to do what he was so eminently qualified to do - be a real President of the United States.
First there was the contested election. Tilden, the Democratic candidate, swept the popular vote and seemed assured of election. But there was a Republican Congress and there was the Army of Occupation. An Electoral Commission was formed and by a vote of 8 to 7 (8 Republicans and 7 Democrats) all of the votes of South Carolina, Louisiana, Florida, and Oregon were given to Hayes. The electoral vote was 185 to 184 - "Mr. President by one vote." Or as Thomas Nast, the great cartoonist for the New York Tribune termed it, "His Fraudulency."
There had been a meeting; Tilden was sacrificed. Hayes agreed to withdraw the troops from the South, and that was all that they were interested in.
Then for the first time in the history of the country religion was a serious factor in the presidency. Both the President and Mrs. Hayes were people of strong religious principles.
Hayes' position is rather strange. "I am a Christian, “ he said, "therefore I cannot join a church or accept a creed." Mrs. Hayes (nee Lucy Webb) was a devout and loyal Methodist. The President and his children went with her to church.
Hayes ordered that no alcohol or tobacco could be used at any White House function. Mrs. Hayes, the First Lady, announced that she would attend no function at which there was any evidence of alcohol or tobacco. This may appear to be a minor matter, but in the capital of the United States it was the cause of jokes, ugly remarks, and even sneers.
There was no Civil Service in the country. The memories of the Grant administration hung over the nation. Appointments were made by politicians as political "pay-offs.” Politicians like Conkling of New York and Blaine of Maine and others brooked no questioning of any man recommended for government office. Hayes adopted the practice of investigating the character of the individuals recommended, which aroused the ire, enmity, and hatred of the professional powers-that-be. As the time for the election of 1880 approached, it was evident that the Congressional bloc of Republicans was against him. He might get the nomination, but they would unhesitatingly make reelection impossible.
President and Mrs. Hayes left Washington. Thus ended the career of one of the strongest and finest of our national leaders. He brought that quality of moral fiber which was so characteristic of the early leaders of the nation, but he was the right man at the wrong time.
Related albums • See other albumsPhotographs by Mathew Brady
Religion In The Lives Of The American Presidents
Related peoplePresident Rutherford Birchard Hayes
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