Rutherford B. Hayes: The President Who Ended Reconstruction

Rutherford B. Hayes is one of those presidents from American history that often gets overlooked. Sandwiched between the dramatic Civil War era and the rise of industrial giants, his legacy isn’t always as flashy. But don’t let that fool you – Hayes was a principled man whose presidency marked a crucial turning point in American history.

Hayes the Hero

Before entering politics, Hayes was a lawyer with a strong sense of justice. He was an abolitionist and even defended escaped slaves in court! When the Civil War broke out, Hayes didn’t hesitate to join the Union Army. He was known for his bravery in battle, becoming a Major General despite being wounded multiple times.

The Disputed Election

Hayes’s path to the White House was unusual, to say the least. The 1876 presidential election was a nail-biter, with results fiercely contested in several states. It took a special commission to settle the matter, ultimately placing Hayes in the Oval Office. This earned him nicknames like “His Fraudulency.”

Compromise of 1877: The End of Reconstruction

Upon becoming president (1877 – 1881), Hayes faced a deeply divided nation. The South was still reeling from the Civil War and Federal troops occupied many former Confederate states – a period known as Reconstruction. Hayes made a controversial decision that would shape the country’s future. In the Compromise of 1877, he agreed to withdraw those troops, effectively ending Reconstruction efforts in the South.

Why did he do this? Hayes hoped for a peaceful reunion of the states, but this compromise came at a cost. Without federal protection, the rights of recently freed African Americans were swiftly eroded, ushering in the era of Jim Crow segregation.

A President of Reforms

Despite this complex legacy, Hayes remained committed to his ideals. He tried to mend the North-South rift and surprisingly, appointed former Confederates to his cabinet. Hayes also took on the corrupt political machines of the time, attempting to reform the civil service system (how government jobs are filled). While his reforms were limited by the politics of his era the groundwork for future civil service improvements.

Fun Facts!

  • Hayes was the first president to have a telephone in the White House.
  • His wife, Lucy Hayes, was known as “Lemonade Lucy” for banning alcohol from the White House.
  • Hayes was a devoted diarist, leaving behind a detailed and insightful record of his time.

The Understated President

Rutherford B. Hayes might not be the most celebrated president, but his story is one of integrity, complex decisions, and the enduring struggle for equality in America. His time in office underscores the fact that history is messy, and the actions of the past continue to impact the nation today.

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