Top 10 Things to Know About Rutherford B. Hayes

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Rutherford B. Hayes was born in Delaware, Ohio on October 4, 1822. He became president under a cloud of controversy surrounding the Compromise of 1877 and only served one term as president. Following are 10 key facts that are important to understand ​when studying the life and presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes.

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Raised by His Mother

Rutherford B. Hayes' mother, Sophia Birchard Hayes, raised her son and his sister Fanny on her own. His father had died eleven weeks before his birth. His mother was able to raise money by renting out a farm near their home. In addition, his uncle helped out the family, buying the siblings books and other items. Sadly, his sister died of dysentery in 1856 in childbirth. Hayes was devastated by her death. 

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Had an Early Interest in Politics

Hayes was a very good student, having attended the Norwalk Seminary and a college preparatory program before going to Kenyon College, where he graduated as valedictorian. While at Kenyon, Hayes became keenly interested in the election of 1840. He wholeheartedly supported William Henry Harrison and wrote in his diary that he was never "...more elated by anything in my life." 

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Studied Law at Harvard

In Columbus, Ohio, Hayes studied law. He was then admitted to Harvard Law School from which he graduated in 1845. After graduation, he was admitted to the Ohio bar. He soon was practicing law in lower Sandusky, Ohio. However, unable to make enough money there, he ended up moving to Cincinnati in 1849. It was there he became a successful lawyer. 

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Married Lucy Ware Webb Hayes

On December 30, 1852, Hayes married Lucy Ware Webb. Her father was a doctor who had passed away when she was a baby. Webb met Hayes in 1847. She would attend Wesleyan Women's College located in Cincinnati. In fact, she would become the first president's wife to graduate from college. Lucy was strongly against enslavement and strongly for temperance. In fact, she banned alcohol at White House state functions leading to the nickname "Lemonade Lucy." The pair of them had five children, four sons named Sardis Birchard, James Webb, Rutherford Platt, and Scott Russel. They also had a daughter named Frances "Fanny" Hayes. Their son James would become a hero during the Spanish-American War

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Fought for the Union During the Civil War

In 1858, Hayes was chosen as Cincinnati's city solicitor. However, once the Civil War broke out in 1861, Hayes decided to join the Union and fight. He served as a major for the Twenty-Third Ohio Volunteer Infantry. During the war, he was wounded four times, seriously at the Battle of South Mountain in 1862. However, he served through the end of the war. He eventually became a Major General. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives while serving in the military. However, he didn't officially take office until the war's end. He served in the House from 1865 to 1867. 

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Served as the Governor of Ohio

Hayes was elected as the Governor of Ohio in 1867. He served in that capacity until 1872. He was reelected in 1876. However, at that point, he was chosen to run for the presidency. His time as governor was spent enacting civil service reforms. 

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Became President With the Compromise of 1877

Hayes was given the nickname "The Great Unknown" because he was not well known in the Republican Party. In fact, he was the compromise candidate for the party in the election of 1876. He focused during his campaign on civil service reform and a sound currency. He ran against Democratic candidate Samuel J. Tilden, the governor of New York. Tilden had stopped the Tweed Ring, making him a national figure. In the end, Tilden won the popular vote. However, the electoral vote was muddied and under a recount, many ballots were ruled invalid. An investigative committee was formed to look at the vote. In the end, all the electoral votes were given to Hayes. Tilden agreed not to challenge the decision because Hayes had agreed to the Compromise of 1877. This ended military occupation in the South along with giving Democrats positions in the government. 

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Dealt With the Nature of Currency While President

Because of the controversy surrounding Hayes' election, he was given the nickname "His Fraudulency." He tried to get civil service reform passed, but was unsuccessful, angering members of the Republican Party in the process. He was also faced with making currency more stable in the U.S. while he was in office. Currency was backed at the time by gold, but this was scarce and many politicians felt that it should be backed by silver. Hayes did not agree, feeling gold was more stable. He tried to veto the Bland-Allison Act in 1878 requiring the government to buy more silver in order to create coins. However, in 1879, the Specie Payment Resumption Act was passed that said that greenbacks which were created after January 1, 1879 would be backed by the gold standard.

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Tried to Deal With Anti-Chinese Sentiment

Hayes had to deal with the issue of Chinese immigration in the 1880s. In the west, there was a strong anti-Chinese movement as many individuals who argued that the immigrants were taking over too many jobs. Hayes vetoed a law passed by Congress that would have severely restricted Chinese immigration. In 1880, Hayes ordered William Evarts, his Secretary of State, to meet with the Chinese and create restrictions on Chinese immigration. This was a compromise position, allowing some immigration but still quieting those who wanted it to be stopped altogether. 

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Retired After One Term as President

Hayes decided early on that he would not run for a second term as president. He retired from politics in 1881 at the end of this presidency. Instead, he focused on causes that were of great importance to him. He fought for temperance, provided scholarships for African Americans, and even became one of Ohio State University's trustees. His wife died in 1889. He died of a heart attack on January 17, 1893 at his home Spiegel Grove located in Fremont, Ohio. 

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Kelly, Martin. "Top 10 Things to Know About Rutherford B. Hayes." ThoughtCo, Aug. 1, 2021, Kelly, Martin. (2021, August 1). Top 10 Things to Know About Rutherford B. Hayes. Retrieved from Kelly, Martin. "Top 10 Things to Know About Rutherford B. Hayes." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 4, 2023).