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Rutherford B. Hayes – The Best One-Term President

So in the early 2012 contestants for President we have a 3rd party guy named Rutherford B. Hayes running. This prompts a liberal response to remind everyone that the 19th President was an EEEEEvil RAAAAAcist who stole the election. Expect the same responses for the 43rd President George W. Bush. A lie is repeated often enough until it becomes an historical fact. This is one aspect of Glenn Beck that I very much admire, the digging into data that uncovers a different perspective than what we we’ve been taught about US history.

The Liberal Talking Points about Rutherford B. Hayes

As two-time governor of Ohio, Hayes was a thoroughly unremarkable politician, and unoffensive enough to become the Republican nominee for president in 1876, given the scandal-ridden — but substantively good — presidency of Ulysses S. Grant. Hayes’ opponent was the reform-minded governor of New York, Democrat Samuel Tilden, who was widely expected to win the election.

Unfortunately for Tilden, his 250,000 popular-vote margin wasn’t enough to carry the day; he was one electoral vote short of the 185 needed to win, and election results in Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Oregon were suspect, due to widespread fraud and reports of voter intimidation against Republican voters. Eventually, despite results that favored Tilden, all four states awarded their electoral votes to Hayes, giving him a one-vote margin over Tilden. Democrats were outraged and pushed Congress to count the votes, throwing out any that were suspect, a process that would almost certainly deliver the presidency to Tilden.

In order to avoid a constitutional crisis, Congress formed a bipartisan 15-member Electoral Commission to settle the result. And in an effort to bring the dispute to a quick end, Republicans and Democrats on the commission agreed to a deal; Democrats would accept the election results if — upon entering office — President Hayes included a Democrat in his Cabinet, built a second transcontinental railroad using the Texas and Pacific Railway, invested in the industrialization of the South, and removed federal troops from the South.

More than anything, the election of 1876 and compromise of 1877 marked the end of Reconstruction and the beginning of a long nadir for African Americans, who would be left to fend for themselves against a host of neo-Confederate governments. Hayes quickly fulfilled his part of the deal, removing troops from the former Confederacy. Now free from federal intervention, whites across the South engaged in a campaign of brutal violence and intimidation; black businesses were destroyed, black towns burned down, and black officials driven from office. To enforce this new status quo, white leaders used harsh laws and violence to keep blacks isolated, segregated, and removed from the mainstream economy.

Jim Crow isn’t entirely Hayes’ fault, but it couldn’t have happened without his willingness to go along. By my lights, he should fall squarely into the “worst president” column.

– Jamelle Bouie

The Truth that is never told about Rutherford B. Hayes

1. Hayes had a strong remarkable record as governor of Ohio.
The Republican Party had nominated him for governor of Ohio in 1867, in part because of his position on Reconstruction. The opposition candidate was Democrat Allen G. Thurman. The key issue of the campaign was whether African Americans should be given the right to vote. Supporting African-American suffrage, Hayes was successful in his campaign for governor. He also won reelection against George H. Pendleton in 1869. During his two terms as governor, Hayes supported Ohio’s ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He also helped reform the state’s mental hospitals and school system. Although the Republican Party wanted Hayes to run for a third term in 1871, he retired from politics and returned to his home called Spiegel Grove, near Fremont, Ohio.
Hayes’s retirement from politics was brief. Republicans convinced Hayes to run for governor in 1875 against Democratic candidate William Allen. Once again, Hayes was successful. It was the first time that an Ohio governor had been elected to a third term.
Hayes’s strong record as a Republican governor in Ohio made him appealing to national Republicans.

2. There was no fraud and shady backroom deal involved in the Presidential election of Hayes in 1876
Beneficiary of the most fiercely disputed election in American history, Rutherford B. Hayes brought to the Executive Mansion dignity, honesty, and moderate reform. Although a galaxy of famous Republican speakers, and even Mark Twain, stumped for Hayes, he expected the Democrats to win.
As Inauguration Day approached, the two parties finally decided to let a special commission decide the winner. The commission, made up of 5 members each from the House, Senate, and Supreme Court was split 7-7 between the parties with the 4 justices to name the 15th member.

The Democrats agreed to the commission because they figured that the Justice to be named would be David Davis, a Democrat of Illinois. However, the agreement passed, and David was appointed a Senator by the Illinois State Legislature, thereby disqualifying him. After all, they already had 5 Senators on the commission. In his place, the Justices chose Joseph Bradley, a Republican. The Democrats’ last hopes were dashed the next day when Bradley, known to be somewhat independent, sided with the GOP on every state, giving them to Hayes by a count of 8-7 each time. The final electoral vote: 185 to 184.

3. Radical Reconstruction had been the hallmark of Republican policies since 1868, but it was already nearing its end when Hayes was running for the Presidency.

Actually, Reconstruction was virtually over when Hayes took office in March 1877, with federal troops protecting Republican governments only in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Columbia, South Carolina. It ended completely when, within two months of his inauguration, Hayes ordered those federal troops to their barracks, but only after Louisiana and South Carolina authorities pledged to respect the civil and voting rights of blacks. These promises were soon broken and the white supremacist Democratic Party asserted total dominance of the South. By the 1890s, the Democratic hold on the South resulted in a complete denial of voting rights for blacks until the 1960s.

4. When one considers his accomplishments in office for only one full term, Rutherford B. Hayes should fall into the column of best one-term Presidents.

June 1, 1877
With Mexican-Texas border incursions continuing, Hayes sends troops to patrol the nearly lawless Mexican border and cross it if necessary to pursue bandits. Mexican president Diaz protests and sends troops to the border as well. Ultimately, economic concerns motivate both parties to work towards a settlement.

March 23, 1878
America recognizes the Diaz regime in Mexico in an effort to avoid greater conflict.

March 8, 1880
In a speech to Congress, Hayes continues to support a Central American canal to unite the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Following the trip to America by French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps — the builder of the Suez Canal in Egypt — Hayes states that “the policy of this country is a canal under American control.”

Hayes’s sound money policies helped make business and industry stronger. He initiated civil service reform, aimed at ending patronage, and appointed men with sound qualifications to government positions. He also signed a bill that, for the first time, allowed women attorneys to appear before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Hayes was a patient and a gradual reformer. He feared that sweeping changes were often not lasting and was satisfied with smaller incremental gains.

He did not attempt to reform the entire civil service, but concentrated on one major office, demonstrating that open competitive examinations did, in fact, reap better workers. He did not attack all spoils-minded senators but only the imperious and obnoxious Roscoe Conkling of New York. The death of Abraham Lincoln, the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, and the failures of Ulysses S. Grant had left the presidency in a weakened state. Hayes helped to restore prestige to the office by defeating Conkling and the idea of “senatorial courtesy,” which claimed for senators the right to appoint civil servants in their states.

He also defeated an attempt by the Democratic-controlled Congress to force him to accept unwanted legislation by attaching amendments – riders — to necessary appropriations bills.

The Democrats attempted to repeal or restrict the president’s power to enforce the Federal Elections Law of 1871. This statute provided for the appointment of federal supervisors in congressional districts where there were allegations of irregularity in the conduct of elections. To guarantee that the supervisors would not be impeded in the performance of their duties, they could call on the local United States marshal to deploy as many deputies as the situation required.

The Democrats’ strategy was to attach riders to needed appropriation bills in the House of Representatives in the belief that they could then compel the Republican Senate to accept their terms. They first tried this ploy during the hectic last days of the electoral dispute. The House added to the army appropriation bill a rider that prohibited the use of any funds to support the claims of the Republican state governments in Louisiana and South Carolina. The Senate removed the rider, necessitating a conference committee to reconcile the differences between the two houses. The Democratic members of the committee refused to modify their version, and Congress adjourned without the appropriation being approved. This forced Hayes to call a special session in October 1877. By then, of course, the matter of the state governments had been resolved, and an appropriation was more easily adopted.

In the short lame-duck session that began in December, after the elections of 1878 had assured the Democrats control of both houses in the next Congress, they renewed their attempt to destroy the last vestiges of Reconstruction. The House appended to several fiscal 1879 appropriation bills riders repealing the elections law, a measure that permitted the president to employ the army to maintain order at the polls, and the jurors’ test oath that barred former Confederates from service on federal juries. The Senate refused to concur, and again Congress adjourned without breaking the deadlock.

Hayes immediately called a special session of the new Forty-sixth Congress for March 1879. With the Senate no longer Republican, the president himself became the key to resisting the Democratic effort to turn back the clock. The Democratic majorities were slender, so it was certain that a veto could not be overridden. But would the Democrats then force parts of the government to shut down in order to get their way?

Hayes opposed outright repeal of the elections law and insisted that the federal government had the same obligation to safeguard the polls in congressional elections that the states had in other contests. The Democrats countered that the Constitution made the conduct of all elections primarily a problem for state regulation. Above all, Hayes was determined never to yield to the Democratic scheme to coerce him into accepting provisions of which he disapproved by holding hostage the appropriations needed to operate the government.

In late April, Congress passed an army bill with a rider barring any civil or military official from protecting federal elections from fraud or violence. Hayes returned the bill with a strongly worded veto. Two weeks later, Congress made the same objectionable provisions the subject of a separate bill, which Hayes also vetoed. At the end of May the Democrats in Congress tried again, using an omnibus bill appropriating funds for the executive, judicial, and legislative branches. This time they attached riders that permitted federal supervisors and deputy marshals to observe the conduct of congressional elections but denied them the authority either to prevent fraud and violence or to punish violations of the law after they had occurred. Again, Hayes responded with a veto.

During the last week of June, with the new fiscal year only a few days off, the logjam finally began to break. Congress sent Hayes a bill for the judicial branch alone that repealed the jurors’ test oath and forbade any payments to deputy marshals for enforcing the elections law. Refusing to back down, Hayes fired off another veto message. In the meantime, the Democrats passed separate bills for the executive and legislative branches and for the army. They contained no riders, and Hayes signed them into law. Next he signed a revised bill for the judiciary that repealed the jurors’ oath and simply omitted any appropriation for the marshals. He had already indicated his willingness to see the oath dispensed with, so the element of coercion was no longer involved.

In a last defiant gesture before adjourning on 30 June, Congress adopted a separate appropriation bill for the federal marshals that again restricted their use in connection with elections. Once more Hayes vetoed it. As late as May 1880, Congress passed the same bill for the marshals, and Hayes predictably sent it back. Only then did he get an unrestricted appropriation. In the end, the president obtained everything that he wanted, demonstrating that it was possible, by being steadfast, to uphold the independence of the executive branch.

By the time Hayes left office, senators could suggest but not dictate the appointment of officers, nor was the President’s veto power destroyed. Hayes helped restore prestige to the presidency, heal the wounds left by the Civil War, and strengthen the Republican party sufficiently to win the election of 1880.

The purity of the President’s purposes, his courage, consistency, and firmness were rarely questioned, but the opposition to him of the Democratic Party was bitter, while the support of the Republicans was at best lukewarm. The vast majority of Republicans in Hayes’s day supported high tariffs, large veteran benefits, and substantial unneeded government spending benefiting narrow special interests for GOP constituencies. Yet Hayes was a fiscal conservative.

The purity of his private and personal life was never questioned, and during his term of office at Washington there was a distinct elevating of the tone and standard of official life. There is no doubt that his Administrations served a very useful purpose in the transition from sectional antagonism to national harmony, and from the old methods of dealing with the public service as party spoils to the new method of placing ascertained merit and demonstrated fitness above party service or requirements. It was an inevitable consequence that he should lose popularity and political influence in serving these important ends, but the value of his services will nevertheless be permanently recognized. It’s a shame that this man as well as the values he championed are not permanently recognized. It is also a shame that African-Americans today have hate and contempt for a man they should recognize as their defender.

Some may want to argue with me that James K. Polk is the very best one-term President because he added to the United States about 1.2 million square miles of territory-far more than any other administration before or since-and the enormous value of this territory was at once established by the discovery of gold in California. Yes I agree that is a great accomplishment, but Polk failed to understand the deadly combination of the slavery and expansion issues until the explosive results were beyond his control. To this unfortunate outcome both his habit of improvisation and the element of escalation contributed. Before he became president, he shared the convictions of many southerners about slavery-that it was a practical necessity, though in many respects deplorable, and that it was a local matter and so should have no connection with national politics or international diplomacy. The ominous interjection of slavery into the Texas question during 1843 and 1844 seems to have made little impression on him. Although abolitionists were partly reassured by the apparent evenhandedness of the Democratic party program of 1844 and Polk’s inaugural address, the Oregon compromise at 49th parallel instead of the 54th parallel struck them as a betrayal by the South and a southern president. When a seemingly unending war with Mexico for limitless southern annexations followed, this northern sense of betrayal crystallized in the Wilmot Proviso (first introduced by one of Polk’s own Democrats), which completed the association of slavery and expansion. The intense opposition to the war with Mexico, partly Whig and partly antislavery, made it seem not only disruptive, setting one section against another, but sinful. At least for myself that inability to foresee the sectarian strife elevated between slave and free states over the additions to the US resulted from his personal ambitions at all costs to achieve greatness in his one term in office. Rutherford B Hayes also had an inability to foresee the abuse that African American free men would endure, but this is not a result from a personal ambition to achieve greatness. I can forgive him for believing in American exceptionalism and the goodness of Americans too much. It took much longer than he thought it would for the south to finally embrace equal opportunity for all.

Rutherford B. Hayes had no desire or intention of serving more than one term as US President. In fact he advocated for a constitutional amendment that would set a term limit of 6 years for the office of US President. It was not until after FDR came and went that the 22nd amendment was passed to term limit the US President to two terms in the office. Hayes was one of the good guys, and in my humble opinion the very best of the one term Presidents.

rutherford b hayes  Rutherford B. Hayes(R)our nineteenth President

Cross-posted at The Minority Report

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