Rutherford B. Hayes – By Hans L. Tresfousse

Rutherford B. Hayes was the 19th President of the United States. He is best known for his controversial Presidential victory in the 1876 election. As a result of the controversy associated with his win, the Democratic newspapers constantly labeled him a fraud while the Republican newspapers praised his virtues as a great president. However, the constant attacking by the Democratic newspapers had its toll and President Hayes limited his presidency to a single term. President Hayes was followed by President James A. Garfield.

Rutherford B. Hayes first entered the national scene when he became an officer during the Civil War. Hayes initial thought when he heard about South Carolina’s succession was to “Let them go.” However, once the South fired on Fort Sumter, Hayes backed Lincoln and was one of Lincoln’s loyal supporters.

While Hayes was fighting in the Civil War, his name was entered as a candidate for Congress. Because of his war duties, he never was able to come back to Ohio to campaign for the office. However, the people of Ohio were so appreciative of his services that he won a seat in Congress. Once the war was over, Hayes was sworn in as a Congressman.

In 1867, Hayes ran for Governor in Ohio. He barely won. What was interesting at that time is that the Ohio Governor had no authority to veto legislation. Since the state legislature was controlled by the Democratic party, his first couple years as governor was frustrating. Hayes ended up being re-elected for a 2nd term before he retired to private life.


However, the political bug did not allow Hayes to stay on the sidelines and four years later, he became the first Ohio Governor to be elected to a third term. Hayes did not end up serving the full third term as Hayes was elected President.

In 1876, in order to win the electoral college, the presidential candidate needed 185 delegates to win. 1876 presidential election pitted Rutherford B. Hayes from the Republican Party against Samuel J. Tilden for the Democratic Party. Just like the election of 2000, the day after the election resulted in party attorneys heading to disputed states. However, in 2000, Florida was the only state in dispute. In 1876, there were three disputed states, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida.

In 1876, both the Republican and the Democratic party claimed victory in these three southern states. The elections results were very close. The problem was that there was proven efforts to suppress the black vote which was known to be favorable for the Republican party. By suppressing the vote in these three states, the Democratic party was able to squeeze out narrow wins. However, when the election board reviewed the evidence of voter suppression, in accordance with the laws in effect at the time, the election boards awarded these three states to Hayes.

In addition to the disputes in these three states, the Democratic governor of Oregon was also playing games. The state of Oregon easily went for Hayes. However, the Democratic governor knew that Tilden needed one more electoral vote so he claimed that one of the Hayes electoral college delegates was ineligible to serve and replaced him with a Democrat electoral college delegate.

As a result, Congress was given two different certifications in four different states. In 1876, the U.S. House was controlled by the Democrats while the Senate was controlled by the Republicans. After a couple of months, there seemed to be no solution as both sides were claiming victory.

It was determined that there was going to be a special committee that would vote to hear all the evidence on the disputed certification results. There was to be 7 Republicans, 7 Democrats, and 1 Independent. However, the 1 Independent ended up being elected to a Senate seat and his replacement ended up being a Republican. Needless to say, every vote went down party lines and the U.S. Senate ratified the committee’s work and the House refused to ratify.

Within days of the March 4th inauguration date, the answer as to who was going to be president was not clear. A negotiated compromise was entered whereby Hayes was sworn in as President and the Republicans would withdraw Federal troops out of the South. On March 2nd, the Democrats stopped the filibuster and Hayes was elected the 19th President of the United States by the Electoral vote of 185-184.


Other than the fact that the Democratic-controlled newspapers constantly called Hayes a fraud, Hayes presidency was fairly anticlimactic. Unlike the Grant administration that was full of scandal, the Hayes administration was scandal free. Hayes was not necessarily liked by the Republican party because he disliked the spoil system. Instead, Hayes believed that the best person should receive the job, not necessarily the person who knew the right people. This aggravated many of the party loyalists who thought they had earned the right to certain presidential appointments.

While there is much more that can be said about Hayes and his life, I would encourage you to read this book in order to learn more.

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