Rutherford Birchard Hayes | 19th President of the United States


The 19th President of the United States, whose tenure began in a pivotal period of American history, faced significant challenges and left an indelible mark on the nation. This article delves into the life, achievements, and historical context of the 19th President, shedding light on the legacy they left for future generations.

Name and Background

The 19th President of the United States, Rutherford Birchard Hayes, led the nation from March 4, 1877, to March 4, 1881, during a crucial period of reconstruction and change in American society. Born on October 4, 1822, in Delaware, Ohio, Hayes was the son of Rutherford Hayes, Jr. and Sophia Birchard Hayes. His father, a farmer and merchant, passed away shortly before Rutherford was born, leaving his mother to raise him and his sister, Fanny Arabella Hayes, as a single parent.

Hayes exhibited a keen intellect and an early love for learning. He attended local schools and later enrolled in the Norwalk Seminary in Norwalk, Ohio, where his academic capabilities became evident. His academic prowess propelled him to Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, where he graduated as the class valedictorian in 1842. Inspired by his education, Hayes pursued law, attending Harvard Law School and earning his law degree in 1845.

Following his legal studies, Hayes embarked on a successful legal and military career. He established a law practice in Lower Sandusky (now Fremont), Ohio, before joining the Union Army during the American Civil War. Hayes’ military career was distinguished, rising to the rank of brevet major general by the war’s end. His bravery and leadership on the battlefield contributed to his reputation and prepared him for a future in public service.

In 1852, Hayes married Lucy Ware Webb, a woman with whom he would have a loving and enduring partnership. Lucy Hayes was a staunch advocate for various causes, including women’s rights and education, and she played a significant role during her husband’s political career. The couple had eight children: Birchard Austin, Webb Cook, Rutherford Platt, Joseph Thompson, George Crook, Fanny, Scott Russell, and Manning Force.

As the President of the United States, Hayes faced numerous challenges and worked diligently to promote civil service reform, education, economic stability, and unity during a transformative period in American history. His presidency left a lasting legacy, showcasing his dedication to principles that would shape the nation for years to come.

Early Life and Education

Rutherford Hayes was born on October 4, 1822, in Delaware, Ohio, into a family deeply entrenched in the ethos of military service and public duty. His father, Rutherford Hayes, Jr., had served in the War of 1812, and his paternal grandfather, also named Rutherford Hayes, was a soldier in the American Revolutionary War. This familial background instilled a sense of duty, discipline, and patriotism in young Rutherford from an early age.

Raised by his mother, Sophia Birchard Hayes, after the early death of his father before his birth, Rutherford showed exceptional promise in academics from the outset. He attended local schools in Ohio, where his intellectual curiosity and dedication to learning were readily apparent. His mother, an educated and ambitious woman, encouraged his scholarly pursuits, recognizing his potential and nurturing his intellectual growth.

In 1836, at the age of 14, Hayes enrolled at the Norwalk Seminary in Norwalk, Ohio, where his academic talents flourished. He excelled in his studies and displayed remarkable leadership skills, serving as both class president and secretary. After completing his studies there, he moved on to Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, a prestigious institution affiliated with the Episcopal Church. At Kenyon, Hayes continued to distinguish himself academically and emerged as a bright student with a deep interest in literature, debate, and philosophy.

After graduating as the valedictorian of his class at Kenyon College in 1842, Hayes set his sights on the legal profession. He went on to study law at Harvard Law School, one of the most esteemed law schools in the United States. His time at Harvard was marked by a rigorous academic regimen, further honing his intellect and analytical skills. In 1845, he graduated from Harvard Law School, embarking on a legal career that would shape his future and the course of American history.

With his educational foundation firmly in place, Hayes was well-prepared to embark on a successful legal and military career, setting the stage for the remarkable journey that would eventually culminate in his presidency and enduring legacy in the annals of American leadership and statesmanship.

Military Career

During the American Civil War, Rutherford B. Hayes embarked on a distinguished military career that would leave a lasting impact on his life and future endeavors. Born on October 4, 1822, in Delaware, Ohio, Hayes hailed from a family with a strong military tradition, inspiring his early interest in military service.

Hayes’ military journey commenced in 1861 when he resigned from his position as a city solicitor in Cincinnati to join the Union Army, which was facing the early throes of the Civil War. Commissioned as a major in the 23rd Ohio Infantry, Hayes displayed exceptional leadership skills and a resolute commitment to the Union cause.

Throughout the war, Hayes participated in several significant battles, showcasing courage and tactical acumen. Notably, he played an instrumental role in battles such as the Second Battle of Bull Run, Antietam, South Mountain, and the Battle of Gettysburg. His leadership and valor on the battlefield earned him commendations and promotions, ultimately rising to the rank of brevet major general by the war’s end.

Hayes’ military career was characterized by strategic acumen, dedication to duty, and a strong sense of justice. He was known for his meticulous planning, often ensuring that his troops were well-prepared and positioned for success. Moreover, his concern for the well-being of his soldiers earned him respect and admiration among the ranks.

Following the conclusion of the Civil War, Hayes returned to civilian life with a decorated military record. His experiences as a wartime leader greatly influenced his political career, shaping his views on important national issues. Hayes’ military service laid the foundation for his subsequent foray into politics, providing him with the credibility and leadership qualities needed for a successful transition to public office.

Hayes’ military career served as a crucial chapter in his life, reflecting not only his dedication to the preservation of the Union but also his development as a leader. The lessons learned and the virtues acquired during his time in the military would resonate in his later political roles, contributing significantly to his legacy as the 19th President of the United States.

Political Career

Rutherford B. Hayes embarked on his political career with a strong commitment to promoting civil rights and educational reforms. His initial foray into politics began at the local level, serving as a member of the Cincinnati City Council from 1858 to 1861. During his tenure on the city council, Hayes demonstrated a keen understanding of the pressing issues of the time, including the need for social justice and equality for all citizens.

Building on his experiences at the local level, Hayes transitioned to a broader political stage, ultimately serving as the Governor of Ohio. He was elected to the governorship in 1868 and, after being re-elected in 1870, focused on implementing progressive policies that aimed to uplift marginalized communities, particularly African Americans.

Hayes was a vocal proponent of civil rights, consistently advocating for the rights and equal treatment of African Americans, who were still grappling with the aftermath of slavery and the challenges of the Reconstruction era. He believed that ensuring equal opportunities and rights for African Americans was not only a moral imperative but also vital for fostering a just and harmonious society.

One of Hayes’ significant achievements during his tenure as Ohio’s governor was his dedication to education reform. He emphasized the importance of accessible and quality education for all, regardless of race or socioeconomic background. Hayes understood that education was a powerful tool for societal advancement, and he sought to improve the educational system in Ohio to provide a better future for all its citizens.

Hayes’ commitment to civil rights and education was not confined to rhetoric; he actively implemented policies to support these causes. He worked to desegregate schools and advocated for legislation that would promote educational opportunities for African Americans. Hayes’ advocacy for civil rights and education was a reflection of his progressive ideology and unwavering dedication to fostering an inclusive and equitable society.

These early experiences in local and state politics served as a foundation for Hayes’ later presidential pursuits, where he continued to champion civil rights, educational reforms, and various other progressive causes that aimed to enhance the lives of all Americans. Hayes’ political career remains a testament to his dedication to equality, justice, and the belief that education is the key to a brighter future for all.

Presidency and Challenges

Rutherford B. Hayes ascended to the presidency in 1877, marking the onset of a tumultuous era in American history. His election to office was shrouded in controversy and led to a compromise that would shape the trajectory of his presidency. This period was marked by formidable challenges that Hayes had to confront head-on, seeking to heal the nation’s wounds, restore integrity in governance, and grapple with the economic aftermath of a severe financial crisis.

The Compromise of 1877 and the End of Reconstruction:

The 1876 presidential election was fiercely contested, and the results were disputed in several states, most notably Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina. In a contentious bargain known as the Compromise of 1877, Democrats agreed to support Hayes’ presidency in exchange for the withdrawal of federal troops from the Southern states. This effectively marked the end of Reconstruction, a critical period in which efforts were made to integrate freed slaves into society and grant them civil rights.

Post-Reconstruction Reconciliation:

The end of Reconstruction ushered in an era of political and social upheaval in the South. Hayes sought to foster reconciliation and heal the deep-seated wounds of the Civil War. He pursued policies aimed at fostering unity, encouraging economic recovery, and promoting equal rights for all citizens. However, the persistent racial tensions and disparities continued to pose significant challenges to his vision of a reconciled nation.

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Civil Service Reform:

One of Hayes’ most enduring legacies was his unwavering dedication to civil service reform. He recognized the corrupting influence of the spoils system, where government jobs were awarded based on political patronage rather than merit. To combat this, Hayes advocated for and signed the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act into law in 1883. This landmark legislation marked a shift toward a merit-based system of hiring and promotion within the federal government, transforming the landscape of American civil service.

Economic Recovery from the Panic of 1873:

Hayes inherited an economy still reeling from the Panic of 1873, a severe economic depression that lasted for several years. He advocated for sound monetary policies, seeking to restore public confidence and stabilize the economy. Hayes pursued fiscal responsibility, vetoing inflationary legislation and aiming to maintain a balanced budget, all while emphasizing the importance of prudent fiscal management to steer the nation towards economic recovery.

Government Corruption and Reform:

The Gilded Age was rife with government corruption, with various scandals tainting the political landscape. Hayes was determined to address this issue head-on and advocated for a clean and accountable government. He initiated reforms to combat corruption and promote ethical conduct within the government, setting the stage for broader reforms in the years that followed.

Rutherford B. Hayes’ presidency was defined by the challenges of a nation grappling with its past and striving to redefine its future. From the aftermath of the Civil War to the economic fallout of the Panic of 1873 and the need for fundamental political and social reforms, Hayes faced a myriad of trials during his time in office. Through his resilience and dedication to reform, Hayes made indelible contributions that left a lasting impact on the nation’s governance and paved the way for a more accountable, merit-based civil service system.

Legacy and Achievements

One of Hayes’ notable achievements was civil service reform, which aimed to combat government corruption and institute a merit-based system for federal employment. He also prioritized educational reforms and sought to improve race relations and voting rights, particularly in the Southern states.

Hayes’ administration is also remembered for its dedication to fiscal responsibility and economic stability. He vetoed legislation for inflationary policies and worked towards a balanced budget, emphasizing prudent fiscal management.

Rutherford B. Hayes, the 19th President of the United States, had a presidency marked by several significant achievements and notable actions that left a lasting impact on the nation. Here are some key accomplishments during his tenure:

1. End of Reconstruction:
Hayes oversaw the end of Reconstruction in the Southern states. This was a pivotal moment in American history as it marked the withdrawal of federal troops from the South, effectively ending the military occupation and attempting to reconcile the nation after the Civil War.

2. Civil Service Reform:
Hayes was a strong advocate for civil service reform. He pushed for merit-based appointments and a system that would remove political patronage from government positions. The Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act was enacted during his presidency, establishing a framework for a non-political civil service based on merit and qualifications.

3. Education and Civil Rights:
Hayes was an advocate for educational reforms and civil rights, especially for African Americans. He worked towards equal educational opportunities and voting rights for all citizens, including those who were formerly enslaved. He proposed federal funding for education and advocated for the protection of voting rights for African Americans in the South.

4. Economic Policy and Fiscal Responsibility:
Hayes prioritized economic stability and fiscal responsibility. He vetoed inflationary legislation and focused on a policy of sound money, working towards a balanced budget and aiming to stabilize the nation’s economy following the Panic of 1873.

5. Labor Relations and Railroad Strikes:
During his presidency, there were several significant labor strikes, notably the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. Hayes’ response was seen as moderate, advocating for the rights of workers while also calling in federal troops to quell violence and maintain order.

6. Preservation of National Land:
Hayes was a strong proponent of environmental conservation. He signed legislation protecting public lands in the West, which laid the foundation for the eventual creation of national parks and forests.

7. Foreign Policy and Peaceful Relations:
Hayes pursued a policy of peaceful relations with other nations. He aimed to restore international goodwill and mend relationships that had been strained during previous administrations. Notably, he navigated a peaceful resolution to the Virginius Affair with Spain.

These accomplishments underscore Hayes’ commitment to civil service reform, education, fiscal stability, and the reconciliation of a divided nation during a pivotal period in American history. His legacy is one of progress and moderation during a time of significant social and economic change.

Marriage and Family

Rutherford B. Hayes married Lucy Ware Webb on December 30, 1852. Lucy Webb Hayes was an educated and socially active woman, deeply committed to causes such as women’s rights and abolitionism. The couple had a strong and loving marriage, often sharing progressive views on societal issues.

Lucy Hayes became the first First Lady to have a college degree, having graduated from Cincinnati Wesleyan Female College. Throughout Hayes’ political career, Lucy was a staunch supporter and advisor, particularly on matters of social reform and civil rights.

The couple had eight children: Birchard Austin, Webb Cook, Rutherford Platt, Joseph Thompson, George Crook, Fanny, Scott Russell, and Manning Force. Tragically, their son Joseph died in infancy.

As a family man, Hayes valued spending time with his children and took on the role of a loving and involved father despite the demands of his military and political careers. Lucy Hayes was also deeply committed to her family, and together they created a supportive and nurturing environment for their children.

Their family life was marked by a dedication to education and progressive values. The Hayes family emphasized the importance of learning, and both Rutherford and Lucy were deeply involved in the upbringing and education of their children. Lucy’s passion for education influenced her husband’s policies during his presidency, advocating for better educational opportunities for all, including freed slaves.

The Hayes family legacy extended beyond their time in the White House. Their descendants continued to play prominent roles in society and have been involved in various fields, contributing to the betterment of the nation.

The marriage and family life of Rutherford B. Hayes were characterized by a strong partnership with his wife, Lucy, a dedication to progressive values, and a commitment to fostering a nurturing and intellectually stimulating environment for their children.

Post-Presidential Life and Death

After completing his presidency in 1881, Rutherford B. Hayes returned to his home in Fremont, Ohio. Unlike some former presidents, he chose not to run for a second term, keeping a promise he had made during his campaign. Following his retirement from the presidency, Hayes dedicated his time to various philanthropic and educational endeavors.

1. Educational Pursuits:
Hayes remained committed to education throughout his post-presidential life. He served as the trustee of Ohio State University and was involved in the creation of the Slater Fund, an endowment to support the education of African Americans. He also advocated for prison reform and was involved in the management of prisons in Ohio.

2. Literary Contributions:
Hayes penned a number of articles, essays, and books, including a political memoir titled “The Diary and Letters of Rutherford Birchard Hayes” and a biography of his wife, Lucy Webb Hayes. He also wrote on topics such as the abolition movement and the history of the United States.

3. Legal Practice:
Hayes occasionally returned to his legal career, offering legal counsel and taking on cases of public interest. He remained active in legal circles and continued to engage in legal discussions and activities.

4. Public Speaking and Advocacy:
Hayes was a sought-after public speaker and was often invited to address various gatherings, including veterans’ organizations, educational institutions, and reform associations. He used these platforms to advocate for civil service reform, education, and social progress.

5. Hayes Home and Museum:
Rutherford and Lucy Hayes’ home, known as Spiegel Grove, became a focal point of their post-presidential life. Today, it is maintained as the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, a museum and library dedicated to preserving their legacy and showcasing artifacts and documents from their time.

Rutherford B. Hayes passed away on January 17, 1893, in Fremont, Ohio, at the age of 70. His death was attributed to complications from a heart attack. He was interred in Oakwood Cemetery, where his tomb stands as a monument to his contributions and legacy as the 19th President of the United States and a dedicated advocate for education and civil service reform.


Rutherford Birchard Hayes, the 19th President of the United States, navigated the tumultuous waters of a nation recovering from the scars of civil war and grappling with the complexities of post-war reconstruction. His presidency, marked by dedication to civil service reform, education, and economic stability, embodies the ideals of a leader committed to progress and equitable governance.

Hayes’ unwavering dedication to civil service reform was a cornerstone of his presidency, setting a precedent that transcended his time in office. The enactment of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act was a significant stride towards dismantling the entrenched spoils system and establishing a fair and meritocratic civil service. This legacy endures, as the principles of a competent and non-partisan government workforce continue to shape the modern civil service landscape, demonstrating the lasting impact of his vision.

Education was another core focus of Hayes’ agenda, believing that an informed and educated citizenry was vital for the strength of the nation. His advocacy for educational opportunities and equality laid the groundwork for progress in the education sector. Today, education remains a fundamental pillar of societal development, echoing Hayes’ foresight and the enduring relevance of his values.

In navigating economic challenges and advocating for fiscal responsibility, Hayes demonstrated a steadfast commitment to stability and prudent governance. His resilience in promoting a balanced budget and opposing inflationary policies highlighted the importance of sound economic principles, underscoring his legacy as a forward-thinking economic steward.

In reflection, Rutherford B. Hayes’ presidency exemplified the grit and determination necessary to lead a nation through turbulent times. His enduring contributions to civil service reform, education, and economic stability continue to resonate, serving as a testament to the enduring impact of visionary leadership and a commitment to the greater good. As America progresses into the future, Hayes’ legacy remains a guiding light, reminding us of the transformative power of leadership in shaping a brighter and more equitable tomorrow.

Read also:

Ulysses S. Grant – 18th President of the US

Andrew Johnson – 17th President of the US

Abraham Lincoln – 16th President of the US

James Buchanan – 15th President of the US

Franklin Pierce – 14th President of the US

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