Presidential History: Rutherford B. Hayes

Presidential biography is a long-standing interest of mine. I’ve read more about Theodore Roosevelt than any other historical figure. He would be my favorite in many respects. But I also especially enjoy learning about lesser-known Presidents, like Chester Arthur and Rutherford B. Hayes. Since my Reading Jags often include forays into the arena of Presidential history, I’ll include periodic posts about these jags. This post is dedicated to the nineteenth President of the United States, Rutherford B. Hayes (1822-1893).

Jag for July 23, 2008

Jenny Drapkin posted her blog at http://www.mentalfloss.com today. She acknowledges that Hayes was widely known as a man of integrity. But she attributes considerable responsibility surrounding his controversial election to the man himself. This is probably unfair. Hayes went to bed on the night of the election expecting his opponent to win. His opponent expected the same result. Drapkin recounts a few of the details that determined the somewhat shocking outcome. To say the least, close elections raise special problems.

The Hayes vs. Tilden horse-race was made more complicated by the continued festering of North/South relations. It was still a period of reconstruction, and there were no easy solutions. Who can say what a Tilden presidency would have been like? As it was, the Hayes presidency lasted for only a single term. (The Wikipedia entry on Hayes indicates that Hayes had promised to serve for one term only and had advocated for one-term presidencies of six years. It might be enjoyable to hear a conversation between Rutherford B. Hayes and Franklin Roosevelt on that point—and why not include George Washington, for good measure?)

The White House Biography points out that Hayes, who was from Ohio, sought to establish stronger support for the Republican party in the South. But those with Republican sensibilities considered it too risky to exhibit public sympathy for this effort. (Some will be surprised to learn that Mark Twain campaigned for Hayes, the Republican who wrote in his diary, “the best religion the world has ever had is the religion of Christ.”)

Drapkin’s article comes at an interesting time, in the pre-convention days of the contest between senators John McCain (Republican) and Barack Obama (Democrat). She alludes to “the current political process,” and mentions the “chad debacle of years past,” but she doesn’t explicitly reference the current contestants. Her brief article is a reminder that intrigue has marred presidential politics for a good long while. She suggests that what our generation has witnessed is comparatively benign.

It is useful to sober up on the smelling salts of history when we are in the midst of an election period with so much at stake and such partisan division.

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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

2 Responses to Presidential History: Rutherford B. Hayes

  1. Doug Geivett says:

    To the editor at The Pugilist,

    Thanks for visiting this site and for letting me know of the site you edit. Maybe Hayes will enjoy greater fandom as we get the word out about his character and exploits.

    Like

  2. The Editor says:

    As a fan of Rutherford B. Hayes, you may appreciate this:
    http://www.thewashingtonpugilist.com

    Like

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