Podcast # 28: Compromise of 1877 and the Life and Presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes

The Election of 1876 was one of the most controversial elections until the election of 2000 between Gore & George W. Bush and the most recent election of 2020 between Trump and Biden. In 1876, The Republican party who had been battered by scandal throughout Grant’s Presidency, put up Rutherford B. Hayes and the Democrats put up Samuel J. Tilden. Samuel J. Tilden was the Governor of New York. He was born and raised in NY, studied Law and became a successful lawyer. He was involved in local New York Politics and was at one point the protégé of Martin Van Buren. He was known for helping to stamp out corruption in New York and if you know anything about 19th Century NY Politics it was rampant with corruption. His campaign focused on the support of the Gold Standard, decreasing corruption, a limited Federal government. Tilden won the popular vote and while he won more electoral college votes than Hayes (he was one vote shy of winning) neither candidate had won the majority needed in the electoral college. Ballots were an issue, some having ink spilled on them that some felt were too difficult to read- sound like a hanging chad anyone??? Election results were in dispute as both sides claimed the other had participated in acts of violence to intimidate voters, claims of people voting multiple times, it was madness. The popular vote in South Carolina, Louisiana and Florida hadn’t been decided and both candidates claimed victory. Weeks passed and a victor was still unknown. To add to the confusion, the states where the popular vote was still undecided had both the democrat and republican electors for the electoral college cast their votes. A very big problem. Which votes should be counted? Which candidate won the state? It was then decided that an Electoral Commission should be created. On Jan. 29, 1877, months from the election still no clear winner, the commission was established of 5 senators, 5 Representative and 5 supreme court justices. There ended up being 8 Republicans and 7 Democrats who each voted along party lines, no shocker there right? So Hayes, who was the Republican candidate who had lost the popular vote and lost the electoral college votes that were undisputed, was going to be named the President. The democrats in Congress were furious and hoped to use the one card they had left, threaten to delay the counting of the electoral college votes at a point when the country was days away from inauguration day. To prevent this from happening a group of both republicans and democrats hashed out some concessions from the Republicans if their candidate was going to be named the winner. This lead to what became known as The Compromise of 1877. Republicans agreed to have Hayes appoint a democrat to his cabinet and to remove federal troops in the south who had been stationed there to oversee Reconstruction policies. Democrats in exchange would not delay the vote and were to respect the rights of newly freed black Americans acquired during reconstruction. If you are a student of history, you know that southern democrats didn’t hold to that last part of the bargain. With the removal of federal troops, came white southern democrat dominated state governments which swiftly passed what became known as Jim Crow laws and segregation became the status quo throughout the southern United States. Tilden felt cheated out of the Presidency. He is buried in NY and on his tombstone is written “I Still trust the People”. How’s that for a last word? The election of 1876 was decided days before inauguration day. Rutherford B. Hayes would be the next President. So. Who is Rutherford B. Hayes?

Rutherford B. Hayes was born on October 4, 1822 in Ohio. His father died shortly before he was born and he was raised by his mother and her brother who was somewhat well to do. He graduated at the top of his class and studied at Harvard Law and became a lawyer. He married Lucy Ware Webb in 1852 who was a college graduate herself (she was the first, First Lady to graduate college) Both Hayes and his wife Lucy were abolitionists. Throughout his law career he often represented fugitive or runaway slaves who had been accused of running away. He was a member of the Republican Party and was made the City Solicitor and was very much involved with local politics. While he didn’t agree with the war, he served in the Union Army, was wounded in battle a number of times and earned the rank of major general. When the war ended he was elected to serve in the House of Representatives and went on to become the Governor of Ohio. When it came to the Republican Party’s platform, he was definitely more of a moderate for the time. The bitterly contested Presidential election of 1876 led his opponents to refer to him as Rutherfraud or His Fraudulency. It was a nickname that was contradictory to his previous accolades. He was known for being honest and a man of integrity. The Hayes set out for Washington with only a days’ notice that he was in fact going to be the next President of The United States. He was sworn in as President in a private ceremony in the Red Room of White House on Mar. 3rd. When Inauguration Day falls on a Sunday it is moved to Monday. Hayes was sown in again for the American Public on March 5, 1877. In his Inaugural Address he called on local governments of southern states to protect the rights of all of its citizens and to work to not just strengthen the north and the south but to unify the country. He called for civil service reform and bring an end to the patronage system. A system that rewarded supported with government jobs. He also called for a Constitutional amendment which would formally limit the President to 1 6-year term and not allow for reelection. There is still no limit on the number of terms a President can serve it is still based on Washington’s precedent. If you listened to our podcast on the Civil War, you may remember that this was the Confederacy’s standard for the presidency – 1 6-year term only and promises to serve only 1 term as President. So in his inaugural address, he sets the stage for what he hopes to do as President. While it was promised Hayes would have a southern democrat in his cabinet, he insisted on leading by example and appointed capable men to these posts, not just simply putting in people who aligned with the republican party’s ideals. He did appoint a southerner as Postmaster General and Frederick Douglass was appointed the Marshall for Washington D.C. He and his wife were happily married and had 8 children 5 would survive to adulthood. They were very religious. He is believed to have prayed twice a day and as supporters of Temperance, banned alcohol from the white House in addition to card playing and dancing. While it may sound like there was little entertaining at the White House during his Presidency, the Hayes/ entertained often with both formal and informal events. His young family moved into the White House along with a number of pets. Not just the dogs and cats we are used to seeing today at the White House but also horses, cows, goats and birds. Some of the updates to the White House that occurred during his Presidency, was that he was the first President to have a telephone. His phone number was 1! Alexander Graham Bell had recently made the first telephone call just over a year earlier.

Domestically, a little over a month after taking office, President Hayes removed the last remaining federal troops from the south. This act is what he is most known for. Many historians debate whether or not more could have been done to better protect Black Americans in the United States. One must look at the facts. By 1875, the Democrats had gained control over Congress. There was blatant proof of unfair elections in many southern states, where violence and the threat of violence kept many black males from voting. Lynchings throughout the south are common place. There is a significant decrease in the amount of Northern support for Reconstruction policies. So, what exactly happened in 1877 to bring an end to Reconstruction? Hayes was quoted as saying many times that he felt education for black Americans and the protection of local governments for the rights provided by the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments was essential. On April 24, 1877, the last remaining federal troops were removed from the south in the states of Louisiana and South Carolina. The age of Reconstruction was effectively over and over the next decades, the rights of Black Americans in the south were taken away, Jim Crow laws passed, segregation became the law of the land upheld by the US Supreme Court and violence against Black Americans simply attempting to go to school, make a living, exercise their right to vote, raged.

During his Presidency we also see the continued removal of Native Americans from their lands. While not decided by Hayes himself but his predecessor, Hayes carried it out. The Nez Pierce Indians led by the famous Chief Joseph were given 30 days to leave their tribal lands. It resulted in what would become known as the Nez Perce war. Hayes was of the opinion that assimilation was the best option. He supported the use of Indian schools to teach or Americanize the natives. If you listen to our previous podcast on Westward Expansion and the Transcontinental Railroad, you can learn more about the impact on Native American Tribes.

The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 began in July of 1877 in West Virginia and quickly spread to a number of other states. The strike lasted a number of weeks. Workers went on strike over a cut in wages. At this time there no labor unions. Railroads were one of the largest employers in the country. Strikers burned buildings, railroad cars and disrupted transportation across lines throughout the country. President Hayes sent federal troops to end the violence and put down the strike.

A Bill to relieve certain legal disabilities of women was passed by Congress in (1879) and signed into Law by President Hayes.

“An act to relieve certain legal disabilities of women,” which read that “any woman who shall have been a member of the bar of the highest court of any State or Territory or of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia for the space of three years, and shall have maintained a good standing before such court, and who shall be a person of good moral character, shall, on motion, and the production of such record, be admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States.”

Women could now argue cases in ever US Federal Court. Belva Ann Lockwood would go on to become the first women to argue a case before the Supreme Court.

During Hayes’ Presidency, the United States was still feeling the effects of the Panic of 1873. Farmers in particular in the Western and Southern United States called for Silver to be used to strengthen the Dollar. Bimetallism or the use of both Gold and Silver to back currency was not a new argument. It would continue to be pushed in American Society throughout the late 1800s. Hayes, supported the Gold Standard and used his power of Veto against the Bill. Congress overrode his Veto and the bill passed.

Bland-Allison Act – required the US Treasury to buy a certain amount of silver that would then be put into circulation in form of silver dollars. Those who supported bimetallism and later what would become known as free coinage of silver thought it would strengthen the dollar and allow farmers to more easily pay off debts. This law would later be overturned in the 1890s.

Hayes and his Secretary of the Treasury, a man by the name of John Sherman, also helped to revive the value of the Greenbacks or paper money that had been printed by the Federal Government to help by for the Civil War.

Hayes used his power of Veto in a number of different ways. He had vetoed bills southern democrats attached to government spending bills that would have allowed states to place limits on voting rights on Black Americans and he also vetoed a bill that would have excluded Chinese Immigrants. No we know from history that A Chinese Exclusion Act will be passed in 1881 and renewed multiple times by the Federal Government but it would have happened earlier had it not been for Hayes’ veto. A significant amount of Chinese Immigrants came to the United States, specifically to the West Coast as a result of the Gold Rush and the availability of jobs due to the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. Due to the discrimination Chinese immigrants faced, they were left with no choice but to accept low paying jobs. Railroad companies in particular paid Chinese workers less than their white counterparts. Chinese workers were also given the most dangerous tasks and many even lived on site. Anti- Chinese sentiment grew throughout western states and calls increased to pass a law preventing further immigration by Chinese Immigrants. Hayes renegotiated the Burlingame Treaty in what would become known as the Treaty Regulating Immigration from China in 1880. The treaty dealt with trade between the two countries and called for the suspension of immigration from China. Anti-Asian sentiment is not new. Look at what is happening today with the violence being perpetrated against Asian Americans. If you want to learn more about the Chinese American Experience, there are a number of wonderful Chinese American museums you can go to for resources. Some of the best in my opinion are one the one’s in NYC, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Towards the end of his Presidency, Hayes sought to bring about Civil Service reform. Since it was instituted by Andrew Johnson, the Spoils systems had been used to give or reward let’s say to one’s supporters with federal jobs. It became an issue of who you knew that got you a political appointment as opposed to what you know. Hayes hoped to change this by instituting a Civil Service Exam to ensure that jobs were given based on Merit. You have to understand we are in the midst of what becomes known as the Gilded Age, on the surface, things appear great, but when you take a closer look things were dirty. We will do a podcast on the Gilded Age at another time. So Hayes position on this was not a popular one and received pushback on this from members of his own party. How could elected officials get what they wanted or needed without being able to reward supporters or big campaign donors with federal appointment? Don’t think this is still an issue today? Take a listen to our previous podcast on campaign financing. Follow the money, you will be surprised at what you find.

When his first and only term as President ended, he retired from Political life and returned to his home in Ohio. Hayes would continue to devote his time to causes he was passionate about. Hayes was made the Chairman of the John Fox Slater Fund. It was a $1-Million-dollar endowment for the education of Freedmen. Many historically black colleges and Universities were created by money provided by the Slater Fund. Many Black men who would not have been able to afford higher educational opportunities were able to obtain them. WEB DuBois for example was able to study in Germany with money from the Slater Fund to help him earn his PhD. He had to write a number of times to Rutherford B. Hayes to get the money, but he got it. He also championed prison reform and hoped to see the conditions of jails improved. He was against the use of the death penalty and felt that through education, inmates in jails could be reformed. While today we are used to former presidents getting involved in charities and helping to bring change to issues they are passionate about, this was not common practice during this time in history.

Rutherford B Hayes died in January of 1893.

He is buried at his home, Spiegel Grove in Ohio. A home that once belonged to his uncle, the man that helped to raise him. It is also the home of the Rutherford B. Hayes, Presidential Library. It was the first Presidential Library ever created. The museum has all of President Hayes’ papers. After Richard Nixon, the Presidential Records Act of 1978 was passed. The records created by not only the President but the President’s staff are preserved and then belong to the National Archives where they are cataloged and stored. Those papers can then be housed in Presidential libraries. Now for Hayes, while when he left office his reputation was pretty good. Over the years the perception of him has changed. He is mostly known for HOW he came to be in office as opposed to what he did while in office and his removal of troops from the south which ended Reconstruction is seen as the catalyst to the Jim Crow South that would dominate southern social, political and economic life of the south for decades to come.

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