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Rutherford B. Hayes

The American Presidents Series: The 19th President, 1877-1881

The American Presidents

Hans Trefousse; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., General Editor

Times Books

If Rutherford B. Hayes's significance as chief executive had faded in the public memory, nothing brought it back into our consciousness more than the similarities between the controversial elections of 1876 and 2000. In 1876, Hayes's opponent, Samuel Tilden, won the popular vote and led the Electoral College, but the returns in several states were in dispute. A special electoral commission convened and handed the presidency to Hayes. Newspapers of the time cried of "the iniquity in Florida." Yet this cry of foul was only one of several obstacles facing the new president.

After years of Grant-era corruption, the Republican party looked to the earnest and upright Hayes to revitalize their flagging and scandalized party. As the volume of protest over election results increased, the Southern Democrats threatened to oust Hayes, and so he was forced to conciliate. To the dismay of the more conservative Republicans, he struck a deal to end military occupation of the South, thus ending the Reconstruction. In retrospect, as historian Hans L. Trefousse points out, it was this decision that helped unify the country and which restored legitimacy to the Oval Office.

As chief executive, Hayes's accomplishments were mixed. His conservative financial policies helped lift the country's economic depression, and he was able to reform the civil service and quell the 1877 labor uprising. But many of his well-intentioned goals, such as a bill that would help fund education for black children, were never realized, and many contemporary historians fault him for his lack of action on these fronts.

Rather than pursue a second term, Hayes decided to retire, maintaining his reputation for temperance, authority, and stability. Ultimately, it was Hayes's ability to compromise in order to help revitalize a floundering and factionalized nation that serves as his real legacy.

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  • Rutherford B. Hayes by Hans L. Trefousse--Audiobook Excerpt

    Listen to this audiobook excerpt from Hans L. Trefousse's biography Rutherford B. Hayes, part of The American Presidents Series. Hayes was a leader of the Reconstruction era, whose contested election eerily parallels the election debacle of 2000. The disputed election of 1876 between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden, in which Congress set up a special electoral commission, handing the disputed electoral votes to Hayes, brings recent events into sharp focus.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Hans Trefousse; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., General Editor

  • Hans L. Trefousse, Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, is a specialist in the history of the Civil War and Reconstruction. He is the recipient of various grants, including a Guggenheim Fellowship. The author of biographies of leading figures of the period as well as works on the Pearl Harbor attack, he is now working on a book on the reputation of Abraham Lincoln during his administration.
  • Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. Dominique Nabokov
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Rutherford B. Hayes

The American Presidents Series: The 19th President, 1877-1881

The American Presidents

Hans Trefousse; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., General Editor

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Times Books

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