Rutherford B. Hayes (1822-1893), the 19th president of the United States, won a controversial and fiercely disputed election against Samuel Tilden. He withdrew troops from the Reconstruction states in order to restore local control and good will, a decision that many perceived as a betrayal of African Americans in the South. He served a single term, as he had promised in his inaugural address.
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Did You Know?
In 1879, President Rutherford Hayes signed the Act to Relieve Certain Legal Disabilities of Women, which cleared the way for female attorneys to argue cases in any U.S. federal court. In 1880, Belva Lockwood (1830-1917) became the first female lawyer to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Childhood and Education
Rutherford Birchard Hayes was born in Delaware, Ohio, on October 4, 1822, to Sophia Birchard Hayes (1792-1866). His father, Rutherford Hayes Jr. (1787-1822), was a farmer who died shortly before his son’s birth. The young Hayes, known as "Rud," and his sister Fanny (1820-56) were raised in Lower Sandusky (later called Fremont), Ohio, by their mother and their uncle Sardis Birchard (1801-74), a successful businessman.
Hayes was educated at schools in Delaware and Norwalk, Ohio, and Middletown, Connecticut. In 1842, he graduated at the top of his class from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. Three years later, in 1845, he earned a law degree from Harvard University.
Legal Career and Military Service
Upon his graduation from Harvard, Hayes was admitted to the Ohio bar and began practicing law in Lower Sandusky. Hearing that there were greater opportunities in Cincinnati, Hayes moved there in 1849 and eventually developed a successful law practice. An opponent of slavery, he also became active in the newly formed Republican Party, which was organized in the 1850s to oppose the expansion of slavery to U.S. territories.
In 1852, Hayes married Lucy Ware Webb (1831-1889), a graduate of Cincinnati’s Wesleyan Women’s College (she would be the first presidential wife to graduate from college). The couple went on to have eight children, five of whom survived to adulthood. In 1858, the Cincinnati City Council appointed the up-and-coming Rutherford Hayes to fill the position of city solicitor. The following year, he was re-elected to the post, which helped boost his public profile across Ohio.
Shortly after the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, Hayes signed up to fight for the Union. He became a major in the 23rd Ohio Regiment and was seriously wounded during the Battle of South Mountain in Maryland. By the end of the war, Hayes had been promoted to the rank of brevet major general.
Early Political Career
In 1864, when Hayes was still on the battlefield defending the North, the Republican Party in Cincinnati nominated him for Congress. He accepted the nomination but refused to campaign. In a letter to his friend Ohio Secretary of State William Henry Smith (1833–96), Hayes explained, "An officer fit for duty who at this crisis would abandon his post to electioneer for a seat in Congress ought to be scalped." Hayes left the army after the war ended in 1865, and in December of that year, having won the election, took his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Hayes was re-elected to his congressional seat in 1866, but resigned in 1867 to run for governor of Ohio. He won the race and was re-elected in 1869. At the conclusion of his second term as governor in 1872, he wanted to retire from politics altogether, but the Ohio Republican Party had other plans. The party nominated Hayes to run for Congress in 1872, a race he lost. At that point, Hayes and his growing family moved from Cincinnati back to Fremont, where he had begun his law career. Hayes practiced law for three years before again receiving his party’s nomination for governor.
Hayes was elected governor for the third time in 1875 on a platform focused on the procurement of voting rights for blacks and on economic plans calling for a strong gold-backed currency.
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