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A Controversial Presidential Election
At the Republican national nominating convention in 1876, the party was split between one faction who supported a third term for President Ulysses S. Grant (1822-85) and another faction who supported the nomination of Speaker of the House James G. Blaine (1830-93) of Maine. As a compromise candidate, Hayes earned the party’s nomination on the seventh ballot. His reputation for being honest, loyal and inclusive offered a departure from the charges of impropriety in Grant’s administration.
In the 1876 presidential election between Hayes and Democrat Samuel J. Tilden, the governor of New York, Tilden won the popular vote by approximately 250,000 votes. However, the Democratic and the Republican parties in Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina each sent their own conflicting ballot results to Washington. Because there were two sets of results from each state-- with each party’s tally declaring its own candidate to be the victor--Congress appointed a 15-member commission to determine the winner of each state’s electoral votes.
The commission, which had a Republican majority, chose to award the disputed electoral votes to Hayes. Southern Democrats agreed to back the decision if the Republicans would recall the federal troops that were supporting Reconstruction. At the urging of the Southern Democrats, the Republicans also agreed to appoint at least one Southerner to Hayes’ cabinet. When the commission voted to award all the contested electoral votes to Hayes, he tallied 185 electoral votes to Tilden’s 184. Hayes was declared the winner on March 2, 1877. He took the presidential oath of office in a private ceremony at the White House the next day; a public inauguration followed on March 5. Northern Democrats who were unhappy with the outcome declared that Hayes had stolen the election.
In the White House: 1877-81
As president, Hayes ended Reconstruction within his first year in office by withdrawing federal troops from states still under occupation. He made federal dollars available for infrastructure improvements in the South and appointed Southerners to influential posts in high-level government positions. While these actions satisfied Southern Democrats, they also antagonized some members of Hayes’ own party.
The Republicans who had opposed Hayes’ candidacy at the party convention were even more frustrated by the president’s plans for civil service reform, which focused on ending patronage in favor of appointing civil servants based on merit. Hayes wrangled with U.S. Senator Roscoe Conkling (1829-88) of New York, who contested Hayes’ call for the resignation of two top bureaucrats in the New York customhouse, including the future 21st U.S. president, Chester Arthur (1829-86), who was then collector of the Port of New York. Hayes called for Arthur’s resignation in a symbolic attempt to undo Conkling’s political patronage.
In addition to party politics, Hayes experienced policy difficulties that arose outside Washington. Because of the economic downturn following the Civil War, Western and Southern states sought to strengthen the dollar. They wanted to do this through the Bland-Allison Act (1878), sponsored by Representative Richard P. Bland (1835-99) of Missouri and Representative William B. Allison (1829-1908) of Iowa. The act allowed the federal government to resume minting silver coins, which had been halted five years earlier. With inflation a primary concern, Hayes and others who supported a gold standard for the nation’s currency stood against the measure. However, Bland-Allison passed over Hayes’ veto.
Hayes declined to run for the presidency a second time, and retired from politics after his term in the Oval Office ended in 1881. He was succeeded by James Garfield (1831-1881), who was assassinated just six months into his term.
After leaving the White House, Hayes and his wife Lucy returned to their estate, Spiegel Grove, in Fremont, Ohio, and the former president devoted himself to educational issues and prison reform, among other humanitarian causes.
In addition to serving as a trustee of three universities--Ohio Wesleyan, Western Reserve and Ohio State--Hayes also became the first president of the board of the John F. Slater Education Fund for Freedmen in 1882. The Slater Fund was a $1 million endowment to provide Christian education for Southern blacks. Among the fund’s notable recipients was the sociologist and civil rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963). In 1883, Hayes became the first president of the newly reorganized National Prison Reform Association. For nearly 10 years, he traveled around the country speaking on policy reform topics.
In January 1893, while on business in Cleveland, Hayes fell ill. The ex-president sent for his son Webb C. Hayes (1856-1934) to escort him back home to Fremont, where he died of heart failure at age 70 on January 17, three-and-a-half years after the death of his wife.
After Hayes’ death, Webb established a presidential library in his father’s name at Spiegel Grove, setting the precedent for the construction and dedication of post-term presidential libraries.
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