Rutherford Birchard Hayes (; October 4, 1822 – January 17, 1893) was an American lawyer and politician who served as the 19th president of the United States from 1877 to 1881, after serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and as governor of Ohio. Before the American Civil War, Hayes was a lawyer and staunch abolitionist who defended refugee slaves in court proceedings. He served in the Union Army and the House of Representatives before assuming the presidency. His presidency represents a turning point in U.S. history, as historians consider it the formal end of Reconstruction. Hayes, a prominent member of the Republican “Half-Breed” faction, placated both Southern Democrats and Whiggish Republican businessmen by ending the federal government’s involvement in attempting to bring racial equality in the South.As an attorney in Ohio, Hayes served as Cincinnati’s city solicitor from 1858 to 1861. At the start of the American Civil War, he left a fledgling political career to join the Union Army as an officer. Hayes was wounded five times, most seriously at the Battle of South Mountain in 1862. He earned a reputation for bravery in combat and was promoted to brevet major general. After the war, he served in Congress from 1865 to 1867 as a Republican. Hayes left Congress to run for governor of Ohio and was elected to two consecutive terms, from 1868 to 1872. He served half of a third two-year term from 1876 to 1877 before his swearing-in as president.
In 1877, Hayes assumed the presidency following the 1876 United States presidential election, one of the most contentious in U.S. history. Hayes lost the popular vote to Democrat Samuel J. Tilden, and neither candidate secured enough electoral votes. According to the U.S. Constitution, if no candidate wins the Electoral College, the House of Representatives is tasked with selecting the new president. Hayes secured a victory when a Congressional Commission awarded him 20 contested electoral votes in the Compromise of 1877. The electoral dispute was resolved with a backroom deal whereby the southern Democrats acquiesced to Hayes’s election on the condition that he end both federal support for Reconstruction and the military occupation in the former Confederate States.
Hayes’s administration was influenced by his belief in meritocratic government and in equal treatment without regard to wealth, social standing, or race. One of the defining events of his presidency was the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, which he resolved by calling in the US Army against the railroad workers. It remains the deadliest conflict between workers and strikebreakers in American history. As president, Hayes implemented modest civil-service reforms that laid the groundwork for further reform in the 1880s and 1890s. He vetoed the Bland–Allison Act of 1878, which put silver money into circulation and raised nominal prices; Hayes saw the maintenance of the gold standard as essential to economic recovery. His policy toward western Indians anticipated the assimilationist program of the Dawes Act of 1887.
At the end of his term, Hayes kept his pledge not to run for reelection and retired to his home in Ohio. He became an advocate of social and educational reform. Biographer Ari Hoogenboom has written that Hayes’s greatest achievement was to restore popular faith in the presidency and to reverse the deterioration of executive power that had established itself after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865. His supporters have praised his commitment to civil-service reform; his critics have derided his leniency toward former Confederate states as well as his withdrawal of federal support for African Americans’ voting and civil rights. Historians and scholars generally rank Hayes as an average to below-average president.
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