Rutherford B. Hayes: A 19th Retrospective
“Whatcha got ain’t nothin new. This country’s hard on people, you can’t stop what’s coming, it ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.” – Ellis, No Country for Old Men (2007)
The Last Battle of the Civil War
The election of 1876 between Hayes and New York Governor Samuel Tilden was viewed as such for it was a bitter, hard fought campaign. Ultimately, Hayes lost the popular vote as there were 260,000 more votes for Tilden. The Electoral College was too close to call as results from several states were in dispute.
After four months of accusations, negotiations and recounts, both sides allowed a specially appointed electoral commission to make the decision. Voting 8-7 along party lines, the three remaining disputed states and the election were awarded to Hayes.
He then faced confirmation in the House of Representatives where Democrats threatened to filibuster; however, opposition evaporated. It’s likely a back room deal was made, but it’s not clear what was promised. This was a tough start to the presidency for Hayes who would be referred to as “His Fraudulency” and “The Usurper”
Rutherford B. Hayes
He was the first president to take oath of office inside the executive mansion, and the first to have a telephone in the White House. He was also the first president to travel to the west coast. He was a Harvard law grad who ended up crushed by the pettiness and absurdity of politics. He was subdued, believed in temperance, and banned liquor in white house.
Hayes was scholarly, choosing a legalistic approach to governing and leadership. He believed in gathering information, consulting advisors, making a decision, and never looking back.
Great Compromise of 1877
The Compromise of 1877 was a purported informal, unwritten deal that settled the intensely disputed 1876 U.S. presidential election, pulled federal troops out of state politics in the South, and ended the Reconstruction Era. Hayes was supposedly awarded the White House over Tilden on the understanding that the former would remove the federal troops whose support was essential for the survival of Republican state governments in South Carolina, Florida and Louisiana.
The compromise involved Democrats who controlled the House of Representatives allowing the decision of the Electoral Commission to take effect. The outgoing president, Republican Ulysses S. Grant, removed the soldiers from Florida. As president, Hayes removed the remaining troops in South Carolina and Louisiana.
As soon as the troops left, many white Republicans also left and the “Redeemer” Democrats took control. Black Republicans felt betrayed as they lost power and were disenfranchised in the coming decades.
South Carolina and Louisiana had federal troops at their state houses to protect blacks supporting Republican governors from Democrats whom were ex-confederates. Hayes ordered the removal of troops allowing Democrats to take back the last two states of the old confederacy.
Many assume that was the consummation of the back room deal, but Hayes wanted to end reconstruction, and Republicans were already retreating from it so it wasn’t much of a compromise. Hayes pulling the troops was more a culmination of the trajectory of the relationship between Republicans and Reconstruction than an abrupt turn.
Hayes was a proponent of a new approach with the south believing a return of civilian rule would return to civility. Hayes felt the best sort of well to do southern whites would protect blacks from violence and ease their place into society. Hayes was shocked when that didn’t happen, and felt betrayed by the former confederate leaders. Whether intended or not, Hayes closed the window on reconstruction, dooming blacks to segregation and deprivation, and keeping the old confederacy for whites only for the next 100 years.
Civil Service Reform
Civil service were government jobs such as postal officials and tax collectors. These positions were used by officials to exert influence and extort cash. There was no income tax, so most taxes were collected on custom duties.
Custom House In New York
In the 19th century, the Port of New York was the primary port of entry for goods reaching the United States, and as such the Custom House in New York was the most important in the country. The amount of money passing through the House made working there a prime position, as corruption was widespread.
Until civil service reforms, all Custom House employees were political appointees. The President appointed the four principal officers: Collector of Customs, Naval Officer, Surveyor of Customs, and Appraiser of Customs.
Hayes attempted to establish a merit-based system of appointments, while Senator Roscoe Conkling wished to retain the spoils system, under which he controlled the patronage there. One Collector of Customs, Chester A. Arthur (1871-1878), later became President of the United States. Arthur was said to have made several times more income as a collector than he did as a lawyer, about $50,000 a year in his first three years in office.
Led by U.S. Senator Roscoe Conkling aka “Lord Roscoe”, Stalwarts were sometimes called Conklingites. Other notable Stalwarts include Chester A. Arthur and Thomas C. Platt. They were the “traditional” Republicans who opposed Rutherford B. Hayes’ civil service reform. They were pitted against the “Half-Breeds” (moderates) for control of the Republican Party.
The Half-Breeds were a moderate-wing group. The main issue that divided the Stalwarts and the Half-Breeds was political patronage. The Stalwarts were in favor of political machines and spoils system-style patronage, while the Half-Breeds, led by Maine senator James G. Blaine, were in favor of civil service reform and a merit system. The epithet “Half-Breed” was invented in derision by the Stalwarts to denote those whom they perceived as being only half Republican.
Hayes was called to run again but honored a campaign pledge not to. Hayes was hamstrung by beliefs that his leadership was the result of political maneuvering. In trying to compromise with the south, he trusted ex confederates without actually verifying they would actually protect the rights of blacks as they said.
Hayes was a reformer looking to upset the status quo. This led to a split within the Republican Party between so called moderates and hard-liners as well. This turmoil would result in three different Presidents residing in the White House in 1881.
Ulysses S. Grant preceded Rutherford B. Hayes
James A. Garfield would follow Rutherford B. Hayes.
It all started with George Washington.