Rutherford B. Hayes (1877 – 1881): A 29th 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)
Hayes 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.
Hayes was subdued, believed in temperance, and banned liquor in the White House. He was scholarly, choosing a legalistic approach to governing and leadership. He believed in gathering information, consulting advisors, making a decision, and never looking back.
The End of Reconstruction
Public support for Reconstruction policies, requiring continued supervision of the South, faded in the North with the rise of the Liberal Republicans in 1872 and after the Democrats (who also strongly opposed Reconstruction) regained control of the House of Representatives in 1874. In 1877, as part of a congressional bargain to elect Republican Rutherford B. Hayes as president following the disputed 1876 presidential election, U.S. Army troops were withdrawn from the three states (South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida) where they remained. This marked the end of Reconstruction.
Legacy of Reconstruction
Reconstruction has been noted by historians for many “shortcomings and failures” including failure to protect many freed blacks from Ku Klux Klan violence prior to 1871, starvation, disease and death, brutal treatment of former slaves by Union soldiers, while offering reparations to former slaveowners, but denying them to former slaves.However, Reconstruction has had four primary successes including:
- The restoration of the federal union
- Limited reprisals against the South directly after the war
- Property ownership to blacks
- The establishment of national citizenship and legal equality.
Nadir of American Race Relations
The nadir of American race relations was the period in the history of the United States from the end of Reconstruction in 1877 through the early 20th century, when racism in the country was more open and pronounced than in any other period in the nation’s history. During this period, African Americans lost many civil rights gained during Reconstruction. Anti-black violence, lynchings, segregation, legal racial discrimination, and expressions of white supremacy increased.
Historian Rayford Logan coined the phrase in his 1954 book The Negro in American Life and Thought: The Nadir, 1877–1901. Logan tried to determine the year when “the Negro’s status in American society” reached its lowest point. He argued for 1901, suggesting that relations improved after that; however, others such as John Hope Franklin and Henry Arthur Callis, argued for dates as late as 1923.
The term continues to be used, most notably in books by James Loewen, but it is also used by other scholars. Loewen chooses later dates, arguing that the post-Reconstruction era was in fact one of widespread hope for racial equity due to idealistic Northern support for civil rights.
In Loewen’s view the true nadir only began when Northern Republicans ceased supporting Southern blacks’ rights around 1890, and it lasted until the Second World War. This period followed the financial Panic of 1873 and a continuing decline in cotton prices. It overlapped with both the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era, and was characterized by the nationwide sundown town phenomenon.
Logan’s focus was exclusively on African Americans in the American South. But the time period which he identified also represents the worst period of anti-Chinese discrimination, harassment, and violence on the west coast of the U.S. (and Canada), particularly after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. It also includes the Wounded Knee Massacre and drastic decreases in the number of people willing to claim “American Indian” on the U.S. Census.
Hayes Wins 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.
Hayes 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”
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.
Hayes and 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. Hayes sought to reform this system.
Hayes vs. 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 Hayes and his civil service reform, 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 civil service reform and Hayes.
The Half-Breeds were a moderate-wing group. Led by Maine senator James G. Blaine, they were in favor of Hayes and 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.
Rutherford B. Hayes
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.
- About. (n.d.). Henry Arthur Callis Foundation | Providing scholarships and educational programming for area students. https://www.callisfoundation.org/about/
- Administrations of the mayor’s of New Orleans: Monroe. (n.d.). https://archives.nolalibrary.org/~nopl/info/louinfo/admins/monroe.htm
- Amid debates about memorials, advocates push to remember Atlanta’s forced laborers. (2020, August 17). 90.1 FM WABE. https://www.wabe.org/amid-debates-about-monuments-advocates-in-atlanta-call-attention-to-chattahoochee-brick/
- Black codes, a definition. (2020, November 27). African American Registry. https://aaregistry.org/story/black-codes-a-definition/
- Carpetbaggers and scalawags. (2016, November 28). 64 Parishes. https://64parishes.org/entry/carpetbaggers-and-scalawags
- Commentaries on American law, 2nd ed. Volume I, signed by James Kent. (n.d.). Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America | Antiquarian & Rare Books | ABAA. https://www.abaa.org/book/1357693704
- Convict leasing. (2019, November 11). Equal Justice Initiative. https://eji.org/news/history-racial-injustice-convict-leasing/
- Douglas A. BlackmonStaff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal. (2001, July 16). From Alabama’s past, capitalism teamed with racism to create cruel partnership. WSJ. https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB995228253461746936
- The Freedmen’s Bureau records. (2020, October 6). National Museum of African American History and Culture. https://nmaahc.si.edu/explore/initiatives/freedmens-bureau-records
- Historian Eric Foner disputes ‘Fake history’ of reconstruction era. (2020, August 16). ideastream. https://www.ideastream.org/news/historian-eric-foner-disputes-fake-history-of-reconstruction-era
- John Hope Franklin, scholar of African-American history, is dead at 94. (2009, March 26). The New York Times – Breaking News, US News, World News and Videos. https://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/26/us/26franklin.html
- Kaplan-Levenson, L. (2016, July 14). An absolute massacre: The 1866 riot at the mechanics’ institute. WWNO | Your source for NPR News, Music & Culture. https://www.wwno.org/post/absolute-massacre-1866-riot-mechanics-institute
- Louisiana radicals order the reconvoking of the Louisiana constitutional convention of 1864. (n.d.). Daily Report | House Divided. https://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/46006
- Radical Republicans. (n.d.). Info:Main Page – New World Encyclopedia. https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Radical_Republicans
- The reconstruction acts of 1867. (n.d.). Facing History and Ourselves. https://www.facinghistory.org/reconstruction-era/reconstruction-acts-1867
- Rayford Logan residence, African American heritage trail. (n.d.). ABOUT US – www.culturaltourism.org. https://www.culturaltourismdc.org/portal/rayford-logan-residence-african-american-heritage-trail
- Restoring the union | United States history: Reconstruction to the present. (n.d.). Lumen Learning – Simple Book Production. https://courses.lumenlearning.com/atd-hostos-ushistory/chapter/restoring-the-union/
- Scalawags. (n.d.). Info:Main Page – New World Encyclopedia. https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/scalawags
- Sundown towns: Racial segregation past and present. (2020, August 24). America’s Black Holocaust Museum. https://www.abhmuseum.org/sundown-towns-the-past-and-present-of-racial-segregation/
- Tennessee coal, iron and railroad (TCI). (n.d.). Encyclopedia of Alabama. https://encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-2328
- Tourek, M. (2020, July 13). AG Biddle directs U.S. attorneys to pursue cases of involuntary… Today in Civil Liberties History. https://todayinclh.com/?event=ag-biddle-directs-u-s-attorneys-to-pursue-cases-of-involuntary-servitude-slavery-and-peonage
- The Wade-Davis bill and reconstruction. (n.d.). Fords Theatre. https://www.fords.org/blog/post/the-wade-davis-bill-and-reconstruction/
- What emancipation didn’t stop after all (Published 2008). (2008, April 9). The New York Times – Breaking News, US News, World News and Videos. https://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/10/books/10masl.html
- Why reconstruction matters. (2015, March 29). The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/29/opinion/sunday/why-reconstruction-matters.html
James A. Garfield (1881) would follow Rutherford B. Hayes.
Ulysses S. Grant (1869 – 1877) preceded Rutherford B. Hayes
Zachary Taylor (1849-1850) would assume the presidency after the Mexican War.
Woodrow Wilson (1913 – 1921) would guide the United States through World War I.
Jimmy Carter (1977 – 1981) would be the only Democratic President for 25 years post Civil Rights.
George W. Bush (2000 – 2008) is the final President in our series.