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Rutherford B Hayes: A 19th-Century President of Firsts

Posted by RALEIGH DEGEER AMYX on Thu, Dec 04, 2014 @ 08:00 AM

Rutherford B. Hayes was our 19th president. Although for many people he is one of our lesser-known leaders, he was in fact a president of many “firsts.”

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19TH PRESIDENT RUTHERFORD B. HAYES

Born in Ohio in 1822, Hayes graduated from Kenyon College as valedictorian of his class, then went on to Harvard Law School, graduating in 1845. He married Lucy Webb in 1852. She became the first presidential wife to have graduated from college and the first to be called “First Lady.”

A Republican and opposed to slavery, Hayes fought for the Union in the Civil War and was wounded four times, at least once very severely. While still serving in the Army, he was nominated and elected to Congress, essentially in absentia, since he refused to leave to campaign for office, saying “an officer fit for duty who at this crisis would abandon his post to electioneer…ought to be scalped.” He didn’t take his seat in the House until after the war ended.

Within two years, he was elected Governor of Ohio, and was starting his third term in 1876 when he was nominated to run for President against New York Governor Samuel J. Tilden. Many Republican luminaries including Mark Twain campaigned for him, but Hayes did not think he would win. In the end, the election outcome was hotly contested -- a precursor to modern-day controversy about popular votes versus electoral votes.

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WHITE HOUSE CHINA OF RUTHERFORD B. HAYES - FROM THE RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX COLLECTION

As it came down to the wire, Tilden had amassed more popular votes than Hayes, along with 185 electoral votes. However, results in three states were under dispute, and together they represented enough electoral votes to push Hayes over the top by one vote. As it turned out, the Electoral Commission which eventually settled the dispute was composed of eight Republicans and seven Democrats. They voted on party lines, giving Hayes that winning vote.

To this day, Hayes remains the only president whose election was decided by the Electoral Commission. As a result, he became the first president to take the oath of office in the White House, doing so in secret because of the tension generated by his election.

As President, Hayes was a strong proponent of education. He also promised to protect the rights of newly-freed African-Americans in southern states. When Congress eliminated funding for troops stationed at southern statehouses and the troops were recalled, he tried to work with southern leaders to continue the protections he had promised, but with only mixed results.

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PRESIDENT RUTHERFORD B. HAYES AND FIRST LADY LUCY WEBB HAYES

Hayes implemented civil service reforms to end patronage, and for his own appointments chose men based on their qualifications for the position. His presidency brought the telephone and typewriter into the White House, and he was the first sitting president to visit the west coast. He started the famous Easter Egg Roll which still takes place every year on the Monday following Easter, and he signed into law important legislation that enabled women attorneys to appear before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Rutherford Hayes served just one term as President, something he had promised the nation up front, and retired in 1881 to his home in Fremont, Ohio. From there, he continued to practice his well-known philosophy, “he serves his party best who serves his country best,” focusing on promoting universal education, improving prison conditions and assisting veterans to receive their pensions. He passed away at the age of 70, in 1893.

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HISTORIAN AND COLLECTOR RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX

World renowned collector Raleigh DeGeer Amyx has acquired pieces from President Benjamin Harrison and Caroline Scott Harrison’s official White House China Collection. Mr. Amyx’s passion for American historical memorabilia has been his sole focus for more than three decades. His collection is the second largest privately-owned collection of White House China in the world. If you would like to engage in a discussion with Mr. Amyx about White House China, please contact him through the form below.

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