Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Rutherford B. Hayes Was a President, too

I've always had a thing for underdogs, which is the only rationale I can think of for my curious fascination with our phenomenally irrelevant 19th president, Rutherford Birchard Hayes. That and his lush beard, of course.

How big of an underdog was Hayes? Well, He graduated top of his class at Kenyon College and went on to Harvard Law School. After practicing law in Ohio for several years, he was ready to join the war effort, where he distinguished himself in battle and rose through the ranks all the way to Major General. Hayes, though not the only president to have served in the Civil War, was the only one ever wounded, a feat he accomplished four times.  All in all, not bad for an orphaned Ohio boy.

The war ended with Hayes intact enough to pursue a career in politics. He served in congress and as Ohio's 29th and 32nd governor, then became the unlikely candidate for president on the Republican ticket. Hayes was positively walloped by his rival, Democrat Samuel Tilden, by a whopping 250,000 votes out of 8.5 million cast. And yet, with some 20 electoral votes in dispute, Hayes was chosen by a special electoral commission to be our 19th president. Sound familiar?

Still, regardless of the reeking corruption that propelled Hayes to office, he was known as a thoroughly decent and honest man who was determined to restore dignity to the White House after years of scandal under U.S. Grant. Does any of this sound familiar?

So just what did "Honest Rutherford" accomplish during his lone term in office, that rip roaring time in history from 1877 to 1881? Try some of these on for size:

Desert Land Act (1877). Offered arid land at bargain prices to those willing to irrigate.

Bland-Allison Act (1878). Something about the cost of silver bullion that passed in spite of a Hayes veto.

Timber and Stone Act (1878). Offered cheap land to those willing to log and quarry.

And as if all that wasn't enough, here are some other juicy morsels:

Hayes was president during the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. When the strikes became riots, he ordered in federal troops, who subsequently killed 70 railroad workers--a first for a US president.

Hayes is, or at least was, a hero in Paraguay, when he arbitrated in the country's favor over a land dispute with Argentina. A city in Paraguay, Villa Hayes, is named for him, as is a governmental department, thus making Paraguay the world’s record holder for most things named after Rutherford B. Hayes.

The annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn was initiated during the Hayes Administration. The feel-good tradition continues to this day.

Ever on the cutting edge of technology, Hayes' White House was the first to have a typewriter and a telephone. Hayes also invented the internet.

Hayes’ most famous quote: "he serves his party best who serves his country best," ranks with Warren G. Harding's, "I am not fit for this office and should never have been here," as the least inspiring of all time.
Hayes was the only president outfitted with a bionic limb (left arm).
First Lady Lucy Webb Hayes was a resolute teetotaler, putting her in direct opposition with McBone's pro-alcohol policy. Pictured left: a beardless Hayes and his wife, Lucy, on their wedding day.

Hayes’ dying words, “I know that I’m going where Lucy is,” are disputed in favor of, “I just wish I had time for one more bowl of chili.”

In popularity polls, Hayes ranks among these other obscure presidents:

John Tyler
Franklin Pierce
Abraham Lincoln
Anatole Stanko
nwb

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nate,

What about Benjamin Harrison? Or William McKinley?

Or the Dark Horse, James K. Polk?

Although Polk may not be that obscure since he does have a song named after him.

Gotta hand it to Hayes' Vermonter parents. They taught him well to do deal with all those flat-landers & city folk in Washington.

kb

Kid Shay said...

Anatole Stanko?

I had no idea Rutherford went to Kenyon. I almost went there.

Nate and Jeff Bowler, Co-Captains said...

Anatole Stanko, US President briefly in the 1950s. He was killed in a tragic drag racing accident.

nwb

Nate and Jeff Bowler, Co-Captains said...

kb,

Don't let's forget the great Martin van Buren. How about James Buchanan?

nwb

Anonymous said...

Martin & James definitely need to be added to the list.

Although Martin's presidency did get recognition in Amistad with Nigel Hawthrone playing him. Damn you, Spielberg!

The all-time list has to go to Benjamin's grandfather, William Henry Harrison.

He should be on the list called: "We Barely Knew Ya" or "The Thirty One Day Man."

kb

Nate and Jeff Bowler, Co-Captains said...

Ooh, WH Harrison is a good one. Both the Harrisons were hopelessly obscure. I still give the prize to RB Hayes, though. WH Harrison had all that Tippecanoe fame.

nwb