Rutherford B. Hayes : Warrior and President , by Ari Hoogenboom

History Book Reviews -- Rutherford B. Hayes -- 19th President of the United States

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Rutherford B. Hayes : Warrior and President by Ari Hoogenboom
Rutherford B. Hayes --
America's Forgotten Liberal Republican President

Rutherford B. Hayes : Warrior and President
by Ari Hoogenboom

Hardcover - 712 pages
First Edition, January 1995
Published by University Press of Kansas
ISBN 0-7006-0641-6 / ISBN 0700606416

With the events of the contested 2000 presidential election results and Ohio's forthcoming bicentennial, it is time to take another look at the third President from Ohio, Rutherford B. Hayes. (Bush was the third President from Texas) The most recent biography written on America's nineteenth President is by Professor Ari Hoogenboom. Ari Hoogenboom is a professor of history at the City University of New York -- Brooklyn College. Professor Hoogenboom has previously authored "Outlawing the Spoils: A History of the Civil Service Reform Movement". While it is not stated, Hayes' advocacy for civil service reform is one of the reasons the author chooses to write about President Hayes. Hayes was the last president in the nineteenth century that was a consistent advocate of civil service reform. The author makes no pretense about his feelings that Hayes and his presidency are underrated. In making his point, Hoogenboom states --

Mark Twain "Arrived at the verdict that" Hayes's Presidency, in "its quiet & unostentatious, but real & substantial greatness, would give steadily rise into higher & higher prominence, as time & distance give it a right perspective, until it would stand out against the horizon of history in its true proportions," I have undertaken this biography in the hope of fulfilling Twain's predication and to give Rutherford Birchard Hayes's extraordinary life the "right perspective" so it can be viewed "in its true proportions."

The old adage the "history repeats itself", is often true. This is seen in the elections of 2000 and 1876 where governors from large states elected were elected President despite their opponents receiving more popular votes. Additionally each of the elections was contested after the last vote was cast in the respective November election. As we are in the shadow of the 2000 election, President Bush is a familiar figure. His Republican counter-part from 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes is not. With the similarities in the elections of Bush and Hayes, Professor Hoogenboom has given readers of biographies and American history reason to take another look at America's nineteenth president.

Book review by Paul L. Whalen

Paul L. Whalen is an attorney and professor of law at the Defense Acquisition University at WPAFB, Ohio.
He lives in Fort Thomas, Kentucky.

© 2003 Paul L. Whalen
Reprinted with permission by

The title of this biography of America's nineteenth President could have been -- "Rutherford B. Hayes, Warrior and Reformer". This was the first biography of Hayes in over fifty years when it was published in 1995. With the advent of Ohio's Bicentennial in 2003, this biography of one of the eight men from Ohio who served as President is valuable in understanding the life and times of one man and the events prior to, during and aftermath of the American Civil War from an Ohio or Midwestern perspective. Like John and John Quincy Adams before him, Hayes was a dedicated diarist and letter writer. He kept a daily diary from age twelve until he died at age seventy. (This diary may be found on line at

As president, Hayes is lost in the shuffle between Grant and Theodore Roosevelt. To make matters worse, his election as President is marred with accusations of fraud and dealmaking. Like the election of 2000, Hayes' election was marked with voting irregularities in southern states including Florida. Unlike 2000, a commission decided Hayes election. The decision concerning the election was not made until two days prior to the inauguration in March 1877, more than three months longer than it took to resolve the 2000 election.

The controversy surrounding Hayes' election and the events of the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century overshadow the man and his presidency. However, Professor Hoogenboom makes a valiant effort to fulfill Mark Twain's prophecy concerning Hayes and his presidency.

Rutherford B. Hayes : Warrior and President by Ari Hoogenboom

Themes of this biography of Rutherford B. Hayes focus on his relationships with family and his lifetime of public service as an attorney, congressman, governor, president and former president. The Hayes family had moved to Ohio from Vermont in 1817 and settled in the village of Delaware. It was there Hayes was born on October 4, 1822. Two and a half months earlier, Hayes' father Rutherford Hayes, Jr. had died of typhus, leaving a pregnant wife Sophia with two children. A brother Lorenzo died of accident while ice-skating when Hayes was two. From that time on, his constant playmate was his sister "Fanny". Hayes would be close to his sister Fanny and her family throughout his life. Sophia Hayes' youngest brother Sardis Birchard lived with the family and would be part of Hayes' life until Sardis' death. It was Uncle Sardis Birchard who gave the family financial stability. It was Sardis who helped enable Hayes to attend Kenyon College and later Harvard Law School. Then later in his life, as Sardis' financial assistance enabled Hayes to serve in congress and as governor of Ohio.

The book looks at courtship in the nineteenth century. From the point of view of the twentieth century, Hayes' relationships with women were very schoolbook Victorian. Hayes' mother Sophia and sister Fanny were concerned when Hayes was twenty-seven and yet unmarried. When Hayes met his future wife, Lucy Webb in 1847 she was only sixteen and a student at Ohio Wesleyan, which was then located in Cincinnati. Lucy's mother and Hayes's mother were acquaintances. Sophia and Fanny thought that Lucy was a fine girl but even two years later when she was eighteen told Hayes, she was too young for him. They finally married on December 30, 1852 in Cincinnati and honeymooned in Columbus, Ohio in January 1853. Lucy was his partner throughout his life. It was she who influenced him to be active in the Methodist Church; (though he never joined any church or denomination). It was her belief in temperance, which was the basis for no liquor being served in the White House during his administration. As a result she was given the moniker "Lemonade Lucy". Though it was Hayes' position that the use of alcoholic beverages was a personal choice not one to be dictated by the government.

Politically, Hayes was a Whig and then became a Republican. As a Whig he opposed the Mexican War. As a young lawyer in Cincinnati, he defended individuals accused of murder. He believed in exercising his clients' rights to an appeal if they were convicted. He was known to have saved at least two murder defendants from the gallows due to his use of appellate procedure. A third murder defendant he saved from the gallows using the insanity defense. In 1854, the insanity defense was not used in capital cases. Rutherford B. Hayes was a legal pioneer when he used the insanity defense to save Nancy Farrar from the gallows for murder of two women and three children with arsenic. The author spends some time examining Hayes use of his pardon powers as governor of Ohio and as president. As president, he was criticized for his unprecedented use of the pardoning power. He issued 284 pardons during the first fourteen months of his presidency. He was criticized in 1879 for pardoning a free-love advocate who was convicted for among other things sending obscene materials through the mail.

Four of the thirty chapters are devoted exclusively to Hayes' career in the Civil War. The author does a good job of documenting Hayes' military career. He is the only American president to have been wounded five times in battle. Hayes responded to Lincoln's call for volunteers after South Carolina succeeded and fired upon Fort Sumter. Hayes was commissioned as a major in the Twenty-Third Regiment of Ohio Volunteers. It was in this regiment that Hayes became familiar with another future president from Ohio, Pvt. William McKinley. Hayes spent most of the war in West Virginia. Hayes was wounded in the Battle of South Mountain near Middletown, Maryland. He was then promoted to Colonel. During several of the winters during his Civil War service in West Virginia, Lucy and children would spend several months with him and the troops. Lucy would often assist in nursing the wounded. Such was the case during the winter of 1862-63 at Camp Reynolds in West Virginia. Another significant action lead by Hayes was preventing Confederate General John Hunt Morgan from crossing the Ohio River and invading Ohio at Pomeroy. His pursuit of Morgan in July 1863 resulted in Morgan losing over 800 men in a 1,200-man force. Hayes also played a prominent part in the defeat of Confederate General Jubal Early in October 1864 at Cedar Creek. While leading his regiment during that battle, he had his horse shot out from under him. During the subsequent fall, he was knocked unconscious. As a result, it was reported in the press that he had been killed in battle. He was promoted to brigadier general in December 1864.

As one who had opposed slavery prior to the Civil War, the war became not only a war to end slavery but one for equal rights for all Americans. These beliefs plus reports of his gallantry on the battlefield resulted in his election to the U.S. House of Representatives prior to leaving military service. He was to represent Cincinnati in the House with for the term beginning in December 1865. As a new Republican Congressman in a House with a solid Republican majority he was at a disadvantage in respect to appointments to committees. He was however appointed to Chair the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress. While Hayes was described as a patient listener, his diary reflects that he believed that his congressional colleagues talked too much.

In 1867, Hayes ran for his first of three two-year terms as Governor of Ohio. As Governor he advocated suffrage without restrictions for blacks and established the Ohio Geological Survey. He also had state government study reform of the prison system. He advocated the use of parole, graded prisons and indeterminate sentences. One of the capstone achievements of his career as Governor of Ohio was the founding of Ohio "Agricultural and Mechanical College" later Ohio State University. He began work on eliminating the spoils system from Ohio state government. Unfortunately the chapters of the book covering Hayes' service as Ohio governor, focus more on politics than on Hayes's policies and accomplishments.

Chapter Seventeen, "The Disputed Election" is one of the best chapters in the biography. It describes events following the election of 1876. It was one that Hayes went to bed thinking he had lost the election for the presidency. It describes the work of General Daniel Sickles and the Republican National Committee in contesting the election for Hayes. The election was to be decided in South Carolina, Florida and Louisiana. In those states the returns were subject to review by Republican-controlled returning boards. The focus of this chapter is on the machinations of others. While trying to maintain balance, the author quotes Hayes as stating "we are not to allow our friends to defeat one outrage and fraud by another". Hayes was careful to remain in Ohio distancing himself from intrigues of his Republican and Washington friends. A commission comprised of five senators, five representatives and Five Supreme Court justices eventually decided the election. Membership was comprised of equal number of Republicans and Democrats. However, four of the justices were to choose a political independent from the Supreme Court. The election was finally resolved on March 2, 1877 for the term beginning March 4, 1877.

In his inauguration speech, Hayes covered five subjects: the South, civil-service reform, the currency question, foreign affairs and the disputed election. This speech is where the author indicates that Hayes begins his break from being a mainstream Republican to planting the seeds of the Progressive movement. In that speech, Hayes said the schoolhouse not the railroad was the key to success for the South. Education was the key for both races. He urged that party ties and racial prejudices be surrendered. He said, "universal suffrage should rest upon universal education". He called "for support of free schools by the State Governments, and, if need be, supplemented by legitimate aid from national authority."

The author points out that the most memorable part of the inaugural speech concerned civil service reform. He called for "thorough, radical and complete" reform of civil service. Appointment should be made on merit not a merely a reward for partisan service. He stated "that he serves his party best who serves his country best." With thoughts of the corruption within Grant's administration, Hayes believed abuse of the civil service resulted from presidents' attempts to succeed themselves. He proposed in his inaugural address an amendment to limit the president to one six year term. It was his belief that more than one term as president abused civil service reform caused him to limit himself to only one term as president.

Hayes was unable to accomplish the goals set out in his inaugural address. However, the author believes that Hayes strengthened the office of the presidency. Unlike his immediate predecessors, he did not defer to Congress in appointments. Hayes refused to allow congress to dictate his policies and appointments. Presidents Lincoln and Grant had allowed Congress to suggest appointments to the cabinet as well as other public offices. As a result, Hayes often struggled with Congress. He was also the first president to travel extensively throughout the country. He did this in order to bypass his congressional opponents and take his policies directly to the people.

In respect to civil service reform, he appointed a commission to investigate the New York customhouse and other customhouses around the nation. He also prohibited political assessment from appointees to government positions. The investigations of the customhouses resulted in regulations for appointments to various government jobs including competitive examination.

The biggest crisis of the Hayes Administration, was his handling of the Great Strike of 1877. It was this incident which has often mischaracterize. The author however points to the fact that Hayes took a moderate course, favoring neither labor nor business.

In addition to the rights of blacks, the author points to his fairness in dealing with issues race. This was seen in his dealing with the Nez Perces and other Native Americans. He vetoed the Chinese exclusion bill in 1879 that would have prohibited immigration of Chinese into the United States. Unfortunately, the book ignores the repercussions after 1877 on black Americans living in the south resulting from the withdrawal of Federal Troops based on the deals made on behalf of Hayes for disputed southern electoral votes in the 1876 election.

Professor Hoogenboom spends five chapters and an Afterword following the twelve years of Hayes' life following his presidency. In doing so, he correctly states that "With the exception of Jimmy Carter, no retired president has been involved in social causes than Hayes". He was the last nineteenth century president with a genuine interest in securing voting rights for blacks. He was a great advocate throughout his life for public education for students of all races and abilities. He believed that education was part of the solution for relieving poverty. He fought unsuccessfully for federal subsidies to educate children of all races in the in poor school districts.

In retirement, Hayes became active in advocating the education of disadvantaged Americans. He was an active trustee of the Peabody Educational Fund, whose mission was to improve schools in the south. He also served as President of the Slater Fund, which promoted education of the newly emancipated blacks in the south. In promoting education of blacks, he made it clear that black women were to be included with support from the Slater Fund.

In the last decade of his life, Hayes believed that the greatest problem facing America was the disparity in wealth between the great industrialists of the Gilded Age and the laboring men and women. In order to solve that problem, Hayes favored confiscatory inheritance taxes, federal regulation of industry and universal free public education. To support universal public education, Hayes once advocated that the federal excise tax on whiskey rather than be cut or eliminated, be divided among the states in order to assist in state support of public education.

Professor Hoogenboom's biography in many respects is comparable to David McCullough's John Adams. Hayes is not in the same league as Adams. He did not have the opportunities to be tested as Adams. He did make significant contributions to Ohio and the nation. He contributed to the strengthening the function and integrity of the office of President of the United States. And as the author and Mark Twain indicate, he contributed to the beginning of the Progressive Movement as symbolized by Justice John Marshall Harlan (whom Hayes appointed) in his dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson and Theodore Roosevelt.

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Rutherford B. Hayes : Warrior and President
by Ari Hoogenboom
ISBN 0-7006-0641-6 / ISBN 0700606416

Book Description from the Publisher

Who was the real Rutherford B. Hayes? Was he a great or inconsequential president? How did his early life and career shape his later years? How did his triumphs and failures alter our history? And why should we care? Ari Hoogenboom's masterful life of Hayes definitively answers those questions and shows why our nineteenth president deserves far greater recognition than he's received in the past.

The first biography of Hayes in nearly fifty years, Hoogenboom's book recreates the rapidly changing world of Victorian America as experienced by one of its most reflective and perceptive figures. The Hayes that emerges is a much more progressive and far-sighted leader than previously suggested. He was, Hoogenboom argues, neither a Southern sympathizer nor an exemplar of the "Greedy Gilded Age." Rather, he was a devout, pragmatic champion of equal rights.

Hayes's colorful life was rooted in his frontier experiences in Ohio and galvanized on Civil War battlefields, where he survived five wounds and was ultimately promoted to major general. No other president was under fire on the front lines as much as Hayes.

Hayes's image as president (1877-1881), however, has not been quite so shining. He has been blamed for Reconstruction's failure and damned for an apparent bargain that guaranteed his election in exchange for withdrawing military support of Republican governments in the South. He has also been criticized for championing the gold standard, for breaking the Great Strike of 1877, for inconsistent support of civil-service reform, and for being an ineffectual politician.

Hoogenboom contends that these evaluations are largely false. Previous scholars, he says, have failed to appreciate Hayes's limited options and have misrepresented his actions in their depictions of an overly cautious, nonvisionary president. In fact, he was strikingly modern in his efforts to enlarge the power of the office, which he used as his own bully pulpit to rouse public support for his goals.

Chief among these goals, Hoogenboom shows, was equality for all Americans. Throughout his presidency and long afterwards, Hayes worked steadfastly for reforms that would encourage economic opportunity, distribute wealth more equitably, diminish the conflict between capital and labor, and ultimately enable African-Americans to achieve political equality. Although he fell far short of his ideals, his unwavering commitment deserves our attention and respect.

About the Author

Ari Hoogenboom is professor of history at the City University of New York-Brooklyn College and The Graduate Center and the author of The Presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes .

Book Reviews

"Rutherford B. Hayes was an important president who has long deserved a full modern treatment of his career. Ari Hoogenboom's well-researched, engrossing, and multi-faceted account of Hayes's life as a soldier and politician is a significant contribution to the historical literature on the American presidency. It is also a first-rate example of political biography at its best."

-- Lewis L. Gould, author of The Presidency of William McKinley
and The Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt

"From antislavery lawyer to Union general and Republican politician, Hayes's career was intertwined with the major issues of slavery, war, and reunion. As president he struggled with the issues of Reconstruction and the emerging industrial order, always seeking to do the right thing; as an ex-president, he endeavored to preserve the past and prepare for the future. In this comprehensive biography, Hoogenboom rescues Hayes from undeserved obscurity and tells us much not only about the man but also about the times in which he lived. Hoogenboom's skilled rendering of the life of the nineteenth president promises to be definitive, restoring Hayes to his rightful place in American history as a representative of his era."

-- Brooks Simpson, author of Let Us Have Peace: Ulysses S. Grant and the
Politics of War and Reconstruction, 1861-1868

"Compels fresh respect for both the man and his times."

-- Allan Peskin, author of Garfield : A Biography

"An exceptional study: revisionist, comprehensive, and, to a surprising extent, relevant. A superb job."

-- Les Fishel, former director of the Hayes Library

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Rutherford B. Hayes : Warrior and President
by Ari Hoogenboom
ISBN 0-7006-0641-6 / ISBN 0700606416