Rutherford B. Hayes Essay, Research Paper
Rutherford B. Hayes was considered by many to be a simple, uncontroversial, and honest man to run for the presidency. That is why many people are perplexed that such an astute person should have one of the most controversial elections and presidencies ever. Considering Hayes honorable principles, it came as a surprise to see how he could unknowingly make a decision about reconstruction where its effects were so blatantly derogatory to the cause he was trying to help.
The controversy began when he was merely running for office. Hayes was running against Democrat Samuel J. Tilden. When the ballots were tallied in 1876, Hayes clearly lost the popular vote, and had lost the electoral vote 184 to 165 . However, twenty votes in Oregon, South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana were disputed due to the protest that blacks were not given the equal chance to go to the polls and vote. Congress created and electoral commission, which carefully decided that Hayes would receive all twenty votes. Facing the possibility that the country would be left without a president, both parties were considering taking the office by force. In spite of all the conflict, a deal was finally struck. Republicans made a secret deal with Democrats in congress, who agreed not to dispute the Hayes victory in exchange for a promise to withdraw federal troops from the south and end reconstruction . Hayes made good on the deal. He swiftly ended Reconstruction and pulled federal troops out of the last two occupied states, South Carolina and Louisiana . During the brief period of radical reconstruction the negro enjoyed both civil and political rights.
This political bargain contained three generally recognized parts: 1) The north would keep hands off the negro problem . 2) The rules governing race relations in the South would be written by whites. 3) These rules would concede the negro limited civil rights, but neither social nor political equality (page 787) . It is clear, however, that by 1876-77, a majority of white Americans were weary of continuing to battle southern retaliation to the reconstruction, especially when there appeared some possibility that the South was ready to give more than lip service to the rights promised by the Civil War Amendments. This bargain quickly caused an uproar by its opponents. Democrat William Clay said, “Instead of withdrawing, he should have sent more troops in there”. Hayes was convinced that this policy was best for everyone. He thought that the country and most white southerners would welcome a policy of moderation and react by assuring rights previously granted only sparingly . Consequently, he thought that by releasing troops from the last two remaining states would, “get from those states by their governors, legislatures, press, and people pledges that the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and fifteenth Amendments shall be faithfully observed; that the colored people shall have equal rights to labor, education, and the privileges of citizenship” . His theory that the southern government keeps their honor was severely disturbed by what was to follow in the near future.
An 1871 report to Congress says that in nine counties in South Carolina there were 35 lynchings, 262 black men and women were severely beaten, and over 100 homes were burned . To Hayes benefit, most people believed that he truly didn t foresee what would happen with his policy. Professor John W. Burgess noted Hayes “greatest struggle which he had with himself … was the question whether he was deserting the just cause of the black man and delivering him back to servitude” . There were actually mixed emotions about the topic all around. Evan William Gillete agrees that, “the reaction of most northern Republicans ranged from enthusiastic relief that the issue of the use of troops in the south would no longer intrude into every campaign, to fatalistic acceptance of the necessity of withdrawal”. History professor Dan Carter replied, “I would question whether he had any political options, he did not have the support of the American people and did not have support even in his own political party”.
Though it seems that Hayes made a mess by invoking the end of reconstruction, it is debatable whether it was his fault or not, and whether he had good intentions or not. On the surface, his making of this policy seems hypocritical since his goal was to help the colored people, which his policy did not do. In a letter of acceptance speech he writes, ” What is required is this: First, that for the protection and welfare of the colored people, the Thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth Amendments shall be sacredly observed and faithfully enforced according to their intent and meaning. Second, we all see that the tremendous revolution which has passed over the southern people has left them impoverished and prostrate, and we all are deeply solicitous to do what may constitutionally be done to make them again prosperous and happy. They need economy, honesty, and intelligence in their local governments. They need to have such a policy adopted as will cause sectionalism to disappear, and that will tend to wipe out the color line. They need to have encouraged immigration, education, and every description of legitimate business and industry. We do not want a united North nor a united South. We want a united country. And if the great trust shall devolve upon me, I fervently pray that the Divine Being, who holds the destinies of the nations in his hands, will give me wisdom to perform its duties so as to promote the truest and best interests of the whole country”.
At the beginning of his administration, Hayes had set out his southern policy very clearly. He wanted to eliminate political acts of violence against blacks. He insisted, and believed, that white southerners would adhere to the tenets of the Civil War Amendments. He insisted that the federal government had a responsibility to provide aid for education and public improvements. He also believed it was essential that honest government by educated citizens be restored in the south. His theory was that this kind of government could be achieved by insuring that blacks get an education so they can participate intelligently in the elections. His ideal of having educated blacks was quite strong. Hayes said, “securing peace, prosperity, and the protection of human rights require education. As long as any considerable numbers of our countrymen are uneducated, the citizenship of every American in every state is impaired”.
There are many proofs that President Hayes had good intentions when making the policy to end reconstruction. His goal was to help the black man gain and maintain civil rights. Although he couldn t foresee at the time, ending reconstruction was a decision that rapidly decelerated the black man s race for equality.