CHAPTER VI. THE ADMINISTRATION OF RUTHERFORD B. HAYES

The conditions which confronted President Hayes when the final decision of the Electoral Commission placed him in the executive chair did not make it probable that he could carry out a program of positive achievement. The withdrawal of troops from the South had been almost completed, but the process of reconstruction had been so dominated by suspicion, ignorance and vindictiveness that sectional hostility was still acute. As has been seen, the economic problems which faced the country were for the most part unsolved; on the subjects of tariff, finance and the civil service, neither party was prepared to present a united front; and the lack of foresight and statesmanlike leadership in the parties had given selfish interests an opportunity to seize control. Nor did the circumstances surrounding the election of Hayes tend to simplify his task, for the disappointment of the Democrats was extreme, and they found a natural difficulty in adjusting themselves to the decision against Tilden. Democratic newspapers dubbed Hayes "His Fraudulency" and "The Boss Thief," printed his picture with "Fraud" printed across his brow and referred to his election as the "steal" and a "political crime."

The man who was to essay leadership under such conditions had back of him a useful even if not brilliant career. He had been born in Ohio in 1822, had graduated from Kenyon College as valedictorian of his class, attended Harvard Law School and served on the Union side during the war, retiring with the rank of a brevet Major General. He had been twice elected to Congress, but had resigned after his second election to become governor of his native state, a position which he had filled for three terms.

Hayes was a man of the substantial, conscientious and hard-working type. He was not brilliant or magnetic, he originated no innovations, burst into no flights of imaginative oratory. His state papers were planned with painstaking care - first, frequently, jotted down in his diary and then elaborated, revised, recopied and revised again. The vivid imagination and high-strung emotions that made Clay and Blaine great campaigners were lacking in Hayes. He was gentle, dignified, simple, systematic, thoughtful, serene, correct. In making his judgments on public questions he was sensitive to moral forces. The emancipation of the slaves was not merely wise and just to him - it was "Providential." He favored a single six-year term for the President because it would safeguard him from selfish scheming for another period of power. Partly because of the lack of dash and compelling force in Hayes, but more because of the low standards of political action which were common at the time, his scruples seemed puritanical and were held up to ridicule as the milk-and-water and "old-Woman" policies of "Granny Hayes." His public, as well as-his private life, was unimpeached in a time when lofty principles were not common and when scandal attached itself to public officers of every grade. To his probity and the "safe" character of his views, as well as to his record as governor of an important state, was due his elevation to the presidency.[1] In his habit of self-analysis, Hayes was reminiscent of John Quincy Adams. Like Adams he kept a diary from his early youth, the serious and mature entries in which cause the reader to wonder whether Hayes ever had a childhood. When he had just passed his twentieth birthday he confided to his diary that he found himself unsatisfied with his progress in Blackstone, that he must curb his "propensity" to read newspapers to the exclusion of more substantial matter, and in general that he was "greatly deficient in many particulars." Then and in later years he noted hostile criticisms of himself and combated them, recorded remarks that he had heard, propounded questions for future thought, expressed a modest ambition or admitted a curbed elation over success.

In the field of politics Hayes was looked upon as a reliable party man, a reputation which was justified by his rigid adherence to his party and by his attitude toward the opposition. In both these respects he was the ordinary partisan. Nevertheless he thought out his views with unusual care, made them a matter of conscience and measured policies by ethical standards that were more exacting than the usual politician of the time was accustomed to exercise. The only remark of his that gained wide circulation reflects his type of partisanship: "he serves his party best who serves his country best." In these latter respects - his thoughtfulness, conscientiousness, exacting standards of conduct and less narrowly partisan spirit - he formed a contrast to the most influential leaders of his party organization. Altogether it seemed likely at the start that Hayes might have friction with the Republican chiefs.