Hayes becomes Ohio's first three-term Governor - 1868 - 1872, 1875 - 1876

Acceptance of the Republican candidacy for the office of governor of Ohio in June 1867 offered him a creditable excuse to exit from Congress. He owed his nomination both to the machinations of William Henry Smith and to the controversy over African American suffrage. To secure the passage of a state constitutional amendment guaranteeing African Americans the right to vote, Ohio Republicans needed a strong candidate for governor. Unimpeachable character and morals, a distinguished war record, and the fact that he was not too closely identified with the Radicals made Hayes an ideal candidate. In the ensuing election, he defeated a formidable Democratic opponent, Allan G. Thurman, by less than 3,000 votes. At the same time, Ohio voters rejected the state amendment guaranteeing African Americans suffrage by 38,000 votes. 

Inaugurated on January 13, 1868, the governor renewed his stand for equal voting rights and fought the proposed Democratic repeal of Ohio’s assent to the fourteenth amendment. In June 1869, the state Republican convention in Columbus re-nominated Hayes by acclamation. Campaigning in favor of the ratification of the fifteenth amendment and a sound fiscal policy based on hard currency, he defeated George H. Pendleton of Cincinnati, the Democratic challenger, by some 7,500 votes. When he later assessed his first two terms as governor of Ohio (1868-1872), Hayes listed the following as among his most notable accomplishments: the initiation of a state geological survey; the state’s gaining control of a soldier’s and sailor’s home in Xenia, Ohio; the establishment of an agricultural and mechanical college, which later became known as The Ohio State University; the implementation of reforms in the state’s penal and mental institutions; and Ohio’s ratification of the fifteenth amendment and other African American suffrage legislation. He also took great pride in his efforts to preserve Ohio’s historical heritage.

After holding elective office for more than seven years, Governor Hayes yearned for the opportunity to retire from public life. He refused to run for an unprecedented third term and declined an offer from a group of insurgent Republicans in January 1872 to contest the Senate seat held by John Sherman. In May, he attended the Liberal Republican Convention in Cincinnati as a casual observer. Although dissatisfied with Grant’s record as President and sympathetic with this reform movement’s cause, he remained a party regular. As a delegate to the Republican National Convention, he supported Grant’s re-nomination.

That fall, the former governor reluctantly ran for Congress in Cincinnati’s upper middle-class Second District, where political leaders feared a swing to the Liberal Republican-Democratic coalition led by Horace Greeley. Although he out-polled the local Republican ticket, he lost in his bid for a third Congressional term. As a reward for his party loyalty, President Grant offered him the position of Assistant United States Treasurer at Cincinnati. Disdaining any further connections with current politics, he politely declined the appointment.

Assuring himself that he was finished with politics for good, Hayes and his family moved to Fremont, Ohio, in May 1873. With Spiegel Grove as his home, he settled down to enjoy the leisurely life of a country squire. During these years, Hayes busied himself with such matters as caring for his ailing uncle, improving his estate, founding the Birchard Public Library and Sandusky County Pioneer and Historical Association in Fremont, and developing his land investments. Republican reverses in 1873 and 1874, however, cut short his retirement to private life. He yielded to his party’s call and accepted the Republican nomination for governor on June 2, 1875. Carefully handling cultural issues such as parochial education while adhering to sound money principles, he defeated the incumbent Democrat William Allen to become Ohio’s first three-term governor.