Born on October 4, 1822, Hayes was raised by his mother and maternal uncle, Sardis Birchard. He graduated from Kenyon College in 1842 and Harvard Law School in 1845. Hayes practiced law in Fremont and then Cincinnati. He married Lucy Ware Webb in 1852. Hayes enlisted into 23rd Ohio Voluntary Infantry in 1861; by 1865, he held the rank of brevet major general.
Following his discharge from service, Hayes was the Republican Congressman from Ohio in the Thirty-Ninth and Fortieth Congresses. He was the Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress, voted for the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, supported the congressional plan for Reconstruction, and favored full payment of the public debt created by the Civil War.
Hayes was Ohio’s first three-term Governor, serving from 1868-1872 and again during 1875 and 1876. Hayes initially ran for office on the platform for equal voting rights and fought the proposed Democratic repeal of Ohio’s assent to the Fourteenth Amendment. Throughout his terms, he initiated a state geological survey, established an agricultural and mechanical college (which became The Ohio State University), implemented reforms of Ohio’s penal and mental institutions, established the state’s control over the soldier’s and sailor’s home in Xenia, and presided over Ohio’s ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment. Hayes was in favor of African American suffrage and took pride in his efforts to preserve Ohio’s historical heritage.