Contemporary Estimates of President Hayes

Compiled by THE EDITORS

Volume II, Number 2
Fall, 1978

The spirit of the press, as a whole, in its estimate of the character of ex-President Hayes and the merits of his Administration, was very friendly. Prominent newspapers that spoke harshly, or that withheld praise, were few. The following "Estimates of the Man and His Administration" were published in the Literary Digest, January 28, 1893.

Carl Schurz, in Harper's Weekly, Jan. 28. -
The ordinary politician has been, and probably will remain, fond of saying that the Administration of President Hayes was a political failure. But what is political success? If it consists in the organization and the support of a large following of henchmen who shout the praises of the leader that feeds them, or in securing the support of Congress by pampering its members with patronage, then President Hayes certainly failed. But if it consists in devising and carrying through measures and policies salutary to the country, then the Administration of President Hayes, which sowed new seeds of peace, patriotism, and prosperity in "the States lately in rebellion," which carried through the resumption of specie payments, which gave new and vigorous vitality to the then moribund reform of the civil service, which infused a new spirit of purity and conscience into our political life, and which then was followed by a victory of its party, mainly owing to the general contentment with the recent conduct of the Government, has been the most successful of all Republican Administrations excepting only that of Abraham Lincoln. That President Hayes might have accomplished still more had he possessed a less optimistic and a more combative temperament is true. But no fair-minded man will compare that which he did accomplish with the obstacles he had to overcome without recognizing in him statesmanlike good sense as well as firmness of purpose of a high order. Nor could any one knowing him fail to admire and to love the genuineness of his patriotism, the warm generosity of his heart, and the thorough nobleness of his character.

New York World (Dem.), Jan. 19. -
The ex-President of the United States who has just died at his home in Ohio was not a great man, but he was a good man, a brave soldier, a capable lawyer, and an excellent Executive. In private life he was an amiable and agreeable gentleman. In public life he endeavored, though not always successfully, to apply his own admirable apothegm that " he serves his party best who serves his country best." The Administration of President Hayes was in some respects the most valuable that the country has had since the end of the war.

Chicago News-Record (Ind.), Jan. 19. -
Full of disappointment and bitterness, the Democrats saw in General Hayes merely the immediate beneficiary of Republican manipulations. They unjustly came to regard him as their immediate antagonist. They blamed him for the acts of his partisans. This distinguished man might be termed the first of the peace Presidents. Under Grant the White House was in a measure a military barracks, while the civil service was a resting-place for soldiers whose trade of arms had vanished with the war. President Hayes was the pioneer of civil service reform. His order forbidding the interference of Federal officials in party political conventions was revolutionary as politics was at that day. This honorable and courageous stand, applauded by all right-thinking people, brought down upon him the disfavor of Republican political managers. Added to Democratic hatred it made him the object of bitter denunciation by all brands of politicians. His Administration was pure and free from taint of selfish striving for further political rewards. As a man General Hayes was of stainless character. His motives were lofty. His endeavors were good. Since his retirement to private life he had thrown his influence continually on the side of reform.

Chicago Herald(Dem.), Jan. 19. -
Mr. Hayes was not the chief conspirator, nor even a leading conspirator, in the monstrous contrivance by which he was made President of the United States. He was the willing beneficiary of the crime. But he was not among those by whom the crime was planned and executed. He was led to the culmination of the conspiracy, and he was induced to gather its infamous harvest by rascals of unbounded courage and consummate dexterity, who plotted and managed the treason by which, though defeated, he was installed in office. The largest charity may induce honest and sagacious men to hope that he believed he was discharging a great political duty when he usurped an office which belonged to another man, and drew the other man's pay.

Chicago Evening Post (Ind.-Dem.), Jan. 21. -
In the opinion of all reasonable Democrats Mr. Hayes was not without excuse for his share in the crime of '76. It has been well said by that truest of Democrats, Allen Granberry Thurman, that "not one man in a hundred could have resisted the pressure put upon Mr. Hayes." Even the New York Sun, the most persistent enemy Mr. Hayes ever had, concedes, now that he is dead, that he did only what ninety-nine men in a hundred would have done in like circumstances. The Sun places its figures too low. Not one man in ten thousand - nay, probably not one man among the politicians of this generation, excepting, perhaps, such chivalric persons as Roscoe Conkling and Grover Cleveland, would have followed any other course than that which led Hayes into his insidious position. In a word, Rutherford Birchard Hayes was a good man, though weak and doubly unfortunate. He is dead and only bourbons throw mud upon his grave.

Cleveland Leader (Rep.), Jan. 20. -
Our readers will bear witness that we always stigmatized the attacks upon General Hayes as the clamor of a small and contemptible element, and maintained that his hold upon the affection and admiration of his countrymen was far stronger than most people supposed. Already the soundness of this judgement has been proved by the universal tributes paid to the memory of the great man for whom the nation mourns. Everywhere his life is spoken of as a model in all ways, and the unanimous opinion of those best fitted to forecast the future is that his fame will grow and widen with time. It would be a sorry thing for the American people if such a career as that which has just closed in the beautiful little city of Fremont were not sure to be appreciated and honored, now and in the future.

Boston Herald, Jan. 21. -
It seems to us especially fitting to remember now that President Hayes was one of the most gallant and self-sacrificing soldiers of the war of the rebellion. He volunteered among the earliest, and under circumstances which made it clear that he did it under an urgent sense of duty. Murat Halstead, who knew him then, says he was impressed with a presentiment that he should not come out of the contest alive. No man was braver, and he was repeatedly wounded, once with great severity. He was not one of those soldiers who made a parade of their exploits, or sought political preferment because of them, but was as modest in referring to his military career as he was conscientious in engaging in it. Such a record alone should be enough to shield him from some of the unworthy attacks which we regret to see he is still encountering.

Pittsburgh Dispatch (Rep.), Jan. 19. -
Not the least creditable part of the ex-President's career was his unostentatious, but useful and creditable life, after retiring from high public office. He showed how an ex-President may live as an American citizen should without losing dignity or abandoning public usefulness, In all the phases of citizenship and public service, Rutherford B. Hayes was one of the best examples of the product of our institutions.

Kansas City Times (Dem.), Jan.21. -
Rutherford B. Hayes had as many virtues and good intentions as any public man the generation has produced. His Presidential term began with a famous civil service reform order and ended in one of the most flagrant prostitutions of the offices to personal politics ever known. He tried to get all the talent of the Republican party into his Cabinet and had the weakest Cabinet since the war. He undertook to improve the social tone of Washington and became ridiculous. His Administration saw the enactment of the Bland Silver Law and the resumption of specie payments, and yet the country thinks his four years as near nothing as a term could be. He was a good man, a fraudulent President, and a weak Executive.


The New York Sun has always been conspicuous for severe denunciation of the electoral proceedings of 1876, and for bitterness toward Mr. Hayes. Indeed, the Sun's attitude is to be remembered as probably the most noteworthy aspect of the whole Tilden-Hayes discussion.

The editorial tone of the Sun in its comments upon Mr. Hayes's death accordingly attracts much attention. As was expected, the Sun shows an unreconciled spirit. Besides renewing its former expressions upon the merits of the electoral dispute, it has repeated its condemnatory judgment of Mr. Hayes and has given prominence to criticisms of Mr. Cleveland for attending the ex-President's funeral.

The obituary notice that the Sun printed on the morning after Mr. Hayes's death closed with this paragraph:

"After his retirement from the office to which another had been elected, Mr. Hayes returned to his home in Fremont, where he continued until his death in the peaceful pursuit of raising chickens."

Speaking of Mr. Hayes's personal connection with the decision arrived at in the electoral contest, and his subsequent course, the Sun said in its issue for Jan. 20:

"It is not our purpose to thresh old straw anew, but no occasion is more appropriate than the present for reminding Mr. Cleveland and, certain other Democrats whose unreasoning haste to condone Fraud first triumphant in American history was recently rebuked in Mr. Cleveland's presence by Senator Carlisle, that the late Rutherford B. Hayes was himself a party to the conspiracy by which he profited, and an active agent in promoting the monumental crime. The proof of this is found in the undisputed fact that the corrupt agreements, entered into while the success of the conspiracy was still doubtful, were carried out to the letter by Mr. Hayes, as the beneficiary, after he had been fraudulently seated in Mr. Tilden's place. Others had made the bargain; he paid. Two distinct bargains were necessary in behalf of the Republican contestant: The first was the guarantee of reward and protection to the scoundrels who where induced to risk the penitentiary by committing the indictable offenses indispensable at the outset in Louisiana and Florida. The second was the bargain undertaken during the progress of the count, by which certain Southern Democrats consented to its completion by Congress on the promise that Mr. Hayes, if seated, would lend the power of his Administration to the overthrow of the Republican carpet-bag Governments in the Southern States. The late Rutherford B. Hayes knew that he was not morally entitled to the office of President, and understood and acquiesced in the methods employed to steal it for his benefit. That he permitted the shameful scheme to proceed from start to finish without a protest on his part; that he accepted and enjoyed the fruits of the great crime against American suffrage, knowing that he held an office to which another man had been elected, are facts irreconcilable with the estimate of his personal worth which charity and tolerance would like to pronounce over his grave."

Milwaukee Evening Wisconsin (Rep.), Jan. 21. -
The New York Sun surpasses all its Democratic contemporaries in the persistance and malignity of its denunciation of Rutherford B. Hayes because he defeated Samuel J. Tilden for the Presidency in 1876. It has delighted, in times past, to print his portrait with the word "Fraud" stamped on his forehead, and to refer to him sneeringly as "His Fraudulency." Even respect for the dead - if the Sun respects anything but its own arrogated wisdom - fails to change the tone of the Sun's comment in regard to the election of 1876, and its says that when Hayes accepted the Presidency in accordance with the decision of the Electoral Commission he pilloried himself for all ages as "the first and last fraudulent President of the United States." It then moralized in this flamboyant style:

Poor, commonplace Hayes! The temptation was strong for any soul not of heroic fibre, and you yielded without a struggle; but the punishment is terrible, for it is cumulative as the years go by, and will last as long as type gives ink to paper.

This is maliciously wicked. It is a matter of history that while the memorable struggle was at its height, General Hayes wrote to Senator Sherman declaring that there should be no unfairness; that he would rather have the Presidency go to Mr. Tilden than come to him through trickery. And when he was made President it was not only by the vote of the Electoral College, but by the confirmatory judgment of an extraordinary judicial body appointed to decide the vexed controversy. President Hayes's title was morally stronger than that of President Cleveland in 1884, when a narrow margin of fraudulent votes in New York added to a big margin of fraudulent votes in the South cheated James G. Blaine out of the Presidency.

Detroit Journal (Rep.) Jan. 20. -
here is not one ray of sunshine in the blackness of Dana's hatred of ex-President Hayes. In that sense it is spotless, for it is darkness visible without any spots whatever on it. It is not difficult to imagine Dana standing on the grave of Hayes, flopping his arms and crowing like a rooster over a dead body.


New York World (Dem.), Jan. 19. -
The greatest service of his Administration was its settlement of the sectional issue. President Hayes withdrew the troops from the Southern States and left their people free to govern themselves. He put an end forever to the rule of force, and in a large measure to the possibility of political preferment through appeals to sectional hate and passion. This was a great and patriotic service, and those who knew Mr. Hayes and his feeling on this subject will bear testimony to the fact that he strongly desired to bring about the happy consummation. Since then, although rabid partisans have endeavored to thrive on hate, the war and its cruel memories and its bitter prejudices have seldom been effective issues in our politics. Other and peaceful subjects - the currency, the tariff, the industrial and commercial interest of the country - have come to the front. All this would doubtless have come in time, and through some other President, but Mr. Hayes gave to his country this great boon, and he is entitled to the credit of placing the finances of the country upon a sound basis, and of hastening the downfall of the demagogues of the bloody shirt.

Richmond Times (Dem.), Jan. 21. -
It is no grateful task to say unpleasant things of the dead, but it is a duty we owe to posterity that the history of our time shall be truthfully recorded. Our Washington correspondent in giving the current talk at the Capitol about the late R. B. Hayes, says that some of the Congressmen from the South spoke kindly of him. They instance his removal of troops from South Carolina and Louisiana within a few months after his inauguration, and his recognition of Governors Hampton and Nichols, of those States; his appointment of D. M. Key Postmaster-General, and his refusal to appoint Miss Van Lew as postmaster of Richmond, as evidence of his disposition to deal justly by the South. The fact is that Mr. Hayes had no more disposition to deal justly and fairly by the South than any other Republican President that the post-war period has seen. The difference between such Presidents as himself and Garfield and such Presidents as Arthur and Harrison in this matter is, that the former believed they could corrupt our people, while the latter were open and proclaimed enemies. Hayes and Garfield believed in the principle " divide et impera" - division to be secured by hypocrisy and cant; Arthur and Harrison believed in coercing us into submitting to humiliations and plunder by brute force simply, and between the two we prefer the latter every time.


Raleigh News and Observer (Dem.), Jan. 20. -
The Electoral Commission was devised to settle the controversy. It was not to be a partisan body; but the eight Republicans on it voted steadily to maintain the Republican contention in every case, although to do so they had to take and hold inconsistent positions. No fraud was glaring enough to lead them to go behind the returns when the Republicans would be hurt thereby. They did not stand on the returns when they could score a point against the Democrats by further examinations. The Democrats submitted; but Mr. Hayes was regarded as a sort of de facto President, rather than as rightly in office. Notwithstanding the Electoral votes of Louisiana and South Carolina were thus given to Hayes, the Democrats there disregarded the fraudulent work of the Returning Boards, and at the point of the bayonet inaugurated Democratic State officers, and rescued those commonwealths from the clutches of the harpies.

New York World (Dem.), Jan. 19. -
It is an injustice not only to his memory but to history to remember his Administration only to revile him for the means by which the Presidency was obtained for him. Democrats were estopped from questioning the validity of his title when their leaders agreed to submit the matters in dispute to the Electoral Commission for adjudication and settlement, and participated in the count and declaration by Congress under the forms provided in the Constitution.

Brooklyn Times (Rep.), Jan. 20. -
Characteristically, the New York Sun takes advantage of the occasion to renew its assaults on the memory of the dead ex-President. The Sun bases its latest attack on the memory of Hayes on the alleged facts that he hastened to reward those who were responsible for the "crime" of his elevation to the Presidency by appointing them to office and that, by withdrawing Federal protection from Chamberlain and Packard, he virtually acknowledged that his own title to the Presidency was fraudulent and invalid. The Sun is wrong in both instances. It was right and proper that the men who imperiled their lives and incurred the deadly enmity of the dominant white Democracy of the South by enforcing the law and throwing out the vote of the bulldozed districts and parishes should be rewarded for their fidelity by appointment to office. If ever political service merited such appointment their service did, and President Hayes would have been worse than an ingrate and a traitor to the best interests of his country if he had failed to place them beyond the reach of proscription and persecution.

New York Morning Advertiser (Rep.), Jan. 20. -
The Democratic party at large has never yet recovered from the overthrow of the conspiracy by means of which it had hoped to usurp the Presidency. From the day that the decision of the Electoral Commission was announced they have whined and snivelled and snarled at the heels of the man who had no option but to obey the laws of the land and administer the high trust they imposed upon him. And now that he is dead they follow to his grave to indulge their hyena-like propensities even on that scared spot of earth. One of two things is true: Either Tilden was not elected or the Democrats were too cowardly to maintain their rights and induct him into the office. They have chosen to assume the position of men who are unworthy of their privileges, because they lacked the courage to assert their rights. The position is not an enviable one. It would have been more manly to have conceded the truth - that Mr. Tilden, notwithstanding the frauds attempted and perpetrated at the South and elsewhere, was not elected.

Philadelphia Evening Telegraph (Ind.-Rep.), Jan. 19. -
No matter who suggested the device of the Electoral Commission, something of the sort was absolutely necessary to preserve the peace of the country, and having been formally agreed to by the representatives of both the great parties in the two Houses of Congress, they were estopped from questioning the validity of any decision which might be made. To have taken any other course would have been to commit to an act of lasting dishonor. Of course, the Commission was a partisan one, and so it was understood to be as to all of its members except one. It could not have been otherwise in the state of the public mind. Ex-Senator Thurman now says it would have been a grave betrayal of the trust reposed in him if General Hayes had refused to accept the decision of the Commission. This would have been followed by nothing less than anarchy. He had an unquestioned title to the Presidency. Mr. Tilden had none, and after what had been done, with his full sanction and approval and that of his friends, he could have had none. There was then no well-defined constitutional or legal provision for a Presidential interregnum, and to have plunged the country into another election with the condition of affairs existing all through the South, would have been to invite the most deplorable consequences. The statesmen of to-day - or those who fill the places that belong to statesmanship - are simply performing a public duty when they so generally frown upon bringing out the skeleton of 1877. General Hayes has made his record, a most patriotic one, and which cannot be altered. The country is interested in upholding decent respect for the forms of law, and for the decisions of constituted authority.

The editorial in the St. Louis, Missouri, Post-Dispatch, Wednesday, January 18, 1893 was published as follows:


Ex-President Hayes, who died yesterday, was entitled to better treatment than has been accorded to him by the press of either party since his retirement from office.

In every public position he was an honest and patriotic official, who aimed to do the best he could for his country. He owed his third term as Governor of Ohio to the fight Tilden's friends made against Gov. Allen, whose election had made Ohio a doubtful State, and whose re-election would have made him the Democratic nominee on a Greenback platform in 1876. The defeat of Allen, with the active assistance of Tilden's managers, was the work of John Sherman, and so were the "subsequent proceedings" which made Hayes President of an Administration absolutely controlled and run by Sherman with a view of securing the succession to Sherman.

Whatever was done in the counting in of Hayes was the work of his party, in whose hands he was passive, pending the decision of the electoral controversy. The worst features of his Administration were chargeable directly to the dominant influence of Sherman, and its best features were all connected with affairs in which Hayes was allowed to assert himself.

He withdrew the troops from the Southern States, where their presence was an obstacle to local self-government. He went as far as his party would let him, and even sacrificed its good will in the effort to restore peace between the sections and to promote civil service reform. He announced himself as a one-termer, tried his best to give the country an honest, clean and efficient Administration, and its only use of patronage for political purposes was Mr. Sherman's.

He was not a brilliant statesman or great party leader, but one of those safe, capable and patriotic men to whom this country owes more than to men of more dazzling gifts. He had all the amiable virtues of private life, and we believe that history will brush away all the sneers of his contemporaries and credit his term in the White House not only with honorable and patriotic motives, but with a good moral and political effect upon the country.

The Toledo Blade on January 18, 1893, published the following editorial on Rutherford B. Hayes:

Once more the nation is called to mourn the death of one of its best, its purest and its most useful men. As citizen, as soldier, as Congressman, as governor of his state, as President of the United States, Rutherford Birchard Hayes performed faithfully and well the duties devolving upon him. As a citizen and a man, those who were privileged to know him best loved him for the high qualities of mind and heart which he possessed. As a publicist, his career was always such that he possessed the deepest respect and esteem of all intelligent men, even those who were opposed to him politically.

His career is another illustration of the fact that this country offers, to any one possessing the elements of success in his mental make-up, opportunities for achieving the highest stations. Mr. Hayes was born poor. All he ever became, all he achieved, was due to his own exertions. Poor as he was, he obtained an education - the key that one must have to unlock the gateways of the path to success - and then mastered the law. When the warcloud burst in 1861, he at once offered his services, and was set to work raising troops. Governor Dennison commissioned him a major, and he went to active service. He was a man of courage, of tact and ability. Four times he was wounded, but never shrank from the post of duty, no matter how hot the enemy's fire. He went through the entire conflict, and came out a brevet major-general - a promotion honestly and richly earned.

In 1864 and 1866 he was elected Representative in Congress, and in 1867 was chosen governor of Ohio, over Allen G. Thurman, the "Old Roman," the Democratic candidate. In 1869 he was elected governor the second time, over George H. Pendleton. In 1875 he was a third time nominated for governor of Ohio, and elected. Then came the famed national Republican convention at Cincinnati in 1876, and the nomination of Mr. Hayes for the Presidency, after an exciting contest, the opposition to James G. Blaine finally uniting upon Mr. Hayes, and thus giving him the nomination.

Then came the disputed Presidential election of 1876, and the exciting months that followed, the controversy being ended by the adoption of the Democratic device of the Electoral Commission, which confirmed Mr. Hayes's right to the Presidency. No man ever entered the White House with a clearer title; and it is a matter of history that during those months of scheming and turmoil, when cipher dispatches were passing between Samuel J. Tilden, the Democratic candidate, and his henchmen. Mr. Hayes' conduct was such as to win for him the approbation of the nation. No dishonorable act, no suspicion of plotting to achieve his own success, was ever brought against Mr. Hayes.

There never was a cleaner, purer or better four years' administration than that of President Hayes. The one thing for which it is the most remembered is the withdrawal of troops from the South and the inauguration of an absolutely peaceful policy toward that section. His view was the statesmanlike one that it is impossible to enforce civil law by military power in this country. The Cleveland Leader quotes Mr. Hayes as giving recently, in private conversation with the editor of that paper, his reasons for his Southern policy. He said:

"In the United States," said he, "the people are in the jury box. The people must enforce a law, and to enforce it their sentiments must harmonize with it. A law must come out of the bosom of a community or it cannot be operative. Otherwise it will strengthen and intensify the sentiment that it seeks to repress." He believed that by withdrawing all troops from the South the people of that section would sooner return to a more perfect allegiance to the Union, and to a respect for honest election methods than by stationing a permanent armed force among them.

He overestimated the patriotism of the people of the South, or under-estimated the intensity of the race prejudice there existing. His motives were good and pure, and his error, if any were made, was in supposing that the people of the South possessed as lofty views as did he himself. It is to be noted, too, that he announced his belief in the one-term principle for our Presidents in his letter of acceptance, and adhered to it - in strong contrast to Mr. Cleveland, who did the same thing in 1884, but persistently worked for and achieved the nomination both in 1888 and 1892.

His life after his retirement from the Presidential chair was an example to future ex-Presidents. It was to some extent like that of Washington at Mount Vernon, save that he withdrew entirely from politics, which Washington did not, or perhaps, could not. But Mr. Hayes was by no means idle in his beautiful retreat at Spiegel Grove, in the suburbs of Fremont, Ohio. His life was a busy one with philanthropic and charitable work. Prison reform, Southern education, the Indian question, the affairs of the Grand Army, and similar matters, engrossed much of his time; and he will be sorely missed by those who were with him in these works of philanthropy, charity and loyalty. He was a sincere and earnest Christian, a pure and noble man in his private character, and an American of whom his fellow-countrymen may well be proud.

Editorial from Our Second Century, January 28, 1893: RUTHERFORD B. HAYES. There was no one man who did so much towards placing Our Second Century upon a safe foundation as did Rutherford B. Hayes, the Centennial President, and to him it has been indebted, during all the years of its existence, for many a kindly hint and much material aid. In him we have lost a friend indeed.

The press, even those newspapers that were once his bitter foes, have spoken in most friendly terms of Mr. Hayes, but only those who knew him personally could be aware of the native excellencies of the man. Quiet and unassuming at all times, he was under-estimated by the world, and even some who called themselves his friends knew but little of his real character. His simple, sensible life, after he left the White House, gave some insight to the real man, and probably another generation may do tardy justice to his actual worth.