Hayes in history

Our former colleague Paul Mirengoff writes:

I agree with John’s view that Rutherford B. Hayes is a better man than Barack Obama. However, I’m not a fan of the Hayes presidency.

Hayes is remembered mostly for two things: (1) winning a hugely controversial presidential election with fewer popular votes than his opponent and (2) ending Reconstruction. The two events are related — it can be argued that Hayes’s victory in the disputed election was secured by his promise to remove federal troops from Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana. However, it appears that Hayes had advocated this policy during the presidential campaign, in any case.

The end of Reconstruction produced nightmarish consequences. However, its demise was all but inevitable by the time Hayes succeeded President Grant.

Where Hayes came up short, in my view, was in the naive faith he placed in Southern Democrats to ensure fair treatment for blacks. As I recall, Brooks Simpson persuasively makes this disturbing case in his excellent book, The Reconstruction Presidents.

I believe that Hayes was also somewhat naive in his policies regarding American Indians. On this point, though, I’ll decline to elaborate.

Nonetheless, there is much to admire in Hayes the person, and his presidency was not without bright spots. For one thing, he nominated John Marshall Harlan to the Supreme Court.


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