Barack Obama’s thoughtless denigration of Rutherford B. Hayes–a better man than Obama could ever dream of being–has sparked something of an internet craze, which Steve noted yesterday. At QuickMeme, you can see pages of captioned Hayes portraits, and create your own if you want. This is one of many favorites:
Obama’s gaffe might have the salutary effect of focusing public attention on worthy figures from American’s past like Rutherford Hayes. A few highlights from Wikipedia:
When the Civil War began, Hayes left a successful political career to join the Union Army. Wounded five times, most seriously at the Battle of South Mountain, he earned a reputation for bravery in combat and was promoted to the rank of major general. After the war, he served in the U.S. Congress from 1865 to 1867 as a Republican. Hayes left Congress to run for Governor of Ohio and was elected to two consecutive terms, serving from 1867 to 1871. After his second term had ended, he resumed the practice of law for a time, but returned to politics in 1875 to serve a third term as governor.
In 1876, Hayes was elected president in one of the most contentious and hotly disputed elections in American history. …
Hayes believed in meritocratic government, equal treatment without regard to race, and improvement through education. He ordered federal troops to quell the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 and ordered them out of Southern capitals as Reconstruction ended. He implemented modest civil service reforms that laid the groundwork for further reform in the 1880s and 1890s. Hayes kept his pledge not to run for re-election. He retired to his home in Ohio and became an advocate of social and educational reform.
The period of American history that followed the Civil War was one of the greatest and most successful ever experienced by any nation. It was led mostly by Republicans who understood the value of freedom. Consequently, it has been downgraded by left-leaning historians who have portrayed America’s stunning growth and prosperity as a blameworthy “Gilded Age.” Our younger readers may not realize that something similar happened much more recently: after the Reagan administration saved the American economy following the debacle of the Carter years, the Democratic Party needed to preserve its viability by undermining the remarkable achievements of the Reagan years. How did they do it? They took a page from history and labeled the 1980s a “Decade of Greed.”
In any event, Hayes is just one of many 19th-century figures whose reputations deserve to be much higher, and from whom today’s Americans, especially our youth, could learn a great deal.
UPDATE: Mark Steyn has more on the same general theme.