After the scandals of the previous three administrations the Republican Party was concerned to choose an especially upright candidate in the nation’s centennial year, 1876. They found him in Rutherford B. Hayes (1822-1893), a devout, conscientious Midwesterner whose Puritan ancestors had come from New England.
In his third term as Governor of Ohio, Hayes was known for an honest administration, a constructive reforms, and a strong stand on sound money—one of the leading issues of the day. In addition, he had an outstanding military record—performing gallantly on the battlefield and emerging a Major General. He was apparently above reproach. Yet it is one of the quirks of history that such a man should reach the White House through the very questionable settlement of a bitterly disputed election—although most historians believe that Hayes himself was not personally involved.
The settlement was in the hands of a special electoral commission that happened to have a majority of Republicans. But the Republicans had chosen well—better than some of them knew. For President Hayes proved to be too honest and forthright for many of them, who could hardly wait to get him out of office.
Despite political undercurrents, Hayes made good use of his one term to stabilize the government on several fronts. He officially ended Reconstruction on this day in 1877; he withdrew Federal troops from the occupied Southern states; he established reforms in civil service; he took courageous steps to settle the railroad strike of 1877; and he stood firm in enforcing a sound money policy—all in the face of vigorous opposition.
The man chosen to remove the taint of scandal from the government proved to be surprisingly resolute and effective; his dedication to principle and his courageous and forthright actions won him the kind of praise earned by very few one-term Presidents.