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The Rutherford B. Hayes Administration: 1877-1871

The Rutherford B. Hayes Administration (Republican, 1877-1881)
Issue: The Economy
Hayes called out the federal troops to keep order during a labor dispute in the railroad industry. Since there were no antitrust laws in existence yet, the four major railroad companies had privately agreed they would all raise rates and cut wages. He was the first president to use the military in this way since Andrew Jackson.

The specie issue from Grant's administration remained an issue. An 1875 law required that the government to begin redeeming devalued Civil War era greenbacks for gold beginning on January 1, 1879. Another law passed in 1878 regulated the government's use of silver in coins. Hayes ordered the Treasury Secretary to coin the minimum amount allowed by the law and the economy did improve.
Political cartoon on the specie issue
Political cartoon on the specie issue
Issue: Civil Service Reform
Another leftover from the Grant administration was the issue of civil service reform. Hayes had placed reforming corruption within the system at the top of his domestic agenda. His issuance of an executive order put him directly at odds with Senator Roscoe Conkling, a Republican from New York, whose power came largely from his control over being able to appoint people to government positions working for the Port of New York. Hayes was able to use his executive power, with the aid of some Senate Democrats, to replace some of the "Conklingites" with honest and competent men. This was the first step toward regaining some power to the executive branch of government lost to the legislative branch during the Johnson and Grant administrations.

Issue: Democrat-controlled Congress

During the midterms elections in 1878, the Democratic Party gained control of the Senate, and maintained their control of the House of Representatives. They now began to pass a series of bills designed to limit the president's ability to use the military to protect the rights of black voters. They passed a total of seven such bills, five designed to repeal election laws and two designed to get around them. Hayes directly confronted this assault of civil rights with the presidential veto. The Republicans maintained enough power in Congress to sustain his vetoes, thereby further enhancing his presidential power.

anti-Chinese cartoon
Anti-Chinese political cartoon
Issue: Chinese Immigration
Ever since the construction of the first transcontinental railroad prompted the Central Pacific to recruit Chinese laborers, anti-Chinese sentiments had been growing in the West. Congress responded to these feelings by passing a bill that restricted Chinese immigration. Hayes vetoed the bill, but also had Secretary of State William M. Evarts negotiate a new treaty with China that limited such immigration. These limits failed to ease the fears of Euro-Americans, and the issue was passed down to subsequent administrations.

Despite some successes, Hayes was ultimately unable to get many of the reforms he was after as president. The President's humanitarian outlook, especially as applied to minorities, did not translate into meaningful gains for Blacks or Indians. This was largely due to limitations imposed on him by the Democrat-controlled congress. Hayes declined to run for a second term. Once a civilian, he worked for reform in the other ways as an exemplary retired president. The death of Lincoln, the impeachment of Johnson, and the failures of Grant had left the presidency at the weakest state ever when Hayes took office under controversial circumstances. A decent and principled man, Rutherford B. Hayes helped to restore prestige to the office and to heal the deep wounds left by the Civil War.
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Last modified July 21, 2012