Rutherford Hayes is like other presidents of the Gilded Age — easily forgotten, and dismissed as an executive placeholder who supposedly didn’t do much. The C-Span historians rank him in the bottom quarter of their list. I rank him in the top four (for a place on Mount Rushmore, no less), and agree entirely with Mark Twain, who, usually contemptuous of politicians, pronounced Hayes a great president.
Hayes took office during a stormy time, on the heels of the “Civil War aftermath” presidents (Johnson and Grant), and he steered the nation into a period of immense peace and prosperity, while holding his ground against a pernicious and racist Congress. This is the kind of president enlightened Americans want and love.
The End of Reconstruction
The most controversial part of Hayes’ presidency was his first action: to end the military occupation of the south. Historians are divided on the question. The…
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