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Rutherford B. Hayes

May 28, 2012

OK I admit it. How could I refuse to post a quote by Rutherford B. Hayes if I came across one? How many of you reading this even knew we had a President named Rutherford B. Hayes? How many of you thought he looked like this? How did he eat his oatmeal in the morning?

Hayes, the 19th President of the United States, a Republican at the time most people considered the Party, the reform party and the Democratic Party, the party of northern scoundrels and southern bigots.

Hayes, a reformer,  began the efforts that led to civil service reform and attempted, unsuccessfully, to reconcile the divisions that had led to the American Civil War fifteen years earlier. He ardently supported civil rights laws to protect the newly freed slaves from reprisals at the hand of the defeated Confederate leadership and the Democratic Party.

During his presidency the emerging conflict between labor and capital boiled over in a series of increasingly violent strikes and reprisals. Although he used federal troops to intervene in one especially contentious confrontation,  The following qupte summed up his feelings:

“The strikes have been put down by force; but now for the real remedy. Can’t something [be] done by education of strikers, by judicious control of capitalists, by wise general policy to end or diminish the evil? The railroad strikers, as a rule, are good men, sober, intelligent, and industrious.”

He was elected President in a disputed election in which he actually garnered fewer electoral votes than his opponent, but, a political compromise engineered by the congressional committee that had been set up to resolve disputes over clallenged electoral votes, awarded the disputed electoral votes to Hayes. The so-called “compromise” ended reconstruction by removing the remaining Union military administration from the South. This enabled the Democratic Party to gain absolute political control in the South for almost 100 years until, as a result of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the segregationist Democrats abandoned the party for the Republican Party, occupying that Party’s right-wing until it was able to drive the reformers and moderates who controlled the Party out and establish the long sought victory for the South in the Civil War that they could not win on the battlefield.

In his later life Hayes continued his reformist activities writing in his diary:

“In church it occurred to me that it is time for the public to hear that the giant evil and danger in this country, the danger which transcends all others, is the vast wealth owned or controlled by a few persons. Money is power. In Congress, in state legislatures, in city councils, in the courts, in the political conventions, in the press, in the pulpit, in the circles of the educated and the talented, its influence is growing greater and greater. Excessive wealth in the hands of the few means extreme poverty, ignorance, vice, and wretchedness as the lot of the many. It is not yet time to debate about the remedy. The previous question is as to the danger—the evil. Let the people be fully informed and convinced as to the evil. Let them earnestly seek the remedy and it will be found. Fully to know the evil is the first step towards reaching its eradication. Henry George is strong when he portrays the rottenness of the present system. We are, to say the least, not yet ready for his remedy. We may reach and remove the difficulty by changes in the laws regulating corporations, descents of property, wills, trusts, taxation, and a host of other important interests, not omitting lands and other property.”

Making Rutherford B. Hayes a presumptive precursor of the “Occupy” movement.


From → Commentary

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