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Rutherford Hayes Wins Disputed 1876 Presidential Election


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THE MAKING OF A NATION – a program in Special English by the Voice of America.

In early 1877, Rutherford Hayes was sworn-in as the 19th president of the United States. He became president after a disputed election.

I'm Richard Rael. Today, Steve Ember and I tell the story of this American president.

Rutherford Hayes was born in Ohio in 1822. He was a good student at Kenyon College and at Harvard Law School. He opened a law office in Cincinnati. When he was thirty years old, he married Lucy Webb.  Later, he served as an officer in the Union army during America's Civil War. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives. He also served as governor of Ohio. In this job, he helped establish the college that became Ohio State University.

Hayes was a Republican. In 1876, he was the party's compromise candidate for president. His opponent in the national election was Democrat Samuel Tilden.  Tilden won more popular votes than Hayes. In the American political system, whoever wins the most popular votes in a state usually gets all the electoral votes of that state.

In 1876, both the Republicans and Democrats claimed the electoral votes of three southern states: Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina. So it was not clear at first who had won the presidential election.

Congress appointed a committee to decide the issue. The committee had a  Republican majority. It gave the disputed electoral votes to Hayes. He won the election by just one electoral vote. The results came just a few days before the inauguration.

Democrats protested that the Republicans had stolen the election. Yet they agreed to accept Hayes as president. In exchange, Hayes and the Republicans agreed to accept Democratic Party policies on several issues. Hayes's administration would deal mainly with national -- not international -- problems.

At first, people wondered: would President Hayes keep the promises that were made to help him win the election. Most thought he would not. Hayes surprised everyone. In his inaugural speech, he promised to put the country ahead of the party. He said, "he serves his party best who serves his country best."

Party leaders told Hayes which men to appoint to his cabinet. He refused and made his own choices. He ordered federal troops to withdraw from South Carolina and Louisiana. The troops had been there since the end of the Civil War. He also helped southern Democrats establish new governments in their states.

Republican Party leaders criticized President Hayes. Anti-slavery groups also criticized him. They said former black slaves in the south had gained a lot under Republican rule. Now, they said, these black Americans would lose everything.

Hayes did not agree. He had received promises that the new democratic state governments would protect the rights of black Americans. It was not to be. White Democrats kept political control in some southern states for many years. They often denied civil rights to black citizens. Only with the rise of the civil rights movement in the 1950s would the situation begin to change.

After becoming president, Rutherford Hayes announced that he would serve just one term. He wanted to make serious reforms in the federal government. This would be easier to do if he did not have to worry about getting re-elected. Hayes started by changing the system that employed people in government jobs.

Party leaders usually had great power to fill government jobs. They used the jobs to reward loyal party workers and to increase their own political strength. President Hayes demanded that federal jobs be given to people because of their abilities, not because they supported a politician.

At that time, the best jobs were with the customs service of the Treasury Department. The people who collected customs -- taxes on imports -- could keep part of the money they collected.

President Hayes took action against the customs service office in New York City. One of the men removed from the job there was James Garfield. Garfield would later become president of the United States.

Hayes also banned all federal workers from taking part in political organizations, conventions, and campaigns. And he said politicians no longer could demand campaign money from federal workers.

Rutherford Hayes showed more political strength during a nationwide railroad strike. The strike began during his first summer as president.

For several years, the nation had suffered from a serious economic depression. Three million people were out of work. Factories and businesses reduced the pay of those who still had jobs. Workers with the Baltimore and Ohio railroad protested. They took control of many areas along the railroad. They refused to let the trains move. The strike spread to other railroads. In some places, the strikes turned into riots, and the riots became violent.

Some governors ordered their state armed forces to intervene. The state forces were not strong enough, however. So the governors asked President Hayes for help. He immediately sent federal troops to troubled cities. The troops stopped the riots and ended the strikes.

Another issue during Hayes's administration involved a railroad in the western United States. It was both a labor problem and an immigration problem thousands of Chinese workers had been brought to America to help build the Central Pacific Railroad. After the railroad was built, many of them remained. Most settled in California. Others came from China to join them. These immigrants competed with white workers for jobs. Whites protested, because the Chinese agreed to work for less money. They said this kept wages down for all workers.

The white workers asked Congress for a law to stop Chinese workers from coming to the United States. Members of Congress from both parties wanted the support of these voters. So they quickly passed a bill that made it much more difficult for Chinese citizens to come to live in the United States.

The bill said the president must cancel part of a treaty between the United States and China. That part of the treaty permitted citizens of each country to settle in the other country.

President Hayes vetoed the bill. He said the United States had proposed the treaty. So, he said, the United States could not change it without agreement from China. Hayes did agree, however, that some action was necessary. So he opened negotiations with the Chinese government. He won an agreement to limit the number of Chinese who could enter the United States.

During the administrations of Andrew Johnson and Ulysses Grant, Congress had weakened many powers of the president. Congress had become the strongest of the three branches of the American government. Throughout his administration, Rutherford Hayes worked hard to strengthen presidential powers.

For example, the United States Constitution gives the president power to veto bills passed by Congress. In the 1800s, Congress tried to prevent presidential vetoes. It used a method of attaching "riders" to legislative proposals. This is how the method works:

Congress considers a bill the president believes is necessary. Then it joins that bill to a measure the president would veto if passed separately. The extra measure is called a "rider" to the first bill. To get the bill he wants, the president must accept the "rider," too.

President Hayes refused to sign any bills with riders. So the Congress during his administration stopped using the method. Congresses since then have used it  successfully.

Rutherford Hayes kept his promise to serve only four years. He did not regret his decision. After leaving office in 1881, he said he was satisfied with what he had done. He looked back on his administration and wrote:

"I left this great country prosperous and happy. I left the party of my choice strong, victorious, and united. In serving the country, I served my party. " He died in 1893.

Hayes was right in saying that the United States was strong and prosperous. The late 1800s were a time of growth for the nation. They also were a time of expansion into new territory.

That will be our story next week.

You have been listening to the Special English program, THE MAKING OF A NATION. Your narrators were Richard Rael and Steve Ember. Our program was written by David Jarmul.


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