Rutherford Birchard Hayes was born on October 4, 1822, in Delaware, Ohio. He was the son of Rutherford Hayes and Sophia Birchard. Hayes never knew his father, who died ten weeks before his son’s birth. Sophia Hayes raised Hayes and his older sister with help from her brother, Sardis Birchard, a prosperous businessman who lived in Lower Sandusky (modern-day Fremont), Ohio.
Hayes attended common schools in Delaware before enrolling in the Methodist Norwalk Seminary in Norwalk, Ohio, in 1836. In 1837, he attended a preparatory school in Middletown, Connecticut. He entered Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio in 1838, and graduated with honors in 1842. Hayes then attended Harvard Law School and graduated in 1845.
After graduating from Harvard, Hayes joined the Ohio bar and opened his own law practice in Lower Sandusky in 1845. Hoping to expand his practice, Hayes moved to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1850 and opened a law office with John W. Herron.
While living in Cincinnati, Hayes became engaged to Lucy Ware Webb in 1851, and the couple married on December 30, 1852. A staunch abolitionist, Hayes’s defense of escaped slaves raised his profile in the newly emerging Republican Party.
Unlike most Republicans, Hayes did not favor warfare to prevent the South from seceding from the Union when sectional differences escalated prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. Nevertheless, once the war began, Hayes lobbied Ohio Governor William Dennison for a military command. Dennison appointed Hayes as a major in the 2nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry on June 27, 1861.
Battle of Carnifex Ferry
Although Hayes lacked any formal military training, he proved to be an able and active leader throughout the war. Soon after receiving his commission, he took part in the Battle of Carnifex Ferry (September 10, 1861) in western Virginia. On October 24, 1861, army officials promoted Hayes to lieutenant colonel.
Injured at the Battle of South Mountain
At the Battle of South Mountain (September 14, 1862), Hayes received a gunshot wound in the arm, the first of five injuries he sustained during the war.
Battle of Buffington Island
On October 24, 1862, army officials promoted Hayes to colonel and assigned him to command the first brigade of the Kanawha Division as a brevet brigadier general. Hayes’ men skirmished with John Hunt Morgan’s cavalry during the Battle of Buffington Island (July 19, 1863).
Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain
At the Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain (May 9, 1864), Hayes led a charge that drove Confederate troops from their entrenchments.
Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864
Toward the end of the war, Hayes took part in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864, seeing action in Hunter’s Raid on Lexington (June 11, 1864), the Battle of Lynchburg (June 17 and 18, 1864), the Second Battle of Lexington (October 19, 1864), and the Battle of Opequon Creek (September 19, 1864), the Battle of Fisher’s Hill (September 22, 1864), and the Battle of Cedar Creek (October 19, 1864). The War Department promoted Hayes to brigadier general of volunteers on October 9, 1864, and brevetted him to the rank of major general on March 3, 1865.
While Hayes was serving in the Army of the Shenandoah, Ohio Republicans nominated him for a seat in the United States House of Representatives from Ohio’s 2nd Congressional District. Although Hayes refused to campaign for office while serving in the military, he won the election in November 1864. Hayes served in the 39th and 40th Congresses from March 4, 1865, to July 20, 1867. While in Congress, he supported civil rights for freed slaves and voted with the Republican majority on Reconstruction legislation.
Governor of Ohio
On July 20, 1867, Hayes resigned his seat in Congress to campaign for the office of Governor of Ohio. In November, he won a closely contested election over Democrat Allen G. Thurman by a margin of 2,983 votes out of 484,603 votes cast. Ohio voters elected Hayes to a second term as governor in 1869. Choosing not to seek a third term, Hayes unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the House of Representatives in 1872.
Following his failed congressional bid, Hayes moved his family to the Birchard estate in Fremont, Ohio and he briefly retired from politics. By 1875, however, he reentered the political arena, and Ohio voters elected him to serve a third term as governor.
In June 1876, the Republican National Convention met in Cincinnati, Ohio. After six votes, the deadlocked delegates could not select a nominee for the office of President of the United States. On the seventh vote, Hayes emerged as a dark horse candidate and secured the nomination on June 16.
In November, Hayes defeated Democrat Samuel J. Tilden in one of the closest and more controversial elections in United States history. Although Tilden received more popular votes than Hayes, his total electoral votes were one short of the number he needed to secure the election. The Hayes camp challenged the election results in four states (Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Oregon). When Congress could not settle the dispute, the members established a nonpartisan electoral commission to determine the winner in the four disputed states.
The commission declared Hayes the winner in each state. In each case, the eight Republican members voted for Hayes, and the seven Democrats voted for Tilden. In what became known as the “Wormley House Bargain,” Hayes became president. To secure the victory, Hayes agreed to end Reconstruction in the South, ordering the occupying Northern troops to return to the North. Hayes also agreed to appoint a Southerner to his cabinet. Upset by the outcome of the election, many Americans, especially Democrats, derisively referred to Hayes as “Rutherfraud B. Hayes” and “His Fraudulency” throughout his presidency.
Hayes resigned his seat as Governor of Ohio on March 2, 1877, to assume the presidency. The next day he took the oath of office as president during a private ceremony at the White House. Two days later, on March 5, Hayes was publicly inaugurated. During his presidency, Hayes withdrew the last federal troops from the South, officially ending the Reconstruction Era. Still, he continued to champion rights for black Americans. In 1877, Hayes dispatched federal troops to several cities to limit violence and end rioting by striking workers during the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. Hayes also advocated for civil service reform, a stance that made him unpopular with politicians in both major parties.
In 1880, Hayes fulfilled his pledge not to seek a second presidential term and retired to private life in Fremont. For the next decade, he campaigned for social reforms as a private citizen. Hayes died of complications from a heart attack at his home on January 17, 1893. He was buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Fremont, Ohio. In 1915, Hayes’s remains were re-interred on the grounds of his estate, Spiegel Grove, in Fremont. One year later, the Hayes Commemorative Library and Museum, the first presidential library in the United States, opened at Spiegel Grove.