I almost made it all the way through President’s Day without a tribute to one of the most under-appreciated men of all time: Rutherford B. Hayes. I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t he the guy who..?”
No. No he isn’t. Hayes, our 19th president, did absolutely nothing after ascending to the highest rank in America following the closest election in our history.
When the first returns seemed to confirm [that he had lost], Hayes went to bed, believing he had lost. But in New York, Republican National Chairman Zachariah Chandler, aware of a loophole, wired leaders to stand firm: “Hayes has 185 votes and is elected.” The popular vote apparently was 4,300,000 for Tilden to 4,036,000 for Hayes. Hayes’s election depended upon contested electoral votes in Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida. If all the disputed electoral votes went to Hayes, he would win; a single one would elect Tilden.
Months of uncertainty followed. In January 1877 Congress established an Electoral Commission to decide the dispute. The commission, made up of eight Republicans and seven Democrats, determined all the contests in favor of Hayes by eight to seven. The final electoral vote: 185 to 184. (whitehouse.gov)
Fascinating. What happened next was even more exciting. His wife got rid of the booze in the White House. He appointed reputable people to positions in his cabinet, rather than merely friends. Before becoming president, Hayes had announced he would serve only one term, and he followed up on it. Twelve years out of office, he died.
Many see Hayes as a forgettable figure, but I think we can all learn from his example: take life as it comes, and never try to do too much. Coast through whatever situations arise, and make sure no one has anything negative to say about you once you’re gone. To play it safe, just make sure no one has anything to say about you at all.
And the “B” stands for Birchard.