Feast of Rutherford Birchard Hayes (January 17)   Leave a comment

Above:  President Hayes

Image in the Public Domain



President of the United States of America (1877-1881)

Governor of Ohio (1868-1872 and 1876-1877)

United States Representative (1865-1867)

Ecclesiastical calendars of saints are interesting documents.  I read about some people on them–whether Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, or Anglican/Episcopalian–and understand the presence of many of those people on them, yawn at some, and wonder what possessed anyone to put such a person on any calendar of saints.  (I am especially weary of any saint involved in the Crusades, which is why St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Louix IX of France are not present on the Ecumenical Calendar.)  But I choose whom to exclude and whom to include, and many of my choices are of people not on anyone’s calendar of saints, as far as I can tell.  So I add President Rutherford Birchard Hayes to the Ecumenical Calendar today.

Hayes never knew his father, who died before the future President’s birth.  A native of Delaware, Ohio, Hayes grew up with his mother, Sophia Birchard Hayes, and his sister, Fanny.  His uncle, Sardis Birchard, was his father figure.

Hayes attended Norfolk Seminary, a Methodist school in Ohio, from 1836 to 1838.  There he maintained a good academic and personal reputation.  After his time at Norfolk Seminary, the future President enrolled at Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio, from which he graduated four years later.  Studies at Harvard Law School followed beginning in 1843 and ending in 1845.  As a student from 1836 to 1845, Hayes kept up with his studies, enjoyed nature walks, and maintained a daily regimen of prayer and Bible reading.

Hayes practiced law from 1845 to 1858, when he won election as Cincinnati city solicitor.  Defeated for reelection to that post two years later, the future President joined the U.S. Army in 1861, rising from a Major to a Major General.  At the end of the Civil War Hayes resigned from the Army to join the House of Representatives, where he served from 1865 to 1867.  Congressman Hayes supported Radical Republican-sponsored civil rights measures and opposed President Andrew Johnson, an unrepentant racist who vetoed such measures.

Hayes served honorably in the constiutionally weak office of Governor of Ohio from 1868 to 1872 and 1876 to 1877.  Ohio was a racist state where opposition to the Fifteenth Amendment (voting rights) was strong.  But the fact that the state constiitution denied the Governor the veto power spared the good name of Rutherford Birchard Hayes when the legislature did something morally repugnant, such as deny voting rights to African Americans.

The presidential election of 1876 was nasty.  At the end of Ulysses S. Grant’s scandal-ridden presidency, the Republican Party turned to honest Rutherford Birchard Hayes to run for President.  Hayes came 20 electoral votes shy of winning the presidency before the settlement of the question of the assignment of twenty electoral votes.  The election commission gave all of these to Hayes.  The means were underhanded, but Hayes was not involved in this process.

So, on March 4, 1877, Rutherford Birchard Hayes became President and his wife, “Lemonade” Lucy Hayes, became First Lady.  (There were no alcoholic beverages at Executive Mansion functions.)  The major issue of the Hayes Administration was the end of Reconstruction, a noble and failed civil rights movement.  A political compromise required Hayes to end miliary reconstruction formally and leaving the Southern African Americans to the non-existant mercies of the state governments controlled by racist conservative whites, many of whom had been slaveholders and allies of slaveholders prior to the Thirteenth Amendment (1865).  But this was already a reality on the ground, so the transition from de facto to de jure was a mere formality.  There was nothing Hayes or anyone else could do in 1877.

As President, Hayes supported civil service reform (passed in the subsequent Chester Alan Arthur Administration), sympathized with the grievances of oppressed laborers while condemning labor riot violence, spoke out on behalf of Southern African Americans, advocated for the rights of Native Americans, and continued his regimen of prayer, Bible reading, and daily duties of his office.

Hayes retired from the presidency in 1881.  He spent his last twelve years traveling with his beloved Lucy (until her death in 1889), sitting on boards of colleges, and presiding over the Slater Education Fund (for African Americans), the National Prison Association (which advocated for prison reforms), and the Garfield Monument Association.  As head of the Slater Education Fund, Hayes helped fund a young W. E. B. DuBois, whom he admired.

A liberal by the standards of his day, Hayes tried to lift up the oppressed, downtrodden, and marginalized members of society as best he could.  Although he never joined a church, Hayes understood the Bible well and acted on it, as best he knew to do.  And, like a good tree, he bore good fruit.


God of justice and mercy, we thank you for the life and legacy of Rutherford Birchard Hayes.  May we, like him, seek to produce fruit indicative of righteousness.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

Deuteronomy 26:1-19

Psalm 72

James 2:14-26

Matthew 7:15-23


DECEMBER 20, 2010




Revised on November 20, 2016


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