Monday, December 17, 2012

Inaugurating a 'Most Successful Administration'

Here's a neat piece on the Hayes' inauguration:
Hayes's inaugural address on March 5, 1877 (the fourth was a Sunday) was consistent with his letter of acceptance. It disappointed Democrats, who lobbied and bargained in the late electoral crisis, as well as Republicans, who hankered for the spoils of political warfare, but it gratified liberal reformers. Hayes discussed five topics: the South, civil service reform, the currency question, foreign affairs, and the recent election. He agreed that the South should have home rule, but insisted that it should obey the entire Constitution and respect the rights of all who were recently emancipated. He did not advocate any railroad subsidy, but did call for federal aid to southern schools, arguing that "universal suffrage should rest on universal education." Hayes called for a "thorough, radical, and complete" reform of the civil service and observed most memorably "he serves his party best who serves his country best." Blaming the severe economic depression, that had gripped the country since 1873, on the fluctuating value of Greenbacks (fiat paper money issued during the Civil War), Hayes called for the speedy return to the gold standard by redeeming them in specie. In foreign affairs, Hayes (who had four years of war on the front lines) would submit disputes to arbitration, as Grant had done. Finally, Hayes congratulated the nation on the peaceful settlement of the election and anticipated a conciliatory Southern policy by calling for a union based not on force but on freedom.

Hayes then took the oath of office and kissed the Bible somewhere in Psalm 118. Perhaps his lips landed on the sixth verse: "The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?" The charmed life Hayes had led as a soldier and politician surviving battles and winning elections did not diminish his self-confidence. Rutherford and Lucy Hayes then rode with Ulysses and Julia Grant to the White House for lunch. James A. Garfield noted that there was "relief and joy that no accident had occurred on the route for there were apprehensions of assassination." After lunch the Hayeses bid the Grants adieu and that afternoon had a "grand reception" for members of Congress, the Supreme Court, the military, and the diplomatic corps.

That evening the Hayeses attended a reception at Willard's Hotel where jubilant Republicans--especially blue-capped Columbus cadets--celebrated into the night. "The city," Mary Clemmer Ames wrote for the Cincinnati Commercial, "is one blaze of light to-night. For miles on miles the torchlights stream, and the air is all ablaze with red lights and rockets. The mottoes in the windows, the finest flag and streamer flying from housetops, are as clearly visible as at noon-day." Ames noted that "Ohio sails on the top wave, and is a little giddy with triumph." Hayes believed the triumph was deserved--that he was both legally and justly entitled to the presidency. If blacks had not been prevented from voting in the South, he was certain he would have carried Mississippi and North Carolina as well as the three disputed states. Nevertheless, he was also aware that more than half of those who actually cast ballots in 1876 did not believe he was elected fairly, that in their eyes his mandate was not merely shaky but fraudulent. In addition, Democrats controlled the House of Representatives. Three factors accounted for their resurgence: foul as well as fair tactics in the South, the hard times following the Panic of 1873, which occurred on the Republican watch, and the political corruption that tainted the Grant Administration. Hayes realized that most Radical as well as spoils-minded Republicans had worked hard to put him in the White House, but he knew that they alienated reform-minded elements, and he believed that military reconstruction (which he had originally supported) had in the long run strengthened the Democrats in the South. To rejuvenate his party, Hayes rejected the views of those hard core Republicans, whom he called the "ultras," and tried to reactivate and reclaim disaffected moderates.

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