Rethinking the Hayes Presidency on the Bicentennial of His Birth

DENVER, Oct. 3, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — In a newly published essay, historian Maxwell Rotbart asserts that Rutherford B. Hayes — who served one term as President from March 1877 to March 1881 — has been underestimated in most presidential rankings.

The bicentennial of Hayes’s birth will occur on October 4, 2022.

In particular, Rotbart writes, Hayes’s accomplishments are often overshadowed by those of his predecessor, Ulysses S. Grant, who served two terms as president after the Civil War.

“Despite Hayes’s historical innocuousness, a fair-minded evaluation of his term in office finds that Hayes’s record not only compares favorably to Grant’s but also to other past presidents whose achievements are more broadly acknowledged,” Rotbart says.

As Mark Twain, a contemporary, wrote of the 19th President, he embodied “real and substantial greatness.”

The defining characteristic of the Hayes Administration, Rotbart maintains, was its commitment to honest and decent government.

Hayes, an Ohio native and staunch Republican, supported Black rights long before most white Americans — Lincoln and Grant included. A reformer, Hayes was elected on the promise of conducting a “thorough, radical and complete” overhaul of the nation’s civil service system, which was saturated with self-serving bureaucrats.

To avoid the temptation to use the patronage of his office to promote his re-election, as was common among earlier presidents, Hayes campaigned on a pledge to serve only one term in office. And although Hayes faced significant pressure after his election to renege on his commitment and stand for re-election, but he did not.

By contrast, the Grant Administration — which has seen a resurgence of popularity in recent years, aided, in part, by Ron Chernow’s 2017 biography of the 18th President — suffered from systemic corruption. Grant’s secretary of war was impeached and forced to resign for “basely prostituting his high office to his lust for private gain,” Grant’s vice president had to quit politics for accepting bribes, and Grant’s personal secretary faced two criminal indictments.

Moreover, Grant’s own reputation — as historian Allen Guelzo noted last April in an op-ed article for The Wall Street Journal — was tarnished by allegations of corruption, alcoholism, and antisemitism.

Rotbart, an author and teacher of high school and middle school history, has studied and written about the lives and records of U.S. presidents for more than a decade. His latest essay, “A Historical Reckoning: Hayes v. Grant at 200,” is available from

Rotbart acknowledges that Hayes’s record in office is not without significant blemishes, especially when viewed through the lens of modern mores.

Hayes’s very election, some historians contend, was rooted in government corruption. Although he was executing policies enacted by Grant, Hayes to this day receives much of the blame for ending Reconstruction in the South and, most troubling, forcibly relocating the Nez Perce and Ponca Indians.

When Rotbart teaches his students in AP United States History about Rutherford B. Hayes, he discusses both the president’s positive and negative attributes.

“Hayes was the rare principled politician, dedicated to making the country a better place than he found it, and successful in that mission,” Rotbart says. “His political legacy has many lessons for today’s leaders and candidates.”

Rotbart is the author of “The State of Israel: Prime Ministers,” available from The book, written for middle-school students, provides a biographical overview of Israel’s past prime ministers and discusses the enduring impact they’ve had on the Jewish state.

Media Contact:
Maxwell Rotbart

SOURCE Maxwell Rotbart