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Seriously, Read a Book!

Thoughts on books, often interpreted through the high-brow prism of cartoon (read: Archer) references. Wait! I had something for this...

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Rutherford B. Hayes

Rutherford B. Hayes - Hans L. Trefousse, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.

It's hard to give this book a fair shake. This is the first time in my reading the presidents mission that I've resorted to a volume of The American Presidents series, and I imagine that the nature of the "assignment" probably put some constraints on author, Hans L. Trefousse. This is a biography of Rutherford B. Hayes that's undeniable so I guess it earns points for truth in advertising. Downside? It's pretty darn boring. 


Some of the least boring bits: 

Hayes took the well-worn path to politics through the legal profession. The highlight (for me) of his stint as a criminal defense attorney was most definitely his use of "a form of the insanity defense" to steer his client's (a murderess by the name of Nancy Farrer*) sentence commuted from the gallows and into a mental institution in 1858. (M'Naghten was 1843, so this was pretty cutting edge material). He also was a big proponent of the use of juvenile detention rather than sending youngsters straight to the big house. 


Hayes fought in the Civil War which was, you know, kind of a big deal. He got shot like five times at Shenandoah, which means he was more than half way to earning the street cred of 50 cent. But, I guess he wanted to go in a different direction, because he leveraged his wounded soldier/Major General status right into the House of Representatives.


Major General Rutherford B. Hayes


Hayes is probably best known for the questionable circumstances surrounding the election of 1876 which became a particularly hot topic during the Bush/Gore kerfuffle in 2000. There's more to this parallel than just the Hayes/Tilden electoral college/popular vote split. For one, despite the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment while Hayes was in Congress, there were abundant issues surrounding disenfranchised voters of color in the South. 


Of course he wants to vote the democratic ticket 1876


This great Harper's Weekly 1876 cartoon, "Goin' to Saint Louis" (below) gives a nice lay of the Democratic landscape from the Republican point of view (especially once you know that Reform was Sam Tilden's war cry/motto). You've got your political boss "brute" ready to strong arm any "undecided voters," the little rag doll baby was a symbol of the mounting monetary saga, the priest is ready to bring religion into public schools, the lurking KKK dude is, well, obvious, and the indian chief is a shoutout to the Tammany Hall machine. 


Goin to St Louis


No big spoiler here, Hayes ended up in the White House anyway. His wife "Lemonade" Lucy Webb Hayes (known as such for her refusal to allow alcohol into the white house) was the first FLOTUS to actually be known as "First Lady" (so, you can stick that in your pocket for trivia night). 


Lemonade Lucy and Rutherford B. Hayes


Among the biggest issues of the day was the problem of Civil Service reform which, as seen in this great image below, Hayes pretty much left on the doorstep for James A. Garfield to deal with. If you're gonna read one book that let's you in on the madness that was the, then, civil service policy of presidents literally handing out jobs to people who would just wait in line to ask for appointments like, say, ambassador to France, go with Destiny of the Republic.


Civil Service Reform for Garfield


Any last words? 

I can't in good conscience recommend this book to anyone who's hoping for history to come alive off the page. If you're wondering what hours of the day Hayes devoted to gymnastics, or wanting names and dates to put on flash cards, then go for it. 



* The deets on this case were not given by Trefousse, but (having a weakness for early forensic psychiatry) I was able to get a bit more info from J.Q. Howard's 1876 work, The Life, Public Services, and Select Speeches of Rutherford B. Hayes which was conveniently available through Project Gutenberg