Rutherford B. Hayes
Term: March 4, 1877 – March 4, 1881
Vice President: William A. Wheeler
Home State: Ohio
Wife: Lucy Ware Webb
Children: Birchard Austin, James Webb Cook, Rutherford Platt, Joseph Thompson, George Crook, Fanny, Scott Russell, & Manning Force
President Rutherford B. Hayes was well known for his prolific letter writing before, during, and after he was president. There are many letters that were preserved from his four years spent in the White House. Although Hayes wrote a great deal during his presidency there is no indication whether or not he sent White House Christmas cards. Since the first known Christmas cards offered for sale in America date back to 1875, we can presume that President Hayes did not send out Christmas cards during his stay in the White House.
President Hayes kept a diary from the age of 12 through his death at age 70. Many of his White House moments have been recorded in these journal entries. While it’s been established that Hayes did not send out White House Christmas cards, he did send out letters during the holiday season to his uncle describing how he spent Christmases in the White House. In 1877 he wrote in his diary:
December 26, 1877 – Our visit to New York, 21st and 24th, was a most happy one. The Union League reception, 22nd, the American Museum of Natural History opening, and the New England dinner, all enjoyable. Christmas, the presents to the children made them and their parents equally happy.
President Hayes had eight children – one girl and seven boys. Hayes was quite staunch in his love and affection for his children often mentioning them with humor in his diary. Christmas of 1880 was spent in the White House library with his children, some friends, and the servants. The Christmas presents were kept in the Red Room and his children would run to get one gaily wrapped present at a time and bring them to the President, who would then take a great deal of time distributing the gifts to the proper recipients. All parties present shared in the fun and received at least a five dollar gold piece from President Hayes.
While serving as United States President, Hayes spent four Christmases in the White House, and there is evidence that he received several Christmas cards. President Richard Nixon’s wife Pat set up a Christmas display in the East Wing corridor that included three Christmas cards received by President Hayes during his term and a large doll house made for Fanny Hayes by White House carpenters, given to her during her first Christmas in the White House.
The Hayes family represented an excellent example of a typical American family after the Civil War, adjusting to the vast changes that were brought about by the dawning of the Industrial Age and the urbanization of America. The Hayes’ wanted to present a positive family example for Americans and all their Christmas celebrations were wholesome gatherings with family and friends. Lucy Hayes would not serve alcohol in the White House, so lemonade would have been served on Christmas Day. President Hayes loved to take family and friends out on sleigh rides and surely the Christmas season would have been the perfect time to hear the jingle of sleigh bells carrying across the White House grounds. This was the inspiration for the official White House ornament that was issued in 2004.
First Lady Lucy Hayes was a great lover of the holiday season. She was instrumental in inviting the staff members and their families to celebrate with the First Family on Christmas morning and to have Thanksgiving dinner with them. Lucy Hayes was known for her sing-a-longs during her White House stay and no doubt, Christmas in the White House included many Christmas carols. She was the first wife of a president to be known as the “First Lady” and became an extremely visible social presence in President Hayes’ White House. She preferred more casual social occasions to stiff formal affairs and encouraged guests to wear street clothes to the receptions, especially during the winter social season in Washington D.C. When the Easter Egg Roll, which was held on the grounds of the Capitol, was going to be cancelled, Lucy Hayes insisted it be held on the White House grounds where it continues to be celebrated and was presided over by President Barack Obama in 2009. However much Lucy Hayes contributed to the social prominence of President Hayes’ White House there is no indication that she sent Christmas cards during her four years in the White House either.
The White House candles must have burned long enough into the night on Christmas 1878 when President Hayes made this entry into his journal:
25th December, 1878. A happy day for Fanny and Scott. Lucy not quite well. Mrs. Austin and Lizzy and Lena Scott visiting us. Ruddy at home. More presents than ever before. But a long day!
We are prosperous — our main ideas more acceptable than ever — Resumption seems assured — The Southern policy safely vindicated — we both long to be at home, and free and at peace! Two years more of responsibility, care, and labor!
Ruddy was the President’s then 20-year-old son. Fanny and Scott were his two youngest children. It is also clear from the entry that he longed to be back in Ohio. When elected president, Hayes had stated that he would not run for a second term and indeed he retired from public life at the end of his term of office in 1881.
Rutherford Birchard Hayes was born October 4, 1822 in Delaware, Ohio. His father Rutherford had died ten weeks before his birth, but his mother, Sophia, had the help of her brother, Sardis Birchard, who lived with them. Birchard was called upon to help in the raising of young Rutherford and his sister, Fanny, acting as a father figure and seeing to their needs. Hayes also had another brother and sister who died at a young age. All his early Christmas celebrations would have included attending the local Methodist Church following the customs of the times for most religious families.
Hayes was educated at the Methodist Academy in Norwalk and Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. He graduated at the head of his class in 1842. During his college years, he wrote to his mother explaining his expenses and said, “But what pleased me particularly was your saying I must ‘bring my clothes home,’ as if I would forget to wear any.” This demonstrates that he had a sense of humor and warmth for his family, which shines through in many of his letters and diary entries.
He spent a short time in Columbus “reading” the law before he went to Harvard Law School. While at Harvard Hayes spent Christmas Day 1844 visiting Boston and wrote in his diary:
It being Christmas the good citizens, especially the female portion and the juvenile, were out, decked off in holiday attire, and with their pleasantest faces on; but it was a dry, though gay sight.
He graduated in January 1845 after two years at Harvard and was admitted to the Ohio Bar in May 1845. Rutherford then spent several years practicing law in Fremont, Ohio before arriving in Cincinnati on Christmas Day 1949 where he opened a new law practice.
During the Christmas season of 1852 Hayes was preparing for his wedding to Lucy Ware Webb. He had met Lucy when she was 14 and he was 23. When she graduated from Wesleyan Female College, they became engaged for a year and a half before getting married at her mother’s home on December 30. Hayes wrote in his diary in March of 1853 that he loved married life and that his wife, Lucy, was becoming his best friend. The couple had eight children, but two boys died in childhood.
While in Cincinnati he joined a social organization that was prominent in the city, The Cincinnati Literary Club. When the Civil War broke out the club became a military company, Hayes, who was originally appointed to the position of major, was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel as a field commander a short time later. He was considered to be quite “old” at the age of 40, and indeed, his men called him “the old man.” Although he was not the only president to serve in the Civil War, he was the only one who was wounded. He was injured five times during the course of the war and in addition to his own wounds, he had four horses shot from under him. Hayes was promoted to Brigadier General in 1864 and finally brevetted to Major General before the war’s end.
During the war Hayes missed the company of his family and sent many letters to his wife. Lucy Hayes spent the time raising her growing family and volunteering as a nurse in the military hospital. She received from Rutherford $500 and a chair as a Christmas present in 1861. Hayes received a gift in the form of a telegram announcing the birth of a new son.
The Christmas of 1862 Hayes was still away from his family but was able to share a meal with four of Lucy’s cousins at his camp. He received a Christmas gift from his wife of spurs and pictures (presumably of the children and her). He also gave a turkey and two bottles of wine to the three best marksmen in his company.
While serving in the 23rd Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry Hayes met William McKinley, who he promoted twice while McKinley was under his command. This would prove to be advantageous for both men when they became involved in politics and were able to lend support to each other. Hayes would become the 19th President of the United States and McKinley the 25th.
While Hayes was still serving in the military in the Shenandoah Valley during 1864, he was nominated by the Republicans in Ohio to run for Congress. He refused to campaign saying, “I have other business just now. Any man who would leave the army at this time to electioneer for Congress ought to be scalped.” He was elected twice to Congress and served from March of 1865 to July of 1867 when he resigned to run for governor of Ohio. He was governor of Ohio until 1872 when he lost his third election.
Planning to retire from public office Hayes was approached to run again in 1875 for governor and won. This election brought Hayes to national attention, and he was approached to run for President in 1876 because of his reputation for honesty. An honest man was needed by the Republican Party to remove the taste of corruption that lingered from Grant’s administration. While he spent many pleasant Christmas Days in the governor’s mansion, the Christmas of 1876 was filled with much conjecture and worry because this presidential election was the most contested in the history of the United States until George W. Bush won the election in 2000.
Hayes’ opponent, Democrat Samuel J. Tilden, won the popular vote by 250,000 votes and lost the electoral vote by one. The highly contested controversy centered on the electoral votes of four states containing 20 electoral votes. This issue wasn’t decided until the bi-partisan Electoral Commission set up by both houses of Congress had many discussions and a few concessions on both sides were made before Hayes was declared the winner on March 2, 1877. He was sworn into office at the White House on March 5. His best known expression was, “He serves his party best who serves his country best.”
During his presidency, Hayes asked his wife to not serve wine or liquor in the White House. Many people believe that Lucy Hayes had a lot to do with that and she was dubbed “Lemonade Lucy,” but in reality, Lucy never asked her husband to practice abstinence, but President Hayes felt that there was no place in politics for alcohol and he wanted to set a good example. Although the lack of alcoholic beverages were his decision he once told a reporter, “I don’t know how much influence Mrs. Hayes has on Congress, but she has great influence with me.” Neither President Hayes nor his wife endorsed the temperance league, but rather practiced in the White House the same habits as they practiced at home in Ohio. Christmas sing-a-longs, lemonade refreshments, and casual hospitality were a natural way of life for the Hayes family – both in and out of the White House.
President Hayes signed a bill that removed the federal troops from the South. He also settled the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 when he sent in federal troops. During his administration he signed a bill to allow female attorneys to argue cases in front of the Supreme Court, and he had the first telephone installed in the White House. President Hayes stuck to his promise to serve only one term because he was anxious to leave Washington and return to his home in Spiegel Grove, Ohio.
After leaving office, Rutherford Hayes frequently traveled for speaking engagements and served on the Board of Trustees of Ohio State University. He enjoyed his days at home and the company of friends and family. Lucy’s passing in 1889 left a void in his life that he frequently wrote about in his diary. Rutherford B. Hayes died in 1893 of a heart attack and his last words were, “I know that I’m going where Lucy is.” He is buried with his wife and best friend at Spiegel Grove State Park.