History of the United States
Volume IV


Chapter XXIV
Hayes's Administration, 1877-1881

Rutherford B. Hayes, nineteenth President of the United States, was born in Delaware, Ohio, on the 4th day of October, 1822. His ancestors were soldiers of the Revolution. His primary education was received in the public schools. Afterward, his studies were extended to Greek and Latin at the Norwalk Academy; and in 1837 he became a student at Webb's preparatory school, at Middletown, Connecticut. In the following year, he entered the Freshman class at Kenyon College and in 1842 was graduated from that institution with the highest honots of his class. Three years after his graduation, he completed his legal studies at Harvard University, and soon afterward began the practive of his profession, first and finally, as city solicitor, in Cincinnati. Here he won an enviable reputation as a lawyer. During the Civil War he performed much honorable service in the Union cause, rose to the rank of major-general, and in 1864, while still in the field, was elected to Congress. Three years later he was chosen governor of Ohio, was reelected in 1869, and again in 1875. At the Cincinnati convention of 1876, he had the good fortune to be nominated for the presidency over several of the most eminent men of the nation.

In his inaugural address, delivered on the 5th of March,* President Hayes indicated the policy of his administration. The distracted South was assured of right purposes on the part of the new chief magistrate; a radical reform in the civil service was avowed as a part of his policy; and a speedy return to specie payments was recommended as the final cure for the dranged finances of the nation. The immediate effect of these assurances was to rally around the incipient administration the better part of all the parties and to introduce a new "Era of Good Feeling" as peaceable in its character as the former turbulence had been exciting and dangerous.

On the 8th of March, the President nominated his cabinet. The members, though exceptionally able and statesmanlike, were noticeably non-partisan in character. As secretary of state William M. Evarts, of New York, was chosen; John Sherman, of Ohio, was named as secretary of the treasury; George W. McCrary, of Iowa, secretary of war; Richard W. Thompson, of Indiana, secretary of the navy; Carl Schurz, of Missouri, secretary of the interior; Charles E. Devens, of Massachusetts, attorney-general; and David M. Key, of Tennessee, postmaster general. These nominations were duly ratified by the Senate; and the new administration and the New Century of the republic were ushered in together.

In the summer of 1877 occurred the great labor disturbance known as the Railroad Strike. The workingmen and the caitalists of the country had for some time maintained towards each other a kind of armed neutrality hurtful alike to the interests of both. In the spring of this year, the managers of the great railways leading from the seaboard to the West declared a reduction of ten per cent. in the wages of their workmen. This measure was violently resisted by the employees of the companies, and the most active steps were taken to prevent its success. On the 16th of July, the employees of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad left their posts and gathered such strength in Baltimore and at Martinsburg, West Virginia, as to prevent the running of trains and set the authorities at defiance. The militia was called out by Governor Matthews and sent to Martinsburg, but was soon dispersed by the strikers, who, for the time, remained masters of the line. The President then ordered General French to the scene with a body of regulars, and the blockade of the road was raised. On the 20th of the month, a terrible tumult occurred in Baltimore; but the troops succeeded in scattering the rioters, of whom nine were killed and many wounded.

Meanwhile the strike spread everywhere. In less than a week the trains had been stopped on all the important roads between the Hudson and the Mississippi. Travel ceased, freights perished en route, business was paralyzed. In Pittsburgh, the strikers, rioters, and dangerous classes gathering in a mob to the number of twenty thousand, obtained complete control of the city, and for two days held a reign of terror unparalleled in the history of the country. The Union Depot and all the machine shops and other railroad buildings of the city were burned. A hundred and twenty-five locomotives, and two thousand five hundred cars laden with valuable cargoes, were destroyed amid the wildest havoc and uproar. The insurrection was finally suppressed by the regular troops and the Pennsylvania militia, but not until nearly a hundred lives had been lost and property destroyed to the value of more than three millions of dollars.

On the 25th of the month, a similar but less terrible riot occurred at Chicago. In ths tumult fifteen of the insurgents were killed by the military of the city. On the next day, St. Louis was for some hours in peril of the mob. San Francisco was at the same time the scene of a dangerous outbreak, which was here directed against the Chinese immigrants and the managers of the lumber yards. Cincinnati, Columbus, Louisville, Indianapolis, and Fort Wayne were for awhile in danger, but escaped without serious loss of life or property. By the close of the month, the alarming insurrection was at an end. Business and travel flowed back into their usual channels; but the sudden outbreak had given a great shock to the public mind, and revealed a hidden peril to American institutions.

In the mean time a war had broken out with the Nez Perce Indians of Idaho. This tribe of natives had been known to the Government since 1806, when the first treaty was made with them by the explorers, Lewis and Clark. Afterward, missionary stations were established among them, and the nation remained on friendly terms until after the war with Mexico. In 1854 the authorities of the United States purchased a part of the Nez Perce territory, large reservations being made in Northwestern Idaho and Northeastern Oregon; but some of the chiefs refused to ratify the purchase and remained at large. This was the beginning of difficulties.

The war began with the usual depredations by the Indians. General Howard, commanding the Department of the Columbia, marched against them with a small force of regulars; but the Nez Perces, led by their noted chieftain Joseph, fled first in this direction and then in that, avoiding battle. During the greater part of the summer the pursuit continued; still the Indians could not be overtaken. In the fall they were chased through the mountains into Northern Montana, where they were confronted by other troops commanded by Colonel Miles.

The Nez Perces, thus hemmed in, were next driven across the Missouri River, near the mouth of the Musselshell, and were finally surrounded in their camp, north of the Bear Paw Mountains. Here, on the 4th of October, they were attacked by the forces of Colonel Miles. A hard battle was fought, and the Indians were completely routed. Only a few led by the chief White Bird escaped. All the rest were either killed or made prisoners. Three hundred and seventy-five of the captive Nez Perces were brought back to the American post on the Missouri. The troops of General Howard had made forced marches through a mountainous country for a distance of sixteen hundred miles!--The campaign was crowned with complete success.

During the year 1877, the public mind was greatly agitated concerning the Remonetization of Silver. By the first coinage regulations of the United States, the standard unit of value was the American Silver Dollar, containing thtee hundred and seventy-one and one-fourth grains of pure silver. Until 1873, the quantity of pure metal in this standard unit had never been changed, though the amount of allow contained in the dollar was several times altered. Meanwhile, in 1849, a gold dollar was added to the coinage, and from that time forth the standard unit of value existed in both metals. In the years 1873-'74, a series of acts were adopted by Congress bearing upon the quality of silver was abolished, and the silver dollar omitted from the list of coins to be struck at the national mints. The general effect of these acts was to leave the gold dollar of twenty-three and twenty-two hundredths grains the single standard unit of value in the United States.

In January of 1875, the Resumption Act was passed by Congress, whereby it was declared that on the 1st of January, 1879, the Government should begin to redeem its outstanding legal tender notes in coin. As the time for resumption drew near, the question was raised as to the meaning of "coin" in the act for resuming specie payments; and now the attention of the people was aroused to the fact that the privilege of paying debts in silver had been taken away, and that all obligations must be discharged according to the measure of the gold dollar only. The cry for the remonetization of silver was heard everywhere. The question reached the Government, and early in 1878 a measure was passed for the restoration of the legal-tender quality of the old silver dollar, and providing for the compulsory coinage of that unit at a rate of not less than two millions of dollars a month. The President returned the bill with his objections, but the veto was crushed under a tremendous majority, and the old double standard of values was restored.

In the summer of 1878, several of the Gulf States were scourged with a Yellow Fever Epidemic, unparalleled in the history of the country. The disease made its appearance in New Orleans in the latter part of May, and from thence was scattered among the towns along the Mississippi. The Southern cities were nearly all in a condition to invite the presence of the scourge. The terror soon spread from town to town. Memphis and Grenada became a scene of desolation. At Vicksburg the ravages of the plague were almost equally terrible; and even in the parish towns remote from the river the horrors of the scourge were felt. The helpless populations along the lower Mississippi languished and died by thousands. A regular system of contributions was established in the Northern States, and men and treasure were poured out without stint to relieve the suffering South. After more than twenty thousand people had fallen victims to the plague, the forsts of October came and ended the pestilence.

By the Treaty of Washington, it was agreed that the right of the United States in certain sea fisheries which had hitherto belonged exclusively to Great Britain, should be acknowledged and maintained. It was conceded that the privilege of taking fish on the seacoasts and shores, and in the bays and creeks of Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and the islands adjacent, should be guaranteed to American fishermen, without prejudice or partiality. On the other hand, the United States agreed to relinquish the duties which had hitherto been charge on fish imported by British subjects. Several other concessions were mutually made, and in order to balance any discrepancy in the aggregate of such concessions, and to make the settlement final, it was further agreed that any total advantage to the United States might be compensated by a sum in gross to be paid by the American government to Great Britain. A Commission was provided for, and in the summer of 1877 the sittings began at Halifax. But little attention was given to the proceedings until November, when the country was startled by the announcement at an award of five millions of dollars had been made against the American government! The decision was received with general surprise, both in the United States and in Europe; and for awhile it seemed probable that the arbitration might be renounced as iniquitous. It was decided, however, that the award, whether just or unjust, would better stand; and accordingly, in November, 1878, the amount was paid to the British government.

The year 1878 witnessed the establishment of a Resident Chinese Embassy at Washington. For twenty years the great treaty negotiated by Anson Burlingame had been in force between the United States and China. The commercial relations of the two countries had been vastly extended, and knowledge of the institutions and customs of the Celestial Empire had broken down in some measure the race prejudice existing against the Mongolians. The enlightened policy of the emperor had also contributed to establish more friendly intercourse with the United States. The idea of sending resident ambassadors to the American government had been entertained for several years. The officers chosen by the imperial government as its representatives were Chen Lan Pin, miniser plenipotentiary; Yung Wing, assistant envoy, and Yung Tsang Siang, secretary of legation. On the 28th of September the embassy was received by the President. The ceremonies of hte occasion were among the most interesting ever witnessed in Washington, and the speech of Chen Lan Pin was equal in dignity and appropirateness to the best efforts of a European diplomatist.

The history of modern times contains many evidences of the growing estimate placed by civilized states upon the value of human life. On the 18th of June, 1878, the Life Saving Service of the United States was established by act of Congress. The plan proposed was the establishment of regular stations and lighthouses on all the exposed parts of the Atlantic coast and along the gret lakes. Each station was to be manned by a band of surfmen experienced in the dangers peculiar to the shore in times of storms, and drilled in the best methods of rescue and resuscitation. Boats of the most approved apttern were provided and equipped. A hundred appliances and inventions suggested by the wants of the service were supplied and their use taught to the brave men who were employed at the stations. The success of the enterprise has been so great as to reflect the highest credit upon its promoters. The number of lives saved through the direct agency of the service reaches to thousands annually. So carefully are the exposed coasts of the United States now guarded that it is almost impossible for a foundering ship to be driven within sight of the shore without at once beholding, through the darkness of night, the sudden glare of the red-light signal flaming up from the beach, telling the story of friends near by and rescue soon to come.

On the 1st of January, 1879, the Resumption of Specie Payments was accomplished by the United States. For more than seventeen years gold and silver coin had been at a premium over the legal tender notes of the Government. The monetary unit had been so fluctuating as to render legitimate business almost impossible. The purchasing power of a dollar could hardly be predicted from one week to another. A spirit of speculation had taken possession of the market values of the country. The lawful transactions of the street, carried forward in obedience to the plan principles of political economy, suffered shipwreck. After the passage of the Resumption Act, in 1875, the debtor classes of the country entered a period of great hardship; for their indebtedness constantly augmented in a ratio beyond the possibility of payment. It was an epoch of financial ruin and bankruptcy. With the accomplishment of Resumption, however, a certain degree of confidence was restored, and the fact was hailed by many as the omen of better times.

The presidential election of a880 was accompanied with the usual excitement attendant upon great political struggles. The elections of 1878 had generally gone against the Republican party; and it was not unreasonable to expect that in the contest for the presidency the Democratic part would prove successful. The Republican national convention was held in Chicago on the 2d and 3d of June. A platform of principles was adopted; and after the greater part of two days had been consumed in balloting, General James A. Garfield, of Ohio, was nominated for President, and Chester A. Arthur, of New York, for Vice-President. The Democratic national convention assembled in Cincinnati on the 22d of June, and nominated for the presidency General Winfield S. Hancock, of New York, and for the Vice-Presidency William H. English, of Indiana. Meanwhile the National Greenback party held a convention in Chicago, on the 9th of June, and nominated as standard-bearers General James B. Weaver, of Iowa, for President, and General Benjamin J. Chambers, of Texas, for Vice-President.

The canvass had not progressed far until it became evident that the contest lay between the Republican and the Democratic parties, and that the long-standing sectional division into North and South was likely once more to decide the contest in favor of the former. The election resulted in the choice of Garfield and Arthur. Two hundred and fourteen electoral votes, embracing those of nearly all the Northern States, were cast for the Republican candidates, and one hundred and fifty-five votes, including those of every Southern State, were given to Hancock and English. The candidates of the Greenback party secured no electoral votes, though the popular vote given to Weaver and Chambers aggragated 307,000.

Soon after retiring from the presidency, General Grant, with his family and a company of personal friends, set out to make a tour of the world. Though the expedition ws intended to be private it could but attract the most conspicuous attention. The departure from Philadelphia, on the 17th of May, 1877, was the beginning of a pageant which was never before extended to any citizen of any nation of the earth. Wherever the distinguished ex-President went he was welcomed with huzzas and dismissed with plaudits. The first eighteen months of the expedition were spent in the principal cities and countries of Europe, and in January of 1879 the company embarked from Marseilles for the East. The following year was spent in visiting the great countries of Asia--India first; then Burmah and Siam; then China; and then Japan. In the fall of 1879 the party returned to San Francisco, bearning with them the highest tokens of esteem which the gret nations of the Old World could bestow upon the honored representative of the New.

The census of 1880 was undertaken with more system and care than ever before in the history of the country. The work was intrusted to the general superintendency of Professor Francis A. Walker. During the decade the same astounding progress which had marked the previous history of the United States was more than ever illustrated. In every source of national power the development of the country had continued witout abatement. The total population of the States and Territories of the Union now amounted to 50,155,783--an increase since 1870 of more than a million inhabitants a year! New York was still the leading State, having a population of 5,082,171. Nevada was least populous, showing an enumeration of but 62,266. Of the 11,597,412 added to the population since the census of 1870, 2,814,191 had been contributed by immigration, of whom about 85,000 annually came from Germany alone. The number of cities having a population of over 100,000 inhabitants had increased during the decade from fourteen to twenty. The center of population had moved westward about fifty miles, and now rested near the city of Cincinnati.

The statistics of trade and industry were likewise of a sort to gratify patriotism, if not to excite national pride. The current of the precious metals which or many years had flowed constantly from the United States to foreign countries turned strongly, in 1880, towards America. The importation of specie during the year just mentioned amounted to $93,034,310, while the exportation of the same during the year reached only $17,142,919. During the greater part of the period covered by the census abundant crops had followed in almost unbroken succession, and the overplus in the great staples peculiar to our soil and climate had gone to enrich the country, and to stimulate to an unusual degree those fundamental industries upon which national perpetuity and individual happiness are founded.

During the administration of President Hayes several eminent Americans passed from the scene of their earthly activities. On the 1st of November, 1877, the distinguished Senator, Oliver P. Morton, of Indiana, after battling for many years against the deadly encroachments of paralysis, died at his home in Indianapolis. Still more universally felt was the loss of the great poet and journalist, William Cullen Bryant, who, on the 12th of June, 1878, at the advanced age of eighty-four, passed from among the living. For more than sixty years his name had been known and honored wherever the English language is spoken. On the 19th of December, in the same year, the illustrious Bayard Taylor, who had recently been appointed American minister to the German Empire, died suddenly in the city of Berlin. His life had been exclusively devoted to literary work; and almost every department of letters, from the common tasks of journalism to the highest charms of poetry, has been adorned by his genius. On the 1st day of November, 1879, Senator Zachariah Chandler, of Michigan, one of the organizers of the Republican party, died suddenly at Chicago; and on the 24th day of February, 1881, the distinguished Matt. H. Carpenter, of Wisconsin, after a lingering illness, expired at Washington. On the 24th of April, in the same year, the noted publisher and author, James T. Fields, died at his home in Boston.

*The 4th of March fell on Sunday.


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