Rutherford B. Hayes
Rutherford Birchard Hayes (October 4, 1822 – January 17, 1893) was the 19th U.S. President. He was elected in 1876, in the tightest election in U.S. History (until the year 2000, when Al Gore and his two planeloads of lawyers landed in Florida). During Hayes's presidency, the United States recovered from the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant. The nation worked out reconstruction, as deconstruction had not yet been invented. Also, Hayes invented the computer modem.
Hayes is very popular in Paraguay, where a large state is named after him. By comparison, none of the 50 states of the U.S. are named Hayes.
Hayes was the fourth child of a Hayes named Sophia, but Hayes's father died twelve months before Hayes was born. Consequently, he was reared by an uncle named Sardis Birchard. Uncle Sardis got "Birchard" installed as the kid's middle name, but that was as close as he ever got to the White House.
Hayes won tons of spelling bees in school. As though a President needs to spell. But he bragged about his ability to spell correctly, and a President does need to avoid bragging a lot. Nevertheless, he went to Harvard, which never cured anyone from bragging too much, and from there straight to the bar in 1845. Barely seven years later, he married Lucy Ware. She provided soft Ware for the modem that would bear Hayes's name. They had eight children, five of whom lived to tell the tale.
Hayes fought in the Civil War and had four horses shot out from beneath him. Eventually, he learned the correct way to holster his weapon. Republicans nominated him for Congress in 1864, while he was leading a regiment of Ohioans in the Shenandoah Valley. He refused to campaign, won the election anyway, and then refused to serve. (His slogan was, "I am too busy to talk to you.") This made him a natural for the 1876 campaign for President.
At the end of the second term of President Grant, the United States was reeling from corruption and the Republican Party was split down the middle, but it didn't matter, as no one in his right mind would vote for either wing. The Party was divided into Grant's faction, the Fatsos (or "Stalwarts"), and the Bastards (or "Half-Breeds"). When, à propos of a possible third term, Grant told the Bastards, "You can't fire me, I quit!" neither faction could nominate their guy in his place. The compromise candidate would need to be a Fat Bastard. Hayes sensed a great vacuum, and stepped forward to suck.
The Democrats nominated Samuel Tilde to appeal to Hispanics, while the Greenbacks nominated Peter Cooper to appeal to the duck community. Tilde won the popular vote by 250,000 — but, as we now know, that and a Greenback will get you a cup of coffee. Hayes had 185 votes in the Electoral College and Tilde had 184, several smelling suspiciously of jalapeño. Cooper got none, and Duck-Americans concluded that The Man had kept them down again.
Strangely, something that had never happened before (without causing a Civil War) suddenly started happening across the country: States got confused as to how they had voted. Oregano, Cardamom, and two others sent both a team of Republicans and a team of Democrats to the Electoral College. The election was a toss-up.
Congress, as whenever the "going gets tough," appointed a Select Committee. It had 8 Republicans, who would take testimony, study documents, and declare that, in all four contested states, the Republicans had gotten it right; also 7 Democrats, who would review the testimony, evaluate proofs, and determine that, in all four states, the Democrats called it correctly. The committee set the pace for many future attempts at "government fact-finding."
The Committee did have one Independent, Supreme Court Justice David Davis. However, like Rodney Dangerfield passing the referee five bucks to "keep it honest," the Illinois Senate named Davis to the U.S. Senate as a Democrat. Unfortunately, Davis was principled as well as an ingrate, and quit the Committee. The Republican Congress replaced him with another Justice "thought to be independent." Game, set, match.
In those days, rather than two months after an election to figure out what had happened, there were a full four months. But March 1877 came in like a liar and still no one knew who was President. The obvious solution was wheeling and dealing, and Vice President-elect Wheeler cut the cards. The Democrats conceded that the Republicans would outvote them on the Select Committee and seat Hayes. In return, the Republicans promised that, once Hayes got the seat warm and before it became a hot seat, he would let the Southern United States return to its old mischief despite the Civil War.
The Hayes presidency
As promised, Hayes pulled the Union Army out of Dixie, confident that the Union had "stood up a new, democratic nation." He was more surprised than anyone would be until Barack Obama that it directly reverted to its old ways and went solidly into the grip of the opposition. Without even a Thank You! I...well, I never!
Not to keep channeling Obama, but Hayes dealt with failure by changing the subject. Hayes hired government employees based on merit — an innovation that outraged the entire Civil Service — and even fired three members of his own party "working" at the New York Customs House, one of whom, fatefully, was Chester A. Arthur. Moreover, having withdrawn the Army from Dixie, he promised to withdraw himself from the White House by 1881, which signaled that his outraged adversaries would win, waiting at most four years.
In the interim, however, Rutherford and Lucy held great parties at the White House — as great as they could be, given Lucy. She was the first First Lady with a college degree, which made her First among Insufferables, especially regarding slavery, booze, and games of chance, all of which she was against. But most agreed that she was "an excellent social director (though I am choking for a whisky)."
Get me out of here
Also as promised, Hayes got the Hell out of Washington in 1881, stating that "nobody ever had less regret." This again neglected to consider the entire rest of America. However, Hayes always thought the public showed its approval of his work by electing James A. Garfield as the next President. Always, that is, until said public plugged said successor full of lead. At that time, Vice President Chester A. Arthur became President and quietly removed Hayes's portrait from the West Wing, embodying the uniquely American adage, Don't get mad, get even.
Hayes took ill in Cleveland in 1893. His wife had passed away 3½ years earlier, and his last words were, "I know I am going where Lucy is." And I hope my hip flask is well-concealed.
James A. Garfield