Inaugural Address (1877)

What federal obligations does President Hayes emphasize? What promises does he extend for the protection of freedmen? What measures will he pursue to reconcile Southerners to the new Union? What problems might arise from his approach?
How do the Slaughterhouse Cases and United States v. Cruikshank shape President Hayes’s policy? Which President does Hayes most seem to resemble (compare Lincoln, Johnson, Johnson, and Grant)? Why do you think he adopts the policy he adopts?

Rutherford B. Hayes (1822–1893) had been a Union general early in the Civil War. Elected to Congress in 1864, he voted consistently in favor of measures such as the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the 14th Amendment, and the Reconstruction Acts. Hayes then served two terms as Ohio governor. He was responsible for shepherding the 15th Amendment through the ratification process in his state. Hayes won the Republican nomination for president and faced the Democratic nominee, New York Governor Samuel Tilden (1814-1886) in the presidential election. It was among the most hotly contested presidential elections in American history. Three states – Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida – had disputed elections. It was up to the Congress to decide which electoral outcome to accept. Through an unusual mechanism (Congress passed a law establishing an electoral commission to decide the disputed elections), Hayes was deemed to have won all the disputed state elections and their electoral college votes (Hayes lost the popular vote nationally). This gave Hayes a one vote victory in the electoral college; he won the Presidency. Hayes became president as a Democratic House and a Republican Senate were returned to Congress. In the House, where money bills originate, there was no will to continue appropriating funds for military supervision of civil rights in the South. There would no longer be available monies to sustain military supervision of civil rights in the South pursuant to the Enforcement Acts. In any event, that approach had been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Realizing the old ways could not be sustained, Hayes announced another somewhat new approach to Reconstruction. His approach would be based on “home rule” in the South with national supervision through legal channels (as opposed to military channels). The election of 1876 is often linked, in historical accounts, to the compromise of 1877, a putative bargain between Democrats and Republicans: Hayes, the Republican, became president, while military rule in the South came to an end. His inaugural address marks the general principles that would guide Republican Party policies for the next generation.

—Scott Yenor

Source: Rutherford B. Hayes: Inaugural Address, March 5, 1877. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.

We have assembled to repeat the public ceremonial, begun by Washington, observed by all my predecessors, and now a time-honored custom, which marks the commencement of a new term of the Presidential office. Called to the duties of this great trust, I proceed in compliance with usage to announce some of the leading principles, on the subjects that now chiefly engage the public attention, by which it is my desire to be guided in the discharge of those duties. I shall . . . undertake . . . to speak of the motives which should animate us, and to suggest certain important ends to be attained in accordance with our institutions and essential to the welfare of our country. . . .

The permanent pacification of the country upon such principles and by such measures as will secure the complete protection of all its citizens in the free enjoyment of all their constitutional rights is now the one subject in our public affairs which all thoughtful and patriotic citizens regard as of supreme importance.

Many of the calamitous efforts of the tremendous revolution which has passed over the Southern States still remain. The immeasurable benefits which will surely follow, sooner or later, the hearty and generous acceptance of the legitimate results of that revolution have not yet been realized. Difficult and embarrassing questions meet us at the threshold of this subject. The people of those States are still impoverished, and the inestimable blessing of wise, honest, and peaceful local self-government is not fully enjoyed. Whatever difference of opinion may exist as to the cause of this condition of things, the fact is clear that in the progress of events the time has come when such government is the imperative necessity required by all the varied interests, public and private, of those States. But it must not be forgotten that only a local government which recognizes and maintains inviolate the rights of all is a true self-government.

With respect to the two distinct races whose peculiar relations to each other have brought upon us the deplorable complications and perplexities which exist in those States, it must be a government which guards the interests of both races carefully and equally. It must be a government which submits loyally and heartily to the Constitution and the laws – the laws of the nation and the laws of the States themselves – accepting and obeying faithfully the whole Constitution as it is.

Resting upon this sure and substantial foundation, the superstructure of beneficent local governments can be built up, and not otherwise. In furtherance of such obedience to the letter and the spirit of the Constitution, and in behalf of all that its attainment implies, all so-called party interests lose their apparent importance, and party lines may well be permitted to fade into insignificance. The question we have to consider for the immediate welfare of those States of the Union is the question of government or no government; of social order and all the peaceful industries and the happiness that belongs to it, or a return to barbarism. It is a question in which every citizen of the nation is deeply interested, and with respect to which we ought not to be, in a partisan sense, either Republicans or Democrats, but fellow-citizens and fellowmen, to whom the interests of a common country and a common humanity are dear.

The sweeping revolution of the entire labor system of a large portion of our country and the advance of 4,000,000 people from a condition of servitude to that of citizenship, upon an equal footing with their former masters, could not occur without presenting problems of the gravest moment, to be dealt with by the emancipated race, by their former masters, and by the General Government, the author of the act of emancipation. That it was a wise, just, and providential act, fraught with good for all concerned, is not [now][1] generally conceded throughout the country. That a moral obligation rests upon the National Government to employ its constitutional power and influence to establish the rights of the people it has emancipated, and to protect them in the enjoyment of those rights when they are infringed or assailed, is also generally admitted.

The evils which afflict the Southern States can only be removed or remedied by the united and harmonious efforts of both races, actuated by motives of mutual sympathy and regard; and while in duty bound and fully determined to protect the rights of all by every constitutional means at the disposal of my Administration, I am sincerely anxious to use every legitimate influence in favor of honest and efficient local “self”-government as the true resource of those States for the promotion of the contentment and prosperity of their citizens. In the effort I shall make to accomplish this purpose I ask the cordial cooperation of all who cherish an interest in the welfare of the country, trusting that party ties and the prejudice of race will be freely surrendered in behalf of the great purpose to be accomplished. In the important work of restoring the South it is not the political situation alone that merits attention. The material development of that section of the country has been arrested by the social and political revolution through which it has passed, and now needs and deserves the considerate care of the National Government within the just limits prescribed by the Constitution and wise public economy.

But at the basis of all prosperity, for that as well as for every other part of the country, lies the improvement of the intellectual and moral condition of the people. Universal suffrage should rest upon universal education. To this end, liberal and permanent provision should be made for the support of free schools by the State governments, and, if need be, supplemented by legitimate aid from national authority.

Let me assure my countrymen of the Southern States that it is my earnest desire to regard and promote their truest interest – the interests of the white and of the colored people both and equally – and to put forth my best efforts in behalf of a civil policy which will forever wipe out in our political affairs the color line and the distinction between North and South, to the end that we may have not merely a united North or a united South, but a united country. . . .

  1. 1. Some manuscripts suggest that this word is “now,” which is consistent with the tenor of Hayes’ speech, which aimed to suggest a national consensus on fundamental matters such as the goodness of emancipation and the duty of the national government to protect it.
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