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Rutherford B. Hayes

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Magnificent pristine signature of Hayes from the year of his election as President

Rutherford Birchard Hayes, 18221893.  21st President of the United States, 18811885.  Extra fine condition 2⅜" x 4¼ card signed, R. B. Hayes / 1876.

This is a magnificent signature of Hayes in bright purple fountain pen dated 1876, the year Hayes was elected President.  We have not seen a nicer one.  It comes from a collection of signatures on cards that was assembled in the 1870s and 1880s and has been handed down through the family.  To our knowledge, this piece has never been offered on the autograph market before.

The Republican Hayes, a Union Civil War veteran and former Ohio governor, became President after a bitter and close election in 1876, the outcome of which remained uncertain for months.  His Democratic opponent, New York Governor Samuel J. Tilden, won the popular vote by some 264,000 votes.  But the electoral vote counts in three states—Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida—were disputed.  Tilden needed only one more electoral vote to win the presidency, but Hayes could win if he got all of the votes in the three contested states.

The decision came down to the vote of a single Supreme Court justice.  In January 1877, Congress established a 15-member Electoral Commission to determine the validity of the various disputed returns.  The Senate appointed five members, three Democrats and two Republicans.  The House of Representatives also appointed five, three Republicans and two Democrats.  The remaining five members were Supreme Court justices, four appointed by Congress and the fifth selected by those four justices.  Of the justices whom Congress appointed, two were Republicans and two were Democrats.  Both parties assumed that the fifth would be Justice David Davis, who both parties thought would favor them:  Davis was a titular Republican, a protégé of Abraham Lincoln, but he had split with the Radical Republicans after the Civil War and supported the reconstruction policies of President Andrew Johnson, a Democrat who ran with Lincoln on the Union Party ticket in 1864.  But after the Senate passed the Election Commission bill, and shortly before the House of Representatives voted on it, the Illinois legislature, which elected the state's Senators under the law then in effect, elected Davis to the United States Senate.  Davis resigned from the Supreme Court and thus could not serve on the Commission. Of the four Supreme Court justices left from whom to choose, all four were Republicans.

The result was not in doubt.  Three times the Commission voted along straight party lines, 87, to give Hayes all of the electoral votes from the three disputed states.  Hayes thus won the electoral vote, 185184, and Tilden was consigned to history.

The fraud and political maneuvering that swung the presidency to Hayes is recounted in a fascinating book by Lloyd Robinson, The Stolen Election:  Hayes Versus Tilden1876.  The book was republished in 2001 following the disputed Bush-Gore election in 2000.

The nation accepted the 1876 election result largely because of an understanding that Hayes would pursue a conciliatory policy toward the South, parts of which were still occupied by federal troops.  Hayes advocated restoring "wise, honest, and peaceful local self-government" in the South, which meant withdrawing the remaining troops.  Northern Republicans had promised southern Democrats at least one Cabinet post, federal patronage, subsidies for internal improvements, and withdrawal of troops from Louisiana and South Carolina.   

Hayes indeed withdrew the troops from the South, but with two unintended results.  First, Hayes had hoped that his conciliatory policies would help build a "new Republican party" that would attract white businessmen and conservatives in the South.  Yet although southern conservatives appreciated Hayes's fiscal policies, they remained largely Democratic for fear of voter reprisals if they joined the party of Reconstruction.  Second, without federal protection for their rights, southern blacks—mostly former slaves—were once again at the mercy of governments dominated by whites.  Jim Crow returned to the South.

Hayes also advocated civil service reform and insisted that his appointments must be made on merit, not political considerations. For his Cabinet he chose capable men, but he outraged many Republicans by appointing one  former Confederate and another who had previously left the Republican party as a liberal.

Hayes pledged to serve only one term, and he kept his word.  He spent the rest of his life in various humanitarian endeavors. He died in Fremont, Ohio, on January 17, 1893.

This card is in extra fine condition.  It is crisp and clean and retains its original sheen.  There is a faint, almost imperceptible purple mark near the top edge, likely a stray mark from Hayesʼs pen, but there are no markings or mounting traces on the back.  It is perfect for framing for display.

Unframed.    Please ask us about custom framing this piece.

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