The American Presidents Series
Rutherford B. Hayes
Hans L. Trefousse
About the book
Background and Youth
Hayes had little in common with George W Bush, his twenty-first-century successor. Not only was his father not a public figure, let alone a president, but his father, Rutherford Hayes, Jr., died before the birth of his son. A New Englander
born in West Brattleboro, Vermont, he descended from a long line of Presbyterians who had come from Scotland in 1625 to settle in Connecticut. He had a common school education, had clerked in a store in Wilmington, Vermont, and then went into partnership with his brother-in-law Joseph Noyes in a store in Dummerston. Leaving for Ohio in
1817 with eight thousand dollars, he settled in the town of Delaware in that state to farm, trade, and invest in a distillery, Lamb & Hayes, a strange investment for the father of a future president who kept liquor out of the White House. An active Presbyterian, he was a strong supporter of education, both religious and secular. He died in July 1822 of a fever.
Hayes's mother, Sophia Birchard, was also a descendant of an old New England family, whose paternal ancestor had arrived in America from England in 1634. Her father, Roger Birchard, was born in Connecticut and was a retail merchant in Wilmington, Vermont, who died at forty-five years of age. At her husband's death in the summer of 1822, she inherited some land near Delaware, as well as an unfinished brick house in town. Rutherford Birchard, named after both parents, had been born on October 4, 1822, and moved into the new house the following year. It was a two-story brick dwelling on the northeast comer of William and Winter Streets, with the kitchen in an adjoining old one-story frame building fronting on Winter Street, and was not finished until 1828. At first, short on resources, the family had little furniture for its new home: a new bureau and stand, plain wood-bottomed chairs, a gilt-frame looking glass, a good carpet, and cheap curtains for the parlor. The family consisted of the mother; the boy; Fanny, an older sister; and a brother, who drowned in 1825 while skating. Hayes's mother's cousin, Arcena Smith, lived with the family, as did her brother, Sardis Birchard, a lifelong bachelor. This uncle, a businessman and banker, became his guardian and virtual father figure. It was he who took charge of his nephew's education, provided funds, and in frequent letters gave him valuable advice after he moved to Lower Sandusky in 1827.
Mrs. Hayes's income was derived from the rent of a farm some ten miles north of town, and Rud, as he was called, and his sister Fanny, whom he adored, and with whom he played and later steadily corresponded, loved to visit it. The tenants gave them
colored eggs filled with sugar at Easter, pet birds, rabbits, and turtles' eggs, while the children busied themselves with sugar-making, cider-making, and the gathering of hickory and walnuts.
Rud was a sickly child whose survival was at first doubtful. It was Fanny who was his protector and nurse, leading him about the
garden and on short visits to neighbors. He was able to reciprocate when she in turn fell ill, giving her little rides upon a sled during her recovery. Together they boarded with Arcena and her new husband, Thomas Wasson, when their mother went to nurse their sick uncle, and it was Wasson who sent them to the local district school in Delaware, run by a fierce Yankee schoolmaster who was notorious for his floggings. In spite of their pleadings to be taken out, Wasson refused. When his mother returned, Rud, in 1834, took his first trip,
a journey to his relatives in Vermont and Massachusetts, which he thoroughly enjoyed. The next year he visited his uncle in Lower
Sandusky, thus starting a lifelong habit of enthusiastic traveling.
In 1836 Rud was sent to a new school, the Norwalk Seminary in Ohio. The seminary, a Methodist school run by the Reverend Jonathan E. Chaplin, was more to Hayes's liking than the previous institution, although he missed his sister very much. He was not fazed by his studies; on composition day, he wrote an essay about Liberty, and on speaking day, delivered a eulogy on Lord Chatham, both well done. In the next year, he was transferred to Isaac Webb's school in Middletown, Connecticut, where, with his friend William Lane, he studied Latin and Greek. Although at first it was hard to keep up with the class, he quickly succeeded. He was very pleased with this school, as well as its director. Getting up at 6:30, he
breakfasted, said prayers, and started his classes at nine. Dinner was at twelve. On Saturday afternoons he took long hikes, and he also began a study of French. That he was successful was clearly
recognized by Webb, who wrote to Sardis Birchard, "Rutherford has applied himself industriously to his studies and has maintained a constant and correct deportment. I think he will avail himself of the advantage of an education and fully meet the just anticipations of his friends. He is well informed, has good sense, and is respected and esteemed by his companions. He is strictly economical and
regular in his habits and has established a very favorable character among us."
Despite Webb's belief that he was too young for college, Hayes was anxious to go, and in 1838 entered Kenyon College at Gambier, Ohio. There, too, he established an excellent record. Enjoying his college career, he made several lasting friendships, among them future Supreme Court Justice Stanley Matthews, future Michigan Congressman Rowland E. Trowbridge, future Ohio Attorney
General Christopher Wolcott, and future Texas politician Guy M. Bryan. The Texan, later a lawyer and state legislator, became a
particularly close companion with whom he remained on the most friendly terms almost to the day of his death, in spite of their
differences during and prior to the Civil War. It was also at Kenyon that he started his diary, an invaluable source for his career, which he continued to keep to the end of his life. Joining the Philomathesian Society, a literary and theatrical organization, he was able to engage in his favorite pastimes of reading and partaking in discussions. With a number of friends he founded a friendship club, Phi Zeta, which adopted as its motto,
Phila Zoe, "Friendship for Life." At the same time, he perfected his speaking ability, delivering speeches to the society and to the college. For vacations, he generally went to Columbus, where his sister, now married to William A. Platt, a
jeweler and businessman, had established her home. One of several speakers on graduation day in 1842, he chose as his topic "College Life" and discussed its many advantages. As valedictorian, he addressed the school president, whom he praised for his closeness to the students, the faculty, and his fellow students.
In view of the fact that he intended to become an attorney after leaving Kenyon, he began reading law at the office of Sparrow & Matthews in Columbus. Studying Blackston and Chillingworth while also learning German, he absorbed a great deal of legal lore. His uncle, however, thought he ought to have a regular legal
education and insisted that he go to Harvard. Thus, in 1843, traveling by way of Buffalo and Niagara
Falls -- which, after an initial disappointment, he admired -- he entered the Cambridge law school.
He liked Harvard as much as he had enjoyed Kenyon. "The advantages of the law school are as great as I expected to find them and the means of passing time pleasantly even greater," he wrote to his uncle. Because of his previous studies, he was able to attend all the recitations without overexertion, and he was particularly
influenced by lectures of Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story and the famous lawyer, Professor Simon Greenleaf These two excellent teachers' style and learning became a model for the young student.
He followed a strict daily routine. Rising at six, he exercised before breakfast, then, on Mondays, studied law until eleven,
German till two, moot court till seven, and in the evening wrote out his notes while turning to Whatley and Chillingworth. On Tuesdays, he perused the law till one, devoted the afternoon to Hoffman's
Law Studies, and took up the law again in the evening. Wednesdays were much like Mondays until two, then he busied himself with
Hoffman and moot court questions, and spent the evening in the same way as on Tuesdays. On Thursdays, he again studied law till one, German in the afternoon, and passed the evening as on Tuesdays. On Fridays, it was once more law and German till two, and the afternoon and evening were given over to bringing up arrears. On Saturdays, he again gave his attention for two hours to the law, and then finally enjoyed some sports. On Sundays, he went to church and saw friends.
But his stay in Cambridge did not consist entirely of study. He had an opportunity to hear many famous orators, among them John Quincy Adams, George Bancroft, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Daniel Webster. While Adams seemed to be too extreme on the slavery question, he thought him "truly a most formidable man." Bancroft appeared to be one of the most interesting speakers he had ever heard; Longfellow, who spoke on modern languages, pleased him with his style and manner; and Webster apparently deserved the epithet, the "godlike." He was introduced to the
theater and saw Hamlet. Though he dreaded the loss of time, he also found vacations in Vermont and Columbus pleasant diversions.
Hayes left Harvard at the end of his third semester in February 1845.
After admission to the bar in Marietta, Ohio, he decided to settle in Lower
Sandusky, soon to be called Fremont, where he had contacts. His uncle Sardis
and his cousin John R. Pease were living there, and Professor Greenleaf had
advised young lawyers not to settle in large cities. Rooming with his cousin
Pease and forming a partnership with Ralph P. Buckland, who after some
Copyright © 2003 Hans L. Trefousse