Ohio History Journal

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Race: Principles and Policy

of Rutherford B. Hayes


When Rutherofrd B. Hayes came to the presidency, the race problem was

waiting in all its urgency. The subject was by no means new to him. As an

Ohio Congressman, at the very beginning of his political career, he endorsed

the Radical program of reconstruction. In unemotional terms this meant

having a penchant for Negro rights and the preservation of the political

power of the Republican party, though not necessarily in that order.1

A college classmate and lifelong friend. Guy M. Bryan of Texas, became

a little uneasy about the Radical proclivities of Hayes. When the Recon-

struction acts were passed, the two men began a correspondence that con-

tinued long after Hayes left Washington. Bryan was to be the conscience

of the white South continually working on Hayes. From 1867 on he sang

but one monotonous, though effective song: The South wanted peace and

reunion above everything. Only unscrupulous persons who stirred up trou-

ble between the superior whites and the inferior blacks prevented the heal-

ing of the wounds of war. The Negro would be better off if left to his

former master. Bryan skillfully applied the argument of "kith and kin":

Hayes let me appeal to you as one with whom I have so often broken

bread, whose associations so long were identified with my own, whose

blood and skin are from the same tree, . . . I beg of you to aid us in

resisting the reckless manner with which the question of race is dealt

with by the agitators at the South.2

I here say that Southern and Northern people are of the same blood

and people, and that they and the Negro are not from the same stock.

. . . The South is worth cultivating by the American statesman.3

Bryan was attempting to reach this northern heart by strumming the tune

of ethnological kinship on the banjo of race. But Hayes does not seem to

have been immediately affected by his pleas, at least not as far as official

politics were concerned. He bravely flew in the face of anti-Negro sentiment

in Ohio with a radical speech on August 5, 1867. He even ran for governor

of that state on an extremely unpopular platform of Negro suffrage. He

saw great merit in the Radical reconstruction plans of 1867. He declared

that the war was fought for equal rights for all colors as well as for union.

He agreed that troops were necessary in the South to protect both white