Ohio History Journal

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Book Reviews

Book Reviews






The Presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes. By

KENNETH E. DAVISON. (Westport, Conn.:

Greenwood Press, Inc., 1972. xiii + 266p.;

illustrations, notes, and index. $12.00.)


In his account of the Hayes presidency,

Professor Davison has attempted to correct

the interpretation of the Gilded Age as an

era of ruthless plunder depicted by Parring-

ton, Beard, Josephson, Twain, and others.

He portrays Hayes as a decent, high-prin-

cipled, experienced statesman, a unifier,

pacifier, and reformer. He views the Hayes

administration amid years of turbulence

when workers, blacks, Indians, middle-class

factions, and ethnic minorities found them-

selves involved in social and economic up-

heavals resulting from an expanding econ-

omy. A revisionist, the author tries to

present a more balanced interpretation

based on accurate data, one that attempts

to arouse our sympathy for Hayes and his


The book is a model of compact erudi-

tion. In less than 250 highly factual pages

we have a superb portrait of a much ne-

glected president and his administration.

The book is more than a political narrative.

Some chapters depict United States society

in an age of transformation and complexity.

Others discuss major problems and policies:

racial strife, civil rights, politics, Indian af-

fairs, the role of the chief executive, the

money question, labor upheavals, and the

development of a foreign policy which

sought to maintain American prosperity

through expanded foreign markets. In these

chapters, the author's informative data and

primary source material constitute a valu-

able source book for students of the period.

Some readers would want more material on

racial, ethnic, and labor problems with

critical interpretation. This was not the

author's main intention. There are num-

erous minor insights, interpretations, and

factual materials illuminating the plight of

blacks, Chinese, Indians, and other minori-

ties as Hayes attempted to resolve almost

insoluble social and economic problems.

Hayes emerges as a harmonizer and ex-

cellent administrator concerned with polit-

ical, economic, and social issues. Even

though he was unable to cope with up-

heavals beyond his understanding, he at-

tempted with his administrators to alleviate

the country's burdens after years of strife

and reconstruction. Though convinced of

the supremacy of middle-class capitalism,

he was perturbed by American capitalism's

development and feared what large concen-

trations of wealth in the hands of a few

would do to America. He was sympathetic

to analyses by such social critics as Henry

George, Mark Twain, and William Dean


There are anecdotes and seemingly in-

significant materials on personalities, pets,

and travel in this book. These details, how-

ever, help to evoke an era and add a human

element to these years. There is some un-

evenness in structure, but the scholarship is

impeccable, and we are presented with a

view of Hayes and his times that seems

satisfactory though incomplete. One hopes

that the author will elaborate in future

works the themes he has begun to expound

so well in this book.



DePaul University




The Presidency of William Howard Taft.

By PAOLO E. COLETTA. (Lawrence: Univer-

sity Press of Kansas, 1973. ix + 306p.;

notes, sources, and index. $10.00.)


According to textbook stereotype, the Taft

administration was an unfortunate and re-

actionary interlude between two reform

presidencies. Theodore Roosevelt has been