The melancholy thing in our public life is the insane desire to get higher.
He serves his party best who serves the country best.
Fighting battles is like courting girls: those who make the most pretensions and are boldest usually win.
- The melancholy thing in our public life is the insane desire to get higher.
- We all agree that neither the Government nor political parties ought to interfere with religious sects. It is equally true that religious sects ought not to interfere with the Government or with political parties. We believe that the cause of good government and the cause of religion both suffer by all such interference.
- Speech, Marion, Ohio (31 July 1875)
- 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.
- The President of the United States of necessity owes his election to office to the suffrage and zealous labors of a political party, the members of which cherish with ardor and regard as of essential importance the principles of their party organization; but he should strive to be always mindful of the fact that he serves his party best who serves the country best.
- Inaugural Address (5 March 1877)
- It is the desire of the good people of the whole country that sectionalism as a factor in our politics should disappear.
- It will be the duty of the Executive, with sufficient appropriations for the purpose, to prosecute unsparingly all who have been engaged in depriving citizens of the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution.
- Fourth State of the Union Address (6 December 1880)
- The only road, the sure road to unquestioned credit and a sound financial condition is the exact and punctual fulfilment of every pecuniary obligation, public and private, according to its letter and spirit.
- Speech at New England Society Dinner, Brooklyn (21 December 1880)
- In avoiding the appearance of evil, I am not sure but I have sometimes unnecessarily deprived myself and others of innocent enjoyments.
- As quoted in Rutherford B. Hayes, and His America (1954) by Harry Barnard. p. 481
- Fighting battles is like courting girls: those who make the most pretensions and are boldest usually win.
- As quoted in The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents (1991) by William A. DeGregorio, p. 290
Diary and Letters of Rutherford Birchard Hayes (1922 - 1926)Edit
- Diary and Letters of Rutherford Birchard Hayes: Nineteenth President of the United States (5 vols. 1922 - 1926) edited by Charles Richard Williams, The Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society
Is there anything in which the people of this age and country differ more from those of other lands and former times than in this — their ability to preserve order and protect rights without the aid of government?
Disunion and civil war are at hand; and yet I fear disunion and war less than compromise.
War is a cruel business and there is brutality in it on all sides...
Perhaps the happiest moment of my life was then, when I saw that our line didn’t break and that the enemy's did.
success in his great office, his hold upon the confidence and affections of his countrymen, we shall all say are only second to Washington
's; we shall probably feel and think that they are not second even to his.
I have a talent for silence and brevity. I can keep silent when it seems best to do so, and when I speak I can, and do usually, quit when I am done.
My policy is trust, peace, and to put aside the bayonet.
As knowledge spreads, wealth spreads. To diffuse knowledge is to diffuse wealth. To give all an equal chance to acquire knowledge is the best and surest way to give all an equal chance to acquire property.
We are both physically very healthy.... Our tempers are cheerful. We are social and popular. But it is one of our greatest comforts that the pledge not to take a second term relieves us from considering it. That was a lucky thing.
Coming in, I was denounced as a fraud by all the extreme men of the opposing party, and as an ingrate and a traitor by the same class of men in my own party. Going out, I have the good will, blessings, and approval of the best people of all parties and sections.
Constitutional statutes … which embody the settled public opinion of the people who enacted them and whom they are to govern — can always be enforced. But, if they embody only the sentiments of a bare majority…they are likely to injure the cause they are framed to advance.
Personally I do not resort to force — not even the force of law — to advance moral reforms. I prefer education, argument, persuasion, and above all the influence of example... Until these resources are exhausted I would not think of force.
We can travel longer, night and day, without losing our spirits than almost any persons we ever met.
- For honest merit to succeed amid the tricks and intrigues which are now so lamentably common, I know is difficult; but the honor of success is increased by the obstacles which are to be surmounted. Let me triumph as a man or not at all.
- Virtue is defined to be mediocrity, of which either extreme is vice.
- Diary (21 December 1843), referring to Aristotle's Ethics
- Youth, however, is a defect that she is fast getting away from and may perhaps be entirely rid of before I shall want her.
- About Lucy Webb, nine years his junior, whom he later married, in a letter to his sister, Fanny Hayes Platt (23 October 1847)
- We have now become pretty well acquainted with the sugar-growing part of Texas. The life of a planter who has a fair start in the world is one of the most independent imaginable. We here find the pleasures of fashionable life without its tyranny. I doubt, however, whether a person of Northern education could so far forget his home-bred notions and feelings as ever to be thoroughly Southern on the subject of slavery. We have seen none of “the horrors” so often described, but on the other hand I have seen nothing to change my Northern opinions.
- Letter to his mother, Sophia Birchard Hayes (27 January 1849)
- Is there anything in which the people of this age and country differ more from those of other lands and former times than in this — their ability to preserve order and protect rights without the aid of government? … We are realizing the paradox, “that country is governed best which is governed least.” I no longer fear lynch law. Let the people be intelligent and good, and I am not sure but their impulsive, instinctive verdicts and sentences and executions, unchecked by the rules and technicalities of law, are more likely to be according to substantial justice than the decisions of courts and juries.
- Disunion and civil war are at hand; and yet I fear disunion and war less than compromise. We can recover from them. The free States alone, if we must go on alone, will make a glorious nation.
- I never enjoyed any business or mode of life as much as I do this. I really feel badly when I think of several of my intimate friends who are compelled to stay at home. These marches and campaigns in the hills of western Virginia will always be among the pleasantest things I can remember. I know we are in frequent perils, that we may never return and all that, but the feeling that I am where I ought to be is a full compensation for all that is sinister, leaving me free to enjoy as if on a pleasure tour.
- I still feel just as I told you, that I shall come safely out of this war. I felt so the other day when danger was near. I certainly enjoyed the excitement of fighting our way out of Giles to the Narrows as much as any excitement I ever experienced. I had a good deal of anxiety the first hour or two on account of my command, but not a particle on my own account. After that, and after I saw that we were getting on well, it was really jolly. We all joked and laughed and cheered constantly.
- These semi-traitors [Union generals who were not hostile to slavery] must be watched. — Let us be careful who become army leaders in the reorganized army at the end of this Rebellion. The man who thinks that the perpetuity of slavery is essential to the existence of the Union, is unfit to be trusted. The deadliest enemy the Union has is slavery — in fact, its only enemy.
- We have dancing … from soon after sundown until a few minutes after nine o’clock.... Occasionally the boys who play the female partners in the dances exercise their ingenuity in dressing to look as girlish as possible. In the absence of lady duds they use leaves, and the leaf-clad beauties often look very pretty and always odd enough.
- Letter to Sophia Birchard Hayes (10 July 1862)
- You use the phrase “brutal Rebels.” Don’t be cheated in that way. There are enough “brutal Rebels” no doubt, but we have brutal officers and men too. I have had men brutally treated by our own officers on this raid [to Lynchburg, Va.]. And there are plenty of humane Rebels. I have seen a good deal of it on this trip. War is a cruel business and there is brutality in it on all sides, but it is very idle to get up anxiety on account of any supposed peculiar cruelty on the part of Rebels. Keepers of prisons in Cincinnati, as well as in Danville, are hard-hearted and cruel.
- Letter to Lucy Webb Hayes, whose cousin was a prisoner and died at Andersonville prison (2 July 1864)
- We now talk of our killed and wounded. There is however a very happy feeling. Those who escape regret of course the loss of comrades and friends, but their own escape and safety to some extent modifies their feelings.
- Letter to Lucy Webb Hayes (25 October 1864)
- When the weather is bad as it was yesterday, everybody, almost everybody, feels cross and gloomy. Our thin linen tents — about like a fish seine, the deep mud, the irregular mails, the never to-be-seen paymasters, and “the rest of mankind,” are growled about in “old-soldier” style. But a fine day like today has turned out brightens and cheers us all. We people in camp are merely big children, wayward and changeable.
- Letter to Lucy Webb Hayes (23 November 1864)
- General Crook gave me a very agreeable present this afternoon — a pair of his old brigadier-general straps. The stars are somewhat dimmed by hard service, but will correspond pretty well with my rusty old blouse. Of course I am very much gratified by the promotion. I know perfectly well that the rank has been conferred on all sorts of small people and so cheapened shamefully, but I can’t help feeling that getting it at the close of a most bloody campaign on the recommendation of fighting generals like Crook and Sheridan is a different thing.
- Letter to Lucy Webb Hayes (9 December 1864)
- We had an inspection today of the brigade. The Twenty-third was pronounced the crack regiment in appearance, … [but] I could see only six to ten in a company of the old men. They all smiled as I rode by. But as I passed away I couldn’t help dropping a few natural tears. I felt as I did when I saw them mustered in at Camp Chase.
- Letter to Lucy Webb Hayes (17 December 1864)
- Perhaps the happiest moment of my life was then, when I saw that our line didn’t break and that the enemy’s did.
- About the success of the crucial charge he led at Opequon, in a letter to Sardis Birchard (20 December 1864)
- While your rheumatism stays with you I naturally feel anxious to hear often. If you should be so unlucky as to become a cripple, it will certainly be bad, but you may be sure I shall be still a loving husband, and we shall make the best of it together.
- Letter to Lucy Webb Hayes (12 March 1865])
- As to Mr. Lincoln’s name and fame and memory, — all is safe. His firmness, moderation, goodness of heart; his quaint humor, his perfect honesty and directness of purpose; his logic his modesty his sound judgment, and great wisdom; the contrast between his obscure beginnings and the greatness of his subsequent position and achievements; his tragic death, giving him almost the crown of martyrdom, elevate him to a place in history second to none other of ancient or modern times. His success in his great office, his hold upon the confidence and affections of his countrymen, we shall all say are only second to Washington’s; we shall probably feel and think that they are not second even to his.
- Letter to Lucy Webb Hayes (16 April 1865)
- I feel the desire to be with you all the time. Oh, an occasional absence of a week or two is a good thing to give one the happiness of meeting again, but this living apart is in all ways bad. We have had our share of separate life during the four years of war. There is nothing in the small ambition of Congressional life, or in the gratified vanity which it sometimes affords, to compensate for separation from you. We must manage to live together hereafter. I can’t stand this, and will not.
- Letter to Lucy Webb Hayes (17 June 1866)
- I am a freeman and jolly as a beggar.
- On retiring as governor of Ohio, in a letter to William Johnston (7 January 1872)
- I have a talent for silence and brevity. I can keep silent when it seems best to do so, and when I speak I can, and do usually, quit when I am done. This talent, or these two talents, I have cultivated. Silence and concise, brief speaking have got me some laurels, and, I suspect, lost me some. No odds. Do what is natural to you, and you are sure to get all the recognition you are entitled to.
- I regard the inflation acts as wrong in all ways. Personally I am one of the noble army of debtors, and can stand it if others can. But it is a wretched business.
- Letter to Austin Birchard (21 April 1874), when he was approximately $46,000 in debt.
- My only objection to the arrangements there is the two-in-a-bed system. It is bad.... But let your words and conduct be perfectly pure — such as your mother might know without bringing a blush to your cheek.... If not already mentioned, do not tell your mother of the doubling in bed.
- Letter to his son, Rutherford P. Hayes (26 February 1875)
- I hope you will be benefitted by your churchgoing. Where the habit does not Christianize, it generally civilizes. That is reason enough for supporting churches, if there were no higher.
- Letter to his son, Webb Hayes (26 February 1875)
- Every age has its temptations, its weaknesses, its dangers. Ours is in the line of the snobbish and the sordid.
- My speaking is irregular. Sometimes quite good, sometimes not, but generally will do... I am too far along in experience and years both for this business. I do not go into [it] with the zest of old times. Races, baseball, and politics are for the youngsters.
- Letter to Lucy Webb Hayes (14 August 1875)
- My policy is trust, peace, and to put aside the bayonet. I do not think the wise policy is to decide contested elections in the States by the use of the national army.
- I am not liked as a President by the politicians in office, in the press, or in Congress. But I am content to abide the judgment — the sober second thought — of the people.
- General education is the best preventive of the evils now most dreaded. In the civilized countries of the world, the question is how to distribute most generally and equally the property of the world. As a rule, where education is most general the distribution of property is most general.... As knowledge spreads, wealth spreads. To diffuse knowledge is to diffuse wealth. To give all an equal chance to acquire knowledge is the best and surest way to give all an equal chance to acquire property.
- There can be no complete and permanent reform of the civil service until public opinion emancipates congressmen from all control and influence over government patronage. Legislation is required to establish the reform. No proper legislation is to be expected as long as members of Congress are engaged in procuring offices for their constituents.
- We can travel longer, night and day, without losing our spirits than almost any persons we ever met.
- I am heartily tired of this life of bondage, responsibility, and toil. I wish it was at an end.... We are both physically very healthy.... Our tempers are cheerful. We are social and popular. But it is one of our greatest comforts that the pledge not to take a second term relieves us from considering it. That was a lucky thing. It is a reform — or rather a precedent for a reform, which will be valuable.
- Let every man, every corporation, and especially let every village, town, and city, every county and State, get out of debt and keep out of debt. It is the debtor that is ruined by hard times.
- Nobody ever left the presidency with less regret, less disappointment, fewer heart burnings, or any general content with the result of his term (in his own heart, I mean) than I do. Full of difficulty and trouble at first, I now find myself on smooth waters and under bright skies.
- Letter to Guy M. Bryan (1 January 1881)
- Coming in, I was denounced as a fraud by all the extreme men of the opposing party, and as an ingrate and a traitor by the same class of men in my own party. Going out, I have the good will, blessings, and approval of the best people of all parties and sections.
- One of its [James A. Garfield’s assassination] lessons, perhaps its most important lesson, is the folly, the wickedness, and the danger of the extreme and bitter partisanship which so largely prevails in our country. This partisan bitterness is greatly aggravated by that system of appointments and removals which deals with public offices as rewards for services rendered to political parties or to party leaders. Hence crowds of importunate place-hunters of whose dregs Guiteau is the type. The required reform [of the civil service] will be accomplished whenever the people imperatively demand it, not only of their Executive, but also of their legislative officers. With it, the class to which the assassin belongs will lose their occupation, and the temptation to try “to administer government by assassination” will be taken away.
- Letter to Emile Kahn (1 October 1881)
- The debt was the most sacred obligation incurred during the war. It was by no means the largest in amount. We do not haggle with those who lent us money. We should not with those who gave health and blood and life. If doors are opened to fraud, contrive to close them. But don’t deny the obligation, or scold at its performance.
- About the Arrears of Pensions Act (1879) for disabled Union veterans, which Hayes cheerfully signed, which was roundly criticized as too expensive and too open to fraud by unscrupulous veterans fabricating service-related injuries.
- Letter to William Henry Smith (19 December 1881)
- Constitutional statutes … which embody the settled public opinion of the people who enacted them and whom they are to govern — can always be enforced. But if they embody only the sentiments of a bare majority, pronounced under the influence of a temporary excitement, they will, if strenuously opposed, always fail of their object; nay, they are likely to injure the cause they are framed to advance.
- The general review of the past tends to satisfy me with my political life. No man, I suppose, ever came up to his ideal. The first half [of] my political life was first to resist the increase of slavery and secondly to destroy it.... The second half of my political life has been to rebuild, and to get rid of the despotic and corrupting tendencies and the animosities of the war, and other legacies of slavery.
- Personally I do not resort to force — not even the force of law — to advance moral reforms. I prefer education, argument, persuasion, and above all the influence of example — of fashion. Until these resources are exhausted I would not think of force.
- On attempts at an alcohol prohibition amendment, in his Diary (9 October 1883)
- Every good cause gained a victory when the Union troops were triumphant. Our final victory was the triumph of religion, of virtue, of knowledge.... During those four years, whatever our motives, whatever our lives, we were fighting on God’s side. We were doing His work. What would this country have been if we had failed?
- The [Loyal] legion has taken the place of the club — the famous Cincinnati Literary Club — in my affections.... The military circles are interested in the same things with myself, and so we endure, if not enjoy, each other.
- Letter to Fanny Hayes (1 November 1885)
- Strikes and boycotting are akin to war, and can be justified only on grounds analogous to those which justify war, viz., intolerable injustice and oppression.
- The real difficulty is with the vast wealth and power in the hands of the few and the unscrupulous who represent or control capital. Hundreds of laws of Congress and the state legislatures are in the interest of these men and against the interests of workingmen. These need to be exposed and repealed. All laws on corporations, on taxation, on trusts, wills, descent, and the like, need examination and extensive change. This is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people no longer. It is a government of corporations, by corporations, and for corporations. — How is this?
- The sacred obligation to the Union soldiers must not — will not be forgotten nor neglected.... But those who fought against the Nation cannot and do not look to it for relief.... Confederate soldiers and their descendants are to share with us and our descendants the destiny of America. Whatever, therefore, we their fellow citizens can do to remove burdens from their shoulders and to brighten their lives is surely in the pathway of humanity and patriotism.
- Letter to Oliver Downing (15 March 1889)
- Unjust attacks on public men do them more good than unmerited praise.
- Abolish plutocracy if you would abolish poverty. As millionaires increase, pauperism grows. The more millionaires, the more paupers.
- The progress of society is mainly … the improvement in the condition of the workingmen of the world.
- Do not let your bachelor ways crystallize so that you can’t soften them when you come to have a wife and a family of your own.
- Letter to his son, Webb Hayes (20 March 1890)
- Wars will remain while human nature remains. I believe in my soul in cooperation, in arbitration; but the soldier’s occupation we cannot say is gone until human nature is gone.
- The unrestricted competition so commonly advocated does not leave us the survival of the fittest. The unscrupulous succeed best in accumulating wealth.
- Partisanship should be kept out of the pulpit... The blindest of partisans are preachers. All politicians expect and find more candor, fairness, and truth in politicians than in partisan preachers. They are not replied to — no chance to reply to them.... The balance wheel of free institutions is free discussion. The pulpit allows no free discussion.
- Conscience is the authentic voice of God to you.
- Letter to his son, Scott R. Hayes (8 March 1892)
- One of the tests of the civilization of people is the treatment of its criminals.
- All appointments hurt. Five friends are made cold or hostile for every appointment; no new friends are made. All patronage is perilous to men of real ability or merit. It aids only those who lack other claims to public support.
- That's an amazing invention, but who would ever want to use one of them?
- Reportedly to Alexander Graham Bell after a demonstration of the telephone, as quoted in Future Mind : The Microcomputer-New Medium, New Mental Environment (1982) by Edward J. Lias, p. 2 but author did not footnote or in any other way cite a source for the quotation, and the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center has found no primary-source evidence that Rutherford B. Hayes made the comment. The same article erroneously states that President Hayes had his first experience with the telephone in 1876 in a "trial conversation between Washington and Philadephia." Rutherford B. Hayes was president of the United States in the years 1877-1881. His well documented experience with the telephone occured in 1877 while Hayes was in Rhode Island. Prior to becomng disputed here, this statement was treated as probably spurious in "Obama’s whopper about Rutherford B. Hayes and the telephone" in the Washington Post (16 March 2012), which asserts Hayes installed a phone only months later, and that the Providence Journal (29 June 1877) reported his words during the demonstration as "That is wonderful!"
Quotes about HayesEdit
Torpedoes in His Path: Can he, with that load, get through without exploding them?
- His public service extended over many years and over a wide range of official duty. He was a patriotic citizen, a lover of the flag and of our free institutions, an industrious and conscientious civil officer, a soldier of dauntless courage, a loyal comrade and friend, a sympathetic and helpful neighbor, and the honored head of a happy Christian home. He has steadily grown in the public esteem, and the impartial historian will not fail to recognize the conscientiousness, the manliness, and the courage that so strongly characterized his whole public career.
- Torpedoes in His Path: Can he, with that load, get through without exploding them?
- The purity of his private and personal life was never questioned, and during his term of office at Washington there was a distinct elevating of the tone and standard of official life. There is no doubt that his Administrations served a very useful purpose in the transition from sectional antagonism to national harmony, and from the old methods of dealing with the public service as party spoils to the new method of placing ascertained merit and demonstrated fitness above party service or requirements. It was an inevitable consequence that he should lose popularity and political influence in serving these important ends, but the value of his services will nevertheless be permanently recognized.
- Rutherfraud B. Hayes got into office, with a minority of the popular vote and a hung Electoral College, because of a deal in the House of Representatives to end Reconstruction with the withdrawal of Federal troops from the South. This freed the hand of Southern States to violate the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, stripping freed slaves of civil rights, voting rights, and any other rights they could think of. The institution of Segregation took a little while; but by the Plessy v. Ferguson decision in 1896, after a year of 230 lynchings in 1892, which allowed Segregation laws, the regime was established–to persist until 1964. This whole shameful transaction, however, was probably unavoidable at the time. Northern opinion had been strong against Southern secession, and had even come around to effect Emancipation, but the project of constantly protecting freed slaves or deposing hostile Southern State governments with Federal troops very quickly became too burdensome. There would be hell to pay for this, as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did as much to destroy civil rights as to enforce them, but it is hard to imagine how anything short of prolonged military dictatorship could have stopped Southern whites in 1876. Grant himself had accepted victories by the Democrats in the South, as in Texas and elsewhere, when the elections were honest. All the trouble in Louisiana and South Carolina was because of the fraud and violence subverted what were, at the time, black majorities.