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This child was born in Ohio in 1822, into a middle-class home, eleven weeks after his father died. He was his mother's fifth child, but only he and one older sister survived to adulthood. Two siblings had died before he was born, and when he was two years old, his 9-year-old brother died in a skating accident. His mother's brother helped out financially, and even lived with the family for a time.
His mother became overprotective, perhaps because this child was delicate, or perhaps because she had lost three children and he was her youngest. She would not let the child leave the house to attend school, or to play with other boys. Instead she and his older sister home-schooled him. His mother taught him to read and write. His sister, who historians now recognize as having a brilliant intellect, was in fact the child's primary companion until he was 14.
At age 14, he went to a boarding school, where he excelled at his studies. He was a serious student who liked to keep a journal, a habit he kept through the remainder of his life. In his journal he wrote that he would strive to always "preserve a reputation for honesty and benevolence." He also resolved to stop laughing so much. His favorite pasttime activities became fishing, playing chess, and reading novels, or as he called it "reading trash".
At age 16, he started college, and at age 20, he graduated from college as class valedictorian. At that point he wanted to learn German, French, and prepare for the study of law. So he went to live with his older sister, who by was now married, so that she could help him in these pursuits. At age 21, he was accepted into Harvard law school. The same uncle helped him with the tuition and living expenses.
In the beginning of his career as a young lawyer, he did not enjoy the practice of law. However, within five years he and a friend moved to Cincinnati and started their own law firm. He partitioned off a corner of the office for his bedroom. He became interested in the Literary Club there, then joined the Temperance Movement and started making influential friends.
When he was 30, he married a 21-year-old woman who his mother had picked out for him, and introduced to him when he had been 15. She was a college graduate -- which was very unusual in those days, and he was delighted with her when he made reacquaintance as an adult. He wrote in his journal that "A better wife I never hoped to have." In fact the two of them shared many interests, and had a solid marriage, and ultimately, 8 children together, although three died in childhood.
When the Civil War broke out, he joined to serve for four years, during which time he became interested in politics and in the new Republican party. Before even finishing service in the army, he was elected to serve in his state legislature. Following the war, he was elected governor of his state.
During his long political career, he worked for temperance, and fought against political corruption, including against the system of political spoils, a system of giving government jobs to former campaign supporters. He disagreed with many in his party on matters of integrity, and in favor of the people's welfare, such as when he opposed post-Civil War carpet-bagging, and worked in support of labor rights. He also worked against the corrupt customhouse in New York City, against the Tweed political machine, against partisanship in general , and against inflationary economic practices by getting paper money back on the gold standard.
To those in the Republican party who disagreed with some of his choices, he said, in his inauguration speech as the 19th President of the United States: "He serves his party best who serves the country best."
Rutherford B. Hayes, a boy
from a "fatherless home."
* The term "fatherless" is used in this series as it is in current research and policy rhetoric by the U.S. federal government, DHHS and the National Fatherhood Initiative, most U.S. states in connection with child custody law and policy, and various family values and fatherhood interest policy and lobbying groups.
"...Just add Dad, the magic ingredient. It's hard to know where wishful thinking becomes deliberate deception. But this argument, advanced by the fathers' rights movement, is like saying that, since Mercedes Benz owners make more money than people who drive Hyundais, you will become wealthy if you buy a Mercedes..." Mike Peterson
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