I prefer celebrating Lincoln’s birthday, but the federal government has opted for a generic “Presidents Day” in honor of all former occupants of the office, both good and contemptible. So, for the sake of not repeating past mistakes, why not remember the worst Presidents America has had the misfortune to endure? After all, the tendency to focus on Presidents who had a generally positive impact creates a bias in the teaching of history that distorts our understanding of how the American government relates to its people.
My personal list of the worst Presidents includes:
5. Woodrow Wilson
4. James K. Polk
3. George W. Bush
2. James Buchanan
1. Rutherford B. Hayes
Elected in 1876, Hayes hailed from Ohio, the land of mediocre Presidents. He lost the popular vote and the disputed election was thrown to Congress. At least Congress followed the Constitutional way of dealing with contested elections, as opposed to the Supreme Court’s illegal usurpation of power in the Bush v. Gore decision that stole the 2000 election for George W. Bush.
To secure office, Hayes made an unholy alliance with conservative Southern Democrats in Congress. He agreed to end the reconstruction policies of U.S. Grant, effectively giving control of the South to vigilante terrorist groups and the old plantation aristocracy. Hayes ended federal protection of voting rights and allowed former traitorous Confederates to usurp states from legitimately elected reconstruction governments.
Not until Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson would America return to the sort of policies Grant used to secure the individual rights and liberties of all Americans, regardless of race. By prematurely cutting reconstruction short, Hayes ushered in generations of political fascism in the South. The stratification of wealth, concentration of power, and denial of basic human rights would keep the South in poverty for generations.
But, that’s not all!
Hayes was the first President to order federal troops to break up a strike of union workers, officially making the U.S. Army the Pinkertons of the railroad barons. The Army was used to deny workers the right to organize, but not to guarantee the right to vote.
Even more, his fiscal policies disadvantaged debtors and wage workers. Basing currency on gold, but not silver, made it more difficult for farmers and others to repay debt and reduced the purchasing power of wage workers. Hayes was concerned that alternative policies might lead to inflation that would hurt the robber barons of his era. Hayes instituted the “cross of gold” policies William Jennings Bryan and the Populists would campaign against years later.
And in case racist policies against African-Americans weren’t enough, he enacted limits on Chinese immigration.
In one term, Hayes used federal power to do lasting harm to African-Americans, wage workers and farmers across America. Is it any wonder why he’s barely mentioned in history classes? He provides the best example of how a President can use his power to the detriment of most Americans in the service of corporate oligarchs. It’s part of the legacy left behind by states’-rights, conservative libertarianism that should be remembered. Happy Presidents Day to you Ruthy, you old bastard!
© 2013 Willinois. This article is reproduced by permission of the author. All rights reserved.