Who’s the better U.S. President? Barack Obama? Or the little-known Rutherford B. Hayes?
Battle of the Presidents: Barack Obama vs. Rutherford B. Hayes?
In what promises to be the strangest President vs. President battle of 2012, President Obama knocked President Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881) yesterday over his apparent dislike of the telephone.
“One of my predecessors, President Rutherford B. Hayes, reportedly said about the telephone: ‘It’s a great invention but who would ever want to use one?’ That’s why he’s not on Mt. Rushmore. He’s looking backwards, he’s not looking forward. He’s explaining why we can’t do something instead of why we can do something.” ~ President Barack Obama
Whew! Pretty low blow there by President Obama, going after someone who can’t exactly defend himself. There’s just one problem…it’s not true. According to Nan Card at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, there’s no record of Rutherford B. Hayes ever saying that particular quote about the telephone.
“I’ve heard that before, and no one ever knows where it came from, but people just keep repeating it and repeating it, so it’s out there.” ~ Nan Card, Curator of Manuscripts
Furthermore, an article from the June 29, 1877 edition of the Providence Journal records a very different reaction by President Hayes…
The President listened carefully while a gradually increasing smile wreathed his lips, and wonder shone in his eyes more and more, until he took the little instrument from his ear, looked at it a moment in surprise, and remarked, “That is wonderful.”
Rutherford B. Hayes – Was he one of America’s Greatest Presidents?
Rutherford B. Hayes was the first president to have a telephone, the first one to use a typewriter, and invited Thomas Edison to the White House to demonstrate the phonograph. Rather than being some kind of technophobe, President Hayes appears to have been the exact opposite.
As for President Obama’s slight about Mount Rushmore, I’d point to Ivan Eland’s excellent work, Recarving Rushmore. According to Eland, the four presidents who should be depicted on Mount Rushmore are John Tyler, Grover Cleveland, Martin Van Buren, and…you guessed it, Rutherford B. Hayes. In contrast, he ranks Mount Rushmore’s current occupants as follows: George Washington #7, Thomas Jefferson #26, Teddy Roosevelt #21, and Abraham Lincoln #29.
Eland takes a unique approach to evaluating presidents. Instead of ranking them on the usual stuff, he ranks them on how well they achieved peace, prosperity, and liberty. Presidents earn points for avoiding “wars of choice,” pursuing economic freedom, and respecting individual freedoms as well as limits on presidential powers.
Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis
President Hayes resisted going to war with Mexico, pursued anti-inflationary policies, avoided intervening in employer/labor disputes, and advocated for voting rights for African Americans. The biggest knock against him is he continued the U.S. government’s shabby treatment of Native Americans. Still, based on the ideals of peace, prosperity, and liberty, (and contrary to President Obama’s opinion), there is a strong case to be made that President Hayes deserves to be recognized as one of the greatest presidents in American history.