Ohio: The Mother of Presidents

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FREMONT, Ohio – Ohio is called the “Mother of Presidents.” Seven United States Presidents were born in Ohio, and an eighth lived most of his adult life in Ohio. Only Virginia can claim such a rich presidential heritage.

State of Eight: A Bicentennial Tribute to Ohio’s Presidential Legacy is an examination of the Ohioans who assumed the immense task of leading the nation, of those who aspired to the presidency, and of the state’s role in presidential politics.

Over its 200-year history, Ohio has provided more than its share of leaders to guide the nation in times of war and peace.

This exhibit opens at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, where it was created. It will be at the Hayes Center through Feb. 23, 2003.

It moves on to the McKinley Museum & National Memorial in Canton from March-June 2003, and finally the William Howard Taft National Historic Site in Cincinnati from July-October 2003.

Ohio has a proud presidential legacy, having produced eight chief executives over its 200-year history. As Ohio grew and prospered in the 19th century, it wrested domination of presidential politics from Virginia.

Ohio’s first president was Virginia-born William Henry Harrison. In the course of 14 elections from 1868 to 1920, seven of the 10 presidents elected were Ohioans.

These years were Ohio’s presidential heyday. During this span there were only three elections without an Ohio-born presidential candidate.

The Buckeye foundation. Many factors contributed to Ohio’s impressive presidential success. First and foremost, these men were all exemplary individuals. All were well educated. Five were Civil War heroes. Five were attorneys.

All, with the exception of political novice Ulysses Grant, were good Republican Party leaders who worked their way up the political ladder, supporting their party’s causes of protective tariffs, sound money, and civil rights. They did not have political enemies.

Microcosm of nation. Being from Ohio gave these men several advantages. Ohio had the third highest electoral vote total. Eminent Ohio historian George Knepper describes Ohio as a microcosm of the nation at that time. It had a diverse populace; it was a blending of rural and urban; it shared characteristics of the East and the West; it was at the forefront of economic development; and it was noted as a maker of leaders.

A candidate who could win office in Ohio’s rough and tumble elections was a force to be reckoned with on the national scene.

Dry spell. Ohio has not had a presidential nominee since Warren G. Harding defeated fellow Ohioan James M. Cox in the 1920 presidential election. Several Ohioans have made strong runs in the last 82 years but have fallen short.

Several factors have contributed to this lack of success. Candidates are now chosen for vote-getting ability in primary elections rather than by party regulars at a political convention – negating the strength of Ohioans: their party loyalty. Ohio has dropped from third to seventh in the number of electoral votes.

However, Ohio is still a strong force in national politics, and it will continue to provide leaders who will shape the nation.

WILLIAM HENRY HARRISON

In 1840, William Henry Harrison’s Whig Party was eager to gain the White House for the first time.

The Panic of 1837 and the ensuing recession, along with stories of Martin Van Buren’s extravagant lifestyle, made him ripe for defeat. The Whig Party was badly split among eastern supporters of Daniel Webster, western advocates of Henry Clay, and proslavery southerners The party needed a single candidate who could lead the party and capture the White House.

The Whigs turned to 67-year-old William Henry Harrison of Ohio, who ran a distant second to Martin VanBuren in 1837. By 1840, Harrison had been out of national public office for 12 years – in fact, he was serving as clerk of the court of common pleas in Hamilton County, Ohio, when he received the nomination to run for President.

Indian fighter. Harrison was a man of substantial achievement. From 1801 to 1813, he was the territorial governor of Indiana Territory, which ran from Ohio to the Mississippi River. He gained fame as an Indian fighter in 1811 by defeating insurgent Indians at the Battle of Tippecanoe.

In the War of 1812 he attained the rank of major general and was the commander of American forces in the Northwest Territory.

From 1816 through 1828 he served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, one term in the Ohio Senate, and one term in the U.S. Senate.

Whig campaign strategists capitalized on Harrison’s war record and gave him the nickname “Old Tippecanoe.” The first election slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too,” was created for Harrison and his running mate John Tyler from Virginia.

A grassroots campaign with songs, slogans, and rallies worked to perfection, h handing the presidency to Harrison and the Whigs in a landslide.

At 68, Harrison became the ninth President of the United States on March 4, 1841. He delivered the longest inaugural address in history outdoors on a brutally cold day. Catching a chill that developed into pneumonia, Harrison died one month into his presidency. He was the first chief executive to die in office.


ULYSSES S. GRANT

By 1869, the presidency was badly tarnished by the wrangling between Andrew Johnson and Congress over who was in charge of Reconstruction. The resulting impeachment and acquittal cast a pall over the nation. America was looking for a leader who could restore confidence and heal the wounds caused by the Civil War.

They turned to Ulysses Grant, the country’s greatest war hero since George Washington and the most popular man in the nation.

In 1868 Ulysses Grant answered the call of the Republican Party when he accepted the unanimous nomination on the first ballot to run for president even though he had never held an elected office. He rode his popularity to victory over New York Governor Horatio Seymour in a campaign with one predominant issue – reconstruction.

Reconstruction booster. The Republican Party promised to push the aggressive agenda passed by Congress; the Democrats supported the more lenient treatment of the south favored by Andrew Johnson.

Grant entered office in 1869 with high hopes that reconstruction would be successfully concluded and that all citizens would live in peace, harmony, and prosperity. He fought valiantly to enforce the rights of blacks in the south, but Democrats and elements of his own party thwarted him.

Scandals. After Grant’s easy re-election in 1872, scandals rocked the government. Members of Congress were implicated in shady stock dealings in the Credit Mobilier scandal. Several of Grant’s appointees, including his Secretary of War, were involved in bribery and fraud.

Grant’s popularity was undiminished with the people, but his party chose not to nominate him for an unprecedented third term.

Grant lived 14 more years and wrote perhaps the finest memoir of any American statesman.


RUTHERFORD B. HAYES

When Rutherford B. Hayes left the governorship of Ohio after two terms in 1873, he and his family were looking forward to semi-retirement in Fremont, Ohio. However, his hiatus from public service was short-lived when he was persuaded to run for a third term as governor in 1875. When Hayes won and returned the office to the Republican Party, his name was added to the long list of presidential contenders for 1876.

Rutherford Hayes had the makings of a good presidential candidate He was intelligent, having graduated first in his class at Kenyon College and earning a law degree from Harvard University.

His service during the Civil War was impeccable; he served his party well as a two-term U.S Representative. Most importantly he had no enemies among the leaders of the Party.

Controversial election. Bitter rivals James G Blaine and Roscoe Conkling entered the 1876 Republican National Convention in Cincinnati as front-runners for the presidential nomination.

For the first six ballots there was a stalemate with neither candidate able to secure a majority On the seventh ballot, momentum swung to everyone’s second choice, Ohio’s favorite son, Rutherford B. Hayes.

His opponent, New York Governor Samuel Tilden, was also a reformer. The election was the most controversial in American history. It took nearly four months for Rutherford B. Hayes to be declared the winner by a special electoral commission appointed by Congress. Democrats cried foul and dubbed the new president “His Fraudulancy” and “Rutherfraud.”

In spite of the difficult circumstances Hayes was determined to return honor to the office of the presidency after turmoil surrounding the Johnson and Grant administrations.

Hayes extracted promises of enforcement of civil rights for blacks from white leaders and he bravely used the veto power to keep Democrats in Congress from undermining civil rights of blacks in the South.

As an advocate of a single term presidency, he chose not to run for re-election. He was gratified when fellow Republican and Ohioan James Garfield won the election of 1880.

In retirement Hayes worked for prison reform, higher education, Indian rights, black rights, and philanthropic causes. He is the only president who died in Ohio.


JAMES A. GARFIELD

James A Garfield had the most humble origins of the Ohio presidents. He was the fifth and last child of a poor farmer who died when the future president was just 2.

Garfield worked his way through college as a part-time teacher, janitor, and carpenter, first at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (now Hiram College) then at Williams College, where he graduated at 25 in 1856.

That year he returned to the Western Reserve Institute to teach classical languages and eventually became its president. Garfield, a state senator and lay minister, was an impassioned orator, who spoke out eloquently against slavery before the Civil War.

At the outbreak of hostilities he raised a regiment and was commissioned a colonel. He served with distinction at the battles of Shiloh and Chickamauga and rose to the rank of Major General.

Popular in Congress. Heeding the call of his party, Garfield agreed to run for Congress in 1862, defeating a popular Democrat. During nine consecutive terms he served on many important committees and as minority leader.

On Jan. 13, 1880, the Ohio legislature elected Garfield to a term in the U. S. Senate beginning in 1881.

Before he could take his seat, Garfield emerged as the unlikely Republican nominee for president when the leading candidates Ulysses Grant and James G. Blaine deadlocked for 35 ballots. Garfield prevailed on the 36th ballot as a compromise candidate.

His opponent, Civil War hero General Winfield Scott Hancock, was a formidable candidate who shared the same views on all major issues except for tariffs. Garfield achieved a narrow victory while keeping a low profile conducting the first front porch campaign from his home in Mentor, Ohio.

Assassinated. Garfield’s young administration came to an abrupt end on July 2, 1881, when a disgruntled office-seeker, Charles Guiteau, shot the president at a Washington, D.C., train station. Garfield lingered near death for 79 days, finally succumbing to an infection on Sept. 19, 1881.


BENJAMIN HARRISON

In 1884, the Republican Party lost the White House for the first time since 1856. Grover Cleveland defeated James G. Blaine in a contest between two men who did not fight in the Civil War.

In 1888, Republicans wanted a Civil War veteran to run against Cleveland, who was ripe for defeat after vetoing a veteran pension bill. They found their candidate in Benjamin Harrison, who – like Ohioans Rutherford Hayes and James Garfield – was not a favorite going into the convention but was the second choice of all.

He earned endorsements by years of serving Republican candidates with his skills as an orator. He also had the Harrison name in his favor: His grandfather was President William Henry Harrison.

Front porch campaign. He chose to conduct a front porch campaign from his home in Indianapolis, in the style of James Garfield’s successful run in 1880. The incumbent Grover Cleveland remained at the White House and didn’t campaign at all but managed to win the popular count by more than 100,000 votes. However, Harrison won in the Electoral College 233 to 168 when Cleveland failed to carry his home state, New York, with its 36 votes.

Harrison was the first internationalist president, encouraging cooperation within the Western Hemisphere and negotiating reciprocal trade agreements with many nations. Naval expansion, protection of forestlands, and civil service reforms were hallmarks of the administration.

In 1892, Democrats nominated Grover Cleveland to try to unseat Benjamin Harrison in a rematch of 1888. The election was a referendum on the legislation passed by the Republican Congress in 1890.

Neither candidate campaigned in deference to Mrs. Harrison’s declining health. Cleveland defeated Harrison handily, making him the only president to regain the office.

Harrison returned to Indianapolis, reestablished his successful law career, remarried, and started a second family.


WILLIAM McKINLEY

Of all the Ohio presidents, William McKinley is the most misunderstood and misrepresented.

Until recently, historians dismissed him as an indecisive and mediocre man, placed in office by the wheeling and dealing of Cleveland industrialist Marcus Hanna.

More recent scholars have been friendlier to him, suggesting that his style suffered only when compared to that of the dynamic Theodore Roosevelt. He was conciliatory rather than confrontational, sought consensus instead of conflict, and promoted harmony.

Consensus builder. As an attorney, prosecutor, U.S. Representative, and Ohio governor, he seasoned his craft in the crucible of Ohio politics, working with farmers, industrialists, urban workers, and businessmen. By 1896 he was a national political force and the consensus leader of the Republican Party.

McKinley won his party’s nomination to run for president on the first ballot. The Democrats chose 36-year-old William Jennings Bryan to face McKinley The populist Bryan was a spellbinding orator who crusaded for free coinage of silver and against eastern industrialists.

McKinley blunted the force of Bryan’s silver issue by favoring a gold and silver coinage in combination with high tariffs on imports to protect American industry. He promised to preserve jobs, promote prosperity, and provide “a full dinner pail” for all.

Remember the Maine. McKinley won by more than 600,000 votes and took office in 1897 expecting to concentrate on domestic affairs, but nearly all of his first term was taken up by foreign affairs. The first trouble spot was Cuba, which was fighting for its independence from Spain.

McKinley attempted to solve the problem through diplomacy, but he was forced to declare war after the battleship Maine was blown up in Havana Harbor in 1898. The Spanish-American War was short and resulted in acquisition of Cuba, the Philippines, and Samoa.

The Philippine Insurrection and Boxer Rebellion followed quickly on the heels of the Spanish-American War.

After an easy re-election, McKinley gave a speech in Buffalo, N.Y., on Sept. 5, 1901. An assassin’s bullet fired the next day ended William McKinley’s dreams – he died on Sept. 14, 1901.


WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT

William Howard Taft was Ohio’s most reluctant U.S. President. His biggest failings were an overwhelming desire to please others and the fact that he was not Theodore Roosevelt.

His father, Alphonso Taft, was a highly successful judge, cabinet secretary in the Grant administration, and ambassador. William Howard Taft followed in his father’s footsteps and became an accomplished attorney and jurist in his own right.

Roosevelt protégé. He was content to be a judge for the rest of his life but was persuaded by his wife and brothers to accept a series of government positions that led him to the presidency. In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt brought him to Washington to serve as Secretary of War and his personal troubleshooter.

Much to the delight of the Taft family, Roosevelt anointed Taft to succeed him as president. He received the Republican Party nomination on the first ballot in 1908 and handily defeated William Jennings Bryan by more than a million votes.

Taft lost support of the Progressive wing of his own party, led by former President Roosevelt, when he did not veto higher tariffs and fired Gifford Pinchot from the Department of the Interior . Already the heaviest president at more than 300 pounds, Taft put on even more weight as he consoled himself with food.

When Taft received the Republican nomination in 1912 in a heated contest with Roosevelt, the former President formed the Bull Moose Party and ran against his former protégé in a three-way race. Democrat Woodrow Wilson defeated them both and ended the most miserable part of Taft’s life.

In 1921, President Warren Harding appointed Taft to his dream job, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He is the only man to serve as both President and Chief Justice.


WARREN G. HARDING

The last Ohio president, Warren G Harding, had a comfortable upbringing as the oldest of eight children of two physicians. After graduating from college at 17, he had brief stints as a schoolteacher, law student, and insurance salesman.

Harding found his niche when he purchased the Marion Star, a struggling weekly newspaper. With the help of his wife, Florence, he turned it into a thriving daily paper supporting the Republican Party.

Climbed political ladder. Harding used his good looks, oratorical skills, and family and professional connections to launch his political career in 1899. He worked his way up the political ladder from state senator to lieutenant governor and finally U.S. senator by being a unifying force within the Republican Party.

In 1920, the party had no obvious candidate for president after the death of front-runner Theodore Roosevelt in 1919. Ohio political boss, Harry M. Daugherty, maneuvered behind the scenes to secure Harding’s nomination on the 10th ballot after the early leaders faded.

The Democrats also nominated an Ohio newspaperman, Gov. James M Cox from Dayton, who was saddled with Woodrow Wilson’s unpopularity and the country’s wariness of the League of Nations and the Versailles Treaty.

Harding conducted a front porch campaign reminiscent of Garfield, Harrison, and McKinley. The reassuring candidate offered the country a “return to normalcy” and a retreat from internationalism.

Popular president. Harding and his running mate, Calvin Coolidge, won in the largest landslide to that time, garnering more than 60 percent of the vote, which included women for the first time in a national election.

His administration was marred by the appointments of friends who betrayed his trust: Secretary of State Albert Fall took bribes in the Teapot Dome scandal; Veterans Bureau Chief Charles Forbes took millions of dollars in kickbacks; and Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty ran a corrupt justice department.

President Harding was not party to the frauds, but his administration was badly tarnished. On Aug. 2, 1923, an exhausted Harding died of heart failure in San Francisco at the height of his popularity.

To see the exhibit: The State of Eight exhibit is open now through Feb. 23, 2003 at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Spiegel Grove, Fremont, Ohio; 1-800-998-PRES; www.rbhayes.org. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday; noon to 5 p.m., Sunday and holidays; closed Christmas and New Year’s day.

The McKinley Museum & National Memorial in Canton hosts the exhibit from March-June 2003. The memorial is located at 800 McKinley Monument Drive, N.W.; 330-455-7043 or www.mckinleymuseum.org.

Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday; noon to 5 p.m., Sunday. It is closed major holidays.

The William Howard Taft National Historic Site in Cincinnati will display the exhibit from July-October 2003. The restored birthplace of the president is located at 2038 Auburn Ave., and is open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., except for major holidays. For directions, call 513-684-3262.

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