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The Hayes Cabinet

February 13, 2020

In 1877 there were only seven Cabinet level departments.  A prominent former Senator from Missouri, someone who had been a general in the Union Army, was named Secretary of the Interior.  President Hayes appointed a former Confederate colonel, someone who had supported his Democratic opponent, as Postmaster General.  His Navy Secretary was a Virginian.  His Attorney General was from Massachusetts, the Secretary of War was from Iowa, and the Treasury Secretary was from Ohio.  To ensure geographical balance Hayes needed a Secretary of State from New York.

Roscoe Conkling, the Republican boss of New York state, was only too happy to advise the President regarding his Cabinet selections, especially Secretary of State.  Conkling recommended former Congressman Tom Platt, but Hayes chose former Attorney General William Evarts, someone Conkling despised.

Conkling had been a U.S. Senator for ten years.  During the previous eight years President Grant had consulted with Conkling regarding Federal appointments of people from New York.  There was no law which directed Grant to do this, but there was a strong tradition of courtesy shown to the Senators of each state.  Conkling expected Hayes to follow the tradition, but Hayes viewed Senatorial courtesy as a hindrance to genuine government reform.

So Hayes chose Evarts.  It was not simply a choice made without consultation.  It was a poke in Conkling’s eye!  Evarts was not merely an intrastate rival, but someone, according to Conkling, “whose record as a Republican has been more than doubtful.”

Hayes owed Conkling no favors.  After the disputed election of 1876 Conkling did nothing to support Hayes.  Meanwhile, Hayes had an even bigger surprise in store for Conkling.

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