Sunday, April 15, 2012

We Need Another Rutherford

now finished: Rutherford B. Hayes, Warrior and President by Ari Hoogenboom
now reading: Garfield by Allan Peskin

Rutherford B. Hayes has long been my favorite obscure president. His name is great for starters; I think that's what sucked me in years ago.  As I have gone through my Reading A Biography of Every President In Order, To See Where We Went Wrong, a project  obviously begun under the Dubya administration, I have discovered some other favorite presidents, including the also obscure Millard Fillmore and the not-at-all-obscure James Madison, as well as my soulmate John Quincy Adams, who falls somewhere in between (famous, but not well known). So when I got to #19, Rutherford, I wondered if he would regain his title as my favorite obscure president, now that I am all up on #13 Millard Fillmore's awesomeness.

I will say this: Rutherford is the man. He had integrity. I do so love the presidents with integrity. (For example: not Van Buren, and Polk.)  And like some of my other favorites, he served the public well, did his life work well, fought against corruption, kept religious hooey from being dragged into government, and a whoooole bunch of other stuff. And, he kept a diary, so Hoogenboom's account is filled with lots of straight-from-the-horse's-mouth stuff, and I really feel like I know Rud very well. (That's the nickname, Rud, in case you were wondering or planning on naming your baby/pet Rutherford or anything.)

Rutherford was a Buckeye through and through, a man of Ohio, who was totally into his Ohioness, even though he was also a well traveled president. In fact, he was the first president to visit California while in office, and he even visited my alma mater USC on that trip!  Awesomeness!  Rutherford has me intrigued about Ohio things in a way few people have been able to do.  He was a good lawyer, he did good things for people, and no, lest you think I am swooning, he was not perfect, and I don't agree with him on every single thing. But I like him, and I think he did a great job.

The Hoogenboom bio is thoroughly researched and well written, and all in all it is one of the high points of my prez bios project.

Now, I have moved onto James A. Garfield, another Ohio man, and yes, they did know each other although they were not BFFs or anything. Garfield is not striking me as quite as spectacular philosophically, although he means well most of the time. In my Garfield bio, I am currently in the 1870s, when corporations and railroads and corruption are doing their thing in business-government.  Garfield is finally getting along with his family, after kind of being a jerky absent father/husband for the first few years of his marriage to the loooong-suffering Lucretia. What took me the longest to wade through in this book was the Civil War. For the last six or so presidents I've been reading about the Civil War politics, of course, but with Lincoln, Grant, Hayes, and now Garfield I have had to go through the entire Civil War, battle by battle, general by general, political ideology by political ideology, party split by party split, and did I mention battle by battle?

It could be interesting, I suppose. You know, to, like, a Civil War buff.  A Civil War buff I am not. I am a person interested in history, so it's great to learn things, and as a bio reader it is interesting to see which battles are brought to the fore in each president's life story, but seriously -- I'm mostly just over it. OK, Bull Run...McClellan we are in Tennessee...there goes Grant to Vicksburg...who's Sherman to Atlanta yet?...are we in Virginia...? And so on.  It's kind of like I'm in Groundhog Day, experiencing the same thing over and over again, with just a little difference of perspective.

A lot of times when I read my prez bios I wouldn't necessarily recommend the books for the casual reader, but I think I would in fact recomend Hoogenboom's Rutherford B. Hayes. I mean, you have to want to read a big bio, but it's an enlightening look at a period in history and a president about whom I'm willing to bet you know next to nothing. And yet he was so progressive and did so much! 

And you won't even have to experience the battles over and over if you are just reading Rutherford and not the surrounding presidents.

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