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Today in History - October 4

The Plymouth Colony

The General Court of the Plymouth Colony instituted a legal code, the first composed in North America, on October 4, 1636. It guaranteed citizens a trial by jury and stipulated that all laws were to be made with the consent of the freemen of the colony.

The Library’s American Treasures exhibition highlights one of the first published versions of this code, The Book of the General Laws of the Inhabitants of the Jurisdiction of New-Plimouth. This 1685 edition includes a reprint of the first edition, published in 1671, as well as the laws that were enacted between 1671 and 1684.

The Book of the General Laws of the Inhabitants of the Jurisdiction of New-Plimouth. Boston: Samuel Green, 1685. American Treasures of the Library of Congress. Law Library

The Plymouth Colony was founded by Pilgrims, Protestant dissenters from the Church of England who fled their native country in search of religious freedom. After a brief sojourn in Holland, they sailed for North America on the Mayflower arriving at Plymouth Rock in December 1620. The colony, located in the southeastern corner of present day Massachusetts, was soon surpassed in population and wealth by the Massachusetts Bay Colony, centered in Boston.

Grand Finale of “The Pilgrim Spirit”, The Tercentenary Pageant, Plymouth, Massachusetts, 1921. Geo. H Russell, 1921. Panoramic Photographs Prints & Photographs Division

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  • Panoramic Photographs includes a series of photographs of Plymouth’s 300th anniversary festivities in 1921. Search the collection on Plymouth Tercentenary to see more images from this series.
  • The Detroit Publishing Company collection contains fifteen images related to the New Plymouth colony including several of the tablet rock and a photograph of a painting of pilgrims embarking from Delft-Haven in Holland in 1620.
  • Visit Religion and the Founding of the American Republic. This online exhibition explores the role that religion played in the founding of the American colonies and the shaping of early American life and politics.
  • Search on the term church in the Legislative Petitions Digital CollectionExternal to see a number of petitions submitted to the legislature of Virginia between 1774 and 1802. These petitions concern such topics as the historic debate over the separation of church and state championed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, the rights of dissenters such as Quakers and Baptists, the sale and division of property in the established church, and the dissolution of unpopular vestries.

Rutherford B. Hayes

On October 4, 1822, Rutherford Birchard Hayes was born in Delaware, Ohio. A graduate of Kenyon College External and Harvard Law School, Hayes entered politics after a successful law career in Cincinnati and military service in the Civil War, when he was wounded no less than four times. He served as a Republican representative in Congress from 1865 to 1867 and was later elected governor of Ohio.

[He] serves his party best who serves the country best.

Rutherford B. Hayes, Inaugural Address, 1877.

Rutherford B. Hayes, circa 1877-93. By Popular Demand: Portraits of the Presidents and First Ladies, 1789-Present

Rutherford B. Hayes became the nineteenth U.S. president in 1877 after a bitterly contested election that pitted him against Democrat Samuel J. Tilden of New York. Tilden won the popular vote, but disputed electoral ballots from four states prompted Congress to create a special electoral commission to decide the election’s result. The fifteen-man commission of congressmen, senators, and Supreme Court justices, eight of whom were Republicans, voted along party lines to decide the election in Hayes’s favor. The electoral dispute has come to be known as the Tilden-Hayes Affair. Because of the tension surrounding this partisan decision, Hayes secretly took the oath of office in the White House Red Room. He was the first president to be sworn in at the residence.

White House. Easter Egg Rolling, Theodor Horydczak, photographer, 1936. Washington As It Was: Photographs by Theodor Horydczak, 1923-1959

As president, Hayes promptly fulfilled the promise he had secretly made to Democrats during the electoral dispute: that he would withdraw Federal troops from those states that they still occupied in the former Confederacy, thus formally ending the Reconstruction era. This action eased acceptance of Hayes’ presidency among Southern Democrats and strengthened the rising spirit of postwar reconciliation among white Americans. It did so, however, at a severe cost to Southern African Americans, who, in the absence of the protection and governing oversight the troops had effected, quickly found their civil rights abolished by the white majority and their position in society fixed by the massive racial oppression of the Jim Crow era. It would be many decades, until the Civil Rights Movement of the twentieth century, before African Americans in the South succeeded in breaking the forces of Southern white supremacy—whose triumph the secret compromise of 1877 ensured.

Among Hayes’ achievements as president were his work to restore confidence in government in the wake of the corruption-riddled Grant administration, his leadership on civil-service reform, and his signing of the bill that allowed women attorneys to appear before the U.S. Supreme Court. Hayes was also the first president to host the “Easter Egg Roll” for children on the White House Lawn. His wife, Lucy Ware Webb Hayes, with whom he had eight children, was the first president’s wife with a college degree and the first president’s wife to be known as the nation’s “First Lady.”

Although his presidency restored confidence in the Republican Party, Rutherford B. Hayes refused to run for reelection. He left the White House in 1881, devoting his retirement to humanitarian prison reform and—perhaps ironically, considering the circumstances of his accession to the presidency—to creating educational opportunities for black youth in the South. Hayes died in 1893 at his Spiegel Grove estate in Fremont, Ohio.

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