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IN WASHINGTON AMONG POLITICIANS
Within a few weeks after the surrender of Lee, every army and fragment of an army opposed to the Union was dissolved. But meantime Lincoln had been a.s.sa.s.sinated, and the executive administration of the nation had devolved upon Andrew Johnson. This wrought an immense change in the aspect of national affairs. Lincoln was a strong, wise, conservative, magnanimous soul. Johnson was arrogant, vain, narrow, and contentious.
Grant soon established his headquarters at the War Department, and devoted himself with characteristic energy to the work of discharging from the military service the great armies of volunteers no longer needed. Their work as soldiers was gloriously complete. Within a few months they were once more simple citizens of the Republic, following the ways of industry and peace. The suddenness of the transformation by which at the outbreak of hostilities hundreds of thousands of citizens left their homes and their occupations of peace to become willing soldiers of the Union and liberty, was paralleled by the alacrity of their return, the moment the danger was pa.s.sed, to the stations and the manner of life they had abandoned.
General Grant was the central figure in the national rejoicing and pride. The desire to do him honor was universal. But he bore himself through all with dignity and modesty, avoiding as much as he could, without seeming inappreciation and disdain, the lavish popular applause that greeted him on every possible occasion. In July, 1866, Congress created the grade of general, to which he was at once promoted, thus attaining a rank never before granted to a soldier of the United States.
His great lieutenant, Sherman, succeeded him in this office, which was then permitted to lapse, though it was revived later as a special honor for General Sheridan. In further token of grat.i.tude, some of the wealthier citizens purchased and presented to Grant a house in Washington. Resolutions of grat.i.tude, honorary degrees, presents of value and significance, came to him in abundance. Through it all, he maintained his reputation as a man of few words, devoid of ostentation, and with no ambition to court public favor by any act of demagoguism.
But a great and bitter trial confronted him. He had never been a politician. Now he was caught in a maelstrom of ungenerous and malignant politics. All his influence and effort had been addressed to promote the calming of the pa.s.sions of the war, and a reunion in fact as well as in form. The President, professing an intention of carrying out the policy of his predecessor, began a method of reconstructing civil governments in the States that had seceded which produced great dissatisfaction.
Upon his own initiative, without authority of Congress, he proceeded to encourage and abet those who were lately in arms against the Union to make new const.i.tutions for their States, and inst.i.tute civil governments therein, as if they alone were to be considered. The freedmen, who had been of so great service to our armies, whom by every requirement of honor and grat.i.tude we were bound to protect, were left to the hardly restricted guardianship of their former masters, who, having no faith in their manhood or their development, devised for them a condition with few rights or hopes, and little removed from the slavery out of which they had been delivered.
This policy found little favor with those in the North who had borne the heat and burden of the war. In the elections of 1866 the people repudiated President Johnson’s policy by emphatic majorities. When the hostile Congress met, the governments Johnson had inst.i.tuted were declared to be provisional only, and it set about the work of reconstruction in its own way, imbedding the changed conditions, the fruits of the war, in proposed amendments of the Const.i.tution of the United States, which were ultimately ratified by a sufficient number of States to make them part of the organic frame of government of the Republic.
In these days of storm and stress, General Grant took neither side as a partisan. He stuck to his professional work until he was forced to be a partic.i.p.ator in a political war, strange to his knowledge and his habits. Congress directed the Southern States to be divided into five military districts, with a military commander of each, and all subordinate to the general of the army, who was charged with keeping the peace, until civil governments in the States should be established by the legislative department of national authority.
Congress, before adjourning in 1866, pa.s.sed a tenure-of-office act,–overriding in this, as in other legislation, the President’s veto.
The motive was to prevent the President from using the patronage to strengthen his policy. This act required the President to make report to the Senate of all removals during the recess, with his reasons therefor.
All appointments to vacancies so created were to be _ad interim_ appointments. If the Senate disapproved of the removals, the officer suspended at once became again the inc.u.mbent. Severe penalties were provided for infraction of the law. During the recess the President removed Stanton, and appointed General Grant to be Secretary of War.
Grant did not desire the office, but under advice accepted it, lest a worse thing for the country might happen.
Johnson hoped to win Grant to his side, and in any event to use him in his strife with Congress to defeat the purpose of the law. While the Senate had Stanton’s case under consideration in January, 1867, Grant was called into a cabinet meeting and questioned regarding what he would do. He said that he was not familiar with the law, but would examine it and notify the President. The next day he notified him that he would obey the law. Therefore, when the Senate disapproved of the reasons a.s.signed for the removal of Stanton, Grant at once vacated the office, to the intense mortification and anger of the President, who made a public accusation that Grant had promised to stay in office and oppose Stanton’s resumption of it.
The charge made a great scandal, but it did not seriously impair Grant’s good repute. Johnson was not believed, and the testimony of the members of his cabinet, regarding what happened, was so conflicting that it failed to convince anybody who did not seek to be convinced.
There is reason to believe that Johnson never contemplated retaining Grant in the office, except to use his name and fame to break down the tenure-of-office act. General Grant’s plain common sense delivered him from the snare spread for him by wily and desperate politicians. On February 3, he closed an unsatisfactory correspondence with President Johnson, with these severe words: “I can but regard this whole business, from the beginning to the end, as an attempt to involve me in the resistance of law, for which you hesitated to a.s.sume the responsibility in orders, and thus to destroy my character before the country. I am, in a measure, confirmed in this conclusion by your recent order, directing me to disobey orders from the Secretary of War, my superior and your subordinate, without having countermanded his authority to issue the orders I am to disobey.”
When Johnson was impeached by the House of representatives, General Grant might, if he had chosen to do so, have contributed much to embarra.s.s the President; but he held aloof, discharging his duties as general-in-chief with constant devotion. He was instrumental in inst.i.tuting many economies and improvements of army management. He greatly advanced the work of reconstruction, and civil governments were firmly established on the congressional plan in a majority of the Southern States before he became the chosen leader of the Republican party.
Grant had not yet distinctly committed himself as between the Democratic and the Republican parties, although from the time of his break with Johnson, he was more drawn to the Republicans. So far as he had any politics he might have been cla.s.sed as a War Democrat. Had he definitely proclaimed himself a Democrat, no doubt he could have had that party’s nomination for the presidency. He was the first citizen of the nation in popularity, of which he had marked tokens, and of which both parties were anxious to avail themselves. It is little wonder that he came to think that the presidency was an honor to which he might fitly aspire, and an office in which he could further serve his country, by promoting good feeling between the sections. In May, 1868, he was placed in nomination, first by a convention of Union soldiers and sailors, and afterwards by the Republican party, in both instances by acclamation.
His Democratic opponent was Horatio Seymour, of New York. In the election he had a popular majority of 305,456. He received 214 electoral votes, and Seymour received 80. Three of the Southern States, not being fully restored to the Union, had no voice in the election.
HIS FIRST ADMINISTRATION
Immediately after General Grant’s inauguration as President, an incident occurred which revealed his inexperience in statesmanship. Among the names sent to the Senate as members of the cabinet was that of Alexander T. Stewart, of New York, the leading merchant of the country, for Secretary of the Treasury. Grant was unaware of the existence of his disqualification by a statute pa.s.sed in 1789, on account of being engaged in trade and commerce. His ignorance is hardly surprising in view of the fact that the Senate confirmed the nomination without discovering its illegality. The point was soon made, however, and the reasonableness of the law was apparent to all except the President, who sent a message to the Senate suggesting that Mr. Stewart be exempted from its application to him by a joint resolution of Congress. This breaking down of a sound principle of government for the pleasure of the President was not favored, and George S. Boutwell of Ma.s.sachusetts was subst.i.tuted, Mr. Stewart having declined, in order to relieve the President of embarra.s.sment.
For the rest, the cabinet was a peculiar one. It appeared to be made up without consultation or political sagacity, in accordance with the personal reasons by which a general selects his staff. Elihu B.
Washburn, of Illinois, his firm congressional friend during the war, was Secretary of State; General Jacob D. c.o.x, of Ohio, Secretary of the Interior; Adolph E. Boise, of Pennsylvania, Secretary of the Navy; General John M. Schofield, of Illinois, Secretary of War; John A. J.
Cresswell, of Maryland, Postmaster-General; and E. Rockwood h.o.a.r, of Ma.s.sachusetts, Attorney-General. It did not long endure in this form.
Mr. Washburn was soon appointed Minister to France, and was succeeded by Hamilton Fish, of New York, in the State Department. General Schofield was succeeded in the War Department by General John A. Rawlins, who died in September, and was succeeded by General William W. Belknap, of Iowa.
Mr. Boise gave way in June to George M. Robeson, of New Jersey. In July, 1870, Mr. h.o.a.r was succeeded by A. T. Akerman, of Georgia, and he, in December, 1871, by George H. Williams, of Oregon. General c.o.x resigned in November, 1870, and was succeeded by Columbus Delano. Some of these changes, like that of Washburn to Fish, were good ones, and many of them were exceedingly bad ones,–men of high character and ability, like Judge h.o.a.r and General c.o.x, conscientious and faithful even to the point of remonstrance with their headstrong chief, being succeeded by compliant men of a distinctly lower strain. Fish and Boutwell achieved high reputation by their conduct of their offices. The death of Rawlins deprived the President of a wise and staunch personal friend at a time when he was never more in need of his controlling influence.
Early in 1871 the work of reconstruction was completed, so far as the establishment of State governments and representation in Congress was concerned. But later in the year, the outrages upon the colored population in certain States were so general and cruel that Congress pa.s.sed what became known as the “Ku-Klux Act,” which was followed by a presidential proclamation exhorting to obedience of the law. On October 17, the outrages continuing, suspension of the writ of habeas corpus was proclaimed in certain counties of South Carolina, and many offenders were convicted in the United States courts. This severe proceeding had a deterring influence throughout the South, which understood quite well that General Grant was not a person to be defied with impunity.
In 1870 he sent to the Senate a treaty that the administration had negotiated with President Baez for the annexation of Santo Domingo as a territory of the United States, and also one for leasing to the United States the peninsula and bay of Samana. These treaties, it was said, had already been ratified by a popular vote early in 1870. The scheme precipitated a conflict that divided the Republican party into administration and anti-administration factions, the latter being led by Charles Sumner and Carl Schurz. Sumner had long been chairman of the Senate committee on foreign relations, but he was degraded through the influence of the President’s friends in the Senate. Bitter personal animosities were aroused in this contest which never were healed. It was alleged that the sentiment of the people of Santo Domingo had not been fairly taken, and that they were in fact opposed to annexation. A commission composed of B. F. Wade, of Ohio, Andrew D. White, of New York, and Samuel G. Howe, of Ma.s.sachusetts, was sent on a naval vessel to investigate the actual conditions. This committee reported in favor of annexation; but the hostile sentiment in Congress and among the people was so strong that the treaties were never ratified. By many it was considered a wrong to the colored race to so extinguish the experiment of negro self-government. Others were opposed to annexing such a population, thinking this country already had race troubles enough. Others regarded the whole business as a speculation of jobbers, and the stain of jobbery then pervading government circles was so notorious that the presumption was not without warrant. The annexation scheme brought to a head and gave occasion for an outbreak of indignant hostile criticism of the President and the administration.
In this term Grant appointed the first board of civil service commissioners, with George William Curtis at its head. The commissioners were to inquire into the condition of the civil service and devise a scheme to increase its efficiency. This they did; but later the President himself balked at the enforcement of their rules, and, in 1873, Mr. Curtis resigned.
The most conspicuous achievement of General Grant’s first term was the settlement of the controversy with Great Britain growing out of the destruction of American commerce by Confederate States cruisers during the war. A joint high commission of five British and five American members met in Washington, February 17, 1871, and on May 8 a treaty was completed and signed, providing peaceable means for a settlement of the several questions arising out of the coast fisheries, the northwestern boundary line, and the “Alabama Claims.” The last and most important subject was referred to an international court of arbitration, which met at Geneva, Switzerland, and on September 14, 1872, awarded to the United States a gross sum of $15,500,000, which was paid by Great Britain. This was the most important international issue that had ever been settled by voluntary submission to arbitration. It was long regarded as the harbinger of peace between nations.
Other important things done were the establishment of the first weather bureau; the honorable settlement of the outrage of Spain in the case of the Virginius, an alleged filibustering vessel which Spain seized, executing a large part of its crew in Cuba; and the settlement of the northwest boundary question. It should be said also that the President made a firm stand in behalf of national financial integrity.
But during the four years there was a steady deterioration in the tone of official life, and a steady growth of corruption and abuses in the administration of government. The President exhibited a strange lack of moral perception and stamina in the sphere of politics. Unprincipled flatterers, adventurers, and speculators gained a surprising influence with him. His native obstinacy showed itself especially in insistence upon his personal, ill-instructed will. He became intractable to counsels of wisdom, and seemed to be a radically different man from the sincere, modest soldier of the civil war. He affected the society of the rich, whom he never before had opportunity of knowing. He accepted with an indiscreet eagerness presents and particular favors from persons of whose motives he should have been suspicious. Jay Gould and James Fisk used him in preparing the conditions for the corner of the gold market that culminated in “Black Friday.” He provided fat offices for his relatives with a liberal hand, and prost.i.tuted the civil service to accomplish his aims and reward his supporters.
In consequence of these things there was great disaffection in the Republican party, which culminated in open revolt. Yet he was supported by the majority. The Democratic party, meantime, making a virtue of necessity, proclaimed a purpose to accept the results of the war, including the const.i.tutional amendments, as accomplished facts not to be disturbed or further opposed. This made an opportunity for a union of all elements opposed to the reelection of Grant, leading Democrats having given a.s.surance of support to a candidate to be nominated by what had come to be called the “Liberal Reform” party. That party held its convention in Cincinnati early in May, and named Horace Greeley as its candidate, a nomination which wrecked whatever chance the party had seemed to have. Grant was renominated by acclamation in the Republican convention. The Democratic convention nominated Greeley on the Cincinnati convention platform, but without enthusiasm. General Grant was elected by a popular majority of more than three quarters of a million, and a vote in the electoral college of 286 to 63 for all others, the opposing vote being scattered on account of the death of Mr.
Greeley in November, soon after his mortifying defeat.
HIS SECOND ADMINISTRATION
The storm of criticism and calumny through which President Grant pa.s.sed during the election canva.s.s of 1872 had no effect to change his general course or open his eyes to the true sentiment of the nation. Instead of realizing that he was reelected, not because his administration was approved, but because circ.u.mstances prevented an effective combination of the various elements of sincere opposition, he and his friends accepted the result as popular approbation of their past conduct and warrant for its continuance. Things went from bad to worse with a pell-mell rapidity that made good men shudder.
In the four years there were but two exhibitions of conspicuously courageous and honorable statesmanship. One was the pa.s.sage of the Resumption Act of January 14, 1875, which promised the resumption of specie payments on January 1, 1879, and gave the Secretary of the Treasury adequate power to make the performance of the promise possible.
This was one result of the collapse in 1873 of the enormous speculation promoted by a fluctuating currency and fict.i.tious values. The demand for a currency of stable value enabled the conservative statesmen in Congress to take this action. Grant’s approval of this act and his veto in the previous year of the “inflation bill” must always be regarded as highly commendable public services.
The only immediate change in the cabinet was the appointment of William A. Richardson to succeed George S. Boutwell as Secretary of the Treasury. Mr. Richardson had some qualifications of experience for the place, but wanted the essential traits of firmness and high motive. In the next year after taking office he was forced to resign, on account of a report of the committee of ways and means condemning him for his part in making a contract, while acting Secretary of the Treasury, with one Sanborn, for collecting for the Treasury, on shares, taxes which it was the business of regular officers of the government to collect. Immense power was given by the contract, and the resources of the Treasury Department were put at the service of a crew of irresponsible inquisitors before whom the business community trembled. They extorted immense sums in dishonorable ways which aroused popular resentment. The President saw no wrong, and accepted Secretary Richardson’s resignation unwillingly, at once nominating him to be Chief Justice of the Court of Claims, a reward for malfeasance which amazed the country, although the administration supporters in the Senate confirmed it.
General Benjamin H. Bristow, of Kentucky, became Secretary of the Treasury, a man of superior ability, aggressive honesty, and moral firmness. He quickly uncovered a ma.s.s of various wrongdoing,–the safe-burglary frauds of the corrupt ring governing Washington, the seal-lock frauds, the subsidy frauds, and, most formidable of all, the frauds of the powerful whiskey ring having headquarters in St. Louis.
The administration of the Treasury Department, especially the Internal Revenue Bureau, was permeated with corruption. The worst feature of it all was that officers who desired to be upright found themselves powerless against the intrigues and the potent political influence of the rascals at the headquarters of executive authority. When the evidence of wrongdoing acc.u.mulated by the new Secretary of the Treasury was laid before the President he was dumfounded by its wickedness and extent, but showed himself resolute and vigorous in supporting his able and resourceful Secretary. The trap was sprung in May, 1875. Indictments were found against 150 private citizens and 86 government officers, among the latter the chief clerk in the Treasury Department, and the President’s private secretary, General O. E. Babc.o.c.k. All the princ.i.p.al defendants were convicted except Babc.o.c.k, and he was dismissed by the President.
During all these proceedings, in spite of the President’s professions, the Treasury Department was beset by subtle hostile influences and impediments. The politicians who had the President’s ear made him believe that it was the ruin of himself and his household that the investigators sought. Only the enthusiastic popular approval of Secretary Bristow’s brave course prevented yielding to the political backers of the corruption. When in the spring of 1876 Bristow initiated a similar campaign against the corruptions rife on the Pacific coast, the Secretary was overruled and the government prosecutors were recalled. Whereupon the Secretary resigned, and no less than seven high Treasury officials, who had been active in the crusade of reform, left the department at the same time. Mr. Bristow was succeeded by an honorable man,–the President had to appoint a man known to be pure,–Lot M. Morrill, of Maine; but he was infirm, and all aggressive reform work ceased.
In the War Department, Secretary Belknap, sustained by the President, stripped General Sherman of the rights and duties properly pertaining to his rank, of which Grant himself, in the same place during Johnson’s administration, had protested against being deprived. Sherman was subjected to such humiliations by his old commander, turned politician, that he abandoned Washington and retired to St. Louis. Congress was a subservient partic.i.p.ator in this shame, repealing the law that required all orders to the army to go through its general. But in February, 1876, it was discovered that Belknap had been enriching himself by corrupt partnership with contractors in his department, and he hurriedly resigned, the President strangely accepting the resignation before Congress could act. He was impeached, notwithstanding. He set up the defense that being no longer an official, he could not be impeached, and this being overruled, he was tried, but was not convicted. Of his guilt the country had no doubt. Then Alphonso Taft, an Ohio judge, was made Secretary of War. He was soon transferred to the Attorney-General’s office, and was succeeded by Don Cameron, already his father’s lieutenant in control of the Republican party of Pennsylvania.
Columbus Delano, Secretary of the Interior, had so mismanaged affairs, especially in the Indian Bureau, which teemed with flagrant abuses, that public opinion turned against him with great force, and in 1875 he had to abandon the office, in which he was succeeded by Zachariah Chandler, against whom no scandalous charge was made, although he was a rank partisan of the President.
Marshall Jewell, of Connecticut, became Postmaster-General in 1874. He was a successful business man, and on taking the office he declared his purpose to conduct it on business principles. He attacked effectively a system long in vogue known as “straw-bids” for mail-carrying contracts.
He introduced the railway post-office system, that has been of so much use in facilitating promptness of transmitting correspondence. But he also insisted on conducting his office with respect of its personnel as a business man would, that is, by making appointments and promotions for merit rather than for political influence. This was intolerable to the spoilsmen in politics; and within two years he was summarily dismissed in a manner as graceless and cruel as any President, no matter how unfortunately bred, was ever guilty of. Jewell was succeeded by James N.
Tyner, an entirely complaisant official. In 1875 Congress neglected to make any appropriation for the civil service reform commission, and its work was suspended.
During this time affairs in the Southern States were, as a rule, growing worse and worse. The unreasonable arrogance and oppressive extravagance of the freedmen where they were in control, under the leadership of reckless carpet-baggers, and still more reckless and malicious white natives, had produced a revulsion in the minds of all at the North who regarded justice, honor, and honesty as essentials of good government.
There were exceptions, like oases in the desert of ignorance and vice.
The administration of Governor Chamberlain in South Carolina was an instance of an earnest and partially successful endeavor to educe good government from desperate conditions. The colored race abused its privilege of the ballot with suicidal persistency. The experiment of maintaining bad State governments by the presence and activity of federal troops did not tend to social pacification. Reconstruction in its earlier fruits was an obvious failure; and again, if the apparent paradox can be understood, lawless violence began a.s.serting itself as the only hopeful means of preserving property, civil rights, and civilization itself.
During the second term the report was persistently circulated that Grant and those who followed his star were scheming for another term, in order to give him in civil office, as in military rank, a distinction higher than Washington or any American had obtained. The proposal shocked the public sense of propriety; but its treatment by those who alone could repudiate it became ominous. The Republican State Convention of 1875 in Pennsylvania boldly declared unalterable opposition to the third-term idea. Grant then spoke. In a letter to the convention’s chairman he said: “Now, for the third term, I do not want it any more than I did the first.” After calling attention to the fact that the Const.i.tution did not forbid a third term, and that an occasion might arise when a third term might be wisely given, he said that he was not a candidate for a third nomination, and “would not accept it, if tendered, unless under such circ.u.mstances as to make it an imperative duty–circ.u.mstances not likely to arise.”
This was justly regarded as a politician’s letter, and increased alarm instead of allaying it. The national House of Representatives (which the elections of 1874 had made a Democratic body), by a vote of 234 to 18, pa.s.sed the following resolution: “That in the opinion of this House the precedent, established by Washington and other Presidents of the United States after their second term, has become, by universal consent, a part of our republican system of government, and that any departure from this time-honored custom would be unwise, unpatriotic, and fraught with peril to our free inst.i.tutions.” As 70 Republicans voted for this resolution, it was practically the voice of both parties, and it dispelled the spectre of “Caesarism,” as the third-term idea was called.