Posts Tagged ‘Ulysses S. Grant’

The Election of 1876

August 1, 2018

The election of 1876 was one of those elections like the election of 1824 in which the loser of the election became the president. Unlike such previous disputed elections, such as the elections in 1824 and 1800, the problem in 1876 was not that no candidate achieved a majority there were only two candidates, or that there was some quirk in the electoral process. The problem with the election of 1876 was a combination of outright fraud and confusion in counting the ballots in the three remaining states of the former Confederacy that were still occupied by federal forces; South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana.

The year 1876 was the centennial of the United States. The year began with great celebration for the one hundred years that the nation had been independent. The feelings of most people were optimistic and cheerful about the future. America had, to be sure, fought a terrible Civil War only a decade before, and the South was still rebuilding. Still,the country was prosperous and at peace, and was rapidly settling the West.

The campaign season began well. President Ulysses S. Grant had wanted to run for a third term but between the two term tradition and the series of scandals that had marred his administration, there was little enthusiasm for Grant. In fact the most important issue of the election was reforming the civil service and ending corruption in government. Therefore, both parties wanted reforming candidates untouched by any unsavory associations. This ruled out Congressman James G. Blaine, a Republican from Maine who had had some apparently unethical dealings with the Union Pacific Railroad. Instead, the Republicans nominated Rutherford B Hayes, the reforming Governor of Ohio. The Democrats nominated Samuel J. Tilden from New York. He had prosecuted Boss Tweed when he served as District Attorney and as Governor, he had fought the Canal Ring.

Rutherford B. Hayes

Rutherford B. Hayes

The candidates were both honest men and there wasn’t much difference in the two party platforms, so naturally, to keep things interesting, both sides attacked each other ferociously, making this election one of the nastiest elections in history. The Democrats were delighted to point out the corruption in the Grant administration and in the Reconstruction governments in the South. The Republicans accused the Democrats of being traitors who had supported the Confederacy during the war. The real fun though, did not begin until after the election.

Samuel J. Tilden

Samuel J. Tilden

When the votes were counted, Tilden won the popular vote over Hayes by 4,300,000 to 4,000,000. The electoral vote was what counted, though, and here things were less certain. To win in the electoral college required 185 votes. Tilden received 184 votes, mostly in the south but including New York and Indiana, while Hayes got 165 votes in the north and west. There was a problem with four states; Oregon, South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana.

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Oregon was relatively simple. Hayes had won the popular vote there, but one of the electors was a postmaster and the constitution does not permit federal office holders to be electors. The Democratic governor of Oregon selected a Democrat to replace him. The Republicans announced that Hayes had won Oregon’s three electoral votes, while the Democrats insisted that the correct count was one for Tilden and two for Hayes.

The Southern states were more difficult. To say that the elections were marked by fraud would be a tremendous understatement. There was marked voter intimidation. The Democrats tried to keep as many Blacks from voting as they could, while the Republicans tried to make sure the Blacks could vote as many times as they wanted. There was bribery, ballot box stuffing, and outright fraud. It will probably never be certain who actually won in South Carolina, Florida and Louisiana but Louisiana and Florida sent in two sets of returns while Florida managed to come up with three.

Congress had the responsibility of deciding which returns accurately reflected the votes in the disputed states. It was an act that would be sure to create controversy no matter what they decided. As it happened the House of Representatives was controlled by the Democrats, while the Republicans had the majority in the Senate. The two houses fought bitterly but finally agreed to establish an Electoral Commission composed of five Senators, five Representatives, and five Supreme Court justices. Eight of these men were Republicans and seven were Democrats, and somehow all of their votes ended up being 8 to 7 in favor of Hayes, making Rutherford Hayes the next president.

Naturally, the Democrats were not at all happy with this result, especially in the south. They accepted the decision of the commission without any serious trouble though. Tilden urged acceptance of the decision and many southern Democrats came to believe that Hayes was a president they could work with. Democratic leaders met with their Republican counterparts, even while the commission was working and agreed to accept whatever the decision of the commission might be in exchange for the next president agreeing to remove the remaining federal troops out of the South. The compromise of 1877 preserved the Union and ended what could have been a very messy political crisis. It also ended the Reconstruction Era and helped to heal the divisions caused by the Civil War. Unfortunately it also meant abandoning the cause of civil rights for the freed slaves. Southern Democrats swiftly took control of the southern state governments and disenfranchised the Blacks as soon as they could. They would have to wait almost another century to get there rights.

Rutherford B. Hayes turned out to be a decent president who pushed for civil service reform. He wasn’t able to do very much because of the circumstances of his election and decided not to run again in 1880.

 

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The Election of 1872

April 12, 2018

As it happened, electing a man with no political experience to the presidency might not have been a very good idea, even if the man was Ulysses S. Grant, one of the best generals in American history. Grant’s presidency was not the disaster it has often been made out to be. The Grant administration had some solid accomplishments to its credit. Grant consistently upheld the civil rights of the freed Blacks in the South and used federal troops to crush the Ku Klux Klan. Grant sought, not very successfully. to ensure that the Native Americans were treated with some degree of justice. I suspect that the poor reputation as a general and president that Grant has had for most of the twentieth century was the result of Southern historians, the same ones who concocted the Lost Cause mythology, blackening Grant’s reputation as revenge for his defeating their idol Robert E. Lee and standing up for the rights of the former slaves. Recently, Grant’s military reputation has been rehabilitated by military historians who now see him as a masterful strategist and I hope that political historians will follow suit.

That being said, no one is likely to list Ulysses S. Grant as one of the top ten Presidents of the United States. The problem was that Grant turned out to be a remarkably poor judge of character, at least in the civilian sphere. Grant himself was honest, but many of the men he appointed to office were not. Because this was the time before civil service reform when the Spoils System was still in operation meaning that almost every government post was a political appointee. If an incoming president appointed corrupt men, it didn’t take very long for the whole government to become thoroughly corrupt, which is what happened in Grant’s first term.

Despite several scandals, Grant was still personally popular and there was no question that the Republican Party would nominate him for a second term. A number of the more liberal Republicans were sufficiently disgusted with the corruption in the federal government and dissatisfied with Grant’s Reconstruction policies to separate themselves from the Republican Party to form the Liberal Republican Party. This new party, which included such prominent Republicans as Ambassador to Britain to Charles Francis Adams, Supreme Court Justice Salmon P. Chase, and  Senator Carl Schurz from Missouri held its convention in Cincinnati from May 1-3. There they nominated Horace Greeley, the founder and editor of the New York Tribune for the presidency.

Greeley was an unexpected and somewhat unusual choice for the nomination. He was not really a politician, only having served a brief term in Congress back in 1848-1849. He had been one of the founders of the Republican Party and may have given the party its name. He was chiefly a newspaper man however and was used to speaking his mind on every subject. People often say that they want a candidate you says what he really thinks, but they are lying. What people say is that they want a candidate who says what they want to hear and Greeley was not that man He simply didn’t know when to keep quiet or carefully parse his words as an experienced politician learns to do. This openness would not help him during the campaign.

The Liberal Republicans went on to nominate Benjamin G. Brown, the liberal Governor of Missouri. Like Greeley, Brown had been one of the founders of the Republican Party and had served as a Senator from Missouri from 1963-1867 and then Governor from 1871-1873. Brown had served in the Union Army from 1861-1863 before being appointed Senator to fill a vacancy left by the departure of his pro-confederate predecessor. The Liberal Republicans adopted a platform which attacked the corruption of the Grant administration, supported civil service reform and ending Reconstruction and the military occupation of the South. They had some problems with the important issue of protective tariffs, but they made some vague statement about it being up to the people to decide.

The Republicans met in Philadelphia from June 5-6. They nominated Grant  for reelection by acclamation on the first ballot. Grant’s nomination was seconded by William Henry Grey, the first African-American to address an American political convention. Vice-President Colfax was dropped from the ticket because of his suspected involvement with the Credit Mobilier scandal and the convention nominated Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts in his place. Senator Wilson had long been an anti-slavery activist and was a founder of the Free Soil Party, the predecessor to the Republican Party, which he also helped found. Wilson had served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate, before going on to serve in the U.S. Senate from 1855-1873. As the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs from 1861-1973, Wilson had played an important role in the Union’s war efforts. The Republicans went on to adopt a platform praising Republican achievements since 1861. The Republican platform made some mention of civil service reform and tariffs, without too many details on either subject, and favored the protection of the civil rights of all citizens in every part of the country.

The Democrats met in Baltimore from July 9-10, and promptly nominated the Liberal Republican ticket and platform. At only six hours, the Democratic National Convention of 1872 was the shortest political convention in American, and possibly world, history. It might seem strange that the Democrats did not nominate candidates who were actually Democrats, Horace Greeley had been an especially fierce critic of the Democrats, but they wanted to see Grant out of office and believed that nominated their own candidates would only have split the anti-Grant vote, allowing him to win. It didn’t turn out to be an especially good plan.

The campaign was a nasty one, as usual. Grant was assailed as an ignorant, corrupt drunkard. Grant remained silent, preferring not to actively campaign, but his supporters had plenty of ammunition to use against Greeley. During his long career as editor of the New York Tribune, Greeley had endorsed any number of fringe causes; socialism, utopian communes, vegetarianism  etc, and the Republicans had a field day making fun of his eccentricities. It probably wouldn’t have mattered even if the Democrats had nominated someone more, well, normal. Grant was popular enough among regular Republicans, bankers and industrialists, Civil War veterans, and Blacks, that he would have probably beaten any Democrat.

In the end, Grant won in a landslide with 3,598,235 (55.6%) popular votes against Greeley’s 2,834,761 (43.8%). The electoral vote was even more lopsided. Grant won all but six states gaining 286 electoral votes. Greeley won just Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Missouri, and Texas, for a total of 66 electoral votes. Arkansas and Louisiana had voted for Grant but the electoral votes were rejected due to irregularities arising from Reconstruction and so weren’t counted.

The Election of 1872

 

Horace Greeley took his defeat hard. He became ill and died just three weeks after the election, before the Electoral College met to cast the official ballots. This created the unprecedented situation in which a presidential candidate had died before the election was formally concluded. The Democratic electors resolved the issue by simply casting their votes for four other candidates. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if the victor of the popular election had ever died before the Electoral College met.

The Election of 1868

March 15, 2018

The crisis of secession and the Civil War did not end with Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. Even as the war ended, there remained the difficult process of Reconstruction with important questions to decide. Under what conditions were the defeated,  former Confederate states to be readmitted into the Union? Should the South be treated leniently, as though the Rebellion had never happened, or should it be harshly punished?  The Civil War had settled the question of slavery once and for all, but what would be done with all the Black former slaves. Were they to have equal rights with their White former masters, including the right to vote? Could a population held in bondage and kept ignorant and uneducated be expected to use their new-found freedom responsibly? It would have required a leader with the wisdom and political acumen of Abraham Lincoln to make these fateful decisions. Unfortunately, thanks to John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln was no longer available to lead the country through the shoals of Reconstruction and his successor, Andrew Johnson was a man who entirely lacked the wisdom and political acumen the country badly needed.

Both Presidents Lincoln and Johnson favored a lenient policy towards the defeated South. Lincoln’s position on the civil rights of the freed slaves was somewhat ambiguous. While he was always opposed to slavery, Lincoln had never been an advocate for racial equality. There is some evidence that towards the end of the war Lincoln was beginning to evolve on the issue and support some measure of civil rights protection for the freed slaves, including, perhaps, the franchise.

Andrew Johnson’s position was not ambiguous at all. As a man who had worked his way up from the humblest class of poor Southern Whites, Johnson had had no use for the Blacks as slaves and still less regard for them as freedmen. President Johnson’s views inevitably led to clash with Congress which was under the control of the Radical Republicans, who wanted to see the South punished for the Rebellion, and were deeply concerned for the freed slaves. Ultimately, the struggle between the president and Congress led to Johnson being impeached in 1868, only escaping conviction by one vote.

Needless to say, there was no chance of Andrew Johnson running for a second term. The Republicans met in Chicago on May 20, while Johnson’s impeachment trial was underway in Washington. They nominated General Ulysses S. Grant on the first ballot. Grant had not held any previous political office and he had never shown much interest in politics but the leaders of the Republican party believed they needed to nominate a popular hero to ensure a victory in November and at the time there was no one more popular than the man who had “saved the Union”. This description may be an exaggeration, perhaps, but as the Commanding General of the United States Army, Grant did play an important role in securing the North’s victory. He, along with his friend General William T. Sherman seemed to be the only generals on either side who really understood how to fight and win the Civil War, and winning the victory would have been a great deal more difficult without Grant’s actions in the West and then in overall command. It was true that Grant had no experience in politics, but he was a great general, so how much trouble could he have?

For Grant’s running mate, the Republicans selected Schuyler Colfax. Colfax was a Radical Republican from Indiana who had served in Congress since 1855 and had been Speaker of the House since 1863. The Republicans adopted a platform opposing Andrew Johnson’s reconstruction policies while supporting the plans of the Radical Republicans particularly supporting the franchise for the former slaves in the South. They were not quite so passionate about Black suffrage in the North, leaving the matter to the “loyal states’ but the Republicans hoped that the freedmen in the South would express their gratitude by voting for them. Grant’s slogan was, “Let us have peace”, which while not perhaps as catchy as “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” or “Make America great again”, was appealing to a nation weary of war.

The Democrats had a lot more trouble selecting their candidate when they met at New York from July 4-9. No one wanted Andrew Johnson for a second term, but they couldn’t decide who the presidential nominee would be. The Democratic Party was divided ideologically between conservatives and liberals and regionally between East and West and no one wanted a representative from a rival faction to get the nomination. Finally, after twenty-one ballots the Democrats chose the Chairman of the Democratic Convention and former New York governor, Horatio Seymour. Seymour had  served as Governor of New York from 1853-1854 and again from 1863-1864. Both of his terms had been rather tumultuous costing him reelection both times, but Seymour remained popular in the Democratic Party. He had been a Peace Democrat, striving to find some compromise to bring the seceded states back into the Union while opposing President Lincoln’s conduct of the war, particularly the abridgment of civil liberties. Seymour did not want to be president and tried to refuse the nomination but it was forced upon him. Seymour’s running mate, General Francis Preston Blair, more than made up for Seymour’s lack of zeal, campaigning vigorously after his nomination. Blair had been a Republican, opposed to slavery and secession and had served as a Representative from Missouri from 1857-1859, 1860, and 1861-1864. The gap in his career in Congress was the result of a disputed election for his Congressional district in 1860. During the Civil War Blair was a staunch supporter of Lincoln, but he broke with the Republican Party during Reconstruction, opposing the Radical Republicans on the question of suffrage for the freed slaves, who he viewed as little more than savages.

The election of 1868 was a nasty one. The Republicans labeled Seymour a traitor and Confederate sympathizer for his lack of support for the North and were quick to remind voters which party had been the peace party during that conflict. The Democrats, for their part, condemned Grant as a drunk and an incompetent and made use of race prejudice in their attacks on Congressional Reconstruction, particularly on plans to enfranchise the Black former slaves. The Democrats insisted that the states should be able to set their own policies to determined who could vote. While the Republicans organized the former slaves, counting on their gratitude to the party that had supported abolition, the Democrats employed a curious sort of logic to appeal to the former slaves, when they were not trying to keep them from the polls altogether. They argued that since the Democrats had led the South into succession and the resulting Civil War had led to their emancipation, the Democrats were ultimately responsible for their freedom. The former slaves weren’t buying it.

In the end, the election was a close one in the popular vote. Grant got 3,013,421 or 52.7% of the popular vote while Seymour received 2,706,829 or 47.3%. The Democrats had proved to be rather more popular than most observers had expected. Grant did better in the Electoral College getting 214 Electoral Votes to Seymour’s 80. Grant had carried 26 states, losing Seymour’s home state, New York, as well as Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Kentucky, Georgia, Louisiana and Oregon. Texas, Mississippi and Virginia were still under military occupation and did not participate in the election. It was obvious that the freed slaves had put the Republicans over the top in the popular vote totals and the Republicans responded by supporting the fifteenth amendment, guaranteeing the right to vote regardless of race.

The Election of 1868

A Victor Not a Butcher

September 15, 2011
Gen. U.S. Grant - Category:Images of people of...

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I posted this review at Amazon.com.

 

One of my favorite figures from American history is Ulysses S. Grant.  He was the greatest general of the Civil War, and perhaps in American history, with three Confederate armies surrendering to him. He was not such a great president, though better than most give him credit for being. The corruption in American politics during his administration was not his fault and, in fact, was endemic throughout the country.  He did stand up for the rights of the freedmen and the native Americans, and this perhaps along with his victory over Lee accounts for the hostility with which many contemporary and Southern sympathizing historians have treated him. It is all too commonly believed, even today, that Grant was a butcher who defeated Lee by sheer weight of numbers, without regard to the casualties he inflicted.

Therefore, it was a real treat to read Edward H. Bonekemper’s Ulysses S. Grant:  a Victor, Not a Butcher. Bonekemper shows conclusively that far from being a butcher, Grant was, in fact a master of strategy and misdirection. In his western campaigns, Grant skillfully achieved his goals; the capture of Vicksburg and the Mississippi, driving the Confederates out of Tennessee, etc. with a minimum of casualties. The toll was heavier in the east, against Lee, but as Bonekemper points out, while Grant suffered as many deaths in the eighteen months he commanded the Army of the Potomac as all of the previous commanders had in three years, nevertheless, Grant had developed a winning strategy on a national level, which coordinated with Sherman’s march to the sea brought the South to its knees.

Some reviewers have commented that Bonekemper  brings nothing new in this book, no new research or any revelations to one already familiar to the course of the Civil War. This is true, but I think it serves as a helpful introduction to a sometimes-neglected military genius.


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