U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency: Chapter 2 “The New Normal”

(March 20, 2019) Provided below is Chapter 2 of my new book U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency. This online version excludes all footnotes and contains only one illustration. Readers may buy the entire book at Amazon in either the paperback or Kindle format. The paperback price is $19.95 and the Kindle price is $4.95. You may buy signed copies by emailing me: phil_leigh@me.com. See all of my books at My Amazon Author Page.

U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency

Chapter 2: New Normal

ROBERT E. LEE SURRENDERED ON Palm Sunday 1865. President Lincoln was shot on Good Friday and died on Easter. After Lincoln’s death no American was more popular than Ulysses S. Grant, although that wasn’t his real name. It was actually Hiram Ulysses Grant, but the true name did not match the admissions roster when the seventeen- year-old arrived at West Point on July 1, 1839. Rather than return home he acquiesced to the Ulysses S. Grant name that appeared on the list of incoming plebes. Classmates often called him Sam because the U. S. initials on the class roll suggested the simpler, nickname: Sam as in Uncle Sam. Nonetheless, the man with multiple names would enjoy unrivaled popularity for most of his remaining twenty-one years after earning a promotion to Lieutenant General in 1864. His reputation among historians, however, would fluctuate.

Grant avoided the Ford’s Theater assassination in Washington—for which he may have also been a target—because Julia insisted that the couple decline Lincoln’s invitation to join the presidential couple at the performance of Our American Cousin. Julia disliked Mrs. Lincoln. Officially Grant declined the invitation by explaining that Mrs. Grant was anxious to return to their children in Burlington, New Jersey, which was near Philadelphia. The couple no longer depended upon Jesse’s charity for a home. Grant’s military rank paid enough salary to enable an independent and comfortable living. He and Julia would strive ever after to sustain, or improve, the family’s economic and social status as their “new normal.” Public adulation soon resulted in gifts that only intensified the couple’s appetite for more possessions and honorariums.

A month following Lincoln’s assassination, wealthy Philadelphians gave Grant’s family a grand home at 2009 Chestnut Street. It included closets full of snowy linen and dining tables set with fine silver. Grant planned to commute to Washington, but the five-hour train ride quickly rendered the plan impracticable. As a result, he temporarily accepted an offer from Henry Halleck, who was his predecessor as Army General-in-Chief, to use Halleck’s Georgetown Heights home. Still wanting a Washington residence of his own, in October he purchased a four-story structure for $30,000. A future brother-in-law, Abel Corbin, actually bought the home and gave Grant title in exchange for a note to pay Corbin $30,000 over ten years.

Four months later former Major General Daniel Butterfield led a subscription for Grant among rich New Yorkers that resulted in a purse of $105,000, which was equivalent to about $1.7 million in 2018.  Grant first used the money to repay his debt to Corbin. He then invested $55,000 in government bonds and took the last $20,000 in cash. Bostonians similarly gave him a personal library valued at $75,000. While living in Halleck’s home during the summer of 1865 he also accepted a $16,000 gift home back in Galena, Illinois. Four years later Butterfield and Corbin would teach Grant that there is no such thing as a free home.

Early in 1866 Horace Greeley’sNew York Tribune humorously wrote, “Since Richmond’s capitulation the stern soldier [Grant] spent his days . . .  in conjugating the transitive verb to receive, in all its moods and tenses, but always in the first person singular . . . ” Soon thereafter the Georgetown Courier continued in form by adding that Grant had conjugated the verb for a total of $175,000, which biographer Hesseltine concluded was “obviously too low.”

Grant learned by telegram around midnight on Good Friday 1865 while waiting at an intermediate Philadelphia stop to switch trains for Burlington, that Lincoln had been shot and was dying. After escorting Julia to Burlington, he complied with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s summons to Washington.

Washington, D. C. in 1866

Many leaders in the capital city wrongly supposed that the assassination was a high-level Confederate conspiracy. Initially the same suspicions infected Grant. He ordered the Union commander in occupied Richmond to arrest an official Confederate peace negotiator—Rebel armies were still in the field beyond Virginia—and all “paroled [Confederate] officers.” When the Richmond commander reminded Grant that such an order would include Lee and others surrendered at Appomattox presently living in Richmond, Grant rescinded the order. He also soon thereafter concluded that there had been no Confederate conspiracy.

The new President was Tennessee’s Andrew Johnson, the only senator from a Confederate state to remain Union-loyal during the Civil War. As a reward he became Lincoln’s vice-presidential running mate in the 1864 election and was inaugurated as VP only six weeks before Lincoln was killed. Although Johnson was a former slaveholder, he was born into poverty and disliked Southern aristocrats.

Immediately after Lincoln’s death, his disdain for the antebellum gentry provoked Johnson to make comments that implied he would align with the Radical wing of the Republican Party—a wing that wanted strict and vindictive Reconstruction terms, beyond those intended by Lincoln.  For example, he wrote Indiana’s Governor Oliver Morton, “Treason must be made odious . . . traitors must be punished . . . [and] their social power destroyed. I say as to the [Southern] leaders, punishment. I say leniency . . . and amnesty to the thousands they have misled. . . ” The day after Lincoln died, Johnson told Michigan Senator Zack Chandler, “Treason must be made infamous and traitors must be impoverished.”

After the rest of the Confederate armies surrendered, former politically-appointed general and erstwhile Massachusetts Congressman Benjamin Butler hastened to Washington to advise Johnson that ex-Confederate soldiers could legitimately be charged with treason. They could not, in his legal opinion, rely upon the protection of the surrender terms that assured them that upon returning home they were “not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe[d] their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.” Butler simply reasoned that they were no longer soldiers and therefore presently subject to civil, not martial, law.

On June 7, 1865 Butler’s rationalizations prompted a Virginia federal court to indict Robert E. Lee for treason. Lee wrote Grant for advice and Grant urged Lee to apply for a pardon. Lee sent his application to Grant who took the papers to Johnson.

“When can these men [former Rebel soldiers] be tried,” asked Johnson?

Grant replied, “Never, unless they violate their paroles. If I had told [Lee] and his army . . . they would be open to arrest, trial, and execution for treason, Lee would never have surrendered, and we should have lost many lives in destroying him.” After returning to his office Grant told his staff, “I will not stay in the army if they break the pledges that I made. I will keep my word.”

Johnson realized he could not successfully override the wishes of the popular Grant no matter how clever were Butler’s contrary legal arguments. As a result, the federal government made no further efforts to charge Confederate soldiers with treason, although former Confederate government officials remained vulnerable. Among them was President Jefferson Davis who was indicted for treason several times, lastly in May 1866. A year later federal prosecutors said they were unprepared to try Davis’s case. He was, therefore, released on bond. He never asked for a pardon because he wanted to prove his innocence in court, but never got the chance.

After blocking treason charges against Lee, Grant turned his attention to a couple of immediate objectives. First was to demobilize the federal army. From May to November 1865 eight hundred thousand soldiers returned home and they were disproportionately white. Blacks composed 11% of the Union army at the end of the war. By November they represented 36% and the ratio would trend even higher as the volunteer army continued to demobilize. Blacks tended to remain in uniform because even the low pay of an enlisted man was comparatively attractive to their alternative occupations.

Grant recommended that selected federal garrisons temporarily remain in the South because the civil chaos that accompanied the end of the war meant that, “The white and black require the protection of the federal government.” But he urged that blacks not be among the occupying soldiers. “The presence of black troops, lately slaves, demoralizes labor both by their advice and by furnishing in their camps a resort for [surrounding] freedmen . . . White troops generally excite no opposition and therefore a small number . . . can maintain order in a given district.” He also presciently noted that the presence of black troops might trigger guerrilla attacks.

Secondly, General Grant wanted to promptly expel a French-backed puppet regime in Mexico. Several European powers were hostile to the 1823 Monroe Doctrine by which the United States declared the Western Hemisphere to be off limits to further European colonization. France, especially, felt that the Doctrine was merely a fig leaf to permit America’s “Manifest Destiny” to dominate the hemisphere.

Ever since Napoleon I sold New Orleans and the Louisiana Territory about sixty years earlier in 1803, France had been shut out of the Western hemisphere. Since then the United States absorbed half of Mexico, first by annexing Texas and next by way of the Mexican Cession that followed the end of the Mexican War. During the American Civil War the reigning French monarch, Louis-Napoleon, reasoned that Lincoln might be too focused on suppressing the Confederacy to risk opposing an armed French presence in Mexico. If Louis were successful, the Monroe Doctrine would become impotent and the Western hemisphere might once again become fertile territory for European colonies.

Led by France, several European nations sent an expeditionary force to Mexico’s chief port of Veracruz in order to collect customs duties and thereby repay the Europeans for debts owed to them by Mexico. But after the coalition army occupied the port, it became clear that Louis-Napoleon’s intent was to install a vassal government under the rule of the Austrian monarch’s younger brother, Maximilian. As a pretense, the French Monarch claimed he wanted to re-establish Roman Catholic faith, ethics, and authority in the Central American country. Thereafter, the other Europeans in the expedition left the country in protest. Maximilian became Emperor of Mexico in 1864 under the protection of a French occupying army.

Grant was aware that Lincoln and many in Congress objected to the regime. After Appomattox he sent a 50,000-man force under Major General Philip Sheridan to the Texas border as a demonstration of American military power. He also prompted Sheridan to send 30,000 rifles to the Mexican guerrilla leader opposing Maximilian. Finally, Grant planned to send Major General John Schofield into Mexico to recruit an army of American expatriates—including former Rebels—and others to overthrow Mexico’s Austrian Emperor.

While the show of force on the border conformed to Secretary of State William H. Seward’s diplomatic efforts, the unauthorized weapons shipment and plan to raise an army in Mexico did not. They threatened to put America unnecessarily at war with a major European power. Therefore, Seward sent Schofield on a diplomatic errand to France and continued to negotiate with Louis-Napoleon for a voluntary French withdrawal. In April 1866 the French ambassador in Washington notified Seward that Napoleon had agreed to a three-stage withdrawal, which was completed in 1867. After the last of the French army left, Maximilian’s government collapsed, and Mexico regained home rule. The Emperor was executed.

Historian Albert Castel reasons that if Grant’s bellicose approach had prevailed, Andrew Johnson would have been the chief political beneficiary even though the President backed the Secretary of State’s more measured policy.

Grant’s [warlike approach] would have been highly popular and in all probability successful . . . [I]t most likely would have assured the acceptance of Johnson’s Reconstruction program by a nation and Congress preoccupied with the possibility of war. Indeed, fear of a conflict with France would divert Republican attention from “guarding the poor freedmen” and would lead to immediate readmission of the Southern states . . . [thereby blocking the Radical Reconstruction that later ensued.]

Since Johnson once identified Lincoln as “the greatest American that has ever lived” he came to regard it as his duty to be the trustee of the martyred President’s legacy. Johnson resolved that his Reconstruction policies would follow in the great man’s footsteps, or try to. Among Lincoln’s clearest signals was that Reconstruction should proceed promptly and under the authority of the federal executive branch before Congress was scheduled to reconvene in early December 1865. Johnson quickly settled on such a plan and discussed it thoroughly with his Lincoln-inherited cabinet on 9 May. None of the members voiced “[any] doubt of the power of the executive branch . . . to reorganize [the former Confederate] state governments without the aid of Congress.”

Johnson disclosed the two-step plan near the end of May, only a month-and-a-half after Lincoln’s death. First, former qualified Rebels were invited to apply for pardon and amnesty. Such persons would have their non-slave property rights restored. Second, each former Confederate state was to hold a convention to create a new state constitution. Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana were exempted because they had already formed state governments recognized by Lincoln during the war.

Pardon and amnesty required that each applicant take an oath to “henceforth faithfully support . . . the Constitution . . . and abide by . . . all laws . . . made during the existing rebellion . . . [involving] . . . the emancipation of slaves.” Significantly, it did not require applicants to say that they had never rebelled against the Union. Some former Rebels, however, could not qualify merely by taking the oath. Most notable among them were persons with more than $20,000 in property. They were required to apply directly to the President who would judge their applications on a case-by-case basis.

Johnson set three basic conditions for the new state constitutions. First, they must outlaw slavery. Second, they must renounce secession. Third, they must repudiate all Confederate debts. The conventions were also authorized to set dates to elect state officers and congressional representatives. Once the legislatures were chosen the Southern states were called upon to—and did—supply the incremental votes needed to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery throughout the nation. According to historians J. G. Randall and David Donald martial law ruled during the (1865) transition process “without any of the attributes of terrorism, violence or menace to the tranquility of the people.” Such would prove to be a contrast to the experience during the carpetbag era when groups such as the Ku Klux Klan resisted the Radical Republican state governments. The KKK might never have become significant if Johnson’s Presidential Reconstruction had remained in force.

By December 1865 all of the former Rebel states except Texas had fulfilled Johnson’s requirements. They had also elected federal senators and congressmen, ready to take their seats when Congress reconvened on 4 December.

Grant officially endorsed Johnson’s Reconstruction plan on June 7, 1865 when he appeared at a pro-Johnson rally in New York City. During the morning he steadily exchanged handshakes with attendees for two hours. By noon the reception line was even longer than when he started. When he entered the rally hall that evening, the crowd interrupted the speaker who had called the meeting to order with chants of “Grant! Grant! Grant! Grant! Grant!” After he took a seat on the stage the audience could not see him. As a result, he rose and started walking to a better position as the crowd cheered his every step. The reception could leave nobody doubtful about the general’s potential to influence voters more than any other American.

Shortly after Grant bought his Washington home in November three staff officers joined him on a tour of the South requested by President Johnson. They visited only Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia. Other observers had already toured the former Confederacy. One example was Major General Carl Schurz who was financially supported by Johnson’s opponents. A case in point was the Boston Advertiser, which paid Schurz to write articles about his findings that were mostly at odds with Johnson’s plan. Schurz concluded that Southerners were recalcitrant and determined to abuse the freedmen. But Schurz’s motives may have been chiefly political. For example, the New York Herald wrote, “During [Schurz’] recent trip through the Southern states . . . his time was largely spent in efforts to organize the Republican Party in that region.”

Grant’s conclusions were generally opposite those of Schurz. “The mass of thinking men in the South”, said Grant, “accept the present situation in good faith. [T]hey are in earnest in wishing to do what is required of them by the government.” Along with his assistants, Grant suggested that freedmen in Virginia and North Carolina were delaying the region’s economic recovery by refusing to work. Upon returning he met with Johnson’s cabinet where he indicated that prompt reunification was the correct policy. Although Schurz’s report was published at public expense in December and widely distributed by Johnson’s opponents, Grant’s popularity temporarily carried the day for the President.

New England journalist Benjamin Truman may have written the most objective and authoritative report on the early post war conditions in the South. He spent seven months in the region from September 1865 to March 1866, and visited every state except Virginia and North Carolina, which were two included in Grant’s tour. Truman’s report also generally supported President Johnson.

In the winter of 1865-66 when Congress and President Johnson locked horns over conflicting Reconstruction plans, Radical Republicans intensified efforts to win Grant to their side. Although present in New York on the same day in February 1866 as a rally supporting Presidential Reconstruction, Grant did not attend. He instead concentrated on trying to avoid giving offense to either Congress or the President so that they would enact a bill that would promote him from Lieutenant General to full General with a $20,000 annual salary. Only George Washington had previously held the rank.

Since the military rank bill was not enacted until July, and he also disliked War Secretary Edwin Stanton, Grant showed little interest in allying with the Radical wing of the Republican Party for most of 1866. To the contrary, he attended the nominating convention for Johnson’s National Union Party. He also agreed to accompany the President on an eighteen-day railroad tour of Northern states to promote the Party’s candidates and Johnson’s Reconstruction plan.  The President referred to the trip as “the swing around the circle.”

The train left Washington for its first stop at Baltimore on August 28, 1866. Johnson was initially received enthusiastically in Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York. Nonetheless, everywhere the public was more interested in seeing Grant than the President.

Six days into the trip the stop at Cleveland proved to be a turning point. The crowd included hecklers, who may have been paid by Radical Republicans to provoke Johnson into reckless remarks. When a large crowd assembled outside his hotel, Johnson felt compelled to address them even though he did not have a speech planned. He should have simply acknowledged the greeting and returned to his hotel room. Instead he responded to a heckler’s “Hang Jeff Davis!” shout by remarking that as President he did not have the power to bypass the judiciary on such matters. He went on to criticize Congress for “trying to break up the Government.”

Despite his personal popularity, the trip demoralized Grant. He fell into a drunken state on the railroad ride from Buffalo to Cleveland where he departed for Detroit on a sobering-up cruise via a Lake Erie steamer before rejoining Johnson in Chicago.  Nonetheless, audiences interrupted Johnson with shouts for Grant and Admiral David Farragut, also on the tour. At St. Louis Grant wrote Julia that the trip had descended into a “national disgrace.”

From St. Louis onward the journey was dismal. A riot prevented the President from speaking at Indianapolis. Grant left the train in Cincinnati, announcing that he wanted to visit his father. Johnson was also shouted down in Steubenville and Pittsburgh. At the end of the trip, it was the President—not the Radical Republicans—that impressed the public as revolutionary and intemperate.

The failure of the swing around the circle led the infant GOP to solidify veto-proof majorities in both the Senate and House. Even though the Democrats won a Senate seat in Maryland, the Republicans picked up one each in Pennsylvania, California and Oregon. They also got two new seats after Nebraska was admitted as a state. Finally, a vacant Senate seat in New Jersey also went to the Republicans. The Party increased its majority in the House of Representatives as well. President Johnson’s National Union Party coalition collapsed. Thereafter, control of the federal government would evolve into contests between two parties: Democrats and Republicans.

President Johnson transformed the 1866 elections into a referendum on his Reconstruction polices when he requested that an allied Wisconsin senator, James Doolittle, ask cabinet members to endorse his Reconstruction Program shortly before the National Union Party convention in August. The navy, state, and treasury secretaries promptly agreed. In contrast, the attorney general, postmaster general, and interior secretary resigned. Although War Secretary Edwin Stanton did not reply to Doolittle, his remarks to others indicate that he opposed Johnson. Although Stanton remained in the cabinet, Johnson was correctly skeptical of his loyalty.

When Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase handed down the Supreme Court’s April 1866 Ex-Parte Milligan ruling, Johnson saw a chance to push his Presidential plan despite the recent election losses. The Court decision stipulated that civilians could not be tried in a military court in areas where civil courts were also operating. Although it involved a wartime Indiana incident, Johnson could presently use the decision to enable Southerners to be tried in civil courts instead of the military courts that had been the earlier practice under the authority of the 1865 Freedmen’s Bureau Act. Thus, Johnson began dissolving the military courts.

Two months earlier, in February 1866, Congress had passed a new version of the Freedmen’s Bureau Act. It considerably extended the Bureau’s power over economic and civil affairs and specifically authorized federal and military enforcement. It also extended the Bureau’s activities into the previous Union-loyal slave states where it could be used to enlarge Republican influence. Johnson vetoed the bill, which the Thirty-Ninth Congress initially fell two votes short of overriding. But five months later congressional Republicans were able to garner enough support to pass a modified version over a second Johnson veto.

The Fortieth Congress began in March 1867 with a series of Reconstruction Acts to replace President Johnson’s Reconstruction plan with one crafted by Radical Republicans. The Republican plan ultimately became known as Congressional Reconstruction.

The first act, which passed on the first day of the Fortieth Congresses, declared that no lawful state governments existed in the former Confederacy except Tennessee, which was already ruled by Radical Republicans. The rest of the South was to be governed by martial law and divided into five military districts.

A second act passed three weeks later. It required each military occupation commander to compile a roster of voters based upon eligibility standards within the act. It disfranchisedabout 150,000 previous Confederates but provided for universal suffrage among black adult males. Upon completion, about 1.3 million men were declared legal voters. Blacks outnumbered whites by 703,000 to 627,000 (53%-to-47%) although blacks represented only about 40% of the region’s population. African-Americans were the majority of voters in Mississippi, South Carolina, Louisiana, Florida, and Alabama.

Voters thus declared legal were to elect delegates to constitutional conventions in each state. Such constitutions were required to provide for universal black suffrage. They could, however, restrict white voters and office holders. Ultimately Alabama, Arkansas, and Louisiana restricted both white voters and office holders. The remaining seven states did not constrain white voters, but Virginia and Mississippi blocked former Confederates from holding public office.

The resulting constitutions were to be submitted to statewide voter referendums. After passing the referendums, the constitutions were to be presented to the U. S. Congress where they might be accepted or rejected. Following acceptance of a state’s constitution by Congress, each Southern state had to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment. Its representatives could not join the U. S. Congress until the Fourteenth Amendment had been ratified nationally and the applicable state also its endorsed ratification. The Fourteenth Amendment granted American-born blacks citizenship and was basically an intermediate step toward the soon-to-be-adopted Fifteenth Amendment, which would provide for black suffrage throughout the country instead of just the South.

The third act, passed in July 1867, provided for liberal interpretation of the first two acts.

In addition to the two Reconstruction Acts passed in March, Congress enacted two bills that same month, also over Johnson’s vetoes, to limit the President’s powers.

First, was the Command of the Army Act, which required that all of the President’s orders to military officers be delivered through the General-in-Chief, Ulysses Grant at the time. Furthermore, the General-in-Chief could not be ordered away from Washington without his consent. The act made it illegal for any other military officer to accept orders directly from the President. The provisions basically insured that President Johnson could not unilaterally direct actions in the Southern states while they were under martial law. He would need Grant’s agreement.

Second, was the Tenure of Office Act, which stipulated that civil officers appointed by the President with the consent of the Senate could not be dismissed without the Senate’s consent. The main purpose of the Tenure Act was to prevent Johnson from removing War Secretary Stanton who had become an ally of the congressional Republicans and basically their spy in the President’s cabinet. It might also prevent Johnson from replacing lesser federal officers in the South who were implementing Congressional Reconstruction instead of Presidential Reconstruction. In combination the two acts were designed to increase congressional authority over the military and correspondingly weaken the President’s influence over it.

When the arrest of a Mississippi newspaperman in November 1867 suggested that his attorney could use the Supreme Court’s Ex-Parte Milligan decision to get his case moved from a military court to a civilian one, the Fortieth Congress sensed a legal threat to their plans. Any court ruling favorable to the newspaperman could cause Congressional Reconstruction to unravel by neutering Southern military courts. After the Supreme Court took up the newspaperman’s case, Congress muddied the waters in March 1868 by repealing the 1867 Habeas Corpus Act shortly before the court ended its hearings. The repealed act was the very law the Mississippian used to appeal his case.

Although most legal scholars, then and now, might conclude that Congress could not pull the legs out from under a case by retroactively nullifying the law upon which it was based, that was undeniably their intent. The 1868 Supreme Court interpreted the repeal-during-litigation tactic as a shot across the bow by one branch of the federal government against another, with the Court being the target. The justices worried that Congress might take even more restrictive action against the Court if they ruled in favor of the newspaperman. Therefore, the judges made no ruling at all on the Mississippi case by claiming the repeal denied them jurisdiction.

After passing the Reconstruction Acts, Congress focused on crafting and adopting a Fourteenth Amendment that would insure that provisions of the acts could not be challenged as unconstitutional. Foremost among them was that federally imposed black suffrage be limited to the former Confederate states. Without such an amendment, ultimately a federal court would likely have ruled that Congress did not have the constitutional power to impose voting qualifications on any state. Since Republicans were doubtful that three-fourths of the states would ratify an amendment that required black suffrage in all the states, the Fourteenth Amendment was worded in a way that would penalize the Southern states for failing to approve black suffrage but have little effect on the Northern states that declined to do so.

Specifically, the amendment stipulated that those states failing to authorize black suffrage would have their congressional representation and electoral votes cut by the same percentage of their population that was black. Since blacks represented forty percent of the population in the former Confederacy and only one percent of the population in the pre-war “free” states of the North, the amendment would have little impact above the Mason-Dixon line but considerable impact below it.

Due to his wide popularity, both the congressional Republicans and President Johnson wanted General Grant as an ally. Although the swing around the circle soured him on Johnson, he recognized that as General-in-Chief of the army he had obligations to the President and his fellow citizens to act in the country’s best interests. Thus, when the President decided to suspend Edwin Stanton from office in August 1867, Grant agreed to Johnson’s request that he temporarily replace Stanton as secretary of war until Congress reconvened in November 1867.

Grant’s status as war secretary was officially termed ad interim because of the stipulations in the Tenure Act explained earlier. Specifically, it specified that no President could replace an executive officer—including cabinet members—who had previously met the “advice and consent” of the U. S. Senate during the same administration.

The true object was to keep Secretary Stanton in the cabinet as a Radical Republican mole even though the secretary himself doubted the bill’s constitutionality when it was introduced in March. Johnson intended to challenge the act’s constitutionality if the Senate rejected his attempt to replace Stanton after Congress reconvened. Like most historians, author Gene Davis concluded that Grant had agreed to cooperate with Johnson’s ad interim appointment: “If it came to a fight with the Senate, he [Grant] would probably hang on. If he [Grant] should change his mind, he would resign and let the President appoint someone else” to preempt any attempt by Stanton to repossess his office.

But as early as the first cabinet meeting after moving into Stanton’s office, Grant tended to side with the Republicans. Contrary to the President’s viewpoint, he defended the Reconstruction Acts as constitutional and voiced his reluctance to replace any of the Southern military governors Stanton had installed while the latter held the office. Johnson, nonetheless, instructed Grant to replace Major General Philip Sheridan who was in charge of the military districts of Louisiana and Texas and whom Johnson considered to be a tyrant. Grant objected, but eventually complied.

The odd year 1867 elections favored the Democrats. Although Northerners would support black suffrage in the South, they did not want it in their own states. It was overwhelmingly rejected in all Northern states where it was on the ballot. Democrats made gains in New York and Pennsylvania and the Republican vote margins relative to 1866 narrowed in Ohio, Massachusetts and Maine.

After the elections Johnson perceived that he might be impeached if he refused to restore Stanton should a reconvened Senate demand Stanton’s reinstatement. He therefore went to see Grant in order to learn whether the general would obey his orders, instead of the urgings of Congress. According to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles’s diary entry for October 10, 1867 “[Grant] said he should expect to obey [the President’s] orders; that should he (Grant) change his mind he would advise the President in season, that he might have time to make other arrangements.” Basically, Grant was saying that if he resigned he would do so with enough advance notice for Johnson to replace him with someone else who would hold the office so that the Supreme Court—then in session—could rule on whether the Tenure Act was even constitutional.

Grant began to squirm on Friday January 10, 1868 after a Senate committee recommended that the chamber reject Stanton’s suspension. On Saturday he told Major General William T. Sherman that he would give up the war office if the Senate refused to authorize Stanton’s suspension. Sherman advised him to first inform Johnson.  Grant went to the White House and stated his intent. The two men debated the legal status of the situation. Johnson asked Grant to return to continue the discussion on Monday 13 January. Grant agreed that he would.

On Sunday Grant met with General Sherman again and the two agreed that Grant should suggest that Johnson appoint Ohio Governor and former Civil War General Jacob Cox to replace Grant in the war office. Sherman’s foster father, who was an elder statesman, wrote a note to the President that Senator Reverdy Johnson carried to the White House on Monday. The note said that the Senate would likely accept the Cox appointment thereby avoiding a constitutional crisis. But it also warned that Cox’s appointment had to be announced that very day. Since Andrew Johnson believed that Grant’s pledge to give the President a chance to replace him with a substitute of Johnson’s own choosing would be honored, he ignored the note’s advice.

That very evening the Senate voted 36-to-6 to refuse Stanton’s removal. On Tuesday morning 14 January Grant locked the war office door and turned the key over to an administrator. After returning to his General-in-Chief office he had a messenger carry a letter to the White House stating that he was no longer war secretary. Stanton preemptively reoccupied the war department before Johnson could intervene.

Later that same Tuesday Grant attended a cabinet meeting where Johnson asked whether Grant had agreed to their plan of 10 October.  The general affirmed that he did—at the time. He added, however, that he disclosed during their Saturday 11 January discussion that he had changed his mind after learning that he could be fined for disobeying the Tenure Act. Johnson then asked if the two had not agreed to continue the Saturday discussion on Monday. Grant affirmed that he had so agreed.

As an excuse for missing the Monday meeting, however, Grant hesitatingly explained that he had been too busy with military matters. After the general left, Navy Secretary Welles wrote that Grant’s “manner . . . was almost abject.” Treasury Secretary Hugh McCullough felt that Grant appeared to be drunk. Grant would later claim that when he vacated the war office, he no longer believed he had an agreement with Johnson to either hold the office or give the President time to appoint a replacement before resigning.

Thereafter, each man accused the other of lying. Among the factors favoring Grant’s accusation is his insistence that he told Johnson on Saturday 11 January of his intent to vacate the office if the Senate voted to reject Stanton’s suspension, which it did the following Monday evening.

On Johnson’s side of the balance-scale is Grant’s admission during the Tuesday 14 January cabinet session that he had agreed to continue Saturday’s discussion with the President on Monday and yet failed to do so.  Also, weighing on Johnson’s side was Grant’s failure to tell the President at the White House reception on Monday night that the general would vacate the office the next morning, even though the two men spoke together at the event. Finally, Grant’s claim that he “had not expected” that Stanton would promptly reoccupy the office is suspect. Grant had known for at least three months that he was party to a plan to keep Stanton out of the war office until the Supreme Court could decide whether the Tenure Act was legal.

Whether through misunderstanding or deceit, the consequence of the imbroglio would be a first attempt to impeach a United States President. It evolved into a national trauma, which might have been avoided if Johnson and/or Grant had earned their salaries. The stage was finally set for a showdown with Congress on February 21, 1868 when Johnson appointed Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas as his new ad interim war secretary, but—with Grant’s encouragement—Stanton refused to yield the office. The face-off did not take long. The House voted on 24 February to impeach Johnson. A week later it formally presented eleven impeachment articles to the Senate for trial. Alleged violation of the Tenure Act was central to the bulk of them.

Massachusetts Representative Benjamin Butler directed the prosecution. He paid spies to search the trash baskets of defense counsel William Evarts’s hotel room. Out of the courtroom he denounced Johnson as the soul of corruption, assassination, cowardice and murder thereby falsely implying that Johnson was involved in Lincoln’s assassination.

Since conviction required a two-thirds majority, the Radicals guarded every presumed “yea” vote and attempted to seize others. Even though the President Pro Tempore of the Senate would replace Johnson upon a conviction because there was no Vice President, the applicable senator refused to abstain from voting despite his conflict of interest. The Republicans also attempted to add two likely conviction votes before the trial with a surprise move to admit Colorado as a state, but they were unable to gather the required two-thirds majority needed to override Johnson’s likely veto of a statehood bill. Even after the trial was underway another prosecution leader, Thaddeus Stevens, made a similar failed effort to admit the senators from the newly formed Republican administration in Arkansas.

The President engaged five good lawyers out of his own pocket. Most notable among them was New York Republican William Evarts who otherwise opposed the President’s policies. Although Grant lobbied certain senators to vote against Johnson, the President survived the impeachment attempt. On 16 May Johnson was acquitted on a 35-to-19 affirmative vote, which was one short of the necessary two-thirds majority. Radical Republicans manipulatively adjourned the Senate for ten days in hopes of persuading at least one acquittal vote to switch sides, but they failed. Johnson survived a second, and last, conviction attempt on 26 May, again by a single vote.

Grant’s break with Johnson thrust the general into the forefront of likely Republican presidential candidates for the 1868 election by convincing the Radicals that he was on their side. While Grant was in Washington the Republican convention in Chicago gave him the nomination on 20 May, six days before Johnson survived the second impeachment vote. Indiana’s Schuyler Colfax, who was Speaker of the House, became his running mate.

Although Grant was certain to be a popular candidate, the Party was anxious to get the Fourteenth Amendment ratified so that the resulting puppet governments in the Southern states could be relied upon to throw their votes behind him. When impeachment proceedings started in late February, the Fourteenth Amendment still needed to be ratified in at least six more states. By the process of elimination, at least several would have to be former slave states. All the former Confederate states, except Tennessee, had yet to ratify it. As a result, Congress adopted an act in March 1868 that made it easier for Republican minorities in the former Confederate states to ratify the amendment by obtaining a simple majority of the votes cast as opposed to a majority of registered voters.

On 3 April Arkansas became the first Southern state to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment under the new act. Six more Southern states followed suit by the end of July, which was the month when Secretary of State Seward declared the amendment ratified.

The Republicans reasoned correctly about the need for Southern black votes. Despite his popularity, Grant received only a minority of the white popular vote. He picked up forty-one electoral votes from former Confederate states as compared to only sixteen for his Democratic opponent, Horatio Seymour. Although Grant won a lopsided Electoral College victory, the national popular vote was much closer with 3.0 million for Grant and 2.7 million for Seymour. Grant’s popular total included about 450,000 black votes as compared to only 50,000 for Seymour. The general’s African American popular votes were overwhelmingly from the South.

Grant finished the Civil War at the top of his military profession. Four years later the forty-seven-year-old was at the head of his country in the White House. Success appeared to be becoming the Grant family’s new normal station in life.

 

2 thoughts on “U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency: Chapter 2 “The New Normal”

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