As noted several weeks ago, I’m presently researching the Reconstruction Era and was stunned to learn the depth of corruption in President Ulysses Grant’s two administrations. Grant set such a bad example that it is no surprise how badly the carpetbag puppet-regimes of the Southern states were overrun with depravity. The amount of corruption during Grant’s eight years as President is so broad that it cannot be conveniently covered in a single post.
It will take several weeks just to cover a few. Despite an overwhelming bias at Wikipedia toward Grant, the encyclopedia’s article on his presidential scandals alone lists a total of eleven. That does not include his pervasive nepotism, presumably because it was not technically illegal. Nonetheless, about 40 Grant family members benefitted financially, either directly or indirectly, during Grant’s eight years in the White House.
Today’s post merely considers revelations about his White House staff and his closest wartime advisor whom he appointed as secretary of war. Grant had his own version of Nixon’s trio of Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Dean. The only difference was that Nixon’s staff had a-falling-out-among-crooks when Dean tattled. That didn’t happened with Grant’s gang of John Rawlins, Horace Porter and Orville Babcock.
Since Rawlins died in September 1869 he only lasted about six months as war secretary. During that period he was a strong intervention advocate in favor of Cuban revolutionaries. But after he died it was discovered that he had $28,000 in worthless Cuban bonds that would have brought full face value if the United States had help overthrow Spanish rule in Cuba as he urged.
My Civil War Books
Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies
Trading With the Enemy
Co. Aytch: Illustrated and Annotated
To be released later this month and available for pre-order: The Confederacy at Flood Tide
Horace Porter and Orville Babcock were Grant’s private secretaries, much like John Hay and John Nicolay were for Lincoln. The prime difference was that Porter and Babcock were implicated in numerous scandals. Porter may have profited from an attempt by Jim Fisk and Jay Gould to corner the gold market, was accused of profiting from irregularities involving New York tariff collections, assisting liquor distillers to evade excise taxes, and using his influence—in exchange for a bribe—to win the President’s approval for lucrative subsidies for the Northern Pacific Railroad.
Babcock was also accused of participating in the gold market speculations and the illegal New York custom’s house ring. Although never convicted, it is likely that he was a central figure in the widespread tax evasion by distilled spirits producers. He also purchased property in Santo Domingo which he and Grant tried to get the United States to annex. Finally, he was accused—but not convicted—of conspiring to produce false evidence in a case about corrupt building contractors in Washington, D. C. As punishment, Grant assigned Babcock to a lonely sinecure as a lighthouse inspector. He ultimately drowned while inspecting a Florida lighthouse.
Babcock’s boat sank during a storm, but his malfeasance along with that of Rawlins’s conflict of interest with the Cuban bonds and the multiple separate accusations against Porter are only the tip of the corrupt iceberg that sank Grant’s presidency. They should also be enough to sink his presently over-glorified historical reputation, yet each new Grant biography seems to compete with the earlier ones on a hagiography scale.