Tag Archives: Southern Reconstruction

Low Inventories on My Books

(May 15, 2019) Some online stores are reporting low inventories on my books, especially Southern Reconstruction. Amazon is out of stock of the hardcover version until May 21st, although they can presently ship the paperback in one or two days. As always, the Kindle version is available for immediate online download.

Barnes & Noble online still has hardcopy versions in stock. About a half-dozen third party sellers at eBay are also offering hardback copies that they claim are new, as do a number of third-party sellers in Amazon Marketplace.

Summaries of my books together with links to book reviews are at the My Books page of this website.

 

A New Federally Funded Anti-Southern Study

(May 12, 2019) The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) recently issued a new study that concludes the wealthiest slaveholding families returned to relative prosperity less than a generation after the end of the Civil War. The three authors provide a suitably dense title: The Intergenerational Effects of a Large Wealth Shock: White Southerners After the Civil War.  Here’s the abstract:

The nullification of slave-based wealth after the US Civil War (1861-65) was one of the largest episodes of wealth compression in history. We document that white southern households with more slave assets lost substantially more wealth by 1870 relative to households with otherwise similar pre-War wealth levels. Yet, the sons of these slaveholders recovered in income and wealth proxies by 1880, in part by shifting into white collar positions and marrying into higher status families. Their pattern of recovery is most consistent with the importance of social networks in facilitating employment opportunities and access to credit.

Although correctly concluding that this “pattern of recovery is most consistent with the importance of social networks in facilitating employment opportunities and access to credit” they offer no evidence that it is unique to the South. The same pattern likely applied across all of America following the Great Depression.  As shall be documented shortly, the authors evidently have another agenda by singling-out the South.

Democrat Historians Outnumber Republican Historians 17-to-1

While the study supposedly reveals that wealthy slaveholding families recovered better than equally wealthy non-slave holding ones, it is unclear how initial wealth equivalence is determined. An owner of 10,000 acres without salves, for example, probably did not have land as valuable as a slave owner with 10,000 acres. One likely grew cotton, while the other likely did not.

Although the official conclusion included in the abstract is logical, author Leah Boustan discloses her real mission in a series of mobile Twitter conversations. It’s all about portraying the South as a perpetual slavocracy, in a De Facto if not a De Jure context.

One Twitter respondent asks, “[T]hey rebounded on a trampoline of white privilege, elite networks & tacit knowledge?” Leah answers with a short video of a famous black comedian saying, “That’s it!” Another Twitter fan writes, “Losing only 15% of wealth after the Civil War ended says so much about how slaveholders shifted tactics to preserve aspects of chattel slavery.” Leah does not disagree even though there’s obvious contrary evidence. As late as 1940, for example, two-thirds of Southern tenant farmers were white and they earned no more than black tenants.

The NBER report is merely one more addition to an ever-growing mountain of agenda-driven taxpayer funded and academic research deliberately portraying the South as America’s evil twin that must be reformed by cultural genocide. Readers wanting to fight back have at least two options. One is to write their elected representatives in Washington objecting to any additional taxpayer funding for one-sided research. Another is to stop giving money to college alma maters and especially to shift legacy donations to other charities.

Leading With Hypocrisy

(May 2, 2019) As explained yesterday, after losing their shirts on such programs between 1815 and 1855 many antebellum Northern states outlawed state government subsidies for private companies and public works spending. Examples include Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Minnesota, Iowa, Kentucky, Kansas, California, Oregon and Wisconsin. In fact, by the start of the Civil War only Missouri and Massachusetts sanctioned such aid.

The bad experiences caused most Northerners to try to shift the risk for such spending to the federal government. They lobbied for the federal government to take the lead in financing internal improvements.* The South opposed the lobby because such projects were often money-losers and funding them required higher tariffs, which were injurious to the South’s export economy. Southern states also generally declined to burden their taxpayers with subsidy programs.

When Carpetbaggers came South after the Civil War, however, they immediately began plundering the meager resources of their adopted states in order to subsidize railroad construction. Among the vassal regimes re-admitted to the Union, only Mississippi’s outlawed state aid to railroads. Consequently, Carpetbaggers and scalawags pillaged the formerly sound credit of the Southern states via many fraudulent railroad projects. Historian Merton Coulter wrote, “It was only through the dishonesties of state officials that the great stench railroad aid arose. In violation of the law they delivered bonds before the railroads had been built and the dishonest promoters sold these bonds for whatever they could get and never built the roads.”

Every Reconstruction Era railroad financed by state bonds and grants in Arkansas ultimately went bankrupt. Construction costs were artificially inflated to make room for graft as were the bond commissions and discounts. Undoubtedly, much of the excess went into the pockets of the promoters. The other Southern states endured similar experiences.

The table below quantifies how the previously sound credit of the fiscally conservative Southern states was exploited in the post-war era when the states were impoverished and least capable of absorbing additional debts. The transplanted Northerners who had prudently outlawed such subsidies in their native states recklessly exploited them for personal gain in the South.

*Internal improvements was the popular term for public works projects in the nineteenth century.

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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.” Continue reading

U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency: Chapter 1 (Introduction)

(March 13, 2019) Provided below is Chapter 1 of 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 1: Introduction

PERHAPS NO NINETEENTH CENTURY American won a greater triumph than did Ulysses Grant when he received the surrender of Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865, bringing an end to the Civil War. Few Americans today appreciate the scope of that war. About seven hundred thousand soldiers died at a time when the country had but thirty-one million people. If America were to sustain such losses in a war today the dead would exceed seven million. Moreover, Grant’s success was all the more significant given his low personal status only four years earlier.

In April 1861 the thirty-nine-year-old Grant was working under his two younger brothers at a leather goods store in Galena, Illinois a short distance from the Mississippi River west of Chicago. The job was basically a gift from his father, Jesse, who owned the store but lived near Cincinnati, Ohio where he had related businesses. During the preceding seven years Ulysses had resigned from the army in disgrace and thereafter failed at various commercial and farming ventures despite significant aid from his prosperous father-in-law, Frederick Dent. Mr. Dent believed that his daughter had married beneath her station, while Jesse bluntly concluded, “West Point spoiled one of my boys [Ulysses] for business.”

After graduating from West Point in 1843 Grant soon compiled a good record during the 1846-48 Mexican War. Upon returning from Mexico, he married Julia Dent in 1848. Although starting as a Pittsburgh merchant, Julia’s dad had moved to St. Louis where he became a slaveholder, accumulated a large farm and accepted the honorary title of “Colonel” within the family. It was at that farm, White Haven, where Grant met Julia who was a sister of his senior year West Point roommate.

Over the next four years husband and wife had two sons and mostly shared a roving army life although Julia found excuses to return to White Haven for extended visits. In 1852 the army ordered Grant to a beautiful, but isolated, outpost near Portland, Oregon. Julia declined to follow. In autumn of 1853 he won promotion from lieutenant to captain and transferred to Eureka, California. Despite the promotion Julia still chose to remain in St. Louis. Consequently, Grant became lonely and yielded to alcoholism.

By 1854 he could no longer abide the loneliness and resigned from the army although he had no other means for supporting his family. He arrived in New York City in July but hesitated to return to White Haven without knowing whether he would be welcome. Thus, he borrowed money from a friend, who would become a future Confederate enemy, to pay his hotel bill before heading to Ohio where Grant would visit his father prior to heading to St. Louis. He received a chilly greeting in Ohio but continued on to White Haven in August after a letter from Julia assured him of her love. Colonel Dent, however, remained cool.

St. Louis, Missouri in 1855

After Grant’s return, Julia’s father gave her a sixty-acre farm that eventually grew to three hundred acres including rented land. Notwithstanding diligent efforts and the assistance of three male slaves, Grant could never make it profitable. Near his nadir in 1857 he pawned a pocket watch for $22 two days before Christmas. In 1859 he sold the farm to join one of Julia’s cousins in a St. Louis real estate partnership but was forced out when he proved unable to collect rents.

Ultimately, he experienced nothing but failure in St. Louis. According to biographer William Hesseltine when Grant drank with army comrades whom he occasionally met in the town “it was evident [to them] that he was not fitted to succeed in the world of business. To his family it was equally evident.” Consequently, he swallowed his pride and accepted the fifty-dollar a month job at his dad’s leather store in Galena, Illinois. Jesse’s oldest child had basically returned home as a financial dependent. Memory of the humiliation would haunt the son, and influence his decisions, ever after.

The outbreak of the Civil War rescued Grant from a frustrating life. After Fort Sumter surrendered in April 1861, Galena enthusiastically welcomed President Lincoln’s national call for 75,000 volunteers to coerce the seceded states back into the Union. When town leaders realized that Captain Grant was the only resident that understood military drills, they offered to let him lead Galena’s new volunteer company. He declined because he hoped to get a bigger command by applying to the Illinois governor.

His appeals had no success until Governor Richard Yates became eager to find a new commander for the Twenty-First Illinois Infantry Regiment that was in virtual revolt against the militarily incompetent politician that was originally assigned to lead it. Grant became the replacement with a colonel’s commission. At about the same time President Lincoln asked for brigadier general nominations from Illinois congressmen. Since Ulysses was then the only high-ranking officer in the Galena congressman’s district, Colonel Grant got that nod as well. After seven lean years the newly promoted Brigadier General Grant found himself on a path that would lead through seven fat years culminating in 1868 with his election as President of the United States.

By 1868, Grant had become the latest incarnation of the proverbial American folk hero—at least in the North. He drew upon that vast reservoir of popular devotion to easily win the Republican nomination in May. The closing sentence of his acceptance letter became a campaign slogan: “Let us have peace.”

His Party, however, was too shrewd to pin their election hopes on a mere slogan. By overriding the vetoes of President Andrew Johnson in 1867, Republicans imposed universal black male suffrage in the former Confederate states for the election of delegates to conventions empowered to form new state governments that could qualify for readmission to the Union. Of the eleven applicable states, all but Virginia, Mississippi, and Texas had been readmitted under such terms by the 1868 general election. Only two of the readmitted eight voted for Grant’s opponent, New York Democratic governor Horatio Seymour.

Grant would serve two terms as President ending in March 1877. On 10 May of the preceding year in Philadelphia, he addressed a group of 4,000 dignitaries at America’s Centennial Exposition that showcased such inventions as the typewriter and the telephone, while another 180,000 common visitors toured the exhibits on opening day. According to historian Nathaniel Philbrick, the silence that greeted the President’s ten-minute speech “. . . was astonishing [evidence of] how far Grant had plummeted. After winning the war for Lincoln, he seemed on the brink of even greater accomplishments as president.” Despite only fair auditorium acoustics, “it must have been sad and infuriating [for Grant] to see America’s celebration of its centennial come down to this: the rude derisive silence of several thousand people withholding their applause.”

Preface to U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency

(March 9, 2019) Provided below is the Preface to 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.

U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency

“If I don’t see things your way, well, why should I?” —— Will Rogers

Preface

ULYSSES GRANT’S PRESIDENCY deserves a fresh analysis because modern historians and biographers have lifted him too high. Initially, their rehabilitation of his previously mixed reputation concentrated on his military performance during the Civil War, but more lately it has included his presidency. In 1948, for example, Grant ranked near the bottom at twenty-eighth out of thirty presidents. But a 2017 survey ranked him in the middle of the pack at twenty-second out of forty-one.

The ranking improvement reflects two factors. First is an increasing focus on his civil rights policies on behalf of blacks, if not other minorities. Historians who came of age during, or after, the 1960s civil rights movement tend to concentrate on the racial aspects of Reconstruction. In a 2018 interview, for example, Ron Chernow proclaimed Grant to be “the single most important president in terms of civil rights between Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson . . .” Second is a tendency among modern historians to minimize the corruption that plagued his presidency as well as an inclination to dismiss suspicions that he may have been personally culpable.

Regarding the first point, today’s historians too often fail to critically evaluate Grant’s motives for supporting black civil rights, particularly voting rights. His policy is commonly portrayed as a noble stand for racial equality. They fail to adequately examine evidence that his prime motive may have been to gain the political power that a routinely obedient voting bloc could provide to Republican candidates. Consider, for example, that only a minority of America’s whites voted for Grant when he was first elected President in 1868, despite his popularity as a war hero. His 300,000 popular vote majority resulted from winning about 90% of the votes among the mostly illiterate ex-slaves.

More importantly, President Grant may have limited his voting rights support to blacks simply because they composed the solitary minority group that could be politically significant. He did nothing for smaller racial minorities such as Indians, Chinese Americans and other immigrant groups. In fact, at the end of the Civil War Grant opposed black suffrage, even for those who were Union veterans. His move toward black suffrage over the next three years paralleled his increasing intimacy with Radical Republicans and fully solidified with his nomination for President on the Republican ticket in May 1868.

Similarly, Indians generally could not vote during Grant’s Administration. Moreover, in 1875-76 he secretly provoked a war with tribes in the Northern Great Plaines. He wanted to give white men access to dubious gold deposits in the Black Hills in order to help America’s economy recover from the depression that followed the Panic of 1873. Although the war is best known for Custer’s Last Stand, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled a century later that it was illegal and awarded over $100 million in damages to tribal descendants.

Chinese Americans were also generally denied the opportunity to become citizens and vote.  Not until 1943 would they be eligible to become naturalized citizens. Even though they never numbered more than ten percent of California’s population, they represented about two-thirds of the state’s lynch victims between 1849 and 1902. In fact, the biggest lynching in American history took place in Los Angeles during Grant’s first presidential term in 1871. The nineteen victims were Chinese Americans.

Since the Fourteenth Amendment only granted citizenship to persons born in America, Grant signed the 1870 Naturalization Act in order to enable blacks born elsewhere to become citizens. But the act deliberately excluded Chinese Americans and other “non-whites.” In 1875 he signed the Page Act that sharply restricted entry into America of Chinese women at a time when 96% of Chinese Americans were male and interracial marriage was rare.  That effectively blocked the Fourteenth Amendment’s birthright citizenship for Asian Americans. The 1875 Civil Rights Act also failed to include Chinese Americans. In Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans, Jean Paelzer explained the effect of such restrictions and omissions: “The Civil Rights Act and the Page Act of 1875 . . . removed the right of Chinese immigrants to ever become citizens and banned the immigration of most Chinese women.”

As for the dubious ethics within Grant’s Administration there were at least ten incidents of malfeasance connected to it during his eight-year presidency. The sheer number and frequency that repeatedly signified Grant’s association with men of questionable character may also hint at his own potential culpability. Consider, for example, the President’s conduct during the Whisky Ring Scandal, which involved tax evasion and bribery in the distilled spirits industry, which was the top source of domestic federal tax revenue.

 

President Grant’s Private Secretary: Orville Babcock

Ultimately the treasury’s investigation led to the threshold of the presidency when Grant’s personal secretary, Orville Babcock, was indicted as a leading Ring conspirator. Grant responded by first trying to move the trial to a friendly military court since Babcock was also an army officer. But a justice department prosecutor blocked the move by noting that it would violate procedural rules against removing evidence from the court of jurisdiction. Second, he hired a spy to infiltrate the prosecutor’s office, but the mole eventually sided with the prosecution. Third, he fired an assistant prosecutor whose comments during a jury summation offended Grant personally. Fourth, he forbade prosecutors to plea bargain with low-level conspirators as a means to convict high-level participants. Along with other evidence, Grant’s obstructions were so suspicious that the treasury department’s chief clerk wrote a future Supreme Court justice two days before Babcock’s trial, “What has hurt [Treasury Secretary] Bristow worst of all & most disheartened him is the final conviction that Grant himself is in the Ring and knows all about [it.]”

Grant also used a law commonly associated with protecting black civil rights in the South to police voter registrations in big Northern cities where growing immigrant populations were strengthening the Democratic Party. When the wife of Attorney General George Williams accused Grant of using secret service funds to benefit Republican candidates in New York City, the President explained that the money was spent in compliance with the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Acts to supervise voter registrations.

Grant was also an eager recipient of valuable gifts which he reciprocated with patronage appointments. Between 1865 and 1869 inclusive, donors bought—or gave him enough money to buy—a total of four homes. One each in Galena, Illinois, Philadelphia, Washington City and Long Branch, New Jersey.

One of the seven donors of the 27-room Long Branch “cottage” was Thomas Murphy who was a notorious supplier of shoddy merchandise to the Union army during the Civil War. Grant later appointed Murphy as customs collector for the Port of New York where the treasury collected three-fourths of America’s tariffs. It was the most lucrative patronage assignment available in the federal government.

Similarly, Grant assigned General Daniel Butterfield to New York’s sub-treasury office in exchange for raising a fund enabling General William T. Sherman to buy Grant’s Washington home at a price that was more than double the price Grant paid only three years earlier. Soon after his appointment, Butterfield took a bribe to join Jay Gould’s attempted corner of the gold market in September 1869.

Historians specializing in the Civil War and Reconstruction era are sometimes too easily persuaded by Grant’s words, while ignoring his contradictory actions. But, as J. P. Morgan once remarked, “A man always has two reasons for the things he does­—a good one and the real one.” Morgan was implying that the good reason is a false, benevolent explanation that conceals the real self-serving one. For example, Grant justified restricting the immigration of Chinese women by implying that he wanted to avoid forcing them into prostitution. In his 1875 annual presidential message he wrote, “few . . . are brought to our shores to pursue honorable or useful occupations.”  But Chinese American history specialist Jean Paelzer concludes that the true purpose of the act was “to force thousands of men to return to China” since only four percent of Asian Americans in 1875 were women.

Similarly, Grant initially adopted a benevolent attitude toward Indians. In his first annual message in December 1869 he announced that he had put Quakers in charge of several reservations because the sect had long coexisted peaceably with Indians: “From the foundation of the Government to the present, management of the . . . Indians . . . has been a subject of embarrassment and . . . attended with continuous robberies, murders, and wars.  I do not hold . . . the conduct of the whites . . . blameless . . . [and] have attempted a new [Quaker managed] policy . . . with fair results so far . . . which I hope will be [a] great success.” Yet, his professions of good feelings proved false when he launched the Centennial War in the North Plaines noted earlier.

When a group of African Americans visited the White House to congratulate him for winning reelection in 1872, Grant told them what they wanted to hear: “I wish that everyman in the United States would stand in all respects alike.” But, to Grant, “everyman” did not include Indians and Chinese Americans, among other non-black minorities.

Since Grant sometimes contradicted himself, his true intent must be deduced from his actions, not his words. Yet most modern biographers too-readily accept the statements that reflect upon him favorably and ignore the contradictory ones. Charles Calhoun does so when suggesting that Grant supported labor over capital in the 1877 railroad strike during the first year of successor Rutherford Hayes’s presidency. While complaining that the press had been overly critical of his use of federal troops in the South, Calhoun cites Grant as complaining, “Now [during the 1877 railroad strike], however, there is no hesitation about exhausting the whole power of the government to suppress a strike on the slightest intimation that danger threatens.”

But in an August 27, 1877 letter to brother-in-law Abel Corbin Grant displayed a hard, and contradictory, stance toward labor. He wrote, “My judgment is that [the strike] should have been put down with a strong hand and so summarily as to prevent a like occurrence for a generation.”

Finally, even though Grant’s fundamental interest in black civil rights may have reflected the power of the group’s voting bloc more than the morality of racial equality, it ultimately failed to be enough to sustain his support. The moment-of-truth came during the autumn 1875 elections in Mississippi and Ohio.

Mississippi carpetbag governor Adelbert Ames twice asked Grant for federal troops to police the polls on Election Day but was turned down. It would be another forty years before former Republican Mississippi Congressman John Lynch, who was born into slavery, revealed that Grant confessed to him in November 1875 that Ohio politicians convinced the President that Mississippi intervention would likely cause Republicans to lose Ohio. Basically, Grant traded a Republican victory in Mississippi for a bigger one in Ohio. Thereafter, the Republican Party steadily lost interest in Southern blacks.

Understanding Grant’s roller-coaster reputation begins with a study of contrasts. In a mere seven years he rose from obscurity to the presidency, only to generally skid downward from his inauguration day to the end of his second term.