Tag Archives: Ulysses Grant

President Grant’s Exploitive Economic Plan

(September 19, 2017) After the first transcontinental railroad connected Omaha with Sacramento during President Grant’s first term in 1869, other tycoons sought government financing to build additional lines. One was Jay Cooke whose investment company was the leading underwriter of federal bonds during the Civil War. Cooke backed the Northern Pacific Railroad, which was to connect Lake Superior with Puget Sound.

Originally chartered by Congress in 1864, the Northern Pacific had not built a mile of track by 1870. Cook reasoned that he could buy the company at a bargain price if he could later get Congress to extend the life of its charter and provide him other concessions. After paying consulting fees to one of President Grant’s personal secretaries, Horace Porter, he learned that Grant was as “firm as a rock” on a bill tailor-made to his needs.

The 1870 act gave the company more time to complete construction without losing rights to its land subsidies, which were unusually generous. It also permitted Cooke to collect a $200 fee in stock for each $1,000 bond sold as well as a 12% cash commission. As the railroad stretched westward from Minnesota rumors of corruption filtered back east. Still, Cooke was selling about a million dollars in bonds every month. Overseas investors arrived on junkets to ride the rails to the ever-lengthening end of the line. By the late summer of 1873 it had reached Bismarck in present-day North Dakota.

But the railroad was generating little revenue. Nearly all its operations and construction were funded by debt. Anything that prevented Cooke from selling more bonds and stock would cause the Northern Pacific to coast to a halt. A March 1873 congressional report into corruption and political bribery involving the first transcontinental railroad was just such a factor. The public perceived the scandal as an indictment of widespread immorality within the railroad industry and the federal government.

Nonetheless, when Jay Cooke & Company collapsed on September 18, 1873 there could hardly have been a bigger blow to the public confidence. One Philadelphia newspaper reported, “No one could have been more surprised if snow had fallen during a summer noon.” Without new sales of Northern Pacific securities, Cooke & Company soon ran out of cash. The night before it shut down President Grant was a Cooke houseguest. The two shared a breakfast the vey morning of the debacle.

Cooke’s failure triggered a panic that led to a five-year depression. The New York Stock Exchange closed for ten days, amplifying the panic. Business failures in 1873 climbed to 5,000, from 4,000 in 1872 and 3,000 in 1871. Track construction across the nation declined by a third in 1874, causing 500,000 layoffs within the railroad eco-system including the iron and steel industry. Prices fell. Pig iron dropped from $56 a ton in 1872 to $17 five years later. Wages fell about 50% from 1873 to 1877. The country seemed to be overrun with vagrants.

As the economy progressively weakened during the months following Cooke’s bankruptcy, President Grant reflected upon how earlier gold discoveries in California and the Rocky Mountains had promptly energized America’s economy. Thus, in the summer of 1874 he sent a military expedition into the Black Hills of present-day South Dakota to look for evidence of rumored gold deposits. Since the Hills were part of a Lakota Sioux reservation—officially off limits to white civilians—the expedition’s goal was falsely represented as a site search for a military fort, which was permissible.

Lieutenant-Colonel George Custer led the thousand-man expedition that included President Grant’s eldest son as well as three newspaper reporters, a photographer and two gold miners. Although the group saw few Indians they discovered tempting quantities of gold. Soon the first rush of prospectors began tearing through the Hills. Within two years the largest deposit in the Continental United States—ultimately to become the Homestake Mine—was discovered. A year after discovery, George Hearst and two partners purchased the mine for $70,000. Before ending production in 2001, Homestake yielded over $1 billion in gold and helped finance the legendary career of George’s son, William Randolph Hearst.

Initially Grant made little effort to control the prospecting, but within a year there were so many prospectors that the he decided that the government must buy the Black Hills from the Sioux. When he learned that the Sioux refused to sell, he resolved to contrive a reason to start a war in order to take it from them by force.

In November 1875 he summoned the general commanding the region and the commissioner of Indian affairs to a White House meeting. Although the general and the commissioner were both on record as reporting that the Lakota had been peaceful in recent years, a contrary report was issued a week after the meeting by an inspector of the Indian Affairs Bureau. According to historian James Donovan the report “cited various trumped-up accusations and smoothly worded falsehoods regarding Indian violations.” Accordingly, the “wild” Indians in the hunting territories were told that they must return to the reservation by January 31, 1876 or be declared hostile, which would thereby authorize the army to force their return.

It was an impossible demand. The weather-weakened Indian ponies could not move entire villages, which included women and children. One warrior later said, “It was very cold and many of our people and ponies would have died in the snow. We were in our own country and doing no harm.” Even the departmental military commander admitted the ultimatum “will in all probability be regarded as a joke by the Indians.”

After an abortive winter campaign, the army launched a three-pronged offensive against the off-reservation Lakota in June 1876. They converged on the Powder River country in southeastern Montana. One column approached from the south out of Wyoming and a second approached downstream along the Yellowstone River from western Montana. A third column under General Alfred Terry marched upstream along the Yellowstone from the column’s starting point in present-day North Dakota. Terry’s force included the Seventh Cavalry Regiment under Custer’s command.

In response, the scattered Indian settlements concentrated into a single big village along a tributary of the Big Horn River, blandly named the Little Big Horn. The soldiers’ Wyoming column was quickly turned back at the Battle of the Rosebud. As Terry continued marching westward along the Yellowstone with his infantry, he sent the Seventh Cavalry south of the river on a reconnaissance in force to find the Indian village, or villages. Custer found the Little Big Horn village on 25 June. He divided his command into three separate components and attacked the Indians with two of them. The third guarded the regiment’s slower-moving pack train but was also sent on a vague reconnaissance mission to the southwest, perhaps to search for unseen hostiles.

The village had about 1,800 warriors as compared to 500 soldiers in the entire Seventh Cavalry. Custer’s column totaled 225 men. He allocated 150 men to a group under Major Marcus Reno to attack the village from the south. The final pack train guard under Captain Frederick Benteen included 125 men. After Reno’s attack was repulsed his command retreated to a defensive position on a bluff overlooking the Little Big Horn where Benteen’s pack train joined him. The Indians killed all the troopers in Custer’s command east of the village. Reno and Benteen suffered 53 killed and 60 wounded. The Lakota moved their village beyond sight the evening before General Terry’s infantry arrived on 27 June.

The Indian victory was merely temporary and only intensified white hostility. Within nine months the federal government forced the Lakota to cede the Black Hills. An 1877 act usurped the 1868 Treaty of Laramie requirement that it could only be amended by a three-quarter vote of adult male Sioux, which was not obtained. Instead, the federal authorities told the Indians that the 75% supermajority applied only to the Lakota residing on the reservation. Even given the narrower interpretation, however, it is doubtful that a three-quarter vote was obtained.

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President Grant’s Gold Conspiracy

(September 5, 2017) The September 1869 attempted gold corner debacle began three months earlier in June when President Grant and his wife took a holiday trip to New York City to visit his sister and her husband, Abel Corbin, who had earlier sold Grant the “I” Street home in Washington. This time Corbin introduced Grant to Jay “The Mephistopheles of Wall Street” Gould, who together with Jim Fisk controlled the Erie Railroad. Along with the New York Central, the Erie was one of two trunk lines between New York and Chicago. Thus, began a series of conversations involving Gould, Fisk, Grant, and Corbin supposedly focused on boosting the economy and helping the western farmer.

Gould’s plan had a core of merit, if not corrupted for personal gain. He argued, correctly, that the vast majority of domestic transactions where unaffected by the price of gold in terms of Greenbacks. Since Greenbacks were legal tender they were widely accepted at face value among Americans transacting commerce with one another. Except in selected port cites where goods were imported, Greenbacks had driven specie (gold and silver coins) out of circulation. Even in port cities, Greenbacks were the main form of currency.

Conversely, international buyers purchased—imported into their countries—American goods by paying with specie. Therefore, the Greenback-to-gold exchange ratio was inconsequential to overseas buyers per se. Put another way, the price of grain in London was immune to the gold-to-Greenback ratio in New York. Therefore, Gould reasoned, manipulation of the gold-to-Greenback exchange rate might offer an opportunity to help the economy and the western farmer.

When he proposed the scheme, gold dollars traded at a value of about 130% to those of Greenbacks. Therefore, if he could induce gold to rise to 145% each shipload of grain sold in London would net American farmers about 12% (145/130) more in Greenbacks, even though the amount of gold Londoners would use to purchase the shipload would not change.

Eventually, Gould explained that he had enough money to execute his plan as long as the U. S. Treasury did not enter the New York gold market as a seller. He would simply buy gold on the exchange until it reached 145%. Since only about $20 million in gold was normally available to trade on the exchange, only sales from the $100 million Treasury reserve could disrupt Gould’s intentions.

In a partial “what-I-get-out-of-it” confession, Gould admitted that the plan would increase freight traffic for the Erie Railroad as grain was shipped from western states to the port of New York. He said nothing, however, about the capital gains he’d make as his gold holdings increased in price. It is likely he also realized that there was a good chance the premium would rise well above 145% as speculators began to comprehend that Gould had purchased all of the available market supply in a classic corner operation. Gould originally discussed the plan with Grant on 15 June when he was invited to meet the President at the Corbin household. Fisk joined Gould and Grant in a second discussion over dinner aboard a Long Island Sound steamer the following evening.

Although Fisk concluded from the conversation that Grant would not cooperate, Gould remained unconvinced. Together with Corbin the two successfully advised Grant to appoint General Daniel Butterfield to head the New York sub-Treasury office on 1 July where he could provide the conspirators with advance warning should Treasury Secretary George Boutwell send orders from Washington to sell gold. Grant made a second visit to Corbin’s household on 2 September where he wrote a letter to Boutwell explaining that it was “undesirable to force down the price of gold.”

Gould had been buying gold since 20 August with little affect on the market, but Grant’s letter to Boutwell implied that the market would soon do his bidding since the Treasury would not be a seller. Nonetheless, since Gould understood he was playing for big stakes he sought every possible advantage. Thus, using his own money he purchased $1.5 million in gold for the account of Abel Corbin. He intended to sell the contract later at a higher price, letting Corbin keep the profit while allocating the original $1.5 million back to his own account.

Next Gould started buying gold aggressively on 3 September. But on 7 September a member in his original conspiracy pool abandoned the operation and sold his holdings at 138, putting pressure on the price. Gould responded by purchasing $1.5 million in gold for the account of Daniel Butterfield. That gave the New York sub-Treasury officer a powerful incentive to warn Gould of any signs that Washington was on the verge of selling gold. Gould also offered a $500,000 contract to White House staff member Horace Porter who claimed he declined it. Seven years later, however, an investigation into presidential staff member Orville Babcock indicated that Babcock also had a gold contract but lost $40,000 when he sold it. Contrary to his earlier denial, evidence from the same investigation suggested that Porter also held gold contracts during the corner attempt.

By 14 September Gould concluded it was necessary to inform Fisk of the scheme and admit him into the pool because Fisk’s resources could finance enough gold purchases to lift the market price. According to historian William Hesseltine, “Fisk, went to Corbin, who whisperingly assured him that Mrs. Grant was in on the scheme. Gould had purchased gold for her at 131 and sold it at 137. Corbin himself had about $2 million in the market. Five hundred thousand of that was Mrs. Grant’s and a like amount belonged to General Porter. Gould confirmed that he had recently given Corbin a check for $25,000 and Corbin asserted that he had sent the money to Washington.” Basically, Fisk was led to believe that some of the gold contracts Corbin held in his name were really for the benefit of Julia Grant and Horace Porter.

Fisk’s buying power was needed to carry out the scheme because short sellers had artificially increased the market supply significantly by offering “phantom” gold on the market. He started buying on 15 September. By 22 September gold reached a price of 141. Meanwhile, on 12 September Grant departed on a private railcar owned by Gould for another vacation, this time in western Pennsylvania. Before leaving he wrote additional instructions to Boutwell basically directing that the secretary make no change in policy involving gold sales “until the present struggle [between bulls and bears] is over.” A traveling companion on Grant’s trip also noted that the President told him that he had instructed Boutwell “to beware of Wall Street and sell no gold” without Grant’s approval.

After Grant arrived at his Pennsylvania vacation spot, Corbin sent him another letter emphasizing that the Treasury refrain from selling gold. While Julia was writing a letter to Corbin’s wife (Grant’s sister) the President asked her to tell the couple that they must promptly end all speculations in the gold market. When Julia’s letter arrived in New York on 22 September, Corbin asked Gould to pay him $100,000 in unrealized profits from the $1.5 million contact and assume ownership of the underlying gold. Gould declined. Instead he offered to give Corbin a $100,000 check, which Corbin declined because he did not want to retain ownership of the underlying gold.[4]

The next day (Thursday) Fisk and Gould went to the exchange together. While Fisk bought aggressively and drove the price to 144, Gould was secretly selling. On Friday September 24, 1869 Gould and Fisk again went to the exchange together. Gould was promptly informed that bank examiners were heading to investigate the bank that provided most of his credit. He knew they would discover that his bank had improperly issued certified checks exceeding the value of all deposits connected with Gould’s operation. Essentially Gould had been using at least some amount of phony money to buy gold all along. As a result, he redoubled his furtive selling throughout the day.

Fisk, however, was as ostentatious a buyer as on Thursday. Trading volume was enormous. As the clock hands approached noon, gold was at 164, when news arrived that the Treasury would be putting $4 million on the market. Within fifteen minutes the price was down to 133. Gould was safely divested at the collapse.

Everyone assumed that Fisk was bankrupted, which may have been true. Later, however, he produced a (possibly bogus) document stating that he had been merely the agent for a brokerage firm owned by William Belden. The Belden firm, he averred, was financially responsible for his purchases. Since Belden did not have enough money to honor the transactions, all but one trade was repudiated and the firm was bankrupted. The majority report of a later congressional investigating committee, however, concluded “the conspirators [Fisk and Gould]…either before or after the fact…bought Belden’s consent to this villainy” thereby implying that Belden was paid-off personally even though his firm was ruined.

The comparatively moderate 23% gold price movement (130-to-160) resulting from Gould scheme caused a financial panic for two reasons. First, speculators normally used margin loans to execute their transactions. Put simply, they commonly bought and sold gold contracts by borrowing most of the money. Since gold was itself a form of money, banks would readily lend ninety percent or so on its market value. Thus, for example, a buyer needed only $100,000 to purchase a $1 million gold contract. If the price went up 10% the buyer doubled his $100,000 equity. But if it went down 10%, his entire investment was wiped out because the banks would sell the underlying gold to recapture its $900,000 (90%) loan.

A second reason it caused a crisis was because all but one of the sellers who sold gold to Belden through Fisk were unable to force Belden to make good on the transactions. The sellers were caught in a position similar to a homeowner who contracted to sell his home at an above-market price only to have the buyer belatedly renege after housing prices had tumbled.

After the September collapse, Congressman—later President—James A. Garfield headed the investigating committee noted above. The committee’s majority report concluded that Mrs. Grant never participated in the conspiracy. Fisk’s claim to the contrary was “denied by Corbin and unsupported by Gould.” Likewise, the majority report found that General Porter also never participated in the scheme, despite Fisk’s contrary statements.

Nonetheless, contemporary observer Henry Adams—grandson and great-grandson of two U. S. Presidents—concluded that Garfield led a whitewashed investigation, perhaps because he and other committee members were also vulnerable to criticism for low ethics. Garfield, it would later be disclosed, participated in the Crédit Mobilier corruption that emerged as the largest railroad finance scandal of the era. Years later Adams wrote:

The mystery that shrouded the famous, classical attempt of Jay Gould to corner gold in September 1869 has never been cleared up…

The Congressional Committee took…evidence, which it dared not probe and refused to analyze. Although the fault lay somewhere in the Administration…the trail always faded and died out at the point where any member of the Administration became visible.

At least one modern historian, Joseph Rose, shares Adams’s skepticism. In Grant Under Fire he notes several problems with the conventional Grant-was-a-naïve-victim interpretation.

First, Grant knowingly permitted the price of gold to rise and did nothing to prevent it until the financial markets were in crisis. Indeed, by blocking Treasury gold sales he assisted those driving the price up. Additional increases would have bankrupted the many short sellers and forced even more contract repudiations thereby even more severely disrupting commercial activities. Second, the committee did not permit testimony by a man who signed an Adams Express receipt ledger that he said showed Mrs. Grant had earlier received a $25,000 “money package” at the White House. Garfield, writes Rose, “concocted a phony explanation to hush this up.” Third, Grant persuaded Garfield not to subpoena Julia Grant or Virginia Corbin, his wife and sister respectively. Fourth, given the above circumstances, Grant’s post-report expression of his “good many obligations” to Garfield “for the Gold Panic investigation” suggests he was thanking the committee chairman for a whitewash.

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President Grant’s Bad Start

(August 27, 2017) Although most modern biographies attribute the Grant Administration’s reputation for corruption to venal advisors who took advantage of the President’s innocent naivety, they tend to ignore early examples of Grant’s own dubious conduct that set low ethical standards for others in his Administration to follow.

One incident was the sale of his “I” Street residence in Washington shortly before he moved into the White House on the March 4, 1869 inauguration day. He had purchased the four-story structure only three years earlier for $30,000 with part of a $100,000 purse raised on subscription for him by wealthy New Yorkers arranged by former General Daniel Butterfield. His wife, however, was angry about the sale because she anticipated the home would be their permanent residence after Grant’s presidency ended. She also seemed to be annoyed at the $40,000 sales price.

In response, at Grant’s urging, Butterfield and Treasury Secretary designee Alexander Stewart led a subscription to buy the furnished house for General William T. Sherman at a price of $65,000. Once the money was raised, Grant repudiated his written agreement with the first buyer, pocketed the $35,000 profit, and in July would appoint Butterfield as an Assistant Treasurer in the Department’s vital New York City sub-treasury office where he would soon become involved in the Administration’s first major scandal. Although Grant returned his $1,000 deposit, the first buyer of the home felt cheated and threaten to embarrass the President with a breech of contract suit during Grant’s second election campaign in 1872.

Grant set a second bad example of taking a genteel form of bribery when he accepted a vacation home as a gift only a few months after becoming President. During his first six months in office he spent at least two months on vacation. One of his favorite spots was the seaside village of Long Branch, New Jersey where seven donors bought him a $35,000 “cottage.” The “cottage” had twenty-seven rooms.

One of the donors owned a Philadelphia newspaper and another owned the Pullman Company, which manufactured railroad cars. Grant appointed a third donor, Thomas Murphy, to the notoriously lucrative and corrupt post of New York’s Customs Collector. Even when he was in his White House office he worked only an estimated four hours daily. He was on vacation when the Administration’s first big scandal was hatched and on another vacation when it climaxed.

In sum, the notorious corruption during Grant’s Presidency appears to be foreshadowed early in his Administration by the President’s own disreputable conduct, which seems to underscore what everyone learned as a child, “Followers are guided by what their leaders do, not what they say.”

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Sources: Joseph Rose, Grant Under Fire; Ron White, American Ulysses; William McFeely, Grant; William Hesseltine, Grant the Politician

Other Generals Shared McClellan’s Disease

(July 5, 2017) Modern historians commonly condemn Union Major General George McClellan for almost uniquely overestimating the size of his opposing Confederate armies. According to the Civil War Trust, for example, the general’s “most grievous error [of] hugely overestimating Confederate numbers [was] a delusion [that] dominated his military character.” In truth, however, a number of Federal commanders were prone to overestimate the size of the enemy’s army.

During the Battle of Shiloh, for example, General Ulysses Grant sent a note to the commander of a reinforcing Federal army that Grant was under attack by more than 100,000 Rebels whereas the Confederates only numbered about 45,000. While that overestimation might be excused  because it was made in the heat of battle, Grant continued to overestimate his opponents strength at 70,000 even after the battle.

Similarly, on the eve of the Battle of Antietam where McClellan  would lead the Federal troops, Union General in Chief Henry Halleck in nearby Washington estimated Robert E. Lee’s opposing army at 150,000 men compared to its true strength of only 40,000. Nine days before the battle McClellan’s own commander of cavalry estimated Lee’s strength at 115,000. The prize for exaggeration, however, goes to Pennsylvania governor Andrew Curtin who wired the War Department five days before the battle that Lee had 190,000 men north of the Potomac River and another 250,000 men in northern Virginia ready to cross the stream. In short, Curtin estimated Lee’s army to be more than ten times bigger than it actually was.

As explained in an earlier post, President Lincoln was afraid that Stonewall Jackson would attack Washington following the latter’s repeated victories in the Shenandoah Valley in the spring of 1862. Even though Jackson had only 17,000 soldiers Lincoln estimated it at 30,000. Union commanders in the Valley, James Shields and Charles Fremont, estimated Jackson’s numbers to range from 20,000 to 60,000.

When Major General Jubal Early led a Confederate army in a second Shenandoah Valley campaign two years later and did, if fact, reach the outskirts of Washington, Lincoln’s War Secretary Edwin Stanton claimed Early’s army contained 35,000 men. In reality, Early had only 12,000.

Shortly before launching his offensive against Robert E. Lee at Chancellorsville in May 1863 Union commander Joseph Hooker told Lincoln that Lee outnumbered him, whereas Hooker actually outnumbered Lee two-to-one.

The prevailing tendency among historians is to judge McClellan for what he did not do as opposed to what he did. Thus, he is not admired for accomplishing in a matter of three weeks the transformation of a defeated Union army into one that stopped Robert E. Lee’s first invasion at Antietam. He is not applauded for immediately cancelling the orders of Stanton and Halleck to ship the weapons in Washington’s arsenal to New York and keep a steamer ready to evacuate political leaders in the panicked aftermath of Second Bull Run. Nor is he credited with earlier reaching the gates of Richmond before the Battle of Seven Pines by suffering only modest casualties and inflicting more casualties on Lee than Lee did on him during the ensuing fighting on the peninsula. Two years later, Grant would sacrifice over sixty thousand soldiers to put Petersburg under siege and force the surrender of the Confederate capital. Grant’s maneuver was much like the one proposed by McClellan in July 1862 but overruled by then General in Chief Halleck.

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Southern Reconstruction, Part Two: Republican Hegemony

(November 7, 2016) Provided below is Part Two of my Southern Reconstruction speech to a November 5th seminar in Tullahoma, Tennessee. Labeled “Republican Party Hegemony” today’s installment follows the “Protracted Poverty” of Part One. 


Post-war politics and federal economic policies contributed to the South’s long delayed economic recovery. Among such factors were property confiscations, Republican Party self-interest, discriminatory federal budgets, protective tariffs, Union veteran pensions, banking regulations, discriminatory freight rates, lax monopoly regulation, absentee ownership and the requirement that America’s most impoverished region pay for the public education of the children of ex-slaves even though emancipation was a national—not regional—policy.

When Lee surrendered to Grant, more than two million fungible cotton bales were scattered across the South. Given an average price of 43 cents per pound, each bale was worth about $172, putting the value of the entire inventory at nearly $350 million as compared to $15 million of US currency then circulating in the region. The cotton inventory might have primed the pump of Southern recovery, but instead it was plundered.

Union soldiers, US treasury officials, and Northern businessmen stole most of it under the pretext of legitimate confiscation, or no pretext at all. A dismayed US Treasury Secretary Hugh McCulloch remarked, “I am sure that I sent some honest cotton agents South, but it sometimes seems very doubtful that any of them remained honest very long.”

Southern lands were also confiscated for non-payment of state taxes imposed by Carpetbag regimes, which were some of the highest in relation to wealth in US history. At one point 15% of Mississippi’s taxable land was up for sale due to tax defaults and an Arkansas newspaper required sixteen pages to list delinquencies.

When the Civil War ended the Republican Party was barely ten years old. Its leaders worried that it might be strangled in the cradle if re-admittance of Southern states into the Union failed to be managed in a way that would prevent Southerners from allying with Northern Democrats to regain control of the federal government. If all former Confederate states were admitted to Congress in December 1865 and each added member was a Democrat, the Republican Senate majority would have dropped from 40-to-8 and become 40-to-30. Similarly, the Party’s majority in the House would have dropped from 111-to-40 and become 111-to-79. In short, the Republicans would have no longer held a veto-proof two-thirds majority in Congress.

Thus, the infant GOP needed to insure that most of the new Southern senators and congressmen were admitted as Republicans. That required that vassal governments be established in the Southern states. Since there were few white Republicans in the region the Party needed to create a new constituency. Consequently, Republicans settled on two objectives.

First was mandatory African-American suffrage in all former Confederate states. Republicans expected that the mostly illiterate and inexperienced black electorate could be manipulated to consistently support Party interests out of gratitude for emancipation and voter suffrage. Second was denial of the vote to the Southern white classes most likely to oppose Republican policies.

Although it is often assumed that Republican Party sponsorship of Southern black suffrage was motivated by a moral impulse to promote racial equality, the bulk of the evidence suggests the Party was more interested in retaining political power.

First, the 1866 Civil Rights Act passed over President Johnson’s veto declared nearly all blacks to be citizens but expressly denied citizenship to Indians unless they were paying taxes. Indians would not gain full citizenship until the 1920s.

Second, Republicans recognized that many Northerners did not favor black suffrage in their own states. When the Civil War began, blacks were not permitted to vote in sixteen of the twenty-two Union-loyal states. In most of the remaining six they could only vote by meeting property and education tests that were more stringent than those applied to whites. Upon the war’s conclusion, only five New England states with tiny black populations permitted them to vote. Connecticut, Minnesota, and Wisconsin each rejected black suffrage in 1865. Kansas did so in 1867 as did Michigan and Missouri in 1868 and even New York in 1869. As shall be explained, the Republicans would adopt a strategy that would permit Northern states to reject black suffrage with only negligible consequences but that would significantly penalize Southern states for doing so.

Third, a month after General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Union Major General William T. Sherman wrote a colleague, “I have never heard a negro ask for…[voting rights]…and I think it would be his ruin…I believe the whole idea of giving votes to the negroes is to create just that many votes to be used by others for political uses…”

Major General William T. Sherman

Major General William T. Sherman

Fourth, the two Republican leaders most commonly believed to be sincerely interested in black racial equality also admitted that they also wanted Southern black suffrage in order to help keep their Party in power.

Pennsylvania Representative Thaddeus Stevens who would ultimately be buried in a black cemetery said, “If [black] suffrage is excluded in the rebel States then every one of them is sure to send a solid rebel representative delegation to Congress…They, with their kindred [Northern] Copperheads, would always elect the President and control Congress.” He also stated that the Southern states, “ought never…be…counted as valid states until the Constitution shall have been amended…to secure perpetual ascendancy to the party of the Union [meaning the Republican Party].” Continue reading

Grant’s Presidential Corruption-One

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.