(November 23, 2017) True history is the final fiction. – Gore Vidal
Unfortunately, the new surge of Ulysses Grant biographies compete with one another to saturate readers with “true history” in the Vidal context. While recent posts offer several examples of politically correct falsehoods, misrepresentations and omissions, Ron Chernow’s biography delivers yet another. He fails to fault President Grant for backing a wicked Louisiana state government that unnecessarily provoked white resentment thereby leading to racial violence.
Specifically, Grant used military force to buttress carpetbag Governor William P. Kellogg’s regime that counted Grant’s brother-in-law—James F. Casey—among its leaders. As customs tax collector in New Orleans, Casey held one of America’s most lucrative federal patronage posts. It trailed only New York’s tariff collector as the most notoriously corruption-prone federal assignment. Moreover, Chernow fails to even consider whether the President may have profited personally from Casey’s activities. The author begins his applicable narrative as follows:
Although Kellogg emerged victorious, his foes refused to concede the  election, which had been marked by illegalities on both sides.
The undisclosed story behind the phrase, “emerged victorious,” undermines Chernow’s credibility. Specifically, Kellogg did not “emerge victorious” in the balloting; he “emerged victorious” as a result of a questionable intervention by a possibly corrupt federal judge.
First, Chernow imprecisely identifies Kellogg’s opposing candidate, John McEnry, as a “Democrat.” In truth, McEnry was on both the Liberal Republican and Democratic tickets, as was Presidential candidate Horace Greely, who lost to Grant that year.
Second, the state government settled Chernow’s “illegalities on both sides” in favor of McEnry where he admittedly benefitted from the near dictatorial powers of the incumbent carpetbag governor who opposed Kellogg. As future governor, however, Kellogg would proceed to use even greater dictatorial powers to perpetuate his own interests, as well as those of Washington Republicans. He would, for example, steal the 1876 presidential election for “Rutherfraud” B. Hayes. But that’s another story, and a good one.
Third, Kellogg appealed to Louisiana’s only federal judge, Edward Durell, to block McEnry’s inauguration. Although mostly criticized in Louisiana and the South, the interference of a federal judge in a state election was questioned all over America. It had no basis in law but for the Enforcement Act shoved through Congress and signed by Grant only two years earlier.
The act essentially enabled the federal government to step-in anytime a carpetbag regime complained that Southern whites had intimidated black voters. Judge Durell suspiciously declared a hastily organized Kellogg-dominated Election Returning Board as the solitary legitimate board thereby arbitrarily putting Kellogg into the governor’s mansion.
Fourth, in January 1874 the House Judiciary Committee in Washington started to investigate Durell. Massachusetts Representative Benjamin Butler chaired the Committee. Butler, it should be noted, had few native Louisiana friends because of his confiscatory policies as commander of the New Orleans occupation army during the Civil War.
The Committee voted six-to-five to impeach Judge Durell for systematic bribery in bankruptcy cases and for exceeding his authority in the 1872 elections. After the 1874 elections increased the Democratic majority in the House and because he felt the Senate would convict him, Durell resigned.
In sum, Kellogg “emerged victorious” because a federal judge that Congress appeared likely to impeach only two years later unilaterally selected Kellogg as the winner. While the anger among Louisiana whites provoked by Judge Durell and Governor Kellogg does not justify racial violence, it verifies that resentment toward Kellogg was not a mere byproduct of endemic Southern racism as Chernow implies. Although a currently popular interpretation, the implication is merely the latest fiction.
Since the inventory of my Southern Reconstruction book at Amazon is getting low, readers may contact me [phil_leigh(at)me.com] to purchase signed copies if they prefer. Alternately, you may buy it at Barnes & Noble or other bookstores.