Tag Archives: Ulysses Grant

Tomorrow: History Channel MiniSeries on U.S. Grant

The History Channel premiers the first chapter of a three-episode miniseries on Ulysses Grant, titled “Grant,” on Memorial Day. It airs Monday at 9 P.M. (8 P.M. Central) for two hours, and again at 11 P.M. and 1 A.M. the next morning as well as 7 P.M Tuesday. The second and third episodes are at the same times on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, respectively.

Given that author Ron Chernow is Executive Producer, Grant will likely be portrayed too favorably as both a military commander and President.

Click on the book image to visit its Amazon Page.

While the series airs I am offering my book, U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency, for $15 which is 20% off the regular $20 price. (Amazon has a Kindle version for $4.95.) To realize how Reconstruction failed it is necessary to understand how Grant’s presidency failed.

Domestic shipping is free. You may pay with credit card, PayPal, Apple Pay, and check. Email me at phil_leigh(at)me.com to proceed.

 

President Grant Was Not Naive About Money

(November 20, 2019) For at least the past twenty years, historians and Ulysses Grant biographers have increasingly attributed the corruption infecting his Presidency to personal naivety. They portray him as an honest President, but one unable to discern the moral defects in the men he chose to serve with him. In truth, after the Civil War ended in 1865 he became increasingly enamored with businessmen of the Gilded Age, some of dubious and even corrupt reputations.  More importantly, he also became accustomed to leveraging such relations for personal monetary gain. By the time he became President in 1869, he fully realized how politicians could reciprocate indirectly for the generosity of wealthy “friends.”

Between 1865 and 1869 he received four homes as gifts. In 1865 Galena, Illinois purchased the $16,000 home that his family was renting during the Civil War and presented it as a gift. Since he was then working in Washington as General of the Army, however, Philadelphia also bought the Grant family a grand home at 2009 Chestnut Street that same year. 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.

Click on the book image to visit its Amazon Page.

As a result, future brother-in-law Abel Corbin bought Grant a Washington home on “I” Street in exchange for a $30,000 ten year note. Only four months later, however, Daniel Butterfield led a group of wealthy New Yorkers that raised a $105,000 purse, which enabled Grant to pay off Corbin and invest the balance in government bonds. After becoming President in 1869, he immediately signed a bill requiring that all federal bonds be repaid in gold, even though investors bought them with paper money that traded at a fluctuating discount to gold. During the Civil War the discount got to be as steep as 65%.  Although Boston was too far away for a home, fifty citizens of that city gave him a personal library valued at $75,000.

Shortly before Grant moved his family into the White House in 1869 he sold the “I” Street home for $40,000. Although that would have yielded a $10,000 (33%) profit, he hoped for more. Consequently, he urged Daniel Butterfield to raise another $100,000 for army buddy William T. Sherman who would become the new General of the Army and need a substantial home.  After Butterfield raised the money, Grant returned the $1,000 buyer’s deposit and instead sold the “I” Street home to Sherman for $65,000. The scheme yielded the President a $35,000 profit instead of only $10,000. Grant next appointed Butterfield to head the New York Treasury Office where Jay Gould bribed him to provide advance notice of Treasury gold sales during Gould’s attempt to corner the gold market in September 1869.

Only a few months after becoming President, Grant accepted a $35,000 Long Branch, New Jersey vacation “cottage” with twenty-seven rooms as a gift. He later appointed one of the donors as tax collector of the Port of New York, where about 70% of America’s tariffs were collected. Whenever large amounts of money funneled through a government agency in that era, some of it tended to stick to the fingers of the administrators.  Grant was well aware of the tendency. He had already appointed a brother in law as tariff collector in New Orleans, the South’s biggest duty collection point.

Grant also accepted undervalued stock in the Seneca Sandstone Company, which was scheming to be a major building materials supplier as Washington City modernized under Republican rule. Grant got stock valued at $20,000 for half price the year before he became President. He sold his shares four years later, which was nine months after he appointed the company’s founder to head the District of Columbia’s government.

Following two terms in the White House, Grant and his wife went on a triumphal World tour for thirty months. After he returned, the ex-President received the income from a $250,000 trust, which was raised through a subscription headed by the notorious Jay Gould.

President Grant’s personal secretary, Orville Babcock, was indicted as a ringleader for a group of tax collectors that took bribes from distilled spirits producers in exchange for allowing them to evade excise taxes. In response to the indictment, Grant forbade the prosecutors to strike plea bargains with participants lower in Babcock’s alleged pyramid.  He fired a prosecutor who convicted an underling in the organization and was deterred from firing the replacement when his attorney general advised it would be impolitic. Although Babcock was acquitted, Grant’s conduct dismayed Treasury Secretary Benjamin Bristow. One of Bristow’s clerks told future Supreme Court Justice John Harlan: “What has hurt Bristow worst of all and disheartened him is the final conviction that Grant himself is in the [corruption] Ring and knows all about [it].”

Grant was an overnight guest in Jay Cooke’s Philadelphia mansion and had breakfast there the very morning that Cooke’s financial empire collapsed late in 1873, triggering a five year economic depression. Cooke was the biggest contributor to Grant’s 1872 re-election campaign. Jay’s brother, Henry, headed the Seneca Sandstone Company noted above and was also on the Board of Directors of the Freedmen’s Savings Bank, which went bankrupt partly because of defaulted loans to Seneca and other Cooke companies.

In short, Grant repeatedly benefitted from crony capitalism, which appears to have tempted him to greater unethical and possibly illegal actions.

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To learn more about Grant’s presidency and support this blog read:

U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency by Philip Leigh

Did Republicans Bribe Voters to Elect U. S. Grant President?

(October 11, 2019) Despite his unrivaled popularity after the Civil War, Republcan Ulysses Grant won the presidency merely three years later in 1868 by a popular vote margin of only 53%-to-47%. In fact, if not for the votes of ex-slaves that had only gained suffrage during the preceding twelve months, he would have lost the popular vote. Thus, he was the choice of only a minority of whites. Obscure sections of the 1868 Republican Party Platform and the Fourteenth Amendment ratified later that same year provide clues to explain the curiosity. They also reveal that it was more than a mere historical footnote.

Although the Platform’s second plank mandated black suffrage in all former Confederate states, it left it as an historical state’s right in all the others. Thus, Republicans took the position that state’s rights under the Constitution were not applicable to the all states but could be selectively vouchsafed by their Party for political purposes. The inconsistency resulted from doubts that Northerners would vote the Party ticket if it supported mandatory black suffrage in all states. At the end of the war only five New England states with minute black populations permitted blacks to vote. Six additional Northern states where blacks composed just one percent of the population rejected black suffrage between 1865 and 1868. Connecticut, Minnesota, and Wisconsin did so in 1865, while Kansas and Ohio followed in 1867 as did Michigan in 1868.

Although universal black suffrage would be extended to the North in 1870 by the Fifteenth Amendment, the region experienced only a modest adjustment given its tiny African American population. By contrast, ex-slaves accounted for 40% of the population of the former Confederate states and half or more of the voters in five of them due to disfranchisement of selected ex-Confederates.

Republicans adopted two measures to get Northerners to vote for Grant even if the voters didn’t want to empower the Party to form a Republican fiefdom in the South via universal black suffrage in the region. The two factors manipulated the primal emotions of fear and greed among holders of federal war bonds. Republicans implied that the investors would lose money if Democrats won the 1868 election but would avoid loss, and might even get a windfall gain, if Republicans won.

First, the Fourth Section of the Republican-authored Fourteenth Amendment stipulated, “The validity of the public debt of the United States . . . shall not be questioned.” It also specifically repudiated the debts of the Confederacy and its component states. Second, the third Republican Party Platform plank states, “We denounce all forms of repudiation . . . of the public indebtedness . . . not only according to the letter, but the spirit of the laws under which it was contracted.”

During the Civil War the federal government’s debt increased 41-fold from $65 million to $2.8 billion. Most of it was in the form of bonds purchased by many patriotic Northerners to support the war effort. Banks also bought the bonds, particularly after the 1863 National Banking Act enabled them to use them as reserve collateral. Prior to the Act, gold was the only respected bank reserve. But gold paid no interest whereas the federal bonds paid interest semiannually, in gold. Thus, the National Banking Act was a boon for Northern banks.

Grant’s campaign deliberately scared Northern bondholders by suggesting that Democrats might repudiate the federal bonds and even require payment of Confederate bonds. The Republicans’ third Platform plank assured bond-holding voters that the Party would support full repayment of their investment with interest. Moreover, the “letter” and “spirit” language of the plank were code terms, implying that bondholders would get a windfall gain if they voted Republican.

Specifically, investors bought nearly all of the war bonds with greenbacks that traded at a fluctuating discount to gold during the war. The discount was as much as 65% in July 1864 when Grant was stalemated at Petersburg and Sherman’s progress in Georgia seemed slow. Thus, at that time a greenback dollar was worth only thirty-five cents in gold. Republicans argued that the “spirit” under which the debt was “contracted” indicated that the the bonds must be repaid in gold, which would be a windfall gain to bondholders. Consequently, the first bill Grant signed after he became President in March 1869 was the Public Credit Act, which required that the federal debt be repaid in gold.

Concerns that Democrats would require American taxpayers to repay Confederate debts were preposterous, but the accusations were politically effective for the Republicans. Where fear rules, reason is impotent.

Peeling back the onion of politically correct history often reveals the ancient wisdom: “Money makes the World go ’round.”

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Learn more about Republican misrule during Reconstruction from:

U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency  by Philip Leigh
Southern Reconstruction by Philip Leigh

When Congress Trampled POTUS and SCOTUS

(October 9, 2019) Yesterday American Spectator published my second article:

Reconstruction was rife with congressional abuses. Let’s not let it happen again.

 

Two years after the Civil War ended in 1865 a Republican Congress gained a veto proof majority in both chambers. They almost immediately began trimming the powers of the executive and judicial branches. First, they replaced President Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction plan with their own. In order to restrict his ability to interfere, they passed a number of bills over his veto. Although targeted at Johnson, the acts also weakened future Presidents. Second, they defied the Supreme Court and manipulated its membership in order limit judicial intervention with Congressional Reconstruction.

From December 1863 to April 1865, Reconstruction proceeded under President Lincoln’s guidance. After he died, President Johnson attempted to follow in Lincoln’s footsteps. Neither Lincoln nor Johnson required that the former Confederate states adopt black suffrage. While both had hoped that blacks who were “highly intelligent” or Union veterans might be enfranchised, none were. Nonetheless, on the day he died Lincoln said, “We cannot undertake to run state governments in all the Southern states. Their people must do that—though at first I reckon some of them may at first do it badly.”

Although some historians assume that the Congressional Reconstruction that began in March 1867 was a noble attempt to promote racial equality, most of the evidence suggests it was designed to ensure that the Republican Party retained control of the federal government. When the Civil War ended the Party was barely ten years old. It might have been strangled in its cradle if the re-admittance of Southern states failed to be managed in a way that would prevent Southerners from allying with Northern Democrats to regain control of the federal government.

Readers my continue the article at American Spectator.

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To learn more about Republican misrule during Reconstruction get:

U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency by Philip Leigh
Southern Reconstruction by Philip Leigh

Review of My Ulysses Grant Book

(August 20, 2019) Earlier today The Abbeville Institute released the review below of my latest book, U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency. The reviewer is Brion McClanahan who is the author of six books including The Founding Father’s Guide to the Constitution and How Alexander Hamilton Screwed Up America. Dr. McClanahan is also a historian and speaker with a focus on America’s founding constitutional principles. Finally, he provides regular podcasts and online courses at The McClanahan Academy.

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Grant’s Failed Presidency

A review of U.S. Grant’s Failed Presidency (Shotwell Publishing, 2019) by Philip Leigh

There was a time in recent memory when thoughtful people consistently ranked U.S. Grant’s presidency as one of the worst in history. The scandals, military Reconstruction, the mistreatment of the Plains Indian tribes, and the poor economy during the 1870s wrecked his reputation. That all began to change when “social justice” took center stage in the historical profession and Republican Party partisans sought to revitalize the dismal reputation of one of their most important presidents. After all, Grant was a Republican, and men like Karl Rove and Dinesh D’Souza will never grow tired of telling people it was the Republicans who saved America from those evil Southern traitors.

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More importantly, historians like Ron Chernow, whose critically acclaimed biography of the 18th President sits on bookshelves across the United States, have sought to refocus attention on Grant’s “successes” rather than failures. Chernow places special emphasis on Grant’s attempts to protect former slaves during Reconstruction rather than the scandals which rocked not only his administration but which destroyed the United States economy and smacked of crony capitalism and the corruption that undergirds the practice. This type of feel good revisionism is part of a broad push to revitalize the reputations of the “active” presidents in American history, men like Polk and Jackson, those that embody the antithesis of what the founding generation designed for the executive branch.

This new love for U.S. Grant is unfounded. Philip Leigh provides a quick and punchy rebuttal to this hagiographic Grant revisionism in his U.S. Grant’s Failed Presidency.

Using the same sources as the revisionists, Leigh takes apart the thesis that Grant wanted to “protect” minorities in the United States. Leigh conclusively illustrates that like most Republicans at the time Grant’s sympathy for freedmen had to do more with winning elections than moral obligation or chivalry. Grant would not have won the popular vote in 1868 without the freedman vote, and both he and the Republican Party knew it. Leigh points to Republican policy toward American Indians and Chinese immigrants as proof of Republican hypocrisy on the issue of “civil rights.”

Leigh also argues that Grant had more to do with the economic corruption of the period than most realize. He gladly pursued both physical and economic reconstruction, promoted the interests of the Republican monied class and turned a blind eye to the rampant corruption among Northern “carpetbaggers” in militarily occupied Dixie. There is a reason Grant was shown in an infamous political cartoon as a conquering emperor riding on the back of the barefoot South in a carpetbag supported by United States troops. Leigh considers that to be the real Grant, not the trumped up image pushed by Ron Chernow.

This nicely illustrates that the protectors of the American empire on both the left and the right have a vested interest in promoting the imperial presidency as a sort of good tyrant king. To them, Grant could be a Pericles riding to the rescue of the American experiment, the great citizen general who rid America of the backward agrarian Southern Spartans.

Except Grant was never that magnanimous or heroic, and his presidency was little more than a political rubber stamp for the revolutionaries who were radically remaking American society in the 1860s and 1870s. Leigh contends that you can’t understand Reconstruction without understanding Grant. That is certainly true.

It might be easy to have a tinge of sympathy for Grant, the uncouth general who never cared for politics, voted Democrat, but through war was elevated to the presidency in one of most bitterly partisan eras of American history. Grant, according to this interpretation, was a Victim, an unwilling participant in a larger drama over the spoils of war. Leigh paints a different picture, a Grant that understood the stakes and actively pursued a partisan agenda with Republican victory more important than principles or the Constitution. In other words, Grant was like every other “active” president in the imperial era, and like Lincoln chose party over union and the Constitution.

There had to be winners and losers, and Grant ensured the South was not only defeated but punished. That was Grant’s decades long legacy south of the Mason-Dixon, and even in the North, his adherence to the radical Republican agenda helped give rise to the populist revolt of the 1890s.

The original historical presidential rankings with Grant near the bottom may be the only time I agree with the “establishment” assessment of the American executive. Grant should be perpetually buried at the bottom.

Leigh has added a nice counterweight to the modern attempt to portray Grant as some type of righteous cause acolyte deserving of fawning praise.

If you’re looking for a concise history of the Grant administration without the modern propensity for over-saturated “presentism,” skip Chernow and read Leigh. It is by far the best summary of his administration in the last half-century.

A Review of Ron Chernow’s Book on U. S. Grant

(July 27, 2019) Provided below is a review of Ron Chernow’s biography on U. S. Grant. The writer is Joseph Rose who is the author of Grant Under Fire.

To learn more about Grant as President, get my most recent book, U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency

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There is no doubt that Ron Chernow tells a beautiful story in his recent biography of Ulysses S. Grant. He is especially compelling in discussing the fight for Black civil rights during Reconstruction. But throughout, the author takes his subject’s side in controversy after controversy, even when the evidence doesn’t support it. And Chernow has a seriously deficient understanding of Grant, of the Civil War, and of military matters, in general. Despite his stellar reputation, Chernow surprisingly hasn’t done his homework and relies far too heavily on secondary sources (especially such partisan works by Adam Badeau, Horace Porter, and Grant’s own Personal Memoirs). It takes years and years of research and a finely critical eye to establish what really happened, given the multitude of oft-conflicting sources. Repeating, however nicely, the standard—inaccurate—version, is not the best way to present history.

Grant’s Toomb

The opening line in Chernow’s biography—”Even as other civil war generals rushed to publish their memoirs, flaunting their conquests and cashing in on their celebrity, Ulysses S. Grant refused to trumpet his accomplishments in print”—is positively wrong-headed. Instead, Professor Henry Coppée’s 1866 Grant biography was “published under General Grant’s sanction.” In 1868, Albert Richardson’s “authorized” biography came out, as did one by staffer James H. Wilson and Charles Dana, “designed mainly to promote Grant’s election to the presidency.” These latter two and Henry Deming’s were all “carefully guarded against any expression which could be used against him by the politicians,” in the upcoming election. A further “campaign biography” was penned by another Grant acolyte, James G. Wilson. Also in 1868, the most distorted flattery appeared in the first volume of a military trilogy by staffer Adam Badeau, who began working on it in 1865. Grant later told him:

Readers may complete the review at Joe Rose’s website.