Tag Archives: Ulysses Grant

President Grant’s Doubtful Civil Rights Motives

(February 3, 2018) Modern historians and biographers are tripping over one another in their rush to praise President Ulysses Grant as a pioneering civil rights leader. In a recent interview Ron Chernow said, “[Grant] was the single most important president in terms of civil rights between Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson and that, unfortunately, is an overlooked story.” While it may be a “story,” it is not an overlooked one.  In 2012 H. W. Brands wrote, “Nearly a century would pass before the country had another president who took civil rights as seriously as Grant did.” Similarly, Princeton historian Sean Wilentz states, “The evidence clearly shows that [Grant] created the most auspicious record on racial equality and civil rights of any president from Lincoln to Lyndon B. Johnson.”

Such statements imply that Grant’s chief reason for supporting black suffrage was to promote racial equality per se. They fail to take into account that his prime motive may have been to gain the political power that a routinely obedient voting bloc could provide to Republican candidates. For example, only a minority of America’s whites voted for Grant when he was first elected President in 1868. His 300,000 popular vote majority resulted from winning about 90% of the votes of mostly illiterate ex-slaves.

More importantly, Grant limited his civil rights advocacy to blacks who 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 ethnic groups.

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 dubiously valuable gold deposits in the Black Hills as a way to help America’s economy recover from the depression that followed the Panic of 1873. Although the Centennial War is best known for the fight at “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. (A lower court specifically cited “President Grant’s duplicity” in the matter.)*

Additionally, Chinese Americas generally could not vote, nor could they become naturalized citizens until 1943. 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 1868 Fourteenth Amendment only granted citizenship to blacks 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 restricted entry into America by Chinese immigrants and other “undesirables.” The 1875 Civil Rights Act also failed to include Chinese Americans. In Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans, Jean Paelzer writes, “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.” Since only four percent of the group’s members in 1875 were women the true purpose of the Page Act was “to force thousands of men to return to China.”***

Finally, Grant used one of the Ku Klux Klan Acts to influence voting in immigrant-dominant big city precincts that were heavily Democratic. When the wife of his Attorney General George Williams accused Grant of using Secret Service funds to help Republican candidates in New York City, the President explained that the funds were used in compliance with the 1871 KKK Acts. Although Grant said the money was spent to “prevent frauds,” Democrats were suspicious that the money was simply a secret Republican slush fund used for partisan political purposes.****

*Bryan Wildenthal, North American Sovereignty on Trial (Santa Barbara, Ca.: ABC-CLIO, 2003), 163

** Erika Lee, “Review of The Chinatown War: Chinese Los Angeles and the Massacre of 1871(2012), by Scott Zesch”, Journal of American History, vol. 100, no. 1 (June 2013), 217

*** Jean Paelzer, Driven Out, 42, 52, 58, 102

****Allan Nevins, Hamilton Fish: The Inner History of the Grant Administration, Volume II  (New York: Fred Ungar Publishing, 1936), 818-19

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A Christmas Gift for 2017

(December 21, 2107) Since hardcover versions of my Southern Reconstruction book will be out of stock at Amazon and Barnes & Noble Internet stores until next month, even though a second production run has been ordered, provided below is a free copy of the first chapter titled, “Introduction.” This online version does not include the footnotes, which are available in the hardcover and e-book versions. (For a review of Southern Reconstruction by Publisher’s Weekly, click here.)


Southern Reconstruction


Partly because of a focus on racial injustices underscored by about four thousand lynches between 1882 and 1951, modern histories of Southern Reconstruction suffer two limitations. First, they tend to ignore, or minimize, how developments in one section of the country impacted those of the other. Second, they focus almost exclusively on race.

Regarding the first limitation, a valid picture of Reconstruction cannot be drawn without integrating the history of the Gilded Age in the North with that of Reconstruction in the South. The experience of Amos Akerman provides an example.

Akerman was one of Republican President Ulysses Grant’s five attorneys general. He served a little over a year, from November 1870 to December 1871. Born in New Hampshire, at age twenty-one, in 1842, he moved to Georgia, where he first worked as a tutor and later became a lawyer. Despite initially opposing secession, he remained loyal to the South and served as a Confederate quartermaster during the Civil War. He also functioned as a line officer during Union Major General William T. Sherman invasion of Georgia in 1864.

Akerman was the most vigorous of Grant’s attorneys general in prosecuting the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). In order to expedite prosecutions, he expanded the powers of the then newly created federal Justice Department. About six hundred Klan members were convicted. Although most received light sentences, sixty-five were imprisoned for up to five years at a federal penitentiary in Albany, New York.

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Grant, however, may have revealed his secondary interest in racial justice when he abruptly asked Akerman to resign in December 1871. Partly at the prompting of Secretary of State Hamilton Fish, Grant had misgivings about Akerman’s “obsession” with the Klan. Perhaps more importantly, Akerman also frustrated important Northern capitalists. He was, for example, critical of the dubious terms under which railroads often qualified for federal subsidies. He may have suspected the long-festering Crédit Mobilier scandal that was a paragon of such corruption and would soon dominate the news. In June 1871, Akerman had denied land and bond grants to the Union Pacific Railroad, which had given Crédit Mobilier lucrative contracts to build the line when the railroad was unprofitable because of the inability of a partially completed line to generate much traffic in a sparsely populated territory. Crédit Mobilier allocated shares of stock—a genteel form of bribery—to influential politicians, including both of Grant’s vice presidents as well as a future president, James Garfield, who committed perjury when he denied it. (Grant’s second vice president, Henry Wilson, returned the stock and claimed to have endured a loss on the transaction.)

Shortly before resigning, Akerman confronted the previous attorney general, Ebenezer Hoar, when the latter was representing a railroad client’s land grant claims. Akerman told Hoar that the client had not completed work required to receive the grants. Nearly simultaneously, Interior Secretary Columbus Delano complained to Grant that Akerman had annoyed railroad moguls Collis Huntington and Jay Gould with rulings unfavorable to their interests. (After Grant left office and returned from a Worldwide tour he accepted at $25,000 cash gift from Gould.) Whether at the urging of Fish, Delano, or Hoar, Grant replaced Akerman with George Williams, who later resigned under bribery accusations, as did Delano.

Grant biographer William McFeely concluded that after Akerman’s resignation, “the finest champion of human rights in the Grant administration went home to Cartersville, Georgia, where he practiced law privately for only eight more years. He had given up on his native North and Northerners.”

Akerman correctly reasoned that Northerners were too preoccupied with the economic progress and growing wealth of the Gilded Age to be much concerned about racial equality. Following his resignation, he wrote Georgia’s Carpetbag governor, Benjamin Conley, “Even such atrocities as Ku-Kluxery do not hold their attention . . . the Northern mind being active and full of what is called progress runs away from the past.”

Significantly, Akerman was echoing a point that was increasingly obvious to Northerners outside of Washington. Six years earlier, in 1866, the editor of the Chicago Tribune wrote US Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois:

 “You all in Washington must remember that the excitement of the great contest is dying out, and that commercial and industrial enterprises and pursuits are engaging a large share of public attention . . . people are more mindful of themselves than of any philanthropic scheme that looks to making Sambo a voter, juror and office holder.”

 The same month that Akerman resigned, the Thirty-Ninth Congress reconvened, after a ten-month recess, under a cloud of suspicion that it was controlled by the railroad industry. One newspaper correspondent famously suggested that notices be nailed to the congressional doors stating, “The business of this establishment will be done hereafter in the offices of the Pennsylvania Railroad.” In addition to being the biggest railroad, the Pennsylvania was the also country’s largest corporation.

Akerman’s story also shows how political actions targeted at the South later boomeranged to impact developments in the North. Although urged to destroy the KKK, President Grant was wary of claims that he wanted to become a dictator by using stern federal powers to supersede the legal prerogatives of the individual states. One bill under congressional consideration that might be subject to such interpretation proposed to give the president the right to use the army to enforce court decisions and suspend the writ of habeas corpus. Nonetheless, reasoning that federal interdiction in local affairs was justified when tax collections and mail transportation were endangered, Grant threw his support behind the 1871 bill, which became known as the Ku Klux Klan Act.

Twenty-three years later, Grant’s logic for using federal power to protect the mails during the KKK crisis was applied to striking laborers. During the 1894 Pullman strike, workers disrupted train movements, particularly through Chicago. In response, President Grover Cleveland authorized armed federal troops to run the mail trains. When strikers attacked one regiment, the soldiers opened fire, wounding scores of people and killing about thirty. The strike was broken. Strikers were subjected to arrest and trials without jury.

The Fourteenth Amendment is another example of legislation presumably targeted at improving the civil rights of freedmen that rebounded to obstruct consumer and progressive interests by guarding the properties of powerful capitalists. The amendment characterized ex-slaves as “persons” and deemed them to be American citizens and citizens of the state in which they resided. All states were prohibited from abridging the rights of any “person,” which leveraged the Fifth Amendment declaration that no “person” could be “deprived of . . . life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” Twenty years after adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Supreme Court ruled in two late 1880s decisions that corporations were also “persons” whose property rights were protected by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Those two decisions sharply curtailed the powers of states to regulate railroads and other corporations.

Some of the Fourteenth Amendment’s authors evidently had such motives from the beginning. When Republican Ohio Congressman John Bingham wrote the “due process” clause, he composed it “word for word” to protect property rights as well as civil rights. Later, in 1882, when former US Republican Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York represented the Southern Pacific Railroad before the Supreme Court with objections to California taxes, he argued that as an architect of the amendment, he labored to word it in a way to protect both private property rights and black civil rights against the encroachments of state legislatures.

As noted above, the second limitation of current Reconstruction narratives is the virtually exclusive focus on race. To illustrate, the standard college text and currently most influential academic book about the era is Eric Foner’s Reconstruction, which concludes:

What remains certain is that Reconstruction failed and that for blacks its failure was a disaster. . . . If racism contributed to the demise of Reconstruction, by the same token Reconstruction’s demise . . . greatly facilitated the spread of racism. . . . An enduring consequence of Reconstruction’s failure [was that] the [politically Democratic] Solid South helped . . . weaken the prospects not simply of change in racial matters but of progressive legislation in many other realms.

 Foner fails to mention any lingering consequences affecting both Southern whites and blacks, even though whites represented 60 percent of the region’s population. Nonetheless, the harmful effects of Reconstruction were more substantial, multiracial, and protracted than commonly understood. One example is Southern poverty.

Nearly a century after the war, eight of the ten states with the lowest per capita income in 1960 were former Confederate states. Even 150 years later, in 2011, Virginia was the only Southern state to rank among the top ten in per capita adjusted gross income, whereas five of the lowest ten were other Confederate states. The classic example is Mississippi, which ranked number one in 1860 per capita wealth but was dead last at fiftieth in 2011 per capita income.

Although Southern poverty and cotton culture is commonly associated with blacks, in 1940 whites made up two-thirds of the region’s farmers who either rented their lands or were sharecroppers. According to a 1938 presidential economic report, about half of Southern white farmers were sharecroppers “living under economic conditions almost identical to those of Negro sharecroppers.” Shortly after the Great Depression began, the president of General Motors (Alfred P. Sloan) voluntarily slashed his annual salary from $500,000 to $340,000. His $160,000 cut was more than all the income taxes paid by the two million residents of Mississippi that year. Widespread Southern poverty led to lower life expectancies, principally because of poor diets and unaffordable medical care. In 1930, sixty-five years after the end of the Civil War, South Carolina was the only state with as much as half of its population under the age of twenty because its residents died earlier.

Memoirist Shirley Abbot, who grew up in Arkansas during the 1930s and ’40s, wrote of the period:

The words of President Roosevelt echoed in our heads—“one third of a nation ill-clothed, ill-fed, and ill-housed,” and we certainly knew which third he meant. We knew that we were poor, backward, behind . . .

 [As for local politicians] . . . it should be said that most of the post-Reconstruction South was run in [a] more or less . . . [despotic] fashion. In little towns like Hot Springs, the rule of law had not yet outpaced the rule of poverty or the southern code. People, black and white, were mostly poor, trying to survive in an economy that was still largely rural.

Abbott’s adulthood illustrates a persistent consequence of Southern poverty. After Arkansas taxpayers funded her public education, Abbott left to become a successful editor and writer in New York and Massachusetts, where she paid taxes to educate the children of those well-endowed states. For at least a century after the Civil War, one of the South’s greatest exports included some of its most capable people.

Contrary to Foner’s claim that Southerners resisted progressive movements, outside the realm of race relations, Southern Democrats championed some of the most progressive legislation of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Former Confederate Postmaster General John Reagan was an early proponent of federal railroad regulation after he became a US congressman in 1874. After Woodrow Wilson became the first president whose boyhood was in the South following the Civil War, he successfully promoted such measures as a graduated income tax, tariff rate reductions, the Federal Reserve System, the Farm Loan Act, and the Warehouse Act. Finally, the Populist movement originated in the South instead of in the Great Plains as is customarily supposed. Most Southern Populists, however, remained in the Democratic party.

In contrast, Republicans fostered some of the most regressive policies. For forty-five years, between the 1868 election of Grant as president and the inauguration of Democrat Woodrow Wilson in 1913, the Republicans held the White House over 80 percent of the time, the Senate over 90 percent of the time, and the House of Representatives almost two-thirds of the time. During that era, 90 percent of the money collected in the domestic economy was composed of excise taxes on liquor, beer, wine, and tobacco. There was no income-sensitive tax.

As for external tax revenue—customs duties—the Republicans consistently favored high protective tariffs, which were essentially a regressive sales tax on consumers. Furthermore, tariffs were the chief federal revenue source during the forty-five-year period. They were much larger than the taxes on the domestic economy that were collected by the Internal Revenue Service as opposed to the Customs Offices where the tariffs were collected. The Republican Party refused to reduce tariffs even when the Treasury reported surpluses every year from 1866 to 1893. Some surpluses were embarrassingly large, particularly toward the end of the era.

Instead of cutting taxes by lowering tariffs, Republicans spent the surplus extravagantly to win political support among favored constituencies. A prime example was the increasingly liberal Union veterans’ pensions. Most Southerners preferred lowering the tariff over spending the excess customs duties on Union veterans pensions, which grew to an astounding 40 percent of the federal budget in 1893. Before the surplus was consumed by the growing pensions, however, one sympathetic Northern senator sponsored an education-funding bill to apportion part of the surplus to the states based upon illiteracy rates. It would have particularly aided the South, where such rates were higher, income levels lower, and the school age share of population larger, but the bill never got out of the House of Representatives.

Furthermore, Northern attitudes toward racial equality were more obstructive than is usually assumed. They even provided a precedent that led to the separate-but-equal doctrine of the 1896 Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, which legitimized segregation for almost sixty years thereafter. Although the case involved a Louisiana incident, Justice Henry Brown of Michigan cited a Boston precedent upholding segregated schools. Six other justices joined him in the 7–1 decision. The lone dissenter was from Kentucky, while six of the seven justices voting with the majority were from states that were loyal to the Union during the Civil War.

Finally, Republican advocacy of African-American civil rights was diluted by a huge dose of self-interest. When the Civil War ended, the Republican Party was barely ten years old. It could be eclipsed, and possibly strangled in its cradle, if the readmittance 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. With other things the same, the abolition of slavery would increase Southern congressional representation by fifteen members over the antebellum tally because of the obsolescence of the original constitutional provision restricting the counting of slaves to three-fifths of their number for purposes of a state’s congressional representation and electoral votes.

The historical facts reveal that Republicans were distressed about the consequences to their party if Southern states were promptly readmitted into the Union without Republican control over the method of readmission. Even before the war ended, a joint congressional resolution in December 1864 proclaimed that Arkansas and Louisiana—temporarily readmitted under a wartime Reconstruction plan by President Abraham Lincoln—were “not entitled to representation in the electoral college.” Historian Matthew Josephson concluded:

The resolution reveals how even in the winter of 1864-65 [before the war was over] the Republican Party leaders were secretly obsessed with once again becoming a minority Party. Even in the twenty-three United States, only 55% of the vote in the presidential election of 1864 had been Republican. The Democratic anti-war vote was thus a big minority. What, then, if eleven unregenerate States returned to constitutional relations with the Union? They assailed Lincoln on this ground; they would fall upon his successor, too, should his policies threaten or jeopardize the retention of power by the war party.

 If all representatives from the former Confederate states were admitted to the Thirty-Ninth Congress in December 1865, and each added member was a Democrat, the Republican majority in the Senate would have dropped from 43–9 and become 43–31. Similarly, the party’s majority in the House would have dropped from 152–40 and become 152–81. In short, the Republicans would have no longer held a veto-proof two-thirds majority in Congress.

Historians William Cooper and Thomas Terrill elaborate in their American South: A History:  “Republicans’ fears that the Democrats would regain their antebellum political dominance were not fantasies. The dominance of the Republican Party was not assured in 1865, and would not be until the 1890s. Only then were the Republicans able to control the White House and both houses of Congress consistently.”

Historian Arthur Schlesinger’s analysis of Republican motivations concluded, “The technique of ‘waving the bloody shirt’—meaning to advertise for a generation that ‘not every Democrat is a Rebel, but every Rebel is a Democrat’—enabled the Republicans to [direct Northern voter hatred toward Southerners] in order to long submerge the fact that they were becoming the party of monopoly and wealth.” Banker J. P. Morgan, who epitomized Gilded Age wealth, cogently observed, “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.

If, for example, racial equality was the true objective of nineteenth-century Republican black suffrage advocacy, an explanation for why the party did not promote suffrage for Chinese immigrants is needed. The historical record provides no good explanation. Republican inconsistency between supporting black civil suffrage while ignoring Chinese-American suffrage likely results from the fact that Chinese exclusion attracted California voters to the Republican Party, whereas the inclusion of black voters transformed the Southern states from a Democratic voting block into a Republican one.

Beginning in 1882, the federal government responded to racist pressures from California and other Western states with laws that would help deny the vote to Chinese residents and reduce their numbers. The ’82 law was succeeded by additional measures—known collectively as the Chinese Exclusion Acts— that restricted immigration and denied citizenship to the Chinese. California used the acts, which were not repealed until 1943, to deny voting rights to Chinese people. The immigration restrictions effectively cut the number of Chinese in America from 105,000 in 1880 to 62,000 in 1920.

Nonetheless, most contemporary Reconstruction historians are too prone to accept the putative righteous explanations for Republican actions as opposed to the real ones. Conversely, they too readily apply sinister interpretations to the actions of Southern Democrats. Foner, for example, laments that the 1866 Georgia legislature appropriated $200,000 to aid “aged and infirm white persons,” including Confederate widows and orphans, while making no allowance for the dependents of deceased Union soldiers or aged and infirm blacks. He failed, however, to disclose four mitigating points.

First, although Georgia didn’t aid the survivors of fallen Union soldiers, neither did the Northern states aid the widows and orphans in their states who had husbands and fathers in the Confederate army.

Second, the federal government started paying increasingly generous Union veterans’ pensions in 1862. The former Confederate states individually paid much smaller pensions to Rebel veterans. Additionally, Southerners had to pay their share of federal taxes needed to fund the Union pensions. The annual disbursements did not peak until 1921 and trailed off only gradually for years thereafter. During the fifty years prior to 1917, the accumulated Union veterans’ pensions totaled over $5 billion, which was more than twice the amount spent by the federal and Northern state governments to fight the entire war.

Third, the 1866 federal Southern Homestead Act gave freedmen temporary preferential homesteading access to 46 million acres of Southern land. The Republican-dominated Congress, however, declined to provide blacks with preferential access to homesteads outside the South, although it was generous in providing land grants to railroads. The Northern Pacific Railroad, for example, would eventually receive so much federal acreage that it would approximate the size of the state of Missouri.

Finally, even Foner admits that the 1866 Georgia legislature reasoned that aid to blacks should at least temporarily be the responsibility of the federal government through its much better financed Freedmen’s Bureau, which chiefly targeted African-Americans. Emancipation was, after all, a national policy, which justified reliance upon national (i.e., federal) funding sources to pay for the needs of the ex-slaves.

The purpose of this book is to tell the story of Southern Reconstruction by transcending the limitations of a race-centric narrative and to more fully put the account into context with that of the rest of the country. Although racism has been a shameful characteristic and legacy of the era, there is a larger story to be told involving members of all races.


Presently Amazon and Barnes & Noble Online are out-of-stock of my latest book, Southern Reconstruction. Although my publisher has ordered a second printing, the production run will not be completed before Christmas.

Meanwhile, some physical Barnes & Noble stores do have them in stock. Go to this link, and click on the “Want it today? Check Store Availability,” which is in small print to the right of the picture cover. The link will prompt you to enter your zip code and afterward display a list of stores nearby and will also indicate which ones have Southern Reconstruction in stock. Some other independent physical stores may also have the title in stock.

Finally, both Amazon and Barnes & Noble have eBook versions available.

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President Grant Responds to 1873 Economic Depression

(December 14, 2017) On September 18, 1873—a few days after he hosted President Ulysses Grant as a houseguest at his estate outside Philadelphia—Jay Cooke’s banking firm became insolvent. Cooke was not only the head of America’s most prestigious investment bank but was also the single largest contributor to Grant’s 1872 re-election campaign. There could hardly have been a bigger surprise to the public confidence than the failure of Jay Cooke & Company. One Philadelphia newspaper reported, “No one could have been more surprised if snow had fallen during a summer noon.”

Led by Cooke’s Ponzi-scheme-financed and government-subsidized Northern Pacific, railroads had overbuilt. The industry’s total bonded indebtedness was over $2.2 billion, which was nearly equal to the entire debt of the federal government. Huge blocks of railroad securities were quickly put on the market and price declines of 50% were common. Brokers called customers for more securities margin but too many did not have enough cash or liquid collateral to meet the calls. Cooke’s failure triggered a financial panic. The New York Stock Exchange amplified the distress by closing for ten days. Business failures in 1873 climbed to 5,000, from 4,000 in 1872 and 3,000 in 1871. Cooke’s bankruptcy was a tocsin for five ensuing years of depression.

Track construction declined by a third in 1874, causing 500,000 layoffs within the railroad ecosystem including the iron and steel industry. Prices fell. Philadelphia pig iron dropped from $56 a ton in 1872 to $17 five years later. Wages fell between 40% and 60% in the 1873 to 1877 interval.  The country seemed to be overrun with hoboes and vagrants.

Consequently, Grant’s Republican Party lost heavily in the 1874 “off year” elections. The House of Representatives switched from a 65% Republican majority in 1873 to a 62% Democratic majority in 1875. Since the Democrats elected in 1874 would not take their seats in the first session of the Forty-Fourth Congress until December 1875, Grant and the Republicans rushed through their own economic response in the closing months of the Forty-Third Congress while they still controlled both chambers. Each of their two responses would defy the accepted economic theory of the 21st century but in combination they would absolutely confound modern economists.

First, was to raise taxes. Although Republicans lowered tariffs by 10% in advance of the 1872 election in an attempt to win votes, after losing the election they pushed tariffs up again and broadened the customs duty list to cover basic consumer favorites such as coffee and tea. They also raised some domestic taxes including those on distilled spirits. Notwithstanding that the federal budget was in surplus for the preceding year as well as the projected year, Grant wanted higher taxes.

Second, was to shrink the money supply. Despite pleas to increase the money supply in order to stimulate the economy, Grant’s interpretation of  a wording ambiguity in the Specie Resumption Act cut the supply of paper currency even though the act was intended to modestly increase it.*

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*There were two types of paper currency at the time: greenbacks and banknotes. Greenbacks were similar to present day Treasury Notes. Banknotes were similar to Federal Reserve Notes, except that they were issued by private banks and backed by the government bonds those banks held as reserves.

The act required that the greenbacks be reduced by 80% of the amount of new banknotes. Thus, if $100 million in new banknotes were issued and $50 million were retired the net increase of $50 million in banknotes would require a $40 million (80%) reduction in greenbacks. Consequently, there would be a modest $10 million increase in all types of paper money circulating.

In contrast, President Grant’s interpretation applied only to the gross amount of new banknotes issued. Thus, if $100 million of new banknotes were issued and $50 million were retired, Grant would require that greenbacks be reduced by $80 million—80% of $100 million—thereby exceeding the $50 million net increase in banknotes by $30 million. In short, Grant’s interpretation virtually assured that the greenbacks in circulation would drop, even if the amount of banknotes in circulation also declined. The combined greenback-banknote money supply was certain to decrease.

Grant and fellow Republicans wanted to reduce the amount of greenbacks outstanding because the U. S. Treasury was obligated to start redeeming them for gold four years hence.

—  Charles Calhoun, The Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant, 485

Pious Cause Mythology

(November 28, 2017) Given that “Lost Cause Mythology” has mutated into a phrase synonymous with racism, a contra-term is required for the false belief that nineteenth century Republicans advocated for Southern blacks purely on the merits of racial justice. One choice might be “Pious Cause Mythology.”

One “Pious Cause Mythologist” suggests, for example, that the claim of a “white Northern Retreat from Reconstruction” is a dubious “trope.” Since he is among those who will most readily label others as “Lost Cause” proponents and portray them as racists, perhaps he will consider evidence from a Reconstruction-era black leader that validates the very “trope” he doubts.

Specifically, in September 1874 Mississippi carpetbag Governor Adelbert Ames asked President Ulysses Grant to send federal troops to protect black voters in the November election. Grant declined and Mississippi Republicans lost decisively at the polls. Ames ever afterward blamed the defeat on Grant’s failure to send protecting federal troops.

Only after about four decades was the reason for Grant’s inaction made public when one of the Mississippi Republican congressmen who survived the election debacle explained what happened. Specifically, a former mulatto Congressman named John Lynch revealed that Grant had told him in November 1874 that Mississippi was politically sacrificed to Ohio.

Specifically, Ohio Republicans worried that they could lose their autumn elections if Grant intervened in Mississippi. Like many Americans, Ohioans were appalled when Grant’s federal troops forcibly installed a Republican regime in Louisiana that included one of his own brothers-in-law after the 1872 elections. The Ohioans urged that he keep federal troops out of Mississippi, and the President complied. Significantly, there is good reason to believe that the Ohio worries were justified because the state’s legislature adopted a resolution condemning Grant for interfering a second time in Louisiana after December 1874.

In short, a contemporary black leader disclosed that Grant confessed to him that the President “Retreated from Reconstruction” in Mississippi for purely political reasons that favored Northern Republicans over Southern (mostly black) Republicans. Thus, in order to reconcile history to their agenda some “Pious Cause Mythologists” might feel compelled to try to discredit Lynch’s statement, but…could that be racist?


Inventories for my Southern Reconstruction book at Amazon are presently low. Should you wish to buy a copy directly from me send an email to [phil_leigh(at)me.com]. Alternately you may buy the book at Barnes & Noble and other bookstores.

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Chernow’s Spin on President Grant Gives Whiplash

(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. Moreover, he fails to investigate whether Grant personally profited by doing so.

Specifically, Grant used military force to buttress carpetbag Governor William P. Kellogg’s regime that counted a Grant 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. Moreover, Chernow fails to even consider whether the President may have profited personally from Casey’s activities. The author begins as follows:

Although Kellogg emerged victorious, his foes refused to concede the [1872] 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 1870 Enforcement Act passed 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 only legitimate board thereby arbitrarily putting Kellogg into the governor’s office.

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.


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