Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Foreword

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pp. ix-x

The aim of the American Presidency Series is to present historians and the general reading public with interesting, scholarly assessments of the various presidential administrations. These interpretive surveys are intended to cover the broad ground among biographies, specialized monographs, and journalistic accounts. As such, each is a comprehensive work that draws upon original sources and pertinent secondary literature yet leaves room for the author’s own analysis and interpretation.

Volumes in the series present the data essential to understanding...

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Preface

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pp. xi-xiv

When Fred Woodward of the University Press of Kansas invited me to write this book, I accepted the honor with pleasure. But I also knew that the task that lay ahead was daunting. No scholarly work focusing on Grant’s presidency had appeared since the 1930s. Biographies tended to dwell on the war years and gave short shrift to his administration, even though Grant spent twice as much time in the White House as he did fighting in the Union army. As president, he confronted momentous issues,

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Introduction: War in Peace

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pp. 1-8

In American history Ulysses S. Grant’s presidency stands as an enigma. After the death of Abraham Lincoln, the victorious and magnanimous Union general stood first among the nation's heroes. He was a shoo-in at the next presidential election, won a smashing reelection to a second term, and garnered substantial support for a return to office for yet another term. And yet, the Grant presidency witnessed extraordinary controversy. In some quarters the eighteenth president was reviled rather than revered. Through most of the time after he left the White House, his administration bore a reputation for spectacular failure. A...

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Prologue: A Troubled Nation

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pp. 9-12

When Americans went to the polls in 1868 to elect a president, their nation exhibited a paradoxical mix of promise and peril. The Civil War had preserved the Union, freed the enslaved people, and opened the way for accelerated development in a land of untold potential. With the acquisition of Alaska, the United States had become the third largest nation on earth. The country abounded in minerals and other natural resources as well as broad, fertile lands that had long made it an agricultural behemoth. Despite the backwardness of the South, Americans were among...

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1. Political Apprenticeship

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pp. 13-40

In 1868 the Republican Party conferred its presidential nomination on General Ulysses S. Grant, by far the most popular man in America. The convention’s choice was long expected and unanimous. It nonetheless represented a remarkable turn of events for a man who, seven years earlier, had languished in obscurity before securing a place in the Union army. Indeed, but for the war, Grant in all likelihood would have never entered politics and no doubt would have remained unknown to history.

Grant was born in southern Ohio, the son of a garrulous tanner and farmer, Jesse Root Grant, whose drive to escape poverty won him...

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2. “Let Us Have Peace”

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pp. 41-58

The vote on May 16, 1868, to acquit President Johnson did nothing to dampen Republican enthusiasm for Ulysses Grant when delegates streamed into Chicago for the party’s convention four days later. The previous day, a boisterous gathering of veterans had called Grant’s election essential to “secure the fruits of our exertions and a restoration of the Union upon a loyal basis.” At the convention itself, no formal nominating speech was offered, and Grant won a unanimous nomination amid deafening cheers. The band struck up “The Battle Cry of Freedom,”...

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3. Grant Takes Command

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pp. 59-94

Two days after the election, President-elect Ulysses S. Grant left the quiet of Galena and headed to Washington. He had four months to choose cabinet advisers, and speculation abounded. Would he gather a “team of rivals,” as Abraham Lincoln had done? Would the cabinet be dominated by Radicals, men at the ideological forefront of the Republican Party, or would it be leavened by a moderate contingent representing those who had always viewed Grant as the party’s best hope for victory? Would it be political at all, or would it be a more “personal” group...

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4. Reconstruction: Consummation without Closure

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pp. 95-108

In 1868 the central policy motivation that led Ulysses S. Grant to leave his comfortable berth at the head of the army and run for president was his determination to preserve “the results of the costly war which we have gone through.” For Grant, perpetuating those “results” connoted not simply securing the permanency of Confederate defeat and reunification of the nation. Indeed, secession was dead beyond resuscitation. At stake now was the shape of the newly configured southern society that the death of slavery had wrought. His campaign watchword, “Let...

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5. Reconstructing the Nation’s Finances

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pp. 109-124

Besides the southern question, the other major item on the domestic agenda cited by Grant in his inaugural address concerned the disordered state of the nation's finances, another consequence of the war. Preserving the Union had required enormous changes in the government's financial system, including a vast new tax structure, borrowing that saddled the country with a huge debt, the issuance of legal-tender paper money unbacked by gold or silver, and the creation of a system of national banks that issued notes of their own. For years, controversy...

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6. Brush with Disaster: The New York Gold Corner Conspiracy

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pp. 125-150

While tax and funding legislation wound its way through Congress and the Supreme Court wrestled with the legal-tender question, Congress spent considerable time in the winter of 1870 investigating an episode from the previous summer that had threatened to upend the Grant administration’s monetary policy of “growing up” to specie resumption. This was the so-called New York Gold Corner conspiracy, a nefarious manufactured panic that reached its climax and collapse on Black Friday, September 24, 1869, when Grant and Treasury Secretary George...

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7. Reconstructing American Foreign Policy

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pp. 151-178

In his inaugural address Ulysses S. Grant devoted one brief paragraph to foreign affairs. He said nothing about any specific issue but instead spoke in generalities about his commitment to peace and to equitable relations with all nations. With the nation’s internal war now four years in the past, he spoke with a quiet yet fervent confidence in the capacity. and will of the newly united nation to defend its interests in the world. “I would respect the rights of all nations, demanding equal respect for our own.” But, he warned, “If others depart from this rule in their dealings...

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8. Revolt in Cuba

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pp. 179-198

As the Alabama question evolved during the summer and fall of 1869, the United States’ acknowledgment that a nation could determine for itself when to recognize a state of belligerency was intertwined with the administration's effort to define its position regarding the insurrection in Cuba. Grant was "very fixed in his adherence" to the view that a nation had every right to accord such recognition if circumstances warranted. But acknowledging the right of recognition differed from embracing its advisability. In the Cuban case, many Americans favored recognizing...

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9. The Gate to the Caribbean Sea

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pp. 199-228

In the Alabama claims and the Cuban insurrection, the Grant administration confronted problems spurred by unavoidable circumstances that by their nature demanded a response. On another foreign policy question, Grant enunciated a more pointed strategic vision: acquisition of the Caribbean island nation of the Dominican Republic, commonly referred to in this era as Santo Domingo. For no other initiative did Grant exhibit more fervent advocacy, and in no other instance did he encounter more inflamed opposition. What could have been a rational consideration of...

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10. The Battle of Santo Domingo

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pp. 229-262

Despite Grant’s desire to keep the annexation project a secret until December 31, 1869, speculation regarding negotiations with Santo Domingo arose before that date. In late November the press carried reports of Babcock’s second trip and his instructions to pursue an annexation agreement. On December 23, two days after Babcock’s return and Grant’s presentation of the treaty to the cabinet, the New York Herald described the negotiations and the agreement in accurate detail. On its editorial page, the Herald praised the putative acquisition as a triumph...

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11. Launching the Peace Policy

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pp. 263-276

In his effort to secure the annexation of Santo Domingo, Grant gave little evidence that he saw its inhabitants as fundamentally inferior because of their racial or ethnic origins. While many of his opponents (and some of his allies) cast the island’s black or mixed-race people as inherently weak or treacherous or naturally suited to inhabit the tropics, Grant saw them as fellow members of the human family, deserving of empathy rather than scorn. He harbored similar feelings toward Native Americans. During his army service in the Far West in the 1850s, he had written...

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12. Reform and Revolt

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pp. 277-312

A key objective of President Grant’s peace policy was to improve the personnel in the Indian service and move beyond what J. D. Cox called “the old regime when agencies were given as political prizes to partizans." Within the first year of the administration, something like a merit system began to emerge in other areas as well. In the Patent Office, an agency that placed a premium on technical expertise, the commissioner implemented a program of competitive examinations adapted “to the work to be done," and the office selected personnel from a list ranked...

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13. War at Home

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pp. 313-328

In the spirit of his campaign invocation, “Let Us Have Peace,” President Grant had entertained hopes for a relatively speedy end to Reconstruction. He had eased the readmission of the last of the former Confederate states, pressed for ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, and endorsed enforcement legislation to uphold the right to vote. Yet continuing recalcitrance by southern whites demonstrated the need for more action. In his annual message in December 1870 Grant observed that “violence and intimidation” had marred the recent elections in several...

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14. Peace Abroad

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pp. 329-362

In the spring of 1871, while the Grant administration and Congress forged the tools to fight the Ku Klux Klan, negotiations proceeded to resolve the Alabama claims and other pending issues with Great Britain. During January Hamilton Fish and John Rose reached an informal agreement sanctioned by both governments to submit all the questions to a Joint High Commission comprising representatives of the two nations who would pursue formal talks in Washington. Fish knew that he was "dealing with 'perfidious Albion,'" but he—welcomed...

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15. Vindication

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pp. 363-394

Soon after the completion of the Treaty of Washington, the administration's signature achievement, a Republican officeholder wrote to Bancroft Davis that it would constitute “the best electioneering document of the day,” removing “all threatening storm-clouds” on the political horizon. In the months after its ratification, Grant himself thought, "We have a very promising chance of securing a loyal Administration of the government” in the next year’s presidential election. Although he claimed "no patent right to the office" and said it would "be a happy...

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16. Second Term Woes

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pp. 395-418

Reelected presidents have often found their second terms more troubling than their first. Grant proved to be no exception. Despite the aura of triumph that surrounded his victory, he confronted a host of difficulties in the years afterward. Disorder in the South persisted as whites fought to regain control of government and society. Within a year the national economy collapsed into a deep and pervasive depression that outlasted Grant’s presidency. Men around the president betrayed his trust, and his critics gave no letup in their excoriation. Although Grant’s...

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17. Crises Domestic and Foreign

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pp. 419-450

In the years after the Civil War the American economy exhibited phenomenal growth as an integrated capitalist system burgeoned. Although the South lagging behind, during the five years prior to 1873, the economy hummed along at a prosperous clip, marked by substantial railroad building, expanding manufactures, and increased agricultural production. Linking the various elements together was a monetary system comprising coin, greenbacks, national bank notes, and government securities—mainly bonds representing the war debt of more than $2...

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18. Reconstruction under Siege

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pp. 451-480

The Panic of 1873 not only devastated the nation’s economy. It also undermined the Republicans’ drive for a successful Reconstruction. As economic distress struck countless Americans, Grant and Republican leaders found it increasingly difficult to persuade northern whites frightened for their own futures to support the cause of racial justice. In the South, the former slaves, already at the lowest rung of society, saw their lives grow ever more desperate.1

Moreover, a few months before the panic, the Supreme Court’s decision in the famous Slaughter-House Cases threatened prospects for mounting...

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19. Sound Money, Crooked Whiskey

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pp. 481-510

In addition to the southern question, President Grant highlighted two other important issues in his annual message in December 1874: civil service reform and economic policy. The latter question had grown ever more urgent as the country remained crippled by depression. In the wake of the November election losses, press rumors had cast Grant as ready to back away from his conservative money views, but he “very indignantly repelled this idea.” He authorized Fish and Bristow to say that, on the contrary, he felt “strengthened in the opinions expressed...

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20. The President under Fire

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pp. 511-534

The Republican victories in 1875 sparked renewed speculation that Grant might break with tradition and run again for president, but unfolding events soon made such talk idle. The day after the November election, the grand jury investigating the Whiskey Ring in St. Louis indicted a prominent Republican newspaper publisher and a former internal revenue collector. At the same time, prosecutors prepared to try John McDonald and former Treasury Department chief clerk William Avery. Further indictments loomed. The renewed war on crooked whiskey...

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21. Securing the Succession

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pp. 535-564

After accepting the Republican presidential nomination in 1868, Grant confided in Sherman that he had agreed to run to save the country from “mere trading politicians.” Eight years later, as he began his last year in office, Grant himself had become a thorough politician. He had lobbied on Capitol Hill, twisted arms at the White House, wielded patronage, fashioned policies, enlisted a cadre of legislative lieutenants, and done much to set the nation’s agenda. He had won a landslide reelection, but he had also battled a host of enemies. He had become committed to the...

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22. Third Term Dreams

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pp. 565-586

The "silent man" whom Garfield saw exit the White House on March 5, 1877, had no intention of leaving the interpretation of his legacy to others. The electoral crisis gave no time for a formal “farewell address,” but Grant used his final annual message to Congress in December 1876 to place his construction on the preceding eight years. He opened with one of the most remarkable passages in all presidential communication:

It was my fortune, or misfortune, to be called to the office of Chief Executive without any previous political training. From the age of...

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Coda: Rendering "The Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant"

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pp. 587-594

Grant’s death elicited one of the greatest outpourings of grief in the nation’s history. More than one and a half million people lined the streets of New York to witness the former president’s funeral procession. Nonetheless, the aspersions that enemies had cast upon him during his time in the White House and the postpresidential years subsided only momentarily, if at all. Old political allies gave eulogies full of praise for their fallen chief, but in their discussion of the presidency, even those eulogies had an air of apologia. Hamilton Fish saluted Grant’s...

Notes

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pp. 595-694

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Bibliographical Essay

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pp. 695-700

Given the tendentiousness and inaccuracy of much of the secondary literature concerning Ulysses S. Grant and his presidency, reevaluation of his years in the White House requires resort to the relevant primary sources. Fortunately, they are abundant. The starting point is the thirty-two-volume collection The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, produced under the editorial hand of the late John Y. Simon. Volumes 19 through 31 cover the presidential and postpresidential years and contain nearly everything of historical significance that Grant wrote. Superb...

Index

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pp. 701-721

Back Cover

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