Prologue: A Troubled Nation
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9 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ PROLOGUE: A TROUBLED NATION 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 the best educated people in the world. They applied their inventiveness to innovation, which rapidly transformed the way the nation did business and the way its people lived. In 1868 a reunited America stood poised at the threshold of economic preeminence in the world. And yet the electoral battle that year took place in a deeply troubled nation. Although the Civil War had ended three years earlier, the country VWLOOIDFHGQXPHURXVSUREOHPVVSDZQHGE\WKHFRQÁLFW7KH$PHULFDQ two-party system, however, had demonstrated remarkable resilience. 7KHÀUVWSRVWZDUSUHVLGHQWLDOHOHFWLRQZLWQHVVHGDÀHUFHFRQWHVWEHWZHHQ Republicans and Democrats over how best to cure the nation’s lingering ills and how best to guide the onrush of economic and social change. At the top of the agenda stood the South, where political reconstruction remained far from complete. For three years President Andrew Johnson had fought a titanic battle with Congress over the reintegration 10 PROLOGUE of the former Confederate states into the Union and the incorporation of former slaves into free society. Soon after succeeding to the presidency, Johnson had initiated a program for the speedy “restoration” of the rebellious states, fostering the creation of new governments that lodged authority in the hands of white southerners and relegated African Americans to second-class status. The Republican Congress countered with the Civil Rights Act of 1866, passed over Johnson’s veto, conferring FLWL]HQVKLSRQWKHIRUPHUVODYHVDQGJXDUDQWHHLQJWKHP´HTXDOEHQHÀW of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property.”1 The Republicans next embodied the act’s essential elements in a new amendment to the Constitution—the fourteenth. By the end of 1866, the GLͿHUHQFHVEHWZHHQFRQJUHVVLRQDO5HSXEOLFDQVDQGWKHSUHVLGHQWKDG grown irreconcilable, and the failure of Johnson’s “restoration” seemed obvious after riots in the South claimed scores of freed persons’ lives. ,QHDUO\&RQJUHVVHQDFWHGWKHÀUVWLQDVHULHVRI5HFRQVWUXFWLRQ Acts that required southern states to write new constitutions to establish QHZJRYHUQPHQWVDQGLQVWLWXWHEODFNVXͿUDJH5HSXEOLFDQVDOVRSDVVHG WKH 7HQXUH RI 2΀FH $FW ZKLFK VWLSXODWHG WKDW IHGHUDO R΀FHKROGHUV ZKRVH DSSRLQWPHQW E\ WKH SUHVLGHQW UHTXLUHG 6HQDWH FRQÀUPDWLRQ could not be removed without Senate approval. Johnson nonetheless suspended Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and replaced him with the head of the army, General Ulysses S. Grant. When the Senate reinstated 6WDQWRQDGHÀDQW-RKQVRQDWWHPSWHGDVHFRQGUHPRYDOVSXUULQJ5Hpublicans in the House of Representatives to impeach the president. In May 1868 he escaped Senate conviction by a single vote. Thus, as the election year got under way, turmoil racked the defeated South, and the government in Washington careened toward dysfunction. $QRWKHUYH[DWLRXVOHJDF\RIWKHVHFWLRQDOFRQÁLFWVWHPPHGIURPWKH PHWDPRUSKRVLVLQWKHQDWLRQ·VÀQDQFLDOVWUXFWXUH7RSD\IRUWKH8QLRQ PLOLWDU\HͿRUW&RQJUHVVKDGLQVWLWXWHGVXEVWDQWLDOOHYLHVRQGRPHVWLF JRRGVDQGVHUYLFHVDQLQFRPHWD[DQGODUJHLQFUHDVHVLQWDULͿGXWLHVRQ imports. With the return of peace, Americans and their leaders agreed that taxation could be reduced, but many interests had grown comfortDEOH ZLWKWDULͿGXWLHVWKDWVKLHOGHGWKHPIURPRYHUVHDVFRPSHWLWLRQ and they hoped to preserve as much of the protective system as possible . The postwar decades witnessed intense debates over how to refashLRQ WKHWD[V\VWHPLQZD\VWKDWJHQHUDWHGVX΀FLHQWUHYHQXHZKLOHEDOancing the interests of American producers and American consumers. To meet wartime needs, the government had also borrowed heavily . At war’s end, the national debt had grown to an unprecedented size, A TROUBLED NATION 11 well in excess of $2 billion. This obligation comprised a bewildering array of bonds and other instruments with varied interest rates and repayment schedules. Restructuring this debt remained a major objective in the postwar years. To supplement taxation and borrowing, Congress had enacted the Legal Tender Act in 1862, authorizing the...


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