President Grant Reconsidered.
When the name Ulysses Grant as president comes up, it almost always is coupled with the word corruption. Inevitably, polls evaluating the presidents put him near the bottom of their lists, followed only by Warren Harding.
Frank J. Scaturro, the author of this short, concise reconsideration of his presidency, carefully points out that there was more than just corruption in the eight tumultuous years of Grant's presidency. Grant followed Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Abraham Lincoln and who escaped impeachment by only one vote, in his efforts to seek a new rapprochement with the sullen South.
Grant was a novitiate in politics. Previously, he was so disinterested that he had voted only once in his life. He entered the White House a political amateur. His appointments to public office were horrendous and based on friendship--patronage that often leads to corruption and the belief that "to the victor goes the spoils." His appointees were devout adherents of the latter belief.
It cannot be denied that corruption and self-seeking were rife in Grant's administrations, although he himself never was accused of infidelity. There were the whiskey distillers defrauding the government, the Credit Mobilier that involved the bribing of several congressmen, the Tweed Ring, the shenanigans of Orville Babcock (Grant's private secretary), and the efforts of Jay Gould and James Fisk to corner the gold market (with the assistance of Abel R. Corbin, Grant's brother-in-law). Several of these actually occurred during the Johnson term but were discovered during the Grant years. And many other accusations, highly publicized, eventually were found to be without foundation. In singling out the Grant administration, in this day one forgets the scandals during the Harding, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Lyndon B. Johnson terms of office.
Grant might not have been an educated man, an experienced politician, or wise in the ways of politics, but Scaturro points out Grant's many accomplishments that historians and journalists seem to try to obliterate from the record.
Grant was in the throes of the post-Civil War quagmire in which adherence to the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments was thwarted in several of the southern states, especially those in which the "Freedmen" outnumbered the whites. He did not flinch in sending federal troops to ensure fair elections. There were the Ku Klux Klan and armed bands in several states menacing Reconstruction, and Grant dealt with them forcefully. Although accused of party and personal patronage, he was a leader in advocating a civil service system.
In foreign affairs, Grant succeeded in preventing war with Great Britain arising from claims for British damages to northern shipping during its support of the Confederate cause. In June 1870, he resisted congressional and popular sentiment to intervene in the Cuban rebellion and a possible war with Spain.
In the economic area, the passage of the Resumption Act, which resumed the payment of specie, brought an end to the severe depression following the Panic of 1873. Taxes were reduced, the national debt and interest rates declined, and the adverse balance of trade was reversed.
It would appear that historians and the press have been unkind in their evaluations of Grant's two-term presidency. Scaturro does well in his reconsideration of Grant.
CHARLES H. ZWICKER
Long Island University
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|Author:||ZWICKER, CHARLES H.|
|Publication:||Presidential Studies Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 1999|
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