War and Peace (2012)
While President Grant was trying to re-unify the nation, his Republican Party was dividing along two fronts. The Radical Republicans (sometimes called "Consciousness" Republicans), led by Senator Charles Sumner (MA) and Representative Thaddeus Stevens (PA), were basically idealists that wanted to advance Civil Rights for African-Americans, while punishing the former Confederate states. The opposing faction in the Republican Party was a more practical wing that wanted to focus on economic expansion and business. In a way, both factions achieved their goals, in that the Radical Republicans were able to direct Reconstruction, while the other faction was able to expand the Northern economy to almost unimaginable horizons. But President Grant was caught in the middle within his party, not being nearly idealistic enough for one faction, and in some ways, not pro-business enough for the other. This fracture within the Republican Party would not only limit Grant as president, but it would also open the door for a return to national influence and prominence for the Democratic Party.
Almost immediately in his first term in office, Grant found that it was indeed difficult to please the leaders within his own party. While Grant nominated capable men in his Cabinet (the best member of his Cabinet was Hamilton Fish as SecState), he didn't follow the established decades-long procedure of providing the names ahead of time to the Party leaders in Congress as a courtesy. In a time when virtually no Cabinet nomination met resistance in terms of confirmation in the Senate, Grant had to withdraw at least two nominations due to the sheer lack of support in that chamber. While Grant was able to eventually form a reliable Cabinet, the struggle to do so was a portent of things to come, not only within his party, but also within the nation.
In 1870, Grant, again not following established protocol, tried to annex the Dominican Republic; he tried to do so while Congress was not in session. Grant saw the Dominican Republic as a way to establish an American "Footprint" in the Caribbean. In his mind, by providing a stable government in the form of a U.S. Territory (very much like what Puerto Rico would become) in the Dominican Republic, the U.S. would benefit in terms of being better-able to enforce the Monroe Doctrine, while acquiring controlled access to sugar cane. Senator Charles Sumner (who as the years went by became more-and-more unhinged in terms of his views and behavior, even among his fellow idealists) repeatedly blocked all of Grant's attempts to annex the Dominican Republic, in part due to his belief that the U.S. should be focused on expanding freedom for African-Americans in the South, not in a poverty-stricken part of an island in the Caribbean. While President Grant saw the annexation of the Dominican Republic as a potential benefit, the Radical Republicans saw it as an unnecessary cost at the expense of Reconstruction
The Ku Klux Klan, and other reactionary terrorist groups, were reeking havoc and vengeance in the South after the Civil War. In states such as Louisiana, the White League assassinated Republican politicians (e.g. the Coushatta Massacre), and in South Carolina, the Klan was doing more of the same. Grant was besieged with letters from Republicans in Southern states begging for protection under the 14th Amendment. Gaining support from the Radical Republicans (the idealists), the Ku Klux Klan Act became law in 1871; the law gave Grant the power to use the rules of engagement that existed during the Civil War. In other words, Grant was able to suspend the writ of habeas corpus in dealing with suspected Klansmen, much the same as our government can do today with suspected terrorists. Grant's enforcement of the Klan Act in South Carolina worked, driving the reactionaries underground - the threat of the same thing occurring in other states reduced the reactionary activity. While the idealists in the Republican Party applauded these actions, the practical wing bemoaned those actions, believing that the President should shift his focus to the Northern economy.
During Grant's Presidency, Great Britain became a trusted ally instead of an ancient enemy. The basis of this transformation centered around the still-lingering dispute from the Civil War over the "Laird Rams"; ships that the British had manufactured for the Confederate Navy, the most famous being the Alabama. The U.S. demanded an apology and war reparations from the British, and the British refused to do either. Relations between America and Great Britain remained strained, until the Franco-Prussian War. With the growing threat from Germany, the newest empire in Europe, as well as internal problems in France, Great Britain desperately needed an ally, and decided to settle the whole affair with the United States. Thus, during Grant's time in office, the longest-lasting alliance in modern world history was established, and, both wings of the Republican Party were satisfied with the result (for differing reasons, of course).
Grant wanted to include Natives in Modern America if at all possible; to such great leaders as Red Cloud, Grant offered "survival". In essence, Grant started a system called "Concentration", which provided a Limited Homeland for Native nations / tribes (it was the stage before the Reservation System). Grant saw his program as a "Peace Initiative"; he very much wanted to end the conflicts in the Great Plains and in the American Southwest, in part because he needed troops to enforce the 14th Amendment in the South, but also so the nation could more easily expand West. In general terms, the Radical Republicans supported the strategy (potentially more troops to be used in the South), but the practical wing of the Party loved the strategy - they believed it would be much easier to expand the system of rails to the West. That heavy expansion (with the accompanying speculation) would play a role in starting the nation's worst depression in its not-quite 100 year history.
The Election of 1872 pitted Grant, whose popularity was even greater than in 1868, against the Democratic candidate, newspaper publisher Horace Greeley. In effect, the Democrats nominated an un-electable candidate; Grant's victory in the popular vote was the greatest vote-differential in American History to that point. Undoubtedly in the throes of victory (I'm thinking of Sally Fields' "You Really Like Me" acceptance speech after winning an Oscar in 1985) Grant declared that it was basically "Mission Accomplished" in the South, and by inference, the West. Then, with very little warning, the bubble burst on the economy with the Panic of 1873, which led to the first "real" depression. The previous economic depressions hit the agricultural sector the hardest, which was most of America. Also, farmers had a built-in safety net in that they could grow their own food during hard times. But in 1873, America was transforming to an industrial giant, and when a person lost their factory job, there was no safety net.
Grant was a supporter of "Hard Money" (the Gold Standard), and he held firm in terms of expanding the money supply more than what was already in the financial system. While Grant did sign a bill into law that restricted the flow of money to banks in the East, trying to help banks out West, he refused to do more, believing that a sound "Hard Money" policy would be the best cure. Idealists didn't think Grant did enough, because the depression drastically eroded Northern interest in Reconstruction, and the practical Republicans wanted Grant to do something to encourage economic expansion. About the only group of Americans that supported Grant's policies concerning the depression were bankers, who benefited from "tight money".
With the North losing almost total interest in Reconstruction due to the "Great Depression" of that era, it should be no surprise that while the Civil Rights Act of 1875 became law (barely voted into law before the next Congress was sworn in after the mid-term elections; the next Congress had far more Democrats, and would not have supported the bill), it was never enforced. The Civil Rights Act of 1875, signed by Grant, outlawed segregation in public areas.
But with the depression and far-fewer Radical Republicans in positions of power, and President Grant understandably tiring from being asked to come to the rescue by Southern Republicans, the Act was in the books, but never enforced. Not until the Civil Rights Era of the 1950s / 1960s would the issue of public access be addressed again.
Although there were scandals during Grant's first term (the Gould-Fisk Scandal, and the
Credit Mobilier Scandal), when the "Tweed Ring" in New York City was exposed, the general public started to pay far more attention to political scandals. When the "Whiskey Ring" was exposed, it was then predictable that the participants were actually prosecuted. Grant promised vigorous prosecution and enforcement for those involved, and was extremely dismayed to find out that his own private secretary was accused of being a major participant. And to make matters worse, his own brother, Orville Grant, was involved in a scandal concerning the Secretary of War's wife, and after her death, SecWar Belknap himself, for receiving "kick-backs" for favors rendered. In terms of Grant's Presidency, scandals became synonymous with his name: "Grantism". While the scandals occurred, Grant himself was never a part, but the scandals are part of his presidency.
By 1876, Grant's "Peace Initiative" on the Great Plains was in tatters (in part due to the discovery of gold in the Black Hills in 1874), and he had to make two key tactical decisions. Firstly, he calculated that a defeat of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse in Montana would strengthen Red Cloud in the Dakotas, with which he would then negotiate. Secondly, he wanted a military leader that would deliver that victory, and the media and general public thought that Colonel George A. Custer was the man. Grant, however, had deep misgivings about Custer's leadership capabilities, and placed a man he knew well from the Civil War, General Alfred E. Terry, in overall command. However, in June, 1876, Custer and about 200 of his men were killed at Little Bighorn. What the defeat meant to Grant was that there was absolutely no chance of any negotiations for peace on the Great Plains (or in the Southwest); the media and the public were clamoring for an end to the conflict. The timing of the battle was at least partly to blame, since it occurred about a week before the Centennial Celebration, and as a result, there was a general desire for retribution and revenge.
During his second term, Grant had made it official: he would not run for president in 1876.
As a result, both political parties found it very difficult to nominate their candidates, needing more ballots than what each party considered necessary to select their standard-bearers. The Republicans selected a former Civil War general, Rutherford B. Hayes, while the Democrats finally selected the NY attorney general that put "Boss Tweed" in jail, Samuel Tilden. With Grant no longer in the picture, the Democrats nearly won the election. With election "shenanigans" in three Southern states, each candidate claimed a victory in the Electoral College. A special commission was created, mirroring the make-up of Congress, so there were 8 Republicans and 7 Democrats on the commission. Tilden needed just one of the states to become president, and Hayes needed all three - the commission, along party lines, gave all three states, and the presidency, to Hayes. But, a crucial decision was made in what became known as the "Compromise of 1877"; the Republicans had Hayes as president, but the Democrats were able to get U.S. troops out of the South, which signaled the end of "Political Reconstruction" (but not the end of social or economic Reconstruction by any means). Another main result of the Election of 1876 was that the Democratic Party had made its return to national level politics, only a little over a decade after the Civil War.
From 1863 - 1877, tumult constantly threatened the Union, and Grant was the only historical figure directly involved during all those years, as a general, and then as a two-term president. By 1877, secession was no longer an option, even with the most reactionary extremists in the South. And while forms of slavery still existed (e.g. Sharecropping, Literacy
Tests, and the Poll Tax), the future of Democracy in America was insured, largely due to the efforts, influence, and vision of Ulysses S. Grant, a universally acclaimed military leader and tactician, but in the views of more-and-more historians such as H.W. Brands, a tremendously under-appreciated president.