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Chapter 29:

Leaving the White House.

the close of Grant's Presidential career elicited a remarkable comment from the great French statesman Thiers, who was at that time, though no longer President, perhaps the most important personage in France; almost controlling parties in his own country and watching with an acute and intelligent interest the great political crisis on this side the seas. General Sickles was then residing in Paris and in the habit of meeting the ex-President frequently. To him Thiers declared that no country in Europe could have passed through the situation which agitated America without a serious disturbance of the state. He thought it possible that France or Germany or England might have weathered storms equal to those of our War of the Rebellion, and even have passed through the difficulties of the Reconstruction period, but he knew of no other country that could have withstood the dangers of a disputed election, when the parties were so nearly matched, and so soon after a civil war. Thiers did not hesitate to attribute much of the good fortune of the United States in this emergency to the wisdom and courage and moderation of Grant.

I have indeed heard it doubted whether General Grant's course at this crisis had much to do with the result; but let any one suppose that the Head of the State had acted with indiscretion or indecision, had shown undue partiality, had instigated on one hand or aroused on the other the passions of either party, each only waiting to be started into a blaze; [256] let it be supposed that Buchanan or Johnson had held the reins, or any one of half a dozen prominent men on either side—Sumner, or Wade, or Stanton, or Toombs—how easily the horrors of civil war might have been brought home—this time to the North. The quarrel then would have been, not between two different sections of the Republic, but between enemies in every city and street and household.

It is quite as much by what he left undone in civil affairs, as by what he did, that Grant is to be judged. His singular power of restraint, backed by his acknowledged energy and force, was of enormous advantage to the country at times like those in which he performed the duties of the Executive. And although his Presidental career is often harshly criticised by some who admire his military ability, though he was supported, and sometimes seemed to be surrounded, by many whose association conferred neither honor on himself nor benefit on the country: though there were acts in his Administration which he publicly admitted were blunders, history will be far from recording his political career as a failure.

He took up the cares of state not only immediately after a convulsion that was one of the greatest in history, but after the situation had been complicated to the very verge of revolution by the struggle between two coordinate branches of the Government; after the disruption of a party, the impeachment and trial of a President, the revival of much of the bitterness of the war. No task could be more difficult or delicate than his, at such a juncture, and it can at least be said that after eight years of power he handed over to his successor the Government of a country so far pacified and reconciled that even the awful shape of a disputed election had been appeased. The States were all restored to the Union, and Reconstruction, whatever its merits or demerits, was accomplished. That measure was not initiated by Grant, nor were all its provisions or results those which he would [257] have recommended or desired, but Congress laid down the law and General Grant as President executed it. During the twelve years of his civil career, for in reality this began with Johnson's accession to power, he performed a task fully equal in importance to the country to whatever he achieved in war. A man with less sense and patriotism, or more ambition, might in his position, and with his immense popularity, have undone much that he had accomplished in the war. But Grant's self-abnegation was fully equal to Washington's at the close of the Revolution.

It is true no crown was ever offered him, and the country would certainly have hurled him into insignificance or worse had he attempted to seize one; but there were a thousand opportunities to increase his prerogative and confirm his power which he steadily refused. All who knew him closely at the times when temptation might have been strong with other men, will assuredly testify that the thought of selfaggrandize-ment was always furthest from his mind. He had, indeed, an apparent lack of ambition, and even of aspiration, that amounted almost to indifference; a singular moderation running through his whole character, which some considered stolidity; but which tempered what without it would have been harsher qualities, and produced all the results of wisdom, patience, judgment, and even far-sighted patriotism. He saw, even plainer than his political friends, the possibilities that told in his own favor and he put them away.

Shortly after the close of the war I was present when Charles Sumner proposed to him that a painting should be placed at the Capitol to represent the surrender of Lee; but Grant declared that he was unwilling that any commemoration of the defeat and disaster of one section of the country should be perpetuated at the Capitol. Again, a few days before his first inauguration, Mr. Blaine, then Speaker of the House of Representatives, formally suggested that Congress should allow Grant a leave of absence from the army for four [258] years, so that at the expiration of his Presidential term he could resume his place as General-in-Chief, with the rank and position created especially for him. But Grant said he could not sleep at night if he kept Sherman and Sheridan and all the other officers lower down out of the promotion which his retention of office would prohibit to each of them. He declared that they had won their promotion as rightfully as he had his own, and he gave up his rank and appointed Sherman the day after he was inaugurated.

People have forgotten his popularity after the close of the war, but at that time almost anything that could have been proposed to honor him would have been approved, and it was his very unselfishness, his purity in public matters that afterward made his private misfortunes possible.

But during the last years of his Presidency the reaction that comes so inevitably to the most fortunate of men almost overwhelmed him. Political friends became enemies, private and personal ones used their connection with him to advance themselves and their interests illegitimately; and the public believed far worse things of him and of them than there was cause for. I was away from the country during all this period, but I know how keenly he felt the loss of his popularity, of the change in the public feeling toward himself. After it was decided that he was not to become a candidate for a third term, he was extremely anxious to lay down his responsibilities and his duties, wearied of public life and public cares. But then came the great trouble of the closing months of his Administration, the disputed election, carrying danger, anxiety, and the possibility of strife into the very last hours of his Presidency. Finally this was averted, and he was able to transfer his great office to a successor without difficulty or disturbance.

He and Mrs. Grant retired with dignity from the place they had filled, and performed their last social duties at the Executive Mansion gracefully. I have already told that they [259] gave a dinner to the President-elect on the 3d of March; and while Grant attended to the grave political complications of the hour, and arranged for the private inauguration of his successor in advance of the public one, Mrs. Grant dispensed her parting hospitalities under these delicate and unwonted circumstances. She did not accompany her husband to the Capitol to see another man installed in the place which he had held; and it may not be improper to say just here, that as perhaps any wife in her situation would have been, Mrs. Grant was unwilling to have her husband retire; she had desired him to become a candidate for another term, and the dignity with which she relinquished her own honors and place receives to my mind an added illustration when this sentiment is known.

She prepared a suitable entertainment for the new occupants of the Executive Mansion, on their return from the Capitol to take her place from her. She invited the members of General Grant's Cabinet and their families, her own especial associates during the years of her pre-eminence, as well as others whom she thought it would be agreeable to the new President to meet. She directed the establishment to be put in complete order so that its future mistress might find all that was necessary even to supply her table for at least a day; and having superintended the removal of the personal effects of her own family, the lady who had presided so long at the White House was ready to receive her successor and the new President when they arrived from the inauguration.

Then Mrs. Grant took the arm of President Hayes, and considering herself still the hostess, as she actually was, she sat at the head of the table. Ex-President Grant of course took in Mrs. Hayes, and after the luncheon, which was an entertainment befitting the occasion, GeneralGrant and Mrs. Grant bade good-bye to the house where they had spent so many proud and happy hours. Several of the ladies of the Cabinet told me of this scene, and confessed that they themselves [260] shed a few natural tears; but Mrs. Grant kept up her spirit, and General Grant of course showed no more emotion than if he had been in the Wilderness.

They drove in their own carriage to the house of Mr. Fish, where they remained nearly a month, the recipients of courtesies and invitations from the most distinguished members of that society of which they had so long been at the head. People could not do enough to honor them. Statesmen of all parties combined to show General Grant respect, and this was only the presage of the outbreak of admiration that swept over the land. Wherever the ex-President went he was the object of personal attention and popular demonstrations; and when his countrymen learned that he was going abroad, that the man who had so long been preemi-nent both in civil and military affairs was to leave them for a while, their enthusiasm became unbounded. Thousands can remember the scenes in Philadelphia at his departure; the dinners and banquets that succeeded each other for days; the illustrious party that accompanied him down the Delaware; the crowds of vessels of every character that escorted his own steamer for miles—an ovation such as no American had ever before received. Now that he was out of politics the country seemed determined to show to itself and to the world that it could appreciate the man who had done so much, not only to save it, but afterward to secure that result which more than any other one man he had assisted to achieve.

If deeds are taken into account General Grant will be recognized hereafter as a statesman as well as a warrior. History may be searched in vain for an instance of pacification on so grand a scale and after so tremendous a convulsion —accomplished so completely and in so short a while as under Grant; and two other great achievements of his Administration can never be blotted out. The country was saved from the dishonor and misfortune which it is now universally admitted would have followed financial inflation— [261] saved by Grant's courage in vetoing the measure against the advice of a majority of the most prominent of his political friends; and the United States came out of the long and at times dangerous diplomatic struggle with England with dignity and yet with peace assured, having won indemnity and apology from the foremost of modern nations. Results like these of a political Administration will be remembered when the patty squabbles that once seemed so important have sunk into their natural oblivion.

On the day that I met General Grant in England, not three months after his retirement from the Presidency, he told me of the revulsion in public feeling at home in regard to himself. He spoke with a warmth and an evident satisfaction most unusual in him, from which I learned how acutely he must have felt the storm of unpopularity through which he had passed. ‘Why, Badeau,’ he said, ‘it was just as it was immediately after the war.’ He expressed besides a feeling of great relief at the freedom from public cares for the first time in sixteen years. He was glad, he declared, to be rid of the responsibilities and anxieties of office, to escape from the importunities and criticisms that are the shadow of prerogative. He soon forgot any provocations he thought he had received from a few in the recollection of the love and regard with which the people had welcomed him again to their more immediate fellowship. He had always hated the trammels of high position, and now enjoyed the freedom from restraint which a private life secures; and he looked forward with the eagerness of a boy to the pleasures of foreign travel and fresh experience.

General Grant to General Badeau.

Executive Mansion, Washington, Nov. 19, 1871.
dear Badeau,—As I have before assured you your letters are received and read with great pleasure, though I may not find [262] time to answer many of them. The information asked for by you from the War Department Porter undertook to get, and has obtained so far as the clerks in the Department could work it out. But it does not satisfy Porter, and he now intends to go to the Department himself and work it up. This accounts for the delay.

I have not yet written a line in my message. Will commence to-morrow, and hope to make it short. Everything in the country looks politically well at present. The most serious apprehension is from the awards that may be made by the Commissioners at Geneva an d in Washington. Should they be largely in favor of the English it would at least cause much disappointment. In speaking of political matters, I do not of course allude to my own chances. It will be a happy day for me when I am out of political life. But I do feel a deep interest in the Republican party keeping control of office until the results of the war are acquiesced in by all political parties. When that is accomplished we can afford to quarrel about minor matters.

My family are all well and send you their kindest regards. Fred sailed for Europe on Friday last. He will be in England about May next and will stay there, I hope, long enough to do up the island pretty well.

Yours truly,

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