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Chapter 4:

Grant and Andrew Johnson—their original concord and the growth of a different feeling.

for a while after the death of Lincoln the relations between the new President and Grant were of the most cordial character. The only point of difference was in regard to the treatment of the South. At first the victorious General was far more inclined to leniency than Johnson. But by degrees the President's feeling became mitigated, and by the winter of 1865 he was already more disposed to be the political partisan of the Southerners than the ally of those who had elected him. He had conceived the idea that without the aid of Congress he could reconstruct the Union; and doubtless believed that by making extraordinary advances and offering extraordinary immunities to the South, he could build up a national party at both the North and the South of which he would necessarily be the head. The great popularity of Grant at this period made it important to win him over to the support of the enterprise.

Grant was unused to the arts of placemen and politicians, and indeed unversed in any manoeuvres except those of the field. He still retained his magnanimous sentiment toward the conquered, and was at first in no way averse to what he supposed were the President's views. He protested against the harsh measures advised by many Northerners, and was far more in accord with Johnson than with Stanton. [33] The Democrats claimed him; the Republicans distrusted him. General Richard Taylor came to me about this time and proposed that Grant should become the candidate of the Democratic party in the next Presidential election, promising the support of the South in a mass if it was allowed to vote. James Brooks, then the leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives, made similar overtures, also through me. Brooks was my intimate personal friend; he always predicted that Grant would be the next President, and he was avowedly anxious to secure him for the Democrats. I invariably told my chief whatever I learned that could affect or interest him, no matter what the source, and I conveyed these messages to Grant. He sent no reply, nor did he indicate either satisfaction or displeasure at the suggestion. At that time he had no strong political bias, and, I believe, no political ambition. Both were slow of development, though both came at last.

When Mr. Johnson proposed in November that Grant should make a tour of the South and report the condition and feeling of the people, the General-in-Chief was entirely willing. He performed the journey and reported in accordance with the expectations of the President, but very much to the disgust of ardent and bitter Republicans, who were destined afterward to claim him as their representative and chief.

When Congress met in December the policy of the President had been fully developed, and up to that time had not been opposed by Grant. Johnson, without any authority of law, had appointed Governors in the seceded States and allowed their Legislatures to assemble; he had even exacted changes in their constitutions—all without the sanction or advice of Congress. He had refused to call Congress together, and as that body was without the power to summon itself before the ordinary time, this left him from April to December at liberty to prosecute his plans. Grant thought [34] it would have been wiser had the President convoked Congress and taken its advice; but he held himself to be merely a military officer, and was unwilling to intrude into civil affairs. He had not been consulted in regard to the policy of the President, and as Congress was not summoned, and some system of reconstruction was indispensable, he acquiesced in the action of his superior. But he always maintained that the action was provisional; that Congress, as the representative of the people, must eventually decide what should be done, and to that decision all must bow. I frequently heard him express this view.

During the winter, however, the President and Congress came to an open rupture. Grant had striven to prevent this. He felt the necessity of harmony between the two branches of the Government at so critical a juncture, and he used all the weight and influence which his achievements gave to bring about this harmony. But the President was obstinate, and Congress entirely disapproved his plan and reversed his proceedings. Mr. Johnson maintained that as soon as any State had formally acquiesced in the abolition of slavery its representatives should be readmitted to Congress with all the power they held before seceding. But grave objections were offered to such a course. The Constitution had originally provided that the number of representatives should be apportioned to the population, adding in each State to the number of the free three-fifths of those not free. By this arrangement, though the slaves did not vote, the masters had the benefit of their numbers. The anomaly had been one of the original compromises of the Constitution. But the entire Southern population was now free, and would therefore be included in the basis for representation, though still the freedmen had no vote; so that emancipation actually increased very largely the number of representatives to which the South under the Constitution was entitled. To this Congress would not agree; but Mr. Johnson insisted [35] that the States which had revolted should be received back into the Union with their political power increased as the result of the war. Besides this, he wished to exact no guarantees for the payment of the war debt of the nation or the repudiation of that of the South. He claimed the right to pardon every man engaged in the Rebellion at his own individual will, and he took no care to protect the emancipated millions. On all these points Congress was at issue with him.

Their differences extended to the entire nation. The encouragement given by the Executive not unnaturally awoke in the South a desire to recover its old ascendency. The leaders perceived and accepted their opportunity. They of course became the partisans of Johnson and assumed a very different tone from that they had maintained immediately after the war, while the Northern people were provoked, fearing to lose what had been won at so much cost.

Grant tried for a while to hold the balance between the two parties. He strove to preserve his original magnanimity of feeling, and never swerved from the doctrine that the officers of the Southern army were exempt from punishment for military acts committed during the war. He angered many Northern friends by his insistence on this point. But he rebuked what he deemed the offensive tone of the Southern press, and suspended newspapers that made themselves especially obnoxious. He refused to permit the reorganization of the State militia at the South. He never forgot that a mighty war had just closed, and that he was dealing with those who had been the nation's enemies.

Up to this time his position had been exclusively military; but the situation developed in him a political vision and compelled political action. Both parties to the contest wanted to use the prestige of his name; both laid their arguments before him and sought to secure his support. The President was full of devices and schemes not always [36]



[37] creditable. He began by trying to wheedle Grant. He sent him constant personal and familiar notes and cards—an unusual courtesy, almost a condescension, from a President. With these messages he often enclosed slips from the Southern newspapers, complimenting Grant on his magnanimity, and predicting that he was sure to support the President in upholding the ‘rights of the South.’ Two of these notes I preserved. They show the intimate footing that Johnson desired to maintain.

From the President.

Will General Grant be kind enough to call as he passes on his way home, or such other time as may be most convenient.


I would be pleased to see General Grant this morning if he can conveniently call.

Both of these are in pencil; the former is without date, and the address on each is in the President's hand.

Once when the difference between Congress and the President was at its height Grant chanced to give an evening party, and the President came uninvited with his family and remained an hour or two, an honor almost unexampled at that day, when a President neither visited nor attended evening parties. He stood by the side of Grant and received the guests, and the circumstance was heralded all over the country as an indication of the cordial political understanding between them.

In 1866 a convention was held at Philadelphia of those who supported Mr. Johnson's views. It was attended by many Southerners and by Northerners who had opposed the war, as well as by some who had fought for the Union but who now advocated measures less stringent than Congress advised. A delegation was appointed by this convention to [38] proceed to Washington and present resolutions of sympathy to the President. Late on the morning of their arrival Johnson sent the following note to Grant:

Executive Mansion, Washington, D. C., August 18, 1866.
General U. S. Grant, Commanding, etc.:
General,—The President presents his compliments to you and requests the pleasure of your presence at the reception at the Executive Mansion of the committee from the recent convention at Philadelphia, which will take place to-day at one (I) o'clock P. M.

With great respect,

R. Morrow, Brevet Colonel and Adjutant-General.

Grant was still unwilling to take any definite political position, such as his presence at this reception would indicate; but he felt himself obliged to obey the summons of the President. He went to the White House with the intention of excusing himself, but the President had already taken his place in the East Room, and sent for the General-in-Chief to join him there. Again Grant thought that without positive rudeness he could not refuse. So he stood by Johnson's side during the entire demonstration, greatly to his own disgust and chagrin, and returned to his headquarters afterward full of indignation at the device by which he had been entrapped, and beginning to detest the policy of the President, if for nothing else, because of his petty manoeuvring.

These wiles continued. In August, the President determined to make a tour to Chicago by way of New York and Buffalo and other cities, and invited Grant to accompany him. A subordinate can hardly decline such an invitation from the Chief of the State, but Grant, who perceived the object, offered repeated excuses. Mr. Johnson, however, continued to urge the matter, and finally put the request as a personal solicitation. Grant felt that it would be indecorous [39] any longer to object, and accordingly accompanied the President. As he had anticipated, the tour was converted into a political pilgrimage. At every point Mr. Johnson made speeches and received demonstrations in favor of his policy, while Grant was dragged about an unwilling witness of manifestations which he disapproved. He kept himself, as much as possible, in the background, and refused absolutely to make any speeches; but his presence was nevertheless proclaimed as positive evidence of his adherence to the President's policy. Finally, his disgust was so great that he became half unwell, and pleading illness left the party and returned to Washington in advance of the President.

He was not free from the peculiarities of ordinary humanity; and this entire incident intensified his growing dislike to the plans and proceedings of Andrew Johnson. Grant indeed had at this time a peculiar aversion to crooked ways and diplomatic arts, an aversion perhaps more manifest in the earlier part of his career than afterward. For although he himself always remained direct—after mingling much with the world he found artifice and craft so common that the shock of the discovery wore off. But when he was new to them they affected him most unfavorably, and the chicanery of Johnson disposed him in advance to dislike the principles it was intended to aid. Thus the President, by his manoeuvres, instead of attracting, actually repelled the straightforward and obstinate soldier. It was, however, not so much Grant's real concurrence as the appearance of it before the world that Johnson probably sought, and something of this he secured. Grant was conscious of the unfair success, and this very consciousness made him more ready to take an opposite stand.

Congress finally announced its plan of reconstruction, which was simply to undo what the President had attempted and to refuse admission to the Southern States until a new basis of representation was established. The Legislature did [40] not insist on the enfranchisement of the blacks, but declared that whenever the right to vote was withheld the representation should be reduced by the proportion which the nonvoting population bore to the whole; the South should not have its representation increased because of a war in which it had failed. Congress also excluded those who had once been civil or military officers of the United States and had afterward engaged in insurrection, from holding office again under the Government they had striven to overthrow; it stipulated for the sacredness of the National debt and the forfeiture of that of the Confederacy. These provisions were embodied in an amendment to the Constitution to be submitted to all the States, both North and South. In the autumn of 1866, in spite of the violent opposition of the Administration, the amendment was ratified by every Northern State. The President's plan was thus rejected by those who had been successful in the field. At this epoch Grant became a politician. He threw in his lot with the people with whom he had fought.

The following letter illustrates the original aversion of Grant to entering politics:

General Grant to General Sherman.


headquarters armies of the United States, Washington, D. C., Oct. 18, 1866.
dear General,—Yesterday the President sent for me and in the course of conversation asked if there was any objection to you coming to this city for a few days. I replied, of course, that there was not. I wish, therefore, that you would make your arrangements to come on with me from Cincinnati after the meeting of the ‘Society of the Army of the Tennessee.’ The President showed me a letter which you wrote to him about the 1st of February, the contents of which you will remember, and stated that some people had advised its publication and asked my advice. [41] I told him very frankly that military men had no objection to the publication of their views as expressed upon official matters properly brought before them, but that they did not like expressions of theirs which are calculated to array them on one or other side of antagonistic political parties to be brought before the public. That such a course would make or was calculated to make a whole party array itself in opposition .to the officer and would weaken his influence for good.

I cannot repeat the language used by me, but I gave him to understand that I should not like such a use of a letter from me, nor did not think you would. Taking the whole conversation together, and what now appears in the papers, I am rather of the opinion that it is the desire to have you in Washington either as Acting Secretary of War, or in some other way. I will not venture in a letter to say all I think about the matter, or that I would say to you in person.

When you come to Washington I want you to stay with me, and if you bring Mrs. Sherman and some of the children, we will have room for all of you.

Yours truly,

U. S. Grant. To Major-General W. T. Sherman, St. Louis, Mo.

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