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Chapter 40:

Grant and Mexico.

Grant always took a peculiar interest in the Republic of Mexico. His experiences during the Mexican War left a lively impression with him, and there was no portion of his ‘Memoirs’ in which he manifested a keener interest than in the pages describing, not only the campaigns in which he participated and the adventures that befell himself, but the peculiarities of the country, the climate, and the inhabitants of Mexico. I remember well the composition of these chapters, and how impressed I was with the clearness of his memory and the vividness of his youthful perceptions, recalled after so long an interval. At the close of the Rebellion all this interest was intensified; for the conversion of Mexico into an empire seemed to Grant a sequence, or rather an incident, of secession, and his concern did not abate until the expulsion of the French and the re-establishment of the republic.

Upon Grant's assumption of the duties of President, Rawlins at first exercised great influence with him, and all that influence was in favor of an extension of territory. St. Domingo, Cuba, and the northern portion of Mexico—all— Rawlins would have been glad to incorporate into the Union. It was with a view to the acquisition of a large slice of territory on the northern frontier of Mexico that the mission to that country was offered in 1869 to General Sickles. The acquisition was intended to be peaceful, by purchase, and with the entire consent of the neighboring state, for Grant [349] would have been the last man to unfairly appropriate the domains of the friendly republic; he had disapproved the forcible extension of territory in the days of the annexation of Texas, and his relations with the statesmen of Mexico were loyal, his regard for the interests and honor of that country, genuine. But after due deliberation it was deemed unadvisable to attempt at that time the absorption of Mexican territory. The Administration concluded that there were other and more pressing matters to be decided then; the Reconstruction of the Union itself and the pacification of the South were still incomplete; there was the condition of the emancipated race to adjust; and to introduce other and foreign elements into the population at this crisis would propose new problems and provoke additional and inopportune difficulties. So the Mexican question, as it was presented to Grant in the early days of his Presidency, was allowed to drop, and was not revived in the same form during his career.

On his return from his European tour Grant revisited Mexico, and it was at this time that ideas of business relations with the sister Republic were first broached to him. Everything, however, was in abeyance until the result of the Chicago Convention of 1880 was known. Immediately after his defeat, Grant visited Colorado, and from Manitou Springs he wrote to me:

I think now I will be in New York City soon after my return to Galena. The probabilities are that I shall make my home there. But this is not entirely certain. I am obliged to do something to supplement my means to live upon, and I have very favorable opportunities there. Fortunately, none of my children are a tax upon me. If they were, we would all have to retire to the farm and work that.

I have been looking at the mines in New Mexico and in this State, and flatter myself that I have obtained something of an insight into the resources of the two—the State and Territory— and a large insight in the way mines are managed. Without going [350] into details, I would not buy stock in any mine in the country where the stock is thrown upon the market, any more than I would buy lottery tickets. The mines are producing largely, but those quoted pay no dividends to the stockholders, unless it is to put up the price of the stocks, so the knowing ones can sell out. Porter & Co. have a magnificent mine, managed by a thoroughly competent and honest man. It is so opened that they will get out all there is in it in the most economical manner, and the dividends will be regular, subject to no vicissitudes except strikes, epidemics, or earthquakes. I go on Saturday to the Garrison and from there to the San Juan region. That visit over, I will have seen a large part of the mining region.

On the 12th of August he wrote me again:

I have been away from here for ten days visiting parts of Colorado I had never seen before. The trip was a very hard one, though full of interest. I am satisfied this State has a great destiny before it. The new region that I visited will show greater mineral resources than all that has been heretofore discovered in the State, besides considerable agricultural resources. But I will see you in September, when I shall be in New York; and then I can tell you more than I can write. When I go to New York it will be determined whether I accept the Presidency of the mining company to which I have been elected. One thing is certain; I must do something to supplement my income, or continue to live in Galena or on a farm. I have not got the means to live in a city. With kindest regards of Mrs. Grant, Fred, and Buck (the latter has just left), I am, as ever, yours truly,

During this winter, however, Grant turned his attention almost exclusively to Mexican affairs. He soon became president of a railway company whose road ran south from the City of Mexico, and he was also actively engaged in furthering the enterprise of connecting the two republics by railroad. In 1881 he went again to Mexico, and from there, on the 7th of May, he wrote to me: ‘My business here progresses favorably so far as the President and departments are [351] concerned. I have heard nothing yet of any opposition in [the Mexican] Congress. Before this reaches you I will be on my way home.’

I find a few passages in his letters after this that illustrate his character, and show in what matters he was occupied. On the 11th of March he wrote:

dear Badeau,—The story about my failure was all pure fiction, invented with many lies in the stockboard to depress stocks. I have nothing to do with these speculators, and I think it great presumption to use my name in any way to effect their purposes. Very truly yours.

On the 21st of July, 1882, he said to me:

I shall take no notice of Shepherd for the present. He stated truthfully in a published interview that I had no interest in the Peruvian Company, and never had. I do not recognize the right of reporters and sensational writers to call upon me for an explanation whenever my name is mentioned.

In 1882 Grant was appointed, entirely without his own solicitation or expectation, head of a commission to negotiate a commercial treaty with Mexico. This was doubtless at the instance of Secretary Frelinghuysen, who retained his personal and friendly relations with Grant after the ex-President had altogether broken with Arthur. At the very time when Grant's most urgent applications and recommendations in behalf of political adherents or personal friends were rejected or ignored, his own nomination was sent to the Senate. This was a very adroit move on the part of the Government, for Grant was known to take a keen interest in our commercial relations with Mexico, and he could hardly refuse the appointment, although to accept it would give the appearance of a friendly feeling for the Administration which he was far from entertaining. He saw the design, but the great public interest was paramount with him to any personal [352] feeling. He delayed some little while, but finally accepted the appointment. This, of course, brought him into closer relations with the State Department, but those relations did not extend to the Head of the Government.

The commissioners negotiated a treaty to which he refers in the following letter of February 4, 1883. In the winter of 1882 I had gone to Cuba as Consul-General, and soon after my arrival the English Vice-Consul at Havana was transferred to the City of Mexico. The English had maintained no diplomatic or consular representation in Mexico for nearly twenty years—not since the tripartite invasion of 1862, and I heard in Havana that this embassy, if such it could be called, was an attempt to forestall General Grant's treaty, and prevent the United States from obtaining advantages which the English hoped to secure for themselves. I wrote this to General Grant, and he replied:

I had heard before that the English had sent their Vice-Consul to Cuba to Mexico, ostensibly to renew intercourse with that government, but more particularly to co-operate with the Germans and French to defeat a commercial treaty with the United States. I sent your letter, with one from myself, to the Secretary of State. You should by all means write to the Secretary of State, saying to him substantially what you say to me in your letter of the 3d of January. Of course I cannot send that letter. We were successful in negotiating a commercial treaty, which is practically ratified so far as the Mexican Government is concerned. We will see what our Senate will do with it if the President sends it in. It was delivered to the Secretary of State two weeks ago, with report, but so far it has not seen the light.

Again, on the 28th of February, 1883, he wrote me a letter which sufficiently explains the purport of mine, to which it was a reply:

I was much pleased to receive your letter of the 22d inst. I was tempted to give what you say about the use of Mexican tobacco, its use in Cuba, the feeling of Cubans in regard to the [353] effect of the treaty, etc., to the press. Of course, I should only have given it as from a friend of mine, writing from Havana. But, on reflection, I concluded that the public would know who my friend in Cuba was, so concluded not to. I wish, however, you would write the same thing to the State Department. . . . You will learn by the mail that carries this that consideration of the treaty has been deferred until December next. This, I fear, will defeat the treaty in Mexico, where there will be untiring efforts by foreign merchants and diplomats to prejudice the Government against it. . . . Mrs. Grant tells me to say that she is just reading your history, and thinks more of you than ever. She is now in the second volume.

The treaty was not confirmed. In one of General Grant's letters during this period he wrote:

I never would have undertaken the work I am now engaged in for any possible gain that could accrue to myself. But I have been much impressed with the resources of this country [Mexico], and have entertained a much higher opinion of these people than the world at large generally does, and of their capacity to develop their resources, with aid and encouragement from outside. I felt that the development must come soon, and the country furnishing the means would receive the greatest benefit from the increased commerce. I wanted it to be ours. Besides, we want to encourage republican government, and particularly on this continent. Then, too, it is an advantage for us to pay for our imports with the products of our soil and manufactures as far as possible. This we do not now with countries from which we receive tropical and semi-tropical products. Mexico can furnish all these commodities, and will want in return what we have to sell.

This is an epitome of Grant's Mexican policy, and seems to me full of far-reaching political wisdom and large patriotic views. It shows, too, how his mind took in the widest purposes and most various aims; for this same letter contains comments on the Administration of Garfield that indicate how keenly Grant resented the conduct of the Government [354] of that day toward himself and his political friends. But just as he turned, in the moment of defeat at Chicago, to the consideration of the resources of the country at the West, so, while suffering what he considered slights and rebuffs at the hands of his successor, he was devising a great international scheme to exchange benefits and productions with the neighboring republic; and later, at the very moment when another Administration refused his applications, he nevertheless accepted an appointment under it, for the sake of advancing the same enterprise.

To my mind there is a greater magnanimity in his course because it was so difficult. He deserves infinitely greater plaudits because he felt keenly and stifled his feelings than if he had been a block, and insensible or indifferent to emotions or circumstances. Grant was full of emotion when his own interests, or passions, or pride was concerned. His appetites were fierce, his temptations strong. If he rose superior to them, he merits and will receive a higher meed of praise. His nature was not stolid although it was restrained, nor unimpassioned because undemonstrative. He was no marble statue, that could feel neither heat nor cold, but a live man, human to the core. If you tickled him, he would laugh; if you pricked him he would bleed. For such a man to subdue his emotions, to conquer his appetites, to master his passions, and perform the work that he achieved for his country and his time was as much grander than the dull performances of those who are not tempted as humanity is greater than mechanism, or flesh and blood than wood or stone.

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