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Chapter 5:

Grant's first step in politics.

Grant's first political step was taken when Johnson's plan of reconstruction was rejected by the North. The rejection had been complete. Not only was the constitutional amendment which Johnson opposed accepted by every Northern State, but a Congress antagonistic to the President's views was returned by overwhelming majorities. Now Grant was in some respects as absolute a democrat as ever lived. He believed implicitly in the rule of the people: when they pronounced, he submitted. He had taken no decided stand up to this time, but when the will of those who had won in the war was definitely known, he declared that their decision should be accepted.

Johnson, however, had no idea of submitting. At the beginning he may have undertaken his enterprise with patriotic motives, but he persisted after it was plain, not only that he was opposing those who had been his political allies, and had placed him in the Executive chair, but that he was offending the sentiment of the faithful North. Very few supported him after the elections except those who had been hostile to the Union in the moment of its peril. Grant had, therefore, a double reason for disapproving Johnson's course; not only the deliberate decision of the people was against the President, but the voice of the vast majority of Union men had reached their leader.

Johnson, nevertheless, remained as determined as ever. He had appealed to the people, but he refused to abide by [43] the result of the appeal. The amendment was still to be submitted to the Southern States, and every effort was made by the Administration to induce them to reject it. They were assured that the North would recede from its position if they held out; that the present feeling was temporary, and the President's policy in the end must prevail. Grant, on the other hand, now took a decided stand in recommending submission. He felt that he stood in such a position before the country, almost representing the Union sentiment, that it became his duty to address the Southerners.

He had done nothing to induce the Northern people to come to their decision, but after the decision was made he used all his influence to prevail on the South to accept it. That influence with the South was very great. The clemency he had shown them was not forgotten. His present power was not ignored. No Southerner of importance at this time went to Washington without presenting himself at Grant's headquarters, while many visited his house, and to all he proffered the same advice. Formal delegations came from the South to consult with public men upon the course they should pursue. These all came in contact with Grant, who was never unwilling to meet them.

Among others was a very important deputation from Arkansas, and Mr. Seward, the Secretary of State, although he was opposed to the amendment, arranged an interview for the party at his own house with Grant. The General-in-Chief spoke very plainly; he declared to the delegates that he was their friend, and as their friend he warned them that the temper of the North was aroused, and if these terms were rejected harsher ones would be imposed. He argued and pleaded with them, and with every Southerner he met, for the sake of the South, for the sake of the entire country, for their own individual sakes, to conform to the situation. He assured them that submission to the inevitable would secure a lightening of all that was really onerous in the conditions now proposed. [44]

This conduct was in complete harmony with Grant's character. It was the practical man who spoke, and who saw that worse remained behind if the South failed to submit now. But besides this sagacious foresight Grant showed a warmth of feeling at this time that was more conspicuous because of his inexcitability during the war. He seemed to have a keener personal interest, an unwillingness to lose what had been secured at so much cost. Perhaps he did not want to see his own work undone, his clemency made subject for arraignment. Of course no such word was uttered to or by him, but he certainly never in his career appeared more anxious or ardent in any task than in his efforts now to induce the South to accept the terms which he believed the easiest the North would ever offer.

The following letter to General Richard Taylor, the brother-in-law of Jefferson Davis, and one of the most influential of the Southern leaders, shows that this view is no imaginative speculation or far-fetched criticism:

headquarters armies of the United States, Washington, D. C., Nov. 25, 1866.
dear General,—Your letter of the 20th is just received. My letter to Pride, with which this is enclosed, answers a part of yours.

The day after you left here the President sent for me, as I expected he would after my conversation with the AttorneyGen-eral. I told him my views candidly about the course I thought he should take, in view of the verdict of the late elections. It elicited nothing satisfactory from him, but did not bring out the strong opposition he sometimes shows to views not agreeing with his own. I was followed by General Sickles, who expressed about the same opinion I did.

Since that I have talked with several members of Congress who are classed with the Radicals; Schenck and Bidwell for instance. They express the most generous views as to what would be done if the constitutional amendments proposed by Congress [45] were adopted by the Southern States. What was done in the case of Tennessee was an earnest of what would be done in all cases. Even the disqualification to hold office imposed on certain classes by one article of the amendment would, no doubt, be removed at once, except it might be in the cases of the very highest offenders, such, for instance, as those who went abroad to aid in the Rebellion, those who left seats in Congress, etc. All or very nearly all would soon be restored, and so far as security to property and liberty is concerned, all would be restored at once. I would like exceedingly to see one Southern State, excluded State, ratify the amendments to enable us to see the exact course that would be pursued. I believe it would much modify the demands that may be made if there is delay.

Yours truly,

But the President's endeavors did not cease. His was one of those tempers which opposition aggravates, and he became at last violent in his obstinacy. He went over entirely to those whom he had fought for a lifetime; he made political bedfellows of his bitterest enemies, and of those who had been the avowed enemies of his country. He used all the authority of his office to dissuade the Southerners from accepting the amendment which the entire North had ratified. His counsels proved more than pernicious, for the Southerners were dazzled by the fallacious hope of obtaining all that he promised. They forgot that they had been conquered and were still at the mercy of the conquerors, and assumed the airs of wronged and outraged claimants; they acted as if they were already equals in that Union which they had attempted to destroy. They, however, were far less to blame than the injudicious and ill-tempered man whom Fate had placed at this critical moment at the head of affairs. Human nature can hardly be expected to resist such overtures as he proposed, to put away the chance of escaping the penalties they had expected, and [46] obtaining the prizes they had thought beyond their reach. None the less, the result was lamentable, both then and afterward. All the long series of misfortunes and dangers to the country that followed are directly traceable to the influence or action of one man. He perverted the inclinations and intentions of the South, and by reflex those of the North. He converted good feeling and good will on both sides into discord, and precipitated disasters almost equal to those from which the State had barely escaped—disasters the full effect of which is even yet not past. This view of Johnson's conduct was thenceforth steadily maintained by Grant. Without knowledge that he held this view his conduct cannot be appreciated.

The President at last became, if not treasonable in intent, yet unpatriotic in action. He fostered a spirit that engendered massacre, and afterward protected the evil-doers. He spoke, both with Grant in private and openly to the public, as if the Congress elected by the faithful States was an illegal body. He suggested to men's minds that he might be plotting to allow the Southerners to return to their places in spite of the North. He made use of his right to command the army in a way that awoke suspicion in Grant, and although at this time he committed no illegal act, and possibly uttered no word commanding or directly advocating such an act, there can be no doubt that but for his knowledge of Grant's determination not to play into his hands, he would have attempted what those who had conquered would have considered treason. Grant frequently expressed this belief to those in his confidence.

Believing thus Grant acted not only with moderation and firmness, but with a tact which was hardly usual in him, but which circumstances seemed to develop because it was supremely necessary. He avoided offending, and he never disobeyed the President. There was still no open rupture, no appearance of difference before the public; and at the [47] very time when many at the North suspected Grant of favoring the President's views, he was in reality doing more than all the country besides to thwart Johnson's designs. But he thought it prudent not to alarm or provoke the nation by disclosing his fears. This was, indeed, far more than tact, it was political and patriotic wisdom.

And his course throughout all these proceedings was entirely his own. He listened to the advice, or opinions, or persuasions of those who felt they had a right to offer either, but every decision was the result of his own judgment, of his own instinct of what was right. He seemed to me at the time greater than in any emergency of the war, and when I look back upon both crises now, I remain of this opinion still.

During these contentions Congress created, or rather revived, the grade of General in the Army for Grant. His nomination was announced to him by the Secretary of War in the following letter:

War Department, Washington City, July 25, 1866.
General,—The President has signed the bill reviving the grade of General. I have made out and laid your nomination before him, and it will be sent to the Senate this morning.

Yours truly,



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