during the spring
of 1866 both Grant
were opposing their common superior, for both believed that superior was opposing the declared will of the people, to whom Presidents
remained in the Cabinet
for the express purpose of preventing Johnson
from carrying out his opposition to the law. His course was approved by the mass of those who had been friendly to the Government
during the war. It was approved by Grant
, with whom the fact that the people had spoken was paramount.
Even had he disapproved the law he would have felt it his duty to enforce it, and he was shocked as well as pained at the spectacle of the President
and nearly all his Cabinet devoting their energies and arts to plotting the obstruction and evasion of the law.
If he had felt some twinges of annoyance at Stanton
's brusque demeanor, he put away the remembrance now, and throughout this entire crisis the two were heartily in accord.
They concerted constantly how best to execute the intent of Congress in spite of him whom Stanton
at least deemed a guilty conspirator.
, indeed, being in the Cabinet
, probably knew even more than Grant
of the designs and machinations of the President
He had never relented from his original austerity toward rebellion, and Grant
, once so lenient, had been gradually brought to a frame of mind in which he was able to stand by the side of the Secretary
The situation was unprecedented in the history of the
A Cabinet Minister
and the General
of the Army were doing their utmost to thwart the President
; the two men of all then living who had been foremost in the struggle against rebellion were opposing the successor of Abraham Lincoln
The President himself, and all but one of his legal advisers, were engaged in the effort to subvert or pervert the declared will of the people, and those who in ordinary times should and would have been his most faithful supporters, now deemed it their highest duty to watch him, to check him, to detect his plans, to disclose to each other his movements, to unmask his designs, to circumvent and restrain and baffle his schemes.
For they regarded the man who should have been the first servant of the State
as at this moment its most dangerous enemy.
They thought he was undoing all that they had achieved, bringing back the rule they had overturned, defying the decision of the faithful North
, installing sedition in the place of loyalty.
On the 7th of June Grant
wrote to Sheridan
I was absent from here on my way to West Point when the correspondence commenced between you and the Secretary of War which culminated in the removal of Governor Wells.
I knew nothing of it, except what was published in the papers, until my return here yesterday.
The Secretary's dispatch was in obedience to an order from the President written on Saturday before starting South, but not delivered to the Secretary until Monday after I left my office.
I know Mr. Stanton is disposed to support you, not only in this last measure, but in every official act of yours thus far. He cannot say so because it is in Cabinet he has to do this, and there is no telling when he may not be overruled; and it is not in keeping with his position to announce beforehand that he intends to differ with his associate advisers.
In fact both Grant
were frequently compelled to issue orders the purpose of which they abhorred; orders which, though clearly designed to conflict with the intention of the law, were skillfully framed so as to be technically
within its terms. . They then more than once discussed the means by which they too could apparently obey the directions of a superior and yet neutralize his intent and purpose.
This very letter to Sheridan
was written under peculiar circumstances, and to explain away the apparent disapproval of the Secretary
had gone to West Point
, whither I accompanied him, but his visit was suddenly terminated, and he returned to Washington
because of a telegram from the Assistant Adjutant-General
at his own headquarters, containing only these words: ‘You are needed here.’
This was in consequence of an agreement he had made with Stanton
that he should be summoned in this way, if necessary.
Thus the telegram from a captain was in reality a message from the Secretary of War
It meant, and Grant
so understood it, that the President
of the United States
was plotting mischief, and that the General
of the Army was required to help frustrate the design.
Grant at once gave up his engagements and hurried back to Washington
In considering the behavior of both Grant
at this period it must be borne in mind that this was no ordinary political crisis.
It was not a struggle for office, or a contest about a tariff or a bankrupt law in which they were engaged, but a dispute that followed hard on a terrible civil war. It was the reconstruction of the Union
that was at issue.
The question was whether the States that had seceded and the population that had rebelled should be re-admitted to their former place with or without the stipulations and restrictions which the victors had decided to demand.
More than this, the hopes held out by Johnson
of easier terms had revived the ambition and disturbed the quiet of the South
Naturally, after a great and disastrous convulsion there were many perturbed spirits, some perhaps ready to seize any opportunity to recover what they had lost; there was a population of millions recently set free, living among their former
masters; there were the Unionists of the South
in the midst of the unsuccessful Confederates; there was every cause for anxiety, every passion and sentiment to be appeased and allayed and controlled.
All these seething elements of disorder were stirred up by Johnson
The Southerners would have submitted to the inevitable, but he encouraged and incited them to hold out still.
If the decision of the North
was accepted by the South
, there would be an end of the trouble, but by the stimulating conduct of the President
, by his incessant public and private provocations and persuasions and exhortations, he prolonged the struggle and made worse things probable.
It was the apprehension of still further confusion and re-awakened strife that made the situation so critical, and justified Grant
to themselves in their anomalous and extraordinary course.
They believed that by steadily carrying out the will of Congress and of the people in spite of the President
they would put an end to the chaos, and bring back peace and the Union
on the only terms which the victorious North
This feeling of his subordinates was of course known to the President
, and it was no secret that he wished to rid himself of his War Secretary
But the friends of Congress, Grant
among them, counseled Stanton
not to resign.
It was feared, however, that Johnson
would peremptorily dismiss the Cabinet Minister
, who was no longer in his confidence, and Congress took extraordinary means to prevent this action.
The well-known Tenure of Office bill was devised in order to make it impossible for Johnson
to remove subordinates who were not in harmony with his views.
The President naturally desired to have only his own supporters in office at such a crisis, while Congress was determined that those whom Lincoln
had appointed should not be displaced by the successor who had certainly betrayed his party, and who they thought was ready to betray his country.
the law was passed, against the protestations and over the veto of the President
, prohibiting him, without the approval of the Senate, from removing officers whose confirmation required the Senate's approval.
The rule was extended, with certain restrictions, to members of the Cabinet
; and the President
was not allowed to dismiss a Minister until the end of his term.
He was at liberty, however, during the recess of Congress, to suspend any officer for cause, but must report the case to the Senate when it re-assembled.
If, then, the Senate concurred, the officer was dismissed; if not, he was restored.
This law, it was matter of notoriety, had especial reference to the Secretary of War
It was passed in March, and Congress adjourned on the 20th of July.
Eleven days afterward, Mr. Johnson
sent for Grant
and informed him that he intended to suspend Stanton
, and at the same time remove Sheridan
from New Orleans.
He also stated that he meant to appoint Grant
himself Secretary of War ad interim
. There could be no possible doubt of the purpose of this move.
It was intended to nullify as far as possible the action of Congress, to punish men for striving to execute the law, to hinder the Reconstruction policy.
could hardly have hoped to accomplish much by putting Grant
Still the soldier was less unbending in manner than the Secretary
, less uncompromising in the appearance of hostility; and his military habit of subordination may even yet have misled the President
He certainly was less skilled in the arts of political chicanery, and Johnson
may have thought it possible still to inveigle or overreach him. But the especial object doubtless was, not so much to manage Grant
as to affect the people, to produce the impression on the country that Grant
was in accord with the Administration, and that by entering the Cabinet
at this crisis he was offering proof of his sympathy with the President
There was also doubtless a personal reason why Johnson
wished to foster this idea.
It was plain by this time that Grant
's popularity was likely to make him a Presidential candidate, and the belief that he sustained Johnson
would destroy his hold upon the Republicans.
had indeed so successfully concealed his opposition to the President
from the public knowledge that the mass of the people could easily be led to suppose he was Johnson
This would naturally antagonize the Republicans, while, with the President
's party, the President
himself of course was chief.
probably feared no rival but Grant
He flattered himself he could defeat any other candidate of the Republicans, so that by making Grant
impossible he would secure his own success.
Thus the Administration undoubtedly hoped to enjoy the benefit of Grant
's popularity at the very moment they were seeking to undermine it; a bit of craft worthy of Machiavelli
, or of Seward
protested earnestly against the entire proposition.
He not only did this promptly in conversation, when Johnson
announced the design, but on his return to his own headquarters he wrote the famous letter marked ‘Private
,’ which has already been given to the world.
I quote the portion referring to Stanton
There were several interviews within the next few days at which the subordinate strove to change the determination of his superior, but Johnson
had at once made known the President
's purpose to Stanton
, as well as to others in his confidence.
These last were few, for Congress was not in session, and the principal people whom he might have consulted were absent.
He discussed, however, with Stanton
the course he should pursue in case the President
It was agreed that Grant
's duty in that event was to accept the position proffered, and as far as possible prevent further mischief.
He could take up Stanton
's course when Stanton
was no longer in the Cabinet
, and thus mitigate some of the evils of his removal.
The protests of Grant
's action just five
Then, on the 5th of August, in a formal letter, the President
The same day Stanton
answered, also in writing, that ‘public considerations of a high character constrained him from resigning before the next meeting of Congress.’
hesitated for a week; but on the 12th of August he issued an order in strict accordance with the provisions of the Tenure of Office act, suspending Stanton
and appointing Grant Secretary of War ad interim
thereupon addressed the following letter to Stanton
, of which I preserved the original draft, with the lines struck out by Grant
's own hand:
To this Stanton
replied as follows:
was not quite pleased with this letter, which seemed to imply that he was in accord with the President
, or at least that he should not have accepted the post, but Stanton
could hardly have been in an amiable mood when he was dispossessed, even toward the unwilling instrument of his removal.
But the annoyance that Grant
felt made no difference in his action.
The crisis was too momentous for any personal feeling to be allowed to interfere.
He had been thoroughly loyal to Stanton
and to the country, and he became Secretary of War
with the intention to do his utmost to carry out the policy which Stanton
was removed for persisting to execute.