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Chapter XIII

Grant in the Cabinet.

it was August when Grant entered the Cabinet, and he remained there only until January. The President of course was aware of the views of his new Secretary of War. He had Grant's protest before him against the suspension of Stanton; he had the knowledge of all Grant's previous acts and could hardly have doubted what his subsequent course would be. But if he had any doubts they were soon dispelled. Within five days after Grant became Secretary, Sheridan was removed, and in his new capacity Grant objected more emphatically than ever. He was overruled, but he did not cease his efforts to perform what he believed his duty; and his whole term of service in the Cabinet was marked by disputes and differences with the President.

Nevertheless, the storm of indignation that burst from the mass of the people at the North on the supersedure of Stanton and Sheridan extended in some degree to Grant, when he was seen to take Stanton's place. Some of his stanchest personal friends regretted his course, while politicians openly proclaimed that it indicated sympathy with Johnson's policy. Grant remained silent under the unmerited reproach and continued, as far as he was able, to carry out the will of those who thought he was opposing them. He made strenuous efforts to induce the President to retain the other District Commanders at their posts, but Sickles was soon relieved by Canby, and Pope by Meade; both for the same political reasons which had brought about the [107] removal of Stanton and Sheridan. The two officers who were substituted were, however, thoroughly imbued with the feeling of their predecessors and of Grant. They all believed the law paramount to the will of any one man, and proceeded to execute the law in the spirit in which it had been conceived.

Hancock, who followed Sheridan, was the only one who took a different stand. He did all in his power to thwart the Congressional policy and to support the President. He issued proclamations in direct contradiction of the spirit of the Reconstruction measures, revoked important orders of Sheridan that had been approved by Grant, and defied the popular feeling of the North. Grant repeatedly overruled him, though the President made every effort to uphold him; but the laws had by this time been so contrived that there was no possibility of frustrating their intention if Grant exercised his full authority; and this he did not hesitate to do. Hancock in a few months asked to be relieved, and his request was granted.

The struggle with the President, however, continued. Johnson lost no opportunity to attempt to control events and maintain his own authority in opposition to that of Congress, and Grant steadily pursued his task of carrying out the Reconstruction measures as the recognized law of the land.

All this while as Secretary of War, Grant was obliged to attend Cabinet meetings and was frequently present at discussions and arrangements the purpose and tenor of which he entirely disapproved. This finally became so disagreeable to him that he requested the President to excuse him from the purely political duties of a member of the Government. He represented that as an officer of the army he might be called upon to serve under different Presidents holding opposite views, and although he was always ready to obey legal orders or to execute legal measures, it was not [108] his duty to concert policies or to assist in the arrangement of partisan plans. He was hardly, he said, a civil Minister at all; he had not been confirmed by the Senate as Secretary of War, and was only holding office until the re-assembling of Congress enabled the President to nominate a permanent successor.

Johnson, with his usual policy, paid no attention to these requests, and continued in Grant's presence the discussions to which the General was averse, so that Grant might seem to sanction what he heard. Finally Grant determined not to be entangled and committed in this way against his will. He attended the meetings to which he was summoned, submitted the papers that required the concurrence of his colleagues or the approval of the President, but retired as soon as the business of detail was transacted; thus plainly indicating to the Administration that he was not in harmony with its general views, and would not be identified with its schemes.

It is proper to state here that when I relate what occurred at Cabinet meetings or make other declarations of Grant's action which could only have been learned from himself, the statement is in every case made on his authority; generally upon what he told me at the time. Not long after these occurrences I wrote out an account of them, especially of Grant's relations with Johnson, which he read and sanctioned, and which he knew was to be given to the world. This is the foundation and proof of much contained in the present volume.

But although Grant was often obliged to dissent in terms from what was proposed in Cabinet, he did so as seldom and as unoffensively as possible. He was a man who never sought a quarrel, and it sometimes required downright ill-treatment to provoke him. He was therefore courteous to the chief whom he had not sought, and to the associates with whom he disagreed; and he succeeded as yet in preserving amicable relations with them all. The President invited him [109] and Grant of course accepted the invitations; his colleagues visited him and he returned the courtesy; all of which produced the impression upon the country which Grant believed that Johnson desired. It gave the appearance of political support of the President's unpopular course; it made many Republicans hostile and provoked the criticism that Grant was a trimmer. Yet all the while he was doing as much as any Republican in the land to further the views that Republicans entertained.

He performed meanwhile all the routine duties of his place with care, and was an excellent Secretary of War. He kept the duties of his two positions distinct, and as Secretary he sometimes gave orders to the General of the Army. He visited both offices daily, spending a few hours in the morning at the War Department, and later in the day repaired to his old headquarters. His staff did not accompany him to the War Department; he was determined to hold the post only ad interim, and to give no appearance of permanency to his enforced acceptance of its functions. The letters to the General of the Army went to one place, and those of the Secretary of War to another. I opened all of the former, as usual, and submitted those that required his attention, as any other officer would have done, in the room of the Secretary of War.

The two buildings were on opposite sides of the same street, and when I went across to see him I always thought he received me with more formality than at other times; but on his return to his headquarters later in the day he threw aside the manner of a Cabinet Minister and was a soldier with his staff, as intimate and unrestrained as ever. I think he always gave me my title when I went to the Secretary of War; but on other occasions he rarely called me anything but ‘Badeau.’ I recollect urging several points upon him at this time which he refused to concede because—so it seemed to me—they belonged peculiarly to the province of [110] the Secretary, and Secretary Stanton would have refused. I was surprised and disappointed, and thought to myself had he been only General of the Army this would not have occurred.

One day I received a letter for him from Edwin Booth, requesting in the name of his aged mother that the remains of Wilkes Booth might be privately restored to the family. The actor represented the sufferings of that family, ‘the most wretched,’ he said, ‘on earth,’ and pleaded that after the lapse of more than two full years there could be no objection on public grounds to the concession. Booth had been my intimate friend for many years. I could vouch for his loyalty, and knew how shocked and lacerated he had been by the act that shocked the nation. The letter was respectful and moderate though manly in tone, and I urged Grant to accede to the request. But he was immutable. He said the time had not yet come; and the sternness was so unusual in him that I thought it proceeded from the feeling I have described; that he meant to do what he thought Stanton would have done; and doubtless Stanton would have refused.

In December Congress re-assembled, and Johnson was obliged by the Tenure of Office Act to report to the Senate within twenty days his reasons for the suspension of Stanton. This he did, and on the 13th of January the Senate resolved that the reasons were insufficient. By the language of the law this decision at once re-instated Stanton. Grant had informed the President two days before that he should instantly vacate the office if such a decision was made. The President insisted that the law was unconstitutional and urged Grant to retain the place; but Grant replied that he would subject himself to the penalties of fine and imprisonment if he violated the law. Johnson offered to pay the fine and submit to the imprisonment; but of course this was preposterous, and Grant persisted in his determination. This [111] was on the 11th of January. The President still would not accept the refusal, and when Grant left the room Johnson said he should expect to see the General again.

The next day was Sunday, and as it was evident that the Senate would not concur in the suspension of Stanton Grant was greatly concerned. He was not anxious that Stanton should be restored, for he felt that the Minister's power for good was now ended, and that the workings of the Government would be needlessly thwarted by the intrusion of an unwelcome Cabinet officer upon the Head of the State. Stanton could hardly be expected to share this feeling; his personal triumph was concerned in his restoration; but this to Grant was a less important consideration than the public interest. General Sherman was in Washington at this time, and at Grant's request he went on Monday to the President to urge him to nominate a Secretary who would be acceptable to the Senate, so that Stanton might be legally relieved. Grant proposed General Jacob D. Cox, a former Governor of Ohio, who was a Republican, but not so outspoken in his hostility to the President as many of his party. Grant thought that this selection might bridge over the difficulty. He urged this task on Sherman because the President had always seemed to suppose that Sherman was more in accord with his views than Grant. The Hon. Reverdy Johnson also saw the President and recommended the same course; but the President did not accept the suggestion. Thus Saturday, Sunday, Monday passed.

It was late on Monday, the 13th of January, when the Senate resolved that the causes for removing Stanton were insufficient. Grant attended a levee of the President that night, but had only formal and unofficial conversation with him. Early on the 14th Grant went to the office of the Secretary of War, locked and bolted the door on the outside, and handed the key to the Adjutant-General of the Army. ‘I am to be found at my office,’ he said, ‘at army headquarters.’ [112] He then immediately sent a formal letter to the President announcing that he had been notified of the action of the Senate, and that by the terms of the law his own functions as Secretary of War ceased from the moment of the reception of the notice.

When Grant parted with the President on the 11th he supposed that he had given all the necessary notification to Johnson of his course. I was with him, with other staff officers, when he left his headquarters with this intention, and also on his return, when he stated what had occurred. He declared that he had told Mr. Johnson that on no account could he consent to hold the office after the Senate should act. The President pleaded and argued, and would not be satisfied with Grant's decision. Johnson indeed was always slow in arriving at a decision, while Grant was usually instantaneous in action when the crisis came. Johnson could even now not determine what to do; he did not positively decline to nominate Cox; he delayed on Sunday, and on Monday; but the Senate acted, and then Grant did exactly what he had said he would do. He gave up the office, and Stanton at once took possession.

This Johnson had not intended to allow. He hoped to induce Grant to retain the post so as to test the constitutionality of the law; and Grant's prompt obedience to the law disconcerted this plan. Still Johnson refused to recognize the action of Grant; and at once summoned him to a Cabinet meeting. Grant obeyed the message and was addressed as ‘Mr. Secretary.’ He instantly disclaimed the title, and declared he had notified the President that he could no longer serve in that capacity; but Johnson maintained that Grant had promised to remain in office until a successor could be appointed. The result was a direct issue of veracity between Grant and the President. Grant positively denied the assertion of Johnson and Johnson induced three of his Cabinet Ministers to declare that he [113] spoke the truth, which implied of course that Grant was false. Grant never spoke to either of these men again, nor allowed his family to visit theirs. On the day when he was inaugurated as President he refused to sit in the same carriage with his predecessor, and during his Administration he manifested the same feeling toward Johnson's Secretary of the Treasury. McCulloch had returned to his old business of banking and was established in London as a partner in the house of Jay Cooke, McCulloch & Co. This firm was selected by Robeson, the Secretary of the Navy, to receive the deposits made in London for the payment of naval officers on foreign service. It was a purely American firm and its leading partners were intimate personal friends of Grant. If the McCulloch difficulty was recollected at all by the Secretary it was not supposed that it could affect this appointment. Grant, however, retained his indignant feeling, and only assented to the appointment after long hesitation, and then on account of the public considerations involved, and his confidence in the judgment of Robeson. He spoke to me of this matter years afterward and told how unwillingly he had acquiesced. He always admitted, however, that though the London house was involved by the failure of Jay Cooke & Co. in this country, and had finally suspended payment, the business was so managed that the Government suffered no loss.

The heated discussion between Johnson and Grant is historical. Letters of an extraordinary character were exchanged between them, and were immediately made public. All the long series of difficulties and exasperations culminated now, and when Grant found his personal honor impugned he became as angry as any Hotspur in the land. He had at first been willing to admit that the President might have persuaded himself that what he so much desired had happened, and that in another interview he could induce Grant to take the step that he asked. Johnson had constantly [114] flattered himself that he could control Grant, and he probably had not given up the hope even now; while Grant, with his usual subordination, his undemonstrative demeanor, his chariness of speech, having said what he intended, saw no need to confirm, or repeat, or amplify; and when Johnson said he would see him again, Grant did not refuse. But neither did he assent. If Congress had not acted so promptly on Monday it is probable that he would have visited Johnson again, for he was profoundly anxious to tranquilize the situation. But Congress acted, and Grant with his usual decision acted also. Then when Johnson charged him with positive deception, he never forgave him.

The letter which terminated their intercourse was Grant's. He had written another with less acrimony than the second, and which admitted the possibility of the President's misconstruction, but Rawlins, who was a politician by nature, and who had long foreseen the result of all the political complications, felt that at last the time had come. He had enormous force, and at intervals enormous influence with Grant. He took the letter that Grant had written and said: ‘This will not do; it is not enough;’ and then prepared the draft of the important passages directly contradicting and defying the President. The language was afterward considered and somewhat modified, but the sentiment remained, and this was suggested by Rawlins. This made the rupture with Johnson personal, and reconciliation impossible. It was a stroke of political genius, for it also made any other candidate than Grant impossible for the Republicans. Of course Grant might and probably would have been President had the correspondence never occurred; but the letter made his nomination and election certain; and it was this phase of the correspondence that produced the result.

But not a word was said by any one present of the political tendencies or results of the situation. Rawlins knew that he was expressing Grant's own sentiment, and [115] Grant instantly perceived this fact—and acquiesced. I never in my intercourse with Grant saw another instance where another exercised so direct and palpable and important an influence with him. It was instantaneous and absolute. It made him a Republican. Rawlins knew this. I could see it in his face and detect it in his tone. If Grant recognized it, he never admitted it to any one. But I believe that at the moment he felt only the assault upon his honor.

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