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Chapter 19:


on the 4th of March Grant refused the company of the outgoing President on his way to the Capitol, and Johnson remained at the White House signing his last papers, until noon. Then he made room for the man whom he doubtless detested more than any other, who had done more than any other to foil his plans and thwart his wishes, and who now was to supplant him and demolish whatever of a policy Johnson had been able to establish by obstinacy or circumstance or craft. At the Capitol another of Grant's rivals, Chief-Justice Chase, administered the oath of that office which he had himself so earnestly hoped and striven to attain.

And thus the highest honor that any American can obtain was added to the military glories already heaped on Grant. He was very reserved and even restrained, colder in manner than ever before, and evidently felt the gravity of his position, the full dignity of his office. I had never seen him so impressed but once before. In the first day's battle in the Wilderness he was almost stern at times, and wore his gloves and sword; both were unusual circumstances with him and they seemed to me to indicate his sense of the novel and increased responsibilities, for that was his first battle as General-in-Chief of the armies. On this first day of his Presidency there were no trappings of office to assume, but he bore himself with a distant and almost frigid demeanor that marked how much he felt he was [160] removed from those who had hitherto been in some sort his associates. That day there was no geniality, no familiar jest, hardly a smile; but the man who became the chief of a nation of fifty millions and stepped into the ranks of earth's mightiest potentates might well be grave.

His personal staff attended him to the Capitol and afterward to the White House, where their military relations with him ceased. He desired them to meet him the next morning in the Cabinet chamber, and then returned to his private residence, which his family did not vacate for several weeks. He directed me, however, to remain at the White House and receive any communications for him during the day. In this way it happened that his first correspondence as President was with me. I give it in full:

Executive Mansion, March 4, 1869.
dear General,—Mr. George H. Stuart is one of a committee, the others being the Chief-Justice and Senator Frelinghuysen, who desire to present you in the name of some religious society with a Bible. They will wait on you whenever you say—except that the Chief-Justice must be at the Supreme Court, and Mr. Stuart leaves here to-morrow night. If you will send word to me what time will suit you, I will let Mr. Stuart know. Mr. Stuart proposes to-morrow morning before ten o'clock, or if the court does not meet till eleven, before that time.

With great respect,

Your obedient servant,

Adam Badeau. To the President of the United States.

My note was returned to me, and on the back of it Grant penciled these words, the first he wrote as President:

To-morrow before 10 A. M. at my house, or between 1 A. M. and 3 P. M. at the Executive Mansion.

U. S. G.

The meeting took place in the Cabinet room, and Chase presented the Bible, expressing a hope that its contents might enable Grant to fill his high office worthily. The [161] Chief-Justice must have required a full share of Christian sentiment to enable him to perform his task.

Immediately afterward Grant received his staff for the last time, and announced the disposition to be made of them. Three were nominally placed on the staff of Sherman, who succeeded Grant as General-in-Chief, but they were in reality to be on duty at the Executive Mansion. Horace Porter was to act as private secretary, with Babcock to assist him; Comstock had some nominal duties from which he soon requested to be relieved, and ordered to duty as engineer; Dent remained as aide-de-camp with ceremonial functions, and Parker was shortly afterward appointed Commissioner of Indian Affairs. I was assigned a room at the Executive Mansion, where I was to finish my Military History and to have some charge of Grant's unofficial letters for a while; but when I saw the President alone he informed me that he meant to give me the mission to Belgium. He did not wish, however, to appoint me at once, lest it should provoke a charge of favoritism.

A few weeks before the 4th of March, as nothing was said by Grant to either Rawlins or Washburne of their future, both became ill. Rawlins went off to Connecticut, and from there it was reported to Grant that he was dying. Grant sent for him and told him he was to be Secretary of War, whereupon Rawlins at once got very much better. But Washburne was ill of the same disease, and to him Grant now offered the position of Secretary of the Interior. Rawlins, of course, was satisfied with his promised dignity, but Washburne would have preferred to be Secretary of the Treasury. This position, however, Grant designed for Alexander T. Stewart, the well-known merchant of New York. He thought that a man who had managed his own affairs so well must be successful with the finances of the Nation. Stewart was, indeed, the first of those designed for Cabinet positions whom Grant informed of his intention. It was [162] necessary that the great business man should be apprised in advance, that he might make his arrangements in time.

When Washburne became certain that he could not obtain the portfolio of the Treasury, he asked for the State Department, but Grant was unwilling to make the appointment. Washburne then declared that he would prefer to be Minister to France, and to this Grant consented. But Washburne again requested as a personal favor that he might hold the position of Secretary of State for a few days. The consideration this would give him afterward both at home and in his new position was something he thought Grant should not refuse. Washburne, indeed, had been a devoted friend, had made many opportunities for Grant in the days when Grant needed them, had first suggested and afterward urged in Congress every one of Grant's promotions that required legislative action, from Brigadier-General of Volunteers to General of the Armies, and if Grant was under obligations to any human being it was to Washburne. He knew, besides, that Washburne had expected more than he was receiving, that he was a disappointed man, as he well might be; and Grant consented to the temporary appointment of Secretary of State, with the understanding that no important places were to be filled while Washburne held the position; that he was to have the name, but not the authority.

James F. Wilson of Iowa, was offered the State Department permanently, but declined it, on the ground that he had no private fortune, and that the salary was insufficient for the inevitable expense that must be incurred. Wilson also probably felt that his abilities were better fitted for other posts. Rawlins had suggested Wilson's name, for after Rawlins knew that he was himself to be a Cabinet Minister he felt free to offer advice on many points, and, in fact, regained an influence, if not an ascendency, which at one time seemed to have waned.

Rawlins, however, was not to be Secretary of War immediately. [163] Schofield was to hold the place for a week. He had proved himself a friend in a position where he might have given Grant trouble, and this recognition was his reward. He sat as Grant's first Secretary of War.

No other appointments to the Cabinet were made known in advance, even to those for whom they were intended. The other Ministers first read their names in the newspapers on the 5th of March. A few days before the inauguration, Adolph E. Borie, of Philadelphia was in Washington, and on the 3d of March he called on the President-elect. Grant had given orders that no visitor whatever should be received; for he had only a few hours left in which he intended to close his business as General-in-Chief. But when Borie was refused admission he sent his card to me, and begged me to procure him two or three moments' audience. He had two friends with him from Philadelphia whom he was extremely anxious to present to Grant, and he promised not to remain nor to mention politics. Accordingly I suggested that as Borie had been so good a friend he should be accorded a moment's interview. Grant acquiesced, and Borie and his friends came in. There had been a vast deal of talk in the newspapers about a Cabinet Minister from Pennsylvania, and Grant at once inquired: ‘Well, Mr. Borie, have you come to learn the name of the man from Pennsylvania?’ Borie disclaimed any curiosity, and two days afterward, returning to Philadelphia, he read on the train that his own name had been sent to the Senate as Secretary of the Navy. He was ‘the man from Pennsylvania,’ and that was the first he knew about it.

Grant, indeed, at this time, looked upon Cabinet Ministers as on staff officers, whose personal relations with himself were so close that they should be chosen for personal reasons; a view that his experience in civil affairs somewhat modified. If he had served a third term in the Presidency, his selections for the Cabinet would hardly have been made [164] because he liked the men as companions or regarded them as personal friends. At this juncture also, Rawlins was constantly urging that Grant should have no men about him who could possibly become his rivals. He was always pointing to the trouble that Chase and Seward and other aspirants had made in Lincoln's Cabinet, and declared that a man who would not subordinate his own ambition to that of his chief should not be allowed to enter the Government. Grant never replied to remarks like these, but he would have been no more than human if he had remembered them. He certainly now took no man into his Cabinet whose Presidential aspirations seemed likely to come into conflict with his own.

And Grant, from the first, I am sure, desired a re-election. He did not say so; but no man can hold the Presidential office and not be anxious for this indorsement from the people. The ambition is both proper and inevitable; and Grant entertained it, like every President who either followed or preceded him. I have, however, no idea that he was planning for re-election thus early; and he certainly never admitted either at the time or afterward that such motives affected him in the selection of Cabinet Ministers. Nevertheless, I thought then, and I think still, that he was determined to have no rivals near the throne.

On the 5th of March the Cabinet appointments were sent to the Senate. Washburne was to be Secretary of State; Stewart, Secretary of the Treasury; Borie, Secretary of the Navy; Creswell, Postmaster-General; Hoar, Attorney-General, and Cox, Secretary of the Interior. Schofield remained Secretary of War. It was soon discovered that Stewart was ineligible to the post for which he had been named. The law declared that no person engaged in trade should be appointed Secretary of the Treasury. Grant had been ignorant of this provision, and the Senate was equally so, for the nomination was confirmed unanimously. As soon, however, as the disability was ascertained, Grant requested [165] that Stewart should be exempted by Congress from the operation of the law; but this the Senate was unwilling to concede, and Stewart's name was accordingly withdrawn. Both Grant and Stewart were greatly mortified at the result. Stewart offered to place his business in the hands of trustees during his entire term of office and to devote the proceeds to some charity or public interest, but this was insufficient to remove the scruples of the Senate, and Grant could not delay the formation of his Cabinet. Stewart felt sore because Grant gave him up so soon, and their friendship was never again so intimate as it once had been. The whole occurrence provoked much harsh criticism, and it was said that if Grant had consulted men of civil experience, and not trusted entirely to his own judgment and knowledge, the blunder would never have been made.

George H. Boutwell was hurriedly selected for the Treasury, but as he and Hoar were both from Massachusetts, another change became almost inevitable. Hoar, indeed, remained in his place a year, and was nominated to the bench of the Supreme Court on his retirement, but the Senate refused to confirm him. He naturally disliked to be displaced to make room in another department, and his relations with the President were in consequence somewhat strained. He knew from the first that his position was insecure, and was never the ardent friend of the President that as Cabinet Minister he might otherwise have been. At least so Grant always thought.

And now, as Wilson declined the position of Secretary of State, and Washburne was not to be allowed to remain, it became necessary to find a substitute. In this emergency Grant offered the place to Hamilton Fish of New York, and sent Colonel Babcock, one of his new secretaries, to that city with the proposition. The offer was entirely unexpected by Fish, and at first he was not inclined to accept it. He would, indeed, have preferred the post of Minister to England, [166] and it required some urging before he consented to enter the Cabinet. Thus the two most important places in the new Government were filled by men who had not been originally selected by Grant.

Meanwhile Borie had read the notification of his appointment as Secretary of the Navy, and proceeded to Washington to thank the President and decline the honor. I was intimate with him, and knowing his reluctance to accept the post, I met him at the station to do what I could to change his feeling. I represented the unfortunate condition of affairs, the frequent changes and disappointments, the blunder about Stewart, the uncertainty about Fish, and Cox, and Hoar, who had all been taken by surprise, and the discredit it would bring on the new Administration if still another Cabinet Minister delayed or declined. Borie was personally very much attached to Grant, and I urged that his acquiescence under the circumstances would be an act of positive friendship. He finally consented to remain in the Cabinet for a few months, until the President could find a successor without increasing the public dissatisfaction at these frequent changes. Of course it was his regard for Grant that decided Borie, but he often laughingly said to me that but for my urging he would not have entered the Cabinet.

Cox and Hoar also finally accepted the honor tendered, but not until the former General-in-Chief discovered that he could not order eminent civilians into office as he had been used to sending soldiers to a new command. He was somewhat surprised that any one should hesitate to accept the position he offered, but as a matter of fact nearly every member of his Cabinet but Rawlins had to be urged to accept his place. Even if their ambition was gratified, the suddenness of the summons found them unprepared; they had their private affairs to arrange, and every man assuming a high political place desires some time to fit himself properly for his new career. [167]

Thus Washburne was supplanted in a week by Fish, Stewart's name was withdrawn and Boutwell's substituted, Schofield was followed before the end of the month by Rawlins, and in less than a year Akerman succeeded Hoar. All of these changes came from Grant's inexperience or from the secrecy with which he had veiled his intentions, not only from the individuals most affected, but from others who might have predicted, or perhaps prevented what occurred.

Finally, however, the Cabinet was constructed, and the new President began his administration of the Government. He was the same man who had been surrounded at Belmont and nearly crushed at Shiloh, who had plodded through the marshes of Vicksburg and fought the weary forty days in the Wilderness. He had made, indeed, a false start, but it was not the first time, and one rebuff never daunted or discouraged Grant. He remembered that he had overcome Johnson in politics as well as Lee in war, and he felt no unwillingness or inability to cope with his new difficulties.

Alexander T. Stewart was a New York merchant who had been stanchly loyal, as well as liberal with his wealth and his influence and his labor, in the cause of the Union, and he early became one of Grant's most devoted friends. The stand he took during the Rebellion brought him into further prominence, and first made him more than a great tradesman. It showed him, indeed, in his largest aspect; for he was narrow in many things. The lack of early advantages was more apparent in him than in many of the self-made men of America. It was not only that he had the true merchant spirit—that he was munificent with millions and mean about a penny; not so much that he showed the lack of scholarship or deficiency in other acquirements; but there was a smallness about his ideas, a pettiness at times about his feeling, a lack of many sides to his character—all of which betrayed the life of application to business he had led for more than forty years—so close indeed, that he had time for nothing else. And yet it was this very life that resulted in his mammoth fortune and the importance [168] and opportunities it gave him. This fortune and his patriotic course brought him into connection with General Grant, and thus made his name national.

During the winter preceding Grant's first inauguration, I remember dining at Stewart's house with the President-elect. The company was composed exclusively of men, but of as much distinction, social or personal, as often meets under one roof in New York: Hamilton Fish, John Jacob Astor, Joseph Harper, Edwards Pierrepont, Charles P. Daly, Henry Hilton, all were present, and others, perhaps as eminent. The table of course was sumptuous, and all the accessories elaborate. Mr. Stewart called especial attention to the Johannisberger wine of some famous vintage, which, at the close of the dinner, was served by the thimbleful; he only brought it out, he said, on extraordinary occasions; it had cost him thirty dollars a bottle. Nobody dreamed then that Mr. Stewart was to be appointed Secretary of the Treasury; but before the 4th of March the place was offered him.

When the difficulties proved insurmountable Stewart lost his only chance of becoming a statesman. The President could find another Secretary of the Treasury, but Stewart had no other President to turn to. He became a plain dry goods man again, without place, or power, or public career. To be so near a great position, and yet to lose it; to be appointed and confirmed, and even congratulated, to have made his arrangements and, doubtless, determined on his appointments in advance, and yet to be dashed down to private life, was hard. But besides this, Stewart thought that some of the importance or influence which had been offered him should have been allowed to remain. He even wanted to retain a little of the patronage which might have been his, had he entered office. I have more than once seen men go out of a government on friendly terms with its chief; but after they left, they could not forget the power and position they once had held, they seemed always to feel that they should possess some of the official privileges and relations they had enjoyed before. When this proved impracticable, their feelings were apt to change, and their friendship cooled. Something like this occurred with Stewart.

I went out of the country in May, 1869, and returned in the [169] next September. On arriving at New York I went to Mr. Stewart's great ‘store,’ as I had been used to do before Grant was President, and spent an hour with him in private talk. I was amazed at the tone of his conversation; he did not expect, he said, to enjoy the influence he had once anticipated, but even the few favors he asked had been withheld. The personal friends he had expected to advance were overlooked, or their claims belittled, if not ignored. Judge Hilton, his life-long associate and intimate, he had hoped, would be appointed Collector of New York, and a relative of his own wife he wanted made Consul at Havre. The Collectorship was gone irretrievably to another, and instead of Havre, his relative was offered Bordeaux. He wanted me to represent this to the Government. But the Government was made up; the carriage was full; the train had started, and those who had not succeeded in entering, could hardly expect to be treated like regular passengers. Stewart was out in the cold. He saw the President occasionally after this, and entertained him when he came to New York; but their intimacy was at an end.

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