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Chapter 22:

Grant and Seward.

there was a positive antagonism between Grant and Seward. Their characters were as unlike as their policies and achievements. During the last months of the war Seward paid a visit at Grant's headquarters at City Point, and while there he told me a story which illustrates more than one point in his character. He was describing the alarm and anxiety of the North in the autumn of 1864. For months Grant had accomplished nothing in front of Richmond; Hood had forced Sherman to retrace his steps from Atlanta, and Early had nearly captured Washington. The opponents of the Government at the North made the most of the situation for political purposes. The elections were approaching, and a Cabinet council was held. It was necessary, Seward said, to throw something overboard in order to save the ship, and Emancipation was to be the Jonah. He was selected, he told me, to make the sacrifice, and proceeded to Auburn, where he delivered the speech which many will remember, re-opening the whole question of slavery and Emancipation, when the States should return to the Union. ‘When the insurgents,’ he said, ‘shall have disbanded their armies and laid down their arms, the war will instantly cease; and all the war measures then existing, including those which affect slavery, will cease also; and all the moral, economical, and political questions, as well questions affecting slavery as others, which shall then be existing between individuals and States and the Federal Government, whether they arose before the Civil War [191] began, or whether they grew out of it, will by force of the Constitution, pass over to the arbitrament of courts of law, and to the councils of legislation.’ So spoke the Secretary of State a year and a half after the proclamation of Emancipation had been made.

A few days later he returned to Washington, and soon the news was brought of Sheridan's victory at Winchester. Seward took the telegram to the President. It was long past midnight, and Lincoln came to the door of his bedroom in his nightgown. There he held the candle while the Secretary of State read to him the great intelligence. The President was delighted, of course, at the victory, but Seward exclaimed: ‘And what, Mr. President, is to become of me?’ He told me this story, I suppose, to illustrate his spirit of self-sacrifice, but when I repeated it to Grant the soldier looked at the act in a different light. He thought the sacrifice of principle should not have been made, and was shocked that Seward could have thought of himself at such a crisis. But Seward believed in sacrificing even political principle to the success of a great cause, or the salvation of a country. He said to me at this time: ‘Nations have never more virtue than just enough to save themselves.’

Grant's course under somewhat similar circumstances was different. He often told me of the pressure brought to induce him to sign what was known as the Inflation Act. Personal and political friends of importance assured him that his refusal would be fatal to Republican success at the polls, and although his judgment was opposed to the measure, he finally wrote out a message approving the bill. He even read the message to his Cabinet, but in writing and reading it the weakness of his forced reasoning became more apparent than ever. He could not bring himself to do violence to his own convictions. That night he tore up the message and wrote another which contained the veto that forever defeated Inflation.

Each of these men had in his own way accomplished great [192] things for the State. Seward was an adroit and intellectual strategist, a man born with the instincts and used to the arts of diplomacy; a statesman who had aimed at the highest place, but when he failed in his aim, had humbled himself to take a secondary post, in which he conceived and carried out an international policy for his triumphant rival; a man who after the war and the success of the principles and the party with whom and for whom he had battled half a lifetime, found himself suddenly in the Cabinet of a Southerner determined to bring the defeated Southerners back to the position and the power they had enjoyed before they rebelled; and Seward not only acquiesced in the design, but aided it with all the skill and intellect he had once employed on the other side. There was nothing in such a character or career to attract or to assimilate with Grant, who was by nature blunt and plain in word and act; a soldier to the core; unused to bending when he could not break, and ignorant of any means to accomplish his purposes but the most direct and forcible. Even in war he had been less of a strategist than a fighter, and he carried the same characteristics into civil affairs. Indeed whenever later in his political career he was induced by political associates to lay aside his own peculiar directness and attempt manoeuvring he failed. His ways were never those of diplomacy, nor even of legitimate craft. The more of a technical politician he became, the less was his hold on the people, and the less the success he achieved. When he returned to his native straightforwardness and outspokenness his influence and popularity were regained. Such a man could not appreciate Johnson's Secretary of State.

Seward had succeeded by temporizing and negotiating, by patience and subtle skill, by submitting to what was inevitable and obtaining whatever was attainable, in at first postponing, and at last preventing, the active intervention of England and France in favor of the South during the War; and he hoped afterward to secure the withdrawal of [193] the French from Mexico by the same means. But to Grant this seemed to indicate indifference to the result, and he finally came to believe that Seward was willing for Maximilian to remain. Here was their first open difference. They were antagonists apparently even in aim, and certainly in means and methods and manner. The consequence was not only a marked divergence of opinion, but on Grant's part, a coolness of feeling that lasted for years and was never entirely removed. But though Grant at times could hardly force himself to be civil, and disliked even to go to Seward's house, the courteous Secretary kept up his visits and his compliments.

Mr. Blaine, in his ‘Twenty Years of Congress,’ attributes to Seward the conception of Johnson's entire scheme of restoring the States, but Grant never gave Seward credit for the plan. He thought it the child of Johnson's brain, developed by the situation in which he found himself, of a humble Southerner suddenly raised to a position in which he could dispense essential favors to those who had always seemed his superiors but now courted him for their own purposes. Grant in his ‘Memoirs’ speaks of Johnson as a ‘President who at first aimed to revenge himself upon Southern men of better social standing than himself, but who still sought their recognition, and in a short time conceived the idea and advanced the proposition to become their Moses to lead them triumphantly out of all their difficulties.’ I remember once returning to him from the White House, and describing to him what I had seen; the antechamber of the tailor-President crowded with magnates of the South, Hunter and Richard Taylor and others of that sort, waiting for a chance to ask to be pardoned.

Grant, like every other human being, was sometimes unjust in his judgments, and did not always allow the credit of the highest motives to those who opposed him. He thought Johnson was affected by the influences I have [194] described, and that Seward for the sake of place and power followed in the political somersault. No word intimating a belief that Seward originated Johnson's policy ever escaped him in my hearing, either in the excited intercourse of the time or in the deliberate discussions of later years.

It is needless to say that Grant thought Seward intellectual and able; and of course he never dreamed of denying his patriotism; but the genius of the one was so diametrically opposed to that of the other that Grant could not do justice to the considerations, whether of legitimate ambition or lofty statesmanship, that may have actuated Seward. He was too intensely himself to be sympathetic. He could not put himself into Seward's place. He could not understand how Seward could reverse the feelings and principles of a lifetime to remain in Johnson's Cabinet. He could not perceive that Seward, once the bugbear of the slave-holders, might take an exquisite pleasure in the thought that they owed their exemption from many misfortunes to the man they had so long and so bitterly reviled.

But although Grant thought Seward only a follower of Johnson in the Reconstruction policy, he certainly believed that many of the devices of Johnson were due to Seward's suggestion. He did not think Johnson clever enough to initiate all the craft that gave the country and Congress so much trouble and alarm. Many of the acutest arguments in defense of Johnson Grant thought were in reality perversions of Seward's intellect in an unworthy cause; and the effort to send Grant to Mexico he always attributed to Seward. The conception was worthy of the diplomatic Secretary, to whom it would fall to carry out the device if it succeeded; for if Grant had accepted the position pressed upon him he must have received his instructions from Seward, who had opposed and defeated Grant's Mexican policy. Those instructions, in fact, were written out, and Seward once began to read them in Cabinet, but Grant refused to hear them. [195] Even after this they were forwarded to Grant through the Secretary of War, but were finally turned over to Sherman. It would indeed have been a Machiavellian triumph to have got rid of Grant at that juncture in affairs at home and at the same time forced him to carry out Seward's policy in Mexico.

But though, as I have said, Grant never got over his dislike of Seward's course, either in the Mexican matter or in the general policy of the Administration, Seward was determined not to quarrel with Grant. He was never personally conspicuous in the stratagems which Grant was obliged to contest, and even at the crisis of the relations between Grant and Johnson, when other Cabinet Ministers ranged themselves on the side of the President, Seward contrived to write a letter not entirely unsatisfactory to his chief, while yet he refrained from giving the lie to Grant. Thus their relations, although after this period never intimate, were not absolutely interrupted. Some of Seward's admirers even proposed to Grant, when he became President-elect, to invite Seward to remain in the State Department, but he never entertained the idea

I remember a dinner at the house of Mr. Thornton, the British Minister, given after Grant's election, at which Seward sat on the right of the host and Grant on the left; and Seward remarked, as he took his seat, ‘After the 4th of March, General, you and I will be obliged to exchange places at table.’ But there were many even then who placed General Grant above the Secretary of State, and Grant himself, in more important matters than rank or etiquette, was asserting his own consequence. He had endeavored, as I have shown, to prevent the host who was then entertaining them from negotiating a treaty with Seward, and he had striven successfully to lessen the influence of Seward's Minister to Mexico.

Still the honors were divided. Seward had defeated [196] Grant in what the soldier had so much at heart,—the forcible expulsion of Maximilian, accomplishing the overthrow of the empire by diplomatic means, though he risked, as Grant believed, the existence of the Mexican Republic; but Seward himself was defeated in the great object of Johnson's Administration,—the Reconstruction policy; and in this defeat Grant was the principal figure and instrument. Grant's election, indeed, was the seal of Seward's and Johnson's overthrow. Up to the last their differences continued. In sending Rosecrans to Mexico, Seward must have known the affront he offered Grant, and by the rejection of the Clarendon-Johnson Treaty, which Grant did so much to accomplish, the final effort of Seward's diplomacy was foiled.

But, after all, both were patriots, both were indispensable to the salvation of the State. Grant's victories would have been useless, if not impossible, unless Seward's skill had stayed the hostile and impatient hands of England and France; and Seward's diplomacy required Vicksburg and the Wilderness to be of any avail. As Lincoln once said to Sickles, when they were discussing the battle of Gettysburg, ‘There is glory enough to go all around.’ Nevertheless, it is well to tell the whole truth about great men in great emergencies.

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