previous next

Chapter 37:

Grant and Garfield.

until June, 1880, there had been nothing at all remarkable in the relations of Grant with the man who outstripped him at Chicago. The most prominent of the Western generals was not likely to see much of the chiefof-staff of a distant commander, and in 1863, when Garfield was promoted to the rank of major-general, he had served only a few months under Grant. In the second year of the war he was elected to Congress, and after the battle of Chickamauga, Garfield resigned his military commission and applied himself to civil duties, in which he was destined to rise to greater eminence. He was in Congress during the entire period of Grant's Administration, and was always a loyal political supporter of the head of his party; but there was no approach to intimacy between them.

After the nominations at Chicago, Grant remained for a while entirely undemonstrative. He sent no congratulations to his victor and gave no intimation of the course he intended to pursue. The result of the Convention was entirely unanticipated by him, and his disappointment was certainly keen. In July he went off to Colorado, where he remained for a month or more, and his silence was so prolonged that many believed he intended to support Hancock; but of this there was never a possibility.

At last in September he made known his acceptance of the decision of his party. Up to that time the prospects of Garfield had not been brilliant. He was comparatively [325] unknown to the country and lacked the peculiar elements of popularity in illustrious service and national reputation, which Grant and Blaine and Sherman, his three competitors before the Convention, all enjoyed. His friends soon found that there was need to enlist the aid of the great soldier of the country; for the adherents of Grant were chagrined at their defeat and many still held aloof, while the followers of Mr. Blaine, who had thrown their votes for Garfield rather than consent to the nomination of Grant, were not sufficient to secure the election of the unlooked — for candidate. Representations were accordingly made to Grant of the necessity for his support; and he himself felt that having allowed his name to be presented to the Convention, it was in good faith incumbent on him to acquiesce in its decision. Besides this he was thoroughly convinced that the interests of the country required the election of a Republican President. It was at a political meeting in Indiana that he first made public his intention to support his former subordinate. This utterance was followed by a demonstration from Conkling, not only Grant's most prominent champion at Chicago, but himself only four years before a popular candidate for the Presidency. When these two had spoken it was plain that the entire Republican party would be united under Garfield as its chief and standard-bearer.

But Grant was not content with a simple expression of opinion. At Garfield's urgent request he consented to pay him a visit; at Mentor, the home of the candidate, he was met by Mr. Conkling, and the two were entertained by the man who had overtopped them both. After this Grant took a still more unusual course. He attended numerous political meetings, at nearly every one of which he made a short address, setting forth his reasons for desiring Republican success. No ex-President had taken such a step before, and it was still more remarkable in Grant, who had not been a partisan before becoming President, and had never shown an [326] aptitude for political or hardly for public speaking of any sort. But having made up his mind that patriotism and party loyalty required him to do what he could for the election of Garfield he stopped short of no effort within his power. He put away his mortification and disappointment, became a subordinate instead of a chief, and went about deliberately and continually as a faithful member of that party he had himself so often led to victory. I saw him constantly during all this period, and used to marvel at his magnanimity; but he never made any allusion to the especial sacrifice his action must have cost him; that he felt it to the core, I am sure.

The influence of his presence and his popularity contributed greatly to the success of the campaign. Garfield was elected by a small majority, and it is not claiming much for Grant to say that he controlled votes enough to make up this majority. I was present with him at public meetings in New York, New England, and New Jersey, and I saw the enthusiasm he evoked. I stood by him during the great procession of the Boys in Blue in New York a few nights before the election. The pageant lasted from nearly midnight till four in the morning, but he remained upon the platform until the last man had passed; Chester A. Arthur, the candidate for the Vice-Presidency, stood by his side, reaping the benefit of Grant's popularity. Grant even became so much interested during the campaign that he made remarks about Hancock which not only the adherents of the Democratic candidate, but Hancock himself, resented keenly. There had been a coolness between them ever since the days of the Andrew Johnson imbroglio, when Hancock, against Grant's urgent advice, accepted the place of Sheridan at New Orleans. This feeling was increased by the tone of Grant's utterances now.

Apart from this, however, there was no bitterness aroused, even among Democrats, on account of Grant's course. I was [327] present on half a score of occasions when he was traveling by train and the car that carried him chanced to stop near the point where a Democratic meeting was in progress. Again and again it happened that the meeting adjourned temporarily while its members marched in a body to the station to salute General Grant. They cheered him, their bands played ‘Yankee Doodle’ and ‘Hail to the Chief’ for him, many shook him by the hand, and then they returned to their meeting in favor of Hancock. That the friend of a rival candidate and the representative of a rival party could draw crowds of his opponents to greet him in the midst of an excited canvass was a singular proof of his hold on the affections of his countrymen. It showed that they separated the soldier and the patriot from the politician, and admired and approved the one while they opposed and condemned the other.

After the election and until the inauguration of Garfield, Grant was in no way in the counsels of the incoming Administration. He took, however, a lively interest in the formation of the new Cabinet, but was not invited to offer his views. When Robert Lincoln's name was mentioned for Secretary of War it was reported that Grant objected to the appointment. I knew to the contrary and asked permission of the General to say this to Lincoln. He was more than willing to assent, and I wrote to Mr. Lincoln that so far from objecting, General Grant would be very glad to see him Secretary of War; and added that he was at liberty to use the information. Lincoln replied, expressing his thanks and his appreciation of Grant's good wishes, but he never said either to Grant or me that he found the indorsement valuable.

When it was first announced that Blaine was to be made Secretary of State, Grant would not believe the appointment possible, and after it became certain that the man he regarded as his most prominent enemy was to be chief of Garfield's Cabinet, his mortification was extreme. At first he declared [328] that he should withhold all support from the Administration if Blaine became a member; but he soon thought better of this and went to Washington a few days after the 4th of March. He visited the President and was invited to breakfast. On his return I spent several hours with him and he told me that Garfield had assured him of his gratitude and of his desire to regard Grant's wishes so far as possible in his policy and appointments.

On the 22d of March I went to Washington, having passed the previous evening with Grant; I carried a letter from him to the President requesting that I might be retained at London, where I was still Consul-General. I went, however, first to the Senate Chamber to visit Senator Conkling, who informed me that my name had been sent to the Senate that very morning as Charge d'affaires at Copenhagen. The change in the Custom House of New York had been made which brought about the famous political contest between Garfield and Blaine on one side, and Grant, Conkling, and Arthur on the other. Robertson, whose course at Chicago had secured the defeat of Grant, and who was therefore the man in the whole country most objectionable to Grant and his partisans, was made Collector of New York, although according to all the recognized rules of political courtesy, Conkling should have been consulted; and Merritt, the friend and appointee of Sherman, was ousted to make room for Robertson. I was removed from London in favor of Merritt; General Grant's brother-in-law, Mr. Cramer, the Charge d'affaires at Denmark, was displaced for me, and Mr. Nicholas Fish, the son of Grant's Secretary of State, was removed from the position of Charge at Berne to make room for Cramer. Merritt, Cramer, and I were each placed where we had no desire to be, and Fish lost his position altogether. All this had been done without any premonition or warning to Grant, who had seen the President two days before and received his assurances of friendship and deference. [329]

Of course the President had the right to make what changes he pleased in the public service, but Grant thought that after what he had done to secure Garfield's election he should have been consulted in the disposition made of his personal friends, and he felt that the changes were intended to be offensive to him. But although greatly amazed he at first withheld any public expression of opinion. He telegraphed to me on the 24th of March in these words: ‘See the President at once with my letter. Ask him to withdraw your nomination, and if he cannot leave you in London, ask him to give you either Italy or Naval Office in this city. Show him this dispatch as my endorsement of you for either place.’ At the Executive Mansion I met Merritt, who had come on from New York to save himself from taking my place, and as we walked up the stairs—to the American salle des pas perdus—we laughed at each other, and each declared he did not wish for a change. The President and I were old acquaintances. He had been my guest more than once in Washington. He said he had supposed I would like the new arrangement, which was a nominal promotion so far as I was concerned; I was to have a pleasant and easy diplomatic post instead of a busy consular one; it was higher in rank and would leave leisure sufficient to prosecute my literary pursuits. He disclaimed any intention of disapproving my services or displeasing General Grant; but he gave me no reason to suppose he would change his plans.

When I reported the result of my interview to General Grant he telegraphed me again: ‘I advise you to decline Copenhagen and stick to London, unless you can get Naval Office or Italy, or some equally good place. Advise with Conkling and Platt. It would be better to come here without Government appointment than to take Copenhagen.’ My relatives and personal friends gave me different advice and thought I would do better to accept the mission to Denmark; but I considered myself bound to defer to General [330] Grant, and finally requested the President to withdraw my nomination as Charge to Copenhagen. This he did, but offered me no other appointment, and he did not recall that of Merritt, so that if Merritt should be confirmed I would be out of office altogether. I remained a few weeks in Washington, consulting not only with Senators Conkling and Logan, but constantly with Vice-President Arthur, and once returning to New York to take the advice of General Grant. I saw the President several times and he sent his secretary to me more than once to urge me to accept the appointment to Copenhagen, as that would relieve him from the appearance of disregarding General Grant's personal wish; but I could not disobey the injunction of my own chief.

General Grant's urgency in the matter was by no means solely on my account, although he admitted in letters that were published at the time his interest for me and for his brother-in-law; but the instinct of fight was aroused in the soldier. He thought too that he had deserved different treatment at Garfield's hands, and he felt the nomination of Robertson more keenly than the removal of Cramer, or Fish, or my own.

Garfield, however, remained firm, but as the nominations were all opposed in the Senate, I returned to my post in England to await the result, while General Grant went to Mexico on business. From there he wrote to me: ‘I will never again lend my aid to the support of a Presidential candidate who has not strength enough to appear before a convention as a candidate, but gets in simply by the adherents of prominent candidates preferring any outsider to either of the candidates before the convention save their own.’

In June, however, he sent me word that he thought after all I might as well accept the Copenhagen mission, and I replied that if I had his full sanction I should like to do so rather than leave the public service. Accordingly the matter [331] was arranged through General Horace Porter and Robert Lincoln, the Secretary of War. Mr. Lincoln obtained a promise from the President that I should be appointed again to Copenhagen, if I would pledge myself in advance to accept the post. But before this arrangement could be carried out Garfield was struck down by the assassin.

General Grant had in the meantime returned from Mexico and gone to his house at Long Branch. Both Conkling and Platt had resigned their positions in the Senate, and after a long struggle at Albany their successors were elected. Grant's feeling, however, had by this time become somewhat mollified, and when Garfield visited Long Branch, Grant called on him and the President expressed great satisfaction at the courtesy. Nevertheless General Grant had fully sympathized with the feeling of Mr. Conkling and Vice-President Arthur, and had come in for his share of unpopularity with those who supported Garfield, as well as with that large portion of the community which always worships power. I remember that my publishers assured me that the sale of my History of Grant's Campaigns, which appeared at this time, was greatly injured by the course that General Grant took at this crisis: the people said they wanted no more of Grant.

When Garfield was shot the public indignation in some quarters was even turned toward his predecessor, and there were found those who were willing for a day or two to believe that General Grant was not displeased at the awful fate of the President. Of course this unjust clamor was only momentary and never genuine, but it was strange to see any portion of the public directing such suspicions toward the man who not a year before had been the object of ovations greater than any other American had ever received. It would be preposterous to offer to vindicate his fame from such aspersions now, but a letter that he wrote me on the subject will nevertheless be interesting. On the 27th of July, he said:

I am just this day in receipt of two letters from you of the [332] latter part of June. Why they have been so long coming I cannot conceive. A few days after your letters were written, as you know, the dastardly attempt was made upon the President's life. This of course has put a stop to all communications on the subject of foreign appointments—in fact all Presidential appointments. I had told Porter before this trouble came that I thought probably you had better after all accept the Copenhagen appointment for the present. Whether Porter had an opportunity to mention the subject before the wounding of the President or not I do not know. This attempt upon the life of General Garfield produced a shock upon the public mind but little less than that produced by the assassination of Lincoln. The intensity of feeling has somewhat died out in consequence of the favorable reports of the patient's condition from day to day; but now more alarm is being felt for his safety. I myself have felt until within the last three or four days that there was scarcely a doubt about his recovery. Now, however, I fear the chances are largely against it. But by the time this reaches you more certainty will be felt one way or the other. The crime is a disgrace to our country, and yet cannot be punished as it deserves. I have been very busy, though not accomplishing much, which must be my excuse for not writing sooner.

In September Garfield died, and Grant had the strange fate of following the coffin of another of his great opponents. He had been at the funerals of Chase, Sumner, Motley, and Greeley, and now of Garfield. In every instance the disputes of earth were hushed in the awful presence of that antagonist who overcomes each of us in our turn; but in Garfield's case the solemnity was greater still, for the pall of the dead President reminded his predecessor of that other and even greater martyrdom which had occurred in the same capital, and of that funeral in which he had followed another and greater President. The next obsequies at which the Nation mourned were destined to be his own.

I cannot close this chapter without reminding the reader that these pages are professedly based upon my personal [333] knowledge, and that therefore my own experiences and such relations as I may have borne to the events I describe may seem unduly prominent. But in no other way can I tell what I witnessed or prove the trustworthiness of my reports. I give nothing at second-hand except upon such authority as cannot be gainsaid—the authority always of other witnesses. Only in this way can I offer the material for history which I venture to believe this volume will become.

And if at times I seem to disclose secrets which show that men are human, even men whom the country has wished to deify, I believe that in the end, when the greatest are seen to be made of flesh and blood, their countrymen will feel a keener and profounder sympathy with the real beings I describe than with any fanciful creations fit only for the stories of mythology. The very faults of great men ally them to us, and Grant himself wrote to me at this very time: ‘You give true history in regard to them and furnish the proof as you go along. While I would not wish to detract from any one, I think history should record the truth.’ I believe if he knows what I write now he approves my course.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
September (2)
June (2)
June, 1880 AD (1)
1863 AD (1)
July 27th (1)
July (1)
March 24th (1)
March 22nd (1)
March 4th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: