Ulysses S. Grant and the Failure of Reconciliation

Lots of historians now like to write about Ulysses S. Grant and Reconstruction. This was not always the case. But one can see that someone was writing about this theme back in 1988.



17 thoughts on “Ulysses S. Grant and the Failure of Reconciliation

  1. OhioGuy July 28, 2014 / 6:35 am

    Thanks for posting this. I will read it later today. My good friend Frank Scaturro has written a book on Grant, with a similar theme I think, that needs wider distribution. It gave me a whole new perspectives on the man, though I first discovered Grant’s commitment to racial justice in a book called White Terror: A History of the KKK. Frank’s book is called Grant Reconsider. Are you familiar with it?

    • OhioGuy July 29, 2014 / 2:12 pm

      That should be Granted Reconsidered. I have two extra copies that I would send free to a good home! 🙂

  2. jfepperson July 28, 2014 / 8:18 am

    I like it—nicely argued.

  3. Bert July 28, 2014 / 10:25 am

    Very good. In a few pages, you thoroughly answered that question about Grant and Reconciliation. The Akerman quote in footnote 33 does, with the benefit of hindsight, seem to nail it. It’s sad that Grant’s faith in southern men being more like Lee than Forrest had to be so brutally proven wrong.

  4. Reader July 28, 2014 / 1:31 pm

    I read this in 2000, then _Let Us Have Peace_. Those two reads made a Grant fan of me.

  5. Charles Lovejoy July 28, 2014 / 4:12 pm

    Or did Grant know the limitations of what he could are could not do?

  6. Rosemary K July 28, 2014 / 7:28 pm

    Dr. S. Can you project what he might say about the progress of reconciliation circa 2014 — If he could time travel here what would he think?
    And.. thanks for working on redeeming an Ohio prez… We have a hero with heart and he gets lost caused… Then there’s Harding…

    • OhioGuy July 29, 2014 / 6:41 am

      Harding I’m afraid is hopeless. I believe he richly deserves his low ranking. I say this even though my wife’s family was deeply involved with key figures in that administration and we have several Harding artifacts as heirlooms. Garfield, however, was a very good man. The assignation early in his administration deprived us of, IMHO, a second Lincoln. Very tragic.

      • OhioGuy July 29, 2014 / 6:42 am

        Sorry for the innovative spelling of assassination! 😉

  7. Stefan Jovanovich July 29, 2014 / 7:01 am

    In this matter, as in so many others, Grant’s success is obscured. Reconciliation, in the sense of reuniting the South economically and politically with the rest of the country, was not a failure; establishment of equal rights was. Grant knew he was right – both morally and politically – to insist that the words of the 14th Amendment be honored and that the laws protect the rights of all citizens. He also knew that that the belief in the white man’s biological superiority was the majority opinion and was likely to remain so for generations. As a husband and father of suffragettes, he knew that the same idiocy governed public opinion about women’s innate abilities to exercise equal rights. When, as he was dying, Grant chose to say that future for equality was bright, he was proving yet again that the essence of statesmanship is to tell useful lies about the present so that they will come true in the future. Grant, of all people, knew that bright futures could be delayed and even temporarily defeated but it was folly to lose hope; and one should never surrender.

    • Reader July 29, 2014 / 7:44 am

      In 1872 a British writer, Emily Faithfull, asked Grant point-blank if he believed women should have the right to vote. He said no. So he was a Victorian husband, par for the era. I don’t recall ever reading if he thought whites were superior to blacks in any way, though he did not want artificial barriers put in anyone’s way. “Let them develop what is good in them” he said. And he worked to that end, as far as the white population would let him.

      • Stefan Jovanovich July 29, 2014 / 8:44 am

        This is improbable since Gerrit Smith’s letter of introduction for her was dated January 1, 1873; and Ms. Faitfhull met Grant on January 28th of that year. Grant was anything but a Victorian; he had none of Ms. Faithfull’s confidence in the evangelism of the Anglo-Saxon races. He was even bizarre enough in his opinions to think native Americans deserved complete equality.

        • Reader July 29, 2014 / 6:10 pm

          Thank you for the correction. That’s how I learn!

  8. Dan Weinfeld July 29, 2014 / 10:08 am

    You write that Grant initially opposed Feedmen’s Bureau officers whom who he felt held a “prejudice in favor of color.” (p. 273]. Did Grant continue to root out enthusastic Bureau agents or did that attitude soften concomitant with the other developments in his thought about the South? Also, you suggest that passage of the Black Codes played a role in changing Grant’s initial views. How important a factor was Grant’s disappointment with these racially-biased laws in the evoluation of his thoughts about the South? Can you suggest further reading on this subject?

  9. Noma July 29, 2014 / 10:31 pm

    I have so many questions on this period, especially with the additional material which you elaborate more in your book, “The Reconstruction Presidents.”

    Can we take as a pivot point, May 7, 1873, with the death of Supreme Court justice Salmon P. Chase? After 6 tries (over 6 months?) President Grant finally replaced Chase with Morrison Waite (whom Jean Edwards Smith describes as “the foremost of second-rate lawyers” in the country).

    And by 1875 he also eventually replaced the aggressive Attorney General Amos T. Akerman, and even his fairly aggressive successor George Williams, with the pro-business Edwards Pierrepont.

    The result was that Justice Waite tipped the Supreme Court scales so that the Ku Klux Klan Enforcement act of 1871 was gutted, and in United States v. Cruikshank (1876), the Court basically ruled that the Federal Government no longer had much right to enforce the Civil Rights act, and specifically that all those guilty of murdering blacks in the 1873 Colfax massacre could now go free.

    Then, when the Republican provisional governor of Louisiana called on Grant for help because of threatened violence and voter intimidation surrounding the upcoming 1875 elections — Grant ended up consulting with Attorney General Pierrepont — who informed Grant that due to Justice Waite’s decision against the Enforcement act of 1871, Grant no longer had authority to help Republican Governor Ames. Instead, Grant let Ames “twist slowly, slowly in the wind” so to speak, at the hands of the White League.

    So the big question, the representative question, is: Whose fault is it that in 1875, Grant essentially turned his back on Adelbert Ames and all the freedmen and loyalists of Mississippi, and allowed Ames to be driven from office?

    Was it simply a political situation which left Grant powerless?

    Or in the sense of morale, was Grant being gradually worn down by other forces (scandals, economic depression, his inner Jesse Grant pragmatic business sense finally manifesting) and in this weakened state, basically throwing up his hands, and — for once — backing down?

    Was it Grant’s fault? Or was it truly circumstance which led to the withdrawal of the Federal Troops in 1877 when Grant left office, leaving the blacks to deal with 100 years of Jim Crow terrorism?

    • Noma July 29, 2014 / 10:33 pm

      “Then, when the Republican provisional governor of Louisiana called on Grant for help” — sorry, I meant Mississippi, not Louisiana.

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