Ulysses S. Grant: Politician

By William B. Hesseltine | Go to book overview

Chapter IX "Policy Enough for the Present"

ALTHOUGH the struggle over the appointments to office occupied much time during this first session of Grant's first Congress, the real significance of the election of 1868 was not lost from sight. On both finance and the South the Republican Party had made pledges, and these the President and Congress were prepared to carry out.

To the delight of the bondholders whose hopes for profits had led them to contribute to Grant's campaign fund, Congress gave immediate attention to the question of the five-twenty bonds. In his last annual message Johnson had surpassed the wildest proposition of the repudiators by suggesting that interest on the bonds should be paid for sixteen and a fraction years and the account closed. To assure the nation's creditors that the Republican Party gave no adherence to such dishonest ideas, Congress passed an "Act to Strengthen the Public Credit" which Johnson tabled to die with his Administration. But the new Congress hastily took up the bill, and on March 18, Grant signed it as the first law of his Administration. By its terms, the act "solemnly pledged" the credit of the United States to pay the bonds in "coin or its equivalent." Moreover, the nation's faith was pledged to redeem the greenbacks in coin "at the earliest practicable period." As soon as Grant had signed the bill, gold on the New York exchange fell to 130-- the lowest point since the suspension of specie payments in 1862.1

Somewhat more slowly, and with considerable less unity of purpose, the Administration turned its attention to the task of completing reconstruction. At the moment, Virginia, Mississippi and Texas were still unreconstructed. In Virginia a lack of money, and in Texas a factional fight, had prevented the submission of Radical Constitutions to the people, while in Mississippi the Constitution, with stringent disfranchising clauses, had been rejected in the election. Georgia, too, was out of proper relations to the Union as a result of too hasty a zeal for white supremacy. There a white majority in the legislature, deciding that the new Constitution had given Negroes the right to vote but not to hold

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1
John Sherman, Recollections of Forty Years, 448; New York Tribune, March 19, 1869; New York Commercial and Financial Chronicle, March 27, 1869.

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