Ulysses S. Grant: Politician

By William B. Hesseltine | Go to book overview
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Chapter XVIII Life in the White House

THE election of 1872 marked the half-way point in Grant's occupancy of the White House. It was his misfortune that he came upon the national scene at a moment when our entire national life was going through a process of transition. The eight years of his presidency marked the transfer of authority from the lords of the manor to the masters of capital. New men and new measures occupied the public attention, and gave a strange character to the era which was just emerging. In politics, the quiet dignity and confidence of the "gentlemen statesmen" who had graced legislative hails in the forties and fifties was rapidly being replaced by the aggressive manners of the practical politician. In economics, the merchant and planter gave way to new men--the war-rich contractors and the often loud-mouthed lords of industry. In the realm of public thought there were equally great changes. One heard little of State Rights, or even the Constitution, but much of the nation. Faith in American progress supplanted the ancient pride in American democracy. On the whole, it was an age of confusion, with its vulgar, crude, or tasteless features frequently looming so large as to conceal its more solid virtues. Historians and romanticists have attempted to characterize the era by a phrase, and the very variety of their labels is suggestive of the confusion of the period. To some, who have seen calamity in the decline of an older mode of life it has been a "Tragic Era," while others, looking at the "Emergence of Modern America," have contended that these hectic years witnessed the "birth of a nation." Others, with eyes largely upon the South, but cognizant of the far-reaching significance of the passing of Southern dominance, have sought to give the term "reconstruction" a larger connotation, and allege that the entire national life was reconstructed during Grant's eight years in the White House. But whatever the name applied, the facts of transition stand out in bold relief. In every field of human endeavor a new and startlingly different society was evolving. When Grant left the White House in 1877 America was as different from the America of 1861 as the cottage in Galena was different from the Executive Mansion.

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