Ulysses S. Grant: Politician

By William B. Hesseltine | Go to book overview

XIX Public Confidence

AMERICAN political annals reveal no President who was happier in his second Administration than his first. Grant's second term served only to tarnish his reputation, and to wilt the laurels which he had borne from McLean's home to the White House. Beginning in an atmosphere of scandal, the Administration was taken unawares by a financial panic for which it received popular condemnation, and ended with the open corruption of the disputed election of 1876. Contemporaries coined the epithet "Grantism" to connote the moral degradation into which politics had fallen, and historians, aghast at the lack of public virtue revealed in those four years, have labeled them, "The Nadir of National Disgrace." At the end of this term, deserted by all but a small guard of loyal political followers, the victim of intriguing Cabinet members whom he had harbored and betrayed by other members of his intimate circle, the hero of Appomattox might well have surveyed his vanished glories, and cried out with Lear, "I am a man more sinn'd against than sinning."

The opening of Grant's second Administration was not auspicious. The election of 1872 had been little but a personal victory. Although the President's majority was overwhelming, his total vote was lower than in 1868--suggesting that it was disapproval of Greeley rather than approval of Grant that actuated the voters. In contrast with the victory of four years before, the President realized in this his heavy indebtedness to the politicians, and could no longer think himself the "people's President." "Four years ago," he said when formally notified of his election, "there was less regard for party lines. In the last campaign political differences and personal hostilities more clearly defined the lines of party."1 Now, although he promised to administer the government for all the people, he recognized the necessity for "the approval of the great party which elected me."2 After Greeley's death, some newspapers proposed that Greeley electors cast their votes for Grant and thus "lift the Administration out of parti

____________________
1
National Republican, February 17, 1873.
2
Cf. New York Tribune, November 27, 1872, quoting the New National Era.

-308-

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