Johnson, Grant, and the Politics of Reconstruction

By Martin E. Mantell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER NINE
THE ELECTION OF 1868

By tradition a presidential candidate took no active part in the campaign, and this custom exactly suited Grant's own inclinations. The general left Washington late in June and he did not return until November, as president-elect. He spent part of this time at his home in Galena and the rest touring the West, where he made short and entirely nonpolitical speeches to the crowds that greeted him. During this period he took no part at all in shaping political strategy and cut himself off from communications on all but the most urgent army matters, enjoying what he described as "the most quiet, pleasant time. . . that has fallen to my lot since the opening of the rebellion." But before leaving Washington Grant produced one political document, his letter accepting the nomination. In it he endorsed the Republican national platform as both moderate and wise, but refused to deal with specific issues on the grounds that a presidential candidate should not make commitments which might limit his freedom to respond to changing conditions and the will of the people. Then he closed with a phrase that was to become the keynote for the Republican campaign, "Let us have peace." 1

Again and again through the summer and fall, Republican orators returned to this theme, as they charged that Democratic victory would bring renewed civil war, while the election of Grant would finally end the eight-year-old conflict. 2 On the basis of the admission to Congress of representatives from eight of the eleven ex-Confederate states, Republicans declared that their program for reconstruction had been a success and was now almost completed. Renewed resistance to federal authority in the South had been encouraged by the recent revival of Democratic strength, but if the hopes of southerners for a Republican defeat were disappointed, they would be forced to recognize the futility of further opposition to the congressional terms for reconstruction. With the man who

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