Hamilton Fish: The Inner History of the Grant Administration - Vol. 1

Hamilton Fish: The Inner History of the Grant Administration - Vol. 1

Hamilton Fish: The Inner History of the Grant Administration - Vol. 1

Hamilton Fish: The Inner History of the Grant Administration - Vol. 1

Excerpt

In presenting so full a reconstruction of American history 1869-1877 as is embodied in this volume, I feel that a special word of explanation is required. The completeness of this revision of history, the wealth of new lights upon men and events, was made possible by the scope and rich- ness of Hamilton Fish's papers. In particular, all readers interested in this sordid and troubled period owe a debt of gratitude to Hamilton Fish for his elaborate diary. Amid the cares of office he somehow found time to leave a record more voluminous than that of Gideon Welles or James K. Polk, only less imposing than that of John Quincy Adams. Covering eight crowded years, it is a record of somewhat curious quality. It is detached, objective, unemotional; except at rare intervals it avoids the expression of personal feeling or confidential opinion; it is in general a bare summary of what was said and done in Fish's presence. Diplomatic affairs are for the most part kept in the foreground, political affairs in the background. The objectivity of style may at first irritate the reader. But historically, it perhaps increases rather than decreases the value of the record. Here is none of the prejudice to be found in Welles, none of the ill-governed and waspish emotion so frequent in Adams' Memoirs. It is an honest chronicle of day to day events, written without the slightest subsequent editing by a calm and honest man.

In doing history a service by keeping a diary and preserving an enormous mass of correspondence, Hamilton Fish also did himself a service. He has hitherto been the most obscure of the really eminent American leaders of the nineteenth century. The reason is that little has thus far been known of his acts, motives, and accomplishments. For reasons not here necessary to state, the preparation of a biography of this commanding figure was repeatedly delayed. It is now almost sixty years since he retired from office, almost forty-five since his death. Yet this volume constitutes the first real effort to treat the achievements of one of our ablest Secretaries of State, of by far the strongest member of the Grant Administration--the leader who, as these pages show, saved that Administration from total disgrace. Because of the lack of a biography, this true statesman has remained but a nominis umbra while mere politicians of the period have impressed the public imagination. Ordi-

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