Ulysses S. Grant: Politician

By William B. Hesseltine | Go to book overview

Chapter XXII Politics of Depression

WITH the shadow of the depression hanging over the national government and the ever-recurrent problems of Louisiana and the South troubling his days, Grant's second Administration was predestined for failure. Throughout his first term he had learned much. He had learned that his best-intentioned actions would be misinterpreted by carping critics, that his safety lay in close alliance with the politicians of his party. Also he had learned to disregard all criticism as the howling of prairie wolves. The lesson was acquired too well, for Grant showed little appreciation of the fact that there was a deep-seated popular disgust with the machinations of the politicians. Men who sensed the people's will rode to power as Grant obstinately disregarded an outraged public opinion. Completely ignoring the Civil Service Commission's rules, the President appointed officials "according to political preferences."1 Although he asked Garfield to put through Congress an appropriation for extra pay for the Commission's clerks,2 and declared himself anxious to correct abuses, his actions belied his vocal devotion,3 G. W. Curtis, observing the tide of events, at first concluded that the Cabinet was unfriendly, "but fortunately Grant is tenacious and resolved upon the spirit which should govern appointments."4 Soon, however, Curtis decided that Grant had abandoned "both the spirit and the letter of the rules," and he resigned his chairmanship of the Civil Service Commission.5 For his place Grant selected Dorman B. Eaton, one of the most ardent reformers, and continued, at the same time, to make political appointments. Yet in April, when Joseph Medill resigned from the Commission to become Mayor of Chicago, Grant wrote him repeating the words of the inaugural--"The spirit of the rules will be maintained."6 Inevitably, these two resignations made their contribution toward bringing the President into disrepute.

____________________
1
N. Y. Tribune, November 27, 1872, citing New National Era and the National Republican.
2
Babcock to Garfield, December 13, 1872, Grant Letter Book.
3
Grant's notes to his secretary for March 24, 1873, are preserved by Mr. O. R. Barrett of Chicago. Even 20 days after the inauguration Grant was writing about 23 appointments ranging from visitors to West Point, and keepers of light houses to territorial governors.
4
Cary, George W. Curtis, 232.
5
N. Y. Tribune, April 1, 2, 9, 1873.
6
Grant Letter Book, April 9, 1873.

-359-

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