Ulysees S. Grant: Scandals

Grant's presidency is known for being scandal plagued. This is both impressive since he served in one of the more corrupt periods of American history and inexplicable since we're used to hearing about trysts in the men's room or salacious letter to Penthouse type tales of young pages.

There were more than 10 scandals Grant's administration was implicated in.

Some of the main ones were:

The Whiskey Ring Scandal: Government agents received kickbacks for helping the liquor industry avoid millions in taxes.

I don't see a whole lot of difference between then and now, except instead of suitcases of money, certain industries such as banking, home building and firearms give billions in campaign contributions to politicians to keep them in office and in return, are allowed to do pretty much whatever they want.

Black Friday: Some businessmen and bankers conspired to corner the market on gold by buying up most of the supply in the country on the open market. They would all get rich if this plan worked, since the government was expected to buy back the government bonds it sold with gold and they held the majority of the supply.

To keep the regulators away and make sure the government didn't sell gold, they recruited Grant's idiot brother-in-law to get close to him and argue against a government sale of gold. (always the idiot brother in law in these things right?)

This doesn't seem that much worse than modern times, when many industries now exist whose lobbying dollars buy them virtual monopolies and the ability to write the very laws that regulate them (see: mining, insurance, banking).

There were many other scandals that revolved around nepotism, bribery or extortion, but again, they don't seem that much worse than what we have now.

In my opinion, the reason for all the scandals were best summed up by the following:

Grant was a George W. Bush type figure who was generally an honest man, but easily influenced by underlings that used his administration for their own selfish purposes. When it became obvious to all but him that the corruption was going on, he couldn't abandon his military code of protecting his troops and refused to acknowledge their wrongdoing (see: Donald Rumsfeld, Michael Brown)

Grant was not a career politician and was somewhat naive of the ways of Washington.

Grant was a big picture guy and focused all his efforts on the great issue of the times, the occupation of the southern states and potential war with Mexico at the expense of the housekeeping or audit functions he should have performed.

Grant had political enemies that made the Tea Party look like, well, a tea party. The south had enjoyed virtual business as usual under the Johnson administration, but Grant made it clear they actually lost the war.

All in all, I don't think that Grant was such a bad president, just that he lived in bad times. The rest of the world seemed to agree too, since after his presidency, he toured the world and everywhere was cheered by crowds as the great General and liberator of the black man.


Grant: Elsewhere in the world in the 1860's

Since the early days of American history up until the Civil War, America followed the Monroe doctrine. This essentially meant that there was an unofficial policy of not entering into 'entangling' alliances overseas and intervening in affairs in our hemisphere when America's interests are threatened.

The Civil War however, put a stop to both of these policies. The south actively courted Great Britain for supplies and foreign currency. It exported virtually all the cotton that Britain was using in its textile mills at the time and wanted allies overseas to protect it from the north once it broke away from the United States.

Other countries in Europe also began to look at expanding in the Americas since the United States was in such a weak and vulnerable position. Emperor Maximilian of France took invaded Mexico shortly after the Civil War came to an end when America was still in a weakened position.

Grant felt threatened by this incursion into the United State's sphere of influence and sent a large amount of military aid to the ousted rebel leader of Mexico and stationed about 50,000 federal troops on the southern border of Texas.

Maximillian was eventually killed by the Mexican army and the French army went back to Europe. America once again controlled its center of influence and would expand its reach overseas and to the further out former Spanish colonies, eventually controlling the world in the aftermath of World War II.

It's interesting to think about what would have happened if the French had been able to hold Mexico. It would almost be a reverse Louisiana Purchase. You have to wonder if France and Britain would eventually fight a proxy war in the United States or if the United State's influence in this region would simply diminish.


Grant: Picking Up the Pieces

Grant's presidency is usually a compared (unfavorably) to his time as General during the Civil War. It may be true that his presidency didn't live up to his military brilliance, but he did one very important thing that his predecessors were unwilling or unable to do.

Grant came in to power at a time when the KKK was at the height of its power during the reconstruction era. Intimidation, rape and murder of blacks and Whig politicians was commonplace and was out of control.

At this time, many of the vigilante groups acted with impunity and did whatever they could to make life the way it was before the war. Blacks in the south were hated more than ever after slavery by poor whites who viewed their place in life as sinking while the freedman's life was rising.

Grant sent the federal troops in to areas that the KKK/southern militia was occupying and actively fought them. He also sent federal troops in to areas where blacks were being denied the vote and protected them to at least a minimal degree.

The problem with his predecessors after the war was that they followed a policy of appeasement. The south was allowed to go on as if nothing had ever happened in an effort to restore national unity. This accommodating policy brought into question what the war was even fought for. Laws would go on the books giving rights to blacks, but they were still in virtual slavery.

Only by showing resolve did Grant make the violence in the South decline somewhat. This relative peace allowed the country to start on the long road to normalcy before the next national crisis.