Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Ulysses S. Grant
Nickname: Hero of Appomattox
Now we start with the Gilded Age, one of my least favorite times in history. Why call it the Gilded Age? This was an age of extreme wealth for the few and not so much wealth for others. Spending was not kept in check and the country went in and out of recessions. This also marked the beginning of robber barons like Carnegie and J.P. Morgan. Monopolies in business’ and trusts became the norm. The age also marked domination by the Senate, and basically Congress over weak Presidents. Almost all served one term save Grant and Cleveland.
Grant was a war hero as many of you know. With his victories at Vicksburg and Chattanooga, he became a household name. It was only logical to elect him president after Johnson was done carrying out Lincoln’s second term. Grant, however, did not have any political experience, much like Taylor and Harrison before him. Grant made his first mistake by surrounding himself with old war buddies and family members on his wife’s side. They quickly delved the administration into multiple scandals that wouldn’t be seen until Grant was reelected.
However, Grant was an honest man, and not the heavy drinker people made him out to be. Grant backed a return to “hard money”, or money back by gold. This meant that the government had to pay its debts in gold. Later that year, the U.S. gold market collapses. Investors Jay Gould and James Fisk had planned to corner the gold market by buying large quantities of gold and selling everything at a greater profit. To thwart them, Grant ordered the immediate sale of $4 million in government gold, causing the value of gold on the market to plunge, ruined thousands of investors. In Grant’s presidency, the Transcontinental Railroad is finished, which greatly cuts the time it takes people to ship goods or travel east and west. All of the states not already readmitted into the Union do so. The fifteenth amendment is passed with Grant’s support. The amendment grants blacks the right to vote. Grant sets up the First Enforcement Act and the Federal Election Law to protect blacks who want to vote in elections by making it illegal to interfere with their right to vote and that large city elections must be federally supervised. Grant also passes the Third Enforcement Act that makes it illegal to wear disguises and intimidate officials. This is of course aimed at the newly created Ku Klux Klan.
Political rights are restored to all southerners but to some former Confederate Leaders, while the income and excise taxes imposed during the Civil War are abolished. Things couldn’t stay great forever for Grant though. His second term was lousy compared to the first. His vice president and several Republican senators are revealed to be part of the Credit Mobilier scandal, where they accepted bribes in exchange for legislation that would favor the newly created railroad construction company of the same name. The Panic of 1873 starts a six year depression caused by industrial and agricultural over expansion, as well as a railroad construction boom that produced massive stock speculation. People also find out about Congress giving itself a raise and demand that they get put back down. The Tompkins Square Riot happens, which had policeman charging into a demonstration of unemployment workers, and promptly clubbing men, women and children.
People are now pretty pissed off and allow Congress to be held mostly by Democrats, which is something that hadn’t happened since 1857. The House overwhelmingly passes a resolution asking Grant not to seek a third term; even though Grant had hinted that he wasn’t really that interested anyway.
Some people may be shocked by my grade of Grant. Grant is not seen as one of the best presidents, mostly for his lack of power over Congress, and a cabinet that was full of crooks. Seriously though, almost all of them were implicated in scandals. As I pointed out earlier, Grant did a lot of good for the United States, and especially for the freed blacks. The depression was caused by bad speculation and bad spending by business; something that would continue during the Gilded Age. The only thing he is really guilty of is not having more sense in selecting his cabinet members.