History of the United States
Volume IV


Chapter XXIII
Grant's Administration, 1869-1877

Ulysses S. Grant, eighteenth President of the United States, was a native of Ohio, born at Point Pleasant, in that State, April 27th, 1822. At the age of seventeen he entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, and was graduated in 1843. He served with distinction and was promoted for gallantry in the Mexican war; but his first national reputation was won by the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson i 1862. From that time he rapidly rose in rank, and in March, 1864, received the appointment of lieutenant-general and commander-in-chief of the Union army. His subsequent career at the head of that army has already been narrated.

The first event by which the new administration was signalized was the completion of the Pacific Railroad. This vast enterprise was projected as early as 1853; but ten years elapsed before the work of construction was actually begun. The first division of the road extended from Omaha, Nebraska, to Ogden, Utah, a distance of a thousand and thirty-two miles. The western division, called the Central Pacific Railroad, reached from Ogden to San Francisco, a distance of eight hundred and eighty-two miles. On the 10th of May, 1869, the great work was completed with appropriate ceremonies.

Before the inauguration of President Grant two additional amendments to the Constitution had been adopted by Congress. The first of these, known as the Fourteenth Amendment, extended the right of citizenship, as we have noticed, to all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and declared the validity of the public debt. This amendment was submitted in 1867, was ratified by three-fourths of the States, and in the following year became a part of the Constitution. A few weeks before the expiration of Mr. Johnson's term the Fifteenth Amendment was adopted by Congress, providing that the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. This clause, which was intended to confer the right of suffrange on the emancipated black men of the South, was also submitted to the States, received the sanction of three-fourths of the legislatures, and on the 30th of March, 1870, was proclaimed by the President as a part of the Constitution. This amendment, however, has been far less effective than was expected by its promoters.

In the first three months of 1870 the work of reorganizing the Southern States was completed. On the 24th of Januaru the senators and representatives of Virginia were formally readmitted to their seats in Congress, and the Old Dominion once more took her place in the Union. On the 23d of February a like action was taken in regard to Mississippi; and on the 30th of March the work was finished by the readmission of Texas, the last of the seceded States. for the first time since the outbreak of the Civil War the voice of all the States was heard in the councils of the nation.

In this year was completed the nineth census of the United States. It was a work of vast importance, and the results presented were of the most encouraging character. Notwithstanding the ravages of war, the last decade had been a period of wonderful growth and progress. During that time the population had increased from thirty-one million four hundred and forty-three thousand to thirty-eight million five hundred and eighty-seven thousand souls. The center of population had now moved westward into the great State of Ohio, and rested at a point fifty miles east of Cincinnati. The national debt, though still enormous, was rapidly falling off. The products of the United States had grown to a vast aggregate; even the cotton crop of the South was regaining much of its former importance. American manufactures were competing with those of England in the markets of the world. The Union now embraced thirty-seven States and eleven Territories.* From the narrow limits of the thirteen original colonies, with their four hundred and twenty-one thousand square miles of territory, the national domain had spread to the vast area of three million six hundred and four thousand square miles. Few things, indeed, have been more marvelous than the territorial growth of the United States. The purchase of Louisiana more than doubled in geographical area of the nation; the several Mexican acquisitions were only second in importance; while the recent Russian cession alone was greater in extent than the original thirteen States.

In January of 1871 President Grant appointed Senator Wade, of Ohio; Professor White, of New York, and Dr. Samuel Howe, of Massachusetts, as a board of commissioners to visit Santo Domingo and report upon the desirability of annexing that island to the United States. The question of annexation had been agitated for several years, and the measure was earnestly favored by the President. After three months spent abroad, the commissioners returned and reported in favor of the proposed annexation; but the proposal was met with violent opposition in Congress, and defeated.

The claim of the United States against the British government for damages done to American commerce by Confederate cruisers during the Civil War still remained unsettled. These cruisers had been built and equipped in English ports and with the knowledge of the English government. Such a proceeding was in plain violation of the law of nations, even if the independence of the Confederate States had been recognized. Time and again Mr. Seward remonstrated with the British authorities, but without effect. After the war Great Britain became alarmed at her own conduct, and grew anxious for a settlement of the difficulty. On the 27th of February, 1871, a joint high commission, composed of five British and five American statesmen, assembled at Washington city. From the fact that the cruiser Alabama was the first built and most destructive of these cruisers, the claims of the United States were called the Alabama Claims. After much discussion, the commissioners framed a treaty, known as the Treaty of Washington, by which it was agreed that all claims of either nation against the other should be submitted to a board of arbitration to be appointed in part by friendly nations. Such a court was formed, and in the summer of 1872 convened at Geneva, Switzerland. The cause of the two nations was impartially heard, and on the 14th of September decided in favor of the United States. Great Britain was obliged, for the wrongs which she had done, to pay into the Federal treasury fifteen million five hundred thousand dollars.

The year 1871 is noted in American history for the burning of Chicago. On the evening of the 8th of October a fire broke out in De Koven street, and was driven by a high wind into the lumber yards and wooden houses of the neighborhood. The flames leaped the South Branch of the Chicago River and spread with great rapidity through the business parts of the city. All day long the deluge of fire rolled on, crossed the main channel of the river, and swept into a blackened ruin the whole distance between the North Branch and the lake as far northward as Lincoln Park. The area burned over, was two thousand one hundred acres, or three and a third square miles. Nearly two hundred lives were lost in the conflagration, and the property destroyed amounted to about two hundred millions of dollars. No such terrible devastation had been witnessed since the burning of Moscow in 1812. In the extent of the district burned over, the Chicago fire stands first, in the amount of property destroyed second, and in the suffering occasioned third, among the great conflagrations of the world.

As the first official term of President Grant drew to a close the political parties made ready for the twenty-second presidential election. Many parts of the chief magistrate's policy had been made the subjects of criticism and controversy. The congressional plan of reconstructing the Southern States had prevailed, and with that plan the President was in accord. But the reconstruction measures had been unfavorably received in the South. The elevation of the negro race to the full rights of citizenship was regarded with apprehension. Owing to the disorganization of civil government in the Southern States, an opportunity was given in certain districts for bad men to band themselves together in lawlessness. The military spirit was still rife in the country, and the issues of the Civil War were re-discussed, sometimes with much bitterness. On these issues the people divided in the election of 1872. The Republicans renominated General Grant for the presidency. For the vice-presidency Mr. Colfax declined a renomination, and was succeeded by Henry Wilson, of Massachusetts. But there was a considerable element of the Republican party that opposed Grant's election. These disaffected members of the party banded together, called themselves the Liberal Republican party, and nominated Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, for the presidency and B. Gratz Brown, of Missouri, for second place on the ticket. The Democrats, who held their convention a little later, did not choose a separate ticket, but ratified the candidates of the Liberal Republicans. Greeley had always opposed the Democratic party, but now accepted the nomination and entered upon the canvass with vigor. This was the last experience in that remarkable man's career. For more than thirty years he had been an acknowledged leader of public opinion in America. He had discussed with vehement energy and enthusiasm almost every question in which the people of the United States had any interest. After a lifetime of untiring industry he was now, at the age of sixty-one, called to the forefront of political strife. The canvass was one of wild excitement and bitter denunciations. Mr. Greeley was overwhelmingly defeated, and died in less than a month after the election. In his death the nation lost a great philanthropist and journalism its brightest light.

A few days afrer the presidential election the city of Boston was visited with a conflagration only second in its ravages to that of Chicago in the previous year. On the evening of the 9th of November a fire broke out on the corner of Kingston and Summer streets, spread to the northeast, and continued with almost unabated fury until the morning of the 11th. The best portion of the city, embracing some of the finest blocks in the United States, was laid in ashes. The burnt district covered an area of sixty-five acres. Eight hundred buildings, property to the value of eighty million dollars, and fifteen lives were lost by the conflagration.

In the spring of 1872 an order had been issued to Superintendent Odeneal to remove the Modoc Indians from their lands on the southern shore of Lake Klamath, Oregon, to a new reservation. The Indians, who had been greatly mistreated by former agents of the government, refused to go; and in the following November a body of troops was sent to force them into compliance. The Modocs resisted, kept up the war during the winter, and then retreated into an almost inaccessible volcanic region called the lava beds. Here, in the spring of 1873, the Indians were surrounded, but not subdued. On the 11th of April a conference was held between them and six members of the peace commission; but in the midst of the council the treacherous savages rose upon the kind-hearted men who sat beside them and murdered General Canby and Dr. Thomas in cold blood. Mr. Meacham, another member of the commission, was shot and stabbed, but escaped with his life. The Modocs were then besieged and bombarded in their stronghold; but it was the 1st of June before General Davis with a force of regulars could compel Captain Jack and his murderous band to surrender. The chiefs were tried by court-martial and executed in the following October.

In the early part of 1873 a difficulty arose in Louisiana which threatened the peace of the country. Owing to the existence of double election boards two sets of presidential electors had been chosen in the previous autumn. At the same time two governors--William P. Kellogg and John McEnery--were elected; and rival legislatures were also returned by the hostile boards. Two State governments were accordingly organized, and for a while the commonwealth was in a condition bordering on anarchy. The dispute was referred to the Federal government, and the President decided in favor of General kellogg and his party. The rival government was accordingly disbanded; but on the 14th of September, 1874, a large party, opposed to the administration of kellogg and led by D. B. Penn, who had been returned as lieutenant-governor with McEnery, rose in arms and took possession of the State house. Governor Kellogg fled to the custom house and appealed to the President for help. The latter immediately ordered the adherents of Penn to disperse, and a body of national troops was sent to New Orleans to enforce the proclamation. On the assembling of the legislature in the following December the difficulty broke out more violently than ever, and the soldiery was again called in to settle the dispute. In the end Kellogg was reinstated as the rightful governor.

About the beginning of President Grant's second term, the country was greatly agitated by what was known as the Credit Mobilier Investigation in Congress. The Credit Mobilier of American was a joint stock company organized in 1863 for the purpose of facilitating the construction of public works. In 1867 another comany which had undertaken to build the Pacific Railroad purchased the charter of the Credit Mobilier, and the capital was increased to three million seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Owing to the profitableness of the work in which the company was engaged, the stock rose rapidly in value and enormous dividends were paid to the shareholders. In 1872 a lawsuit in Pennsylvania developed the startling fact that much of the stock of the Credit Mobilier was owned by members of Congress. A suspicion that those members had voted corruptly in the legislation affecting the Pacific Railroad at once seized the public mind and led to a congressional investigation, in the course of which many scandalous transactions were brought to light, and the faith of the people in the integrity of their servants greatly shaken.

In the autumn of 1873 occurred one of the most disastrous financial panics known in the history of the United States. The alarm was given by the failure of the great banking house of Jay Cooke & Company, of Philadelphia. Other failures followed in rapid succession. Depositors everywhere hurried to the banks and withdrew their money and securities. Business was suddenly paralyzed, and many months elapsed before confidence was sufficiently restored to enable merchants and bankers to engage in the usual transactions of trade. The primary cause of the panic was the fluctuation in the volume and value of the national currency. Out of this had arisen a wild spirit of speculation which sapped the foundations of business, destroyed financial confidence, and ended in disaster.

The decade following the war ws noted for the number of public men who fell by the hand of death. In December of 1869 Edwin M. Stanton, secretary of war under President Lincoln, and more recently justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, died. In 1870 General Robert E. Lee, president of Washington and Lee University; General George H. Thomas, and Admiral Farragut passed away. In 1872 William H. Seward, Professor Morse, Horace Greeley, and General Meade were all called from the scene of their earthly labors. On the 7th of May, 1873, Chief Justice Chase fell under a stroke of paralysis at the home of his daughter in New York city; and on the 11th of March in the following year, Senator Charles Sumner, of Massachusetts, died at Washington. He was a native of Boston; born in 1811; liberally educated at Harvard College. At the age of thirty-five he entered the arena of public life, and in 1850 succeeded Daniel Webster in the Senate of the United States. This position he retained until the time of his death, speaking much and powerfully on all the great questions that agitated the nation. On the 31st of July, 1875, ex-President Andrew Johnson, who had been recently chosen United States Senator from Tennessee, passed from among the living. On the 22d of the following November, Vice-President Henry Wilson, whose health had been gradually failing since his inauguration, sank into rest.

With the coming of 1876, the people made redy to celebrate the Centennial of American Independence. As to the form of the celebration, an international exposition of arts and industries was decided on; as to the place, the city of Philadelphia, hallowed by Revolutionary memories, was selected; as to the time, from the 10th of May to the 10th of November, 1876. An appropriation of a million five hundred thousand dollars was made by Congress, and voluntary offerings were forwarded from every State and Territory of the Union. The city of Philadelphia opened Fairmount Park, one of the largest and most magnificent in the world, for the exposition.

Five principal buildings were projected by the Centennial Commissioners and were brought to completion about the close of 1875. The largest of these great structures, call the Main Building, was eighteen hundred and eighty feet in length, and four hundred and sixty-four feet wide, covering an area of twenty acres. The cost of the edifice was a million five hundred and eighty thousand dollars. The building second in importance was the Memorial Hall or Art Gallery, built of granit, iron, and glass, and covering an area of seventy-six thousand six hundred and fifty square feet. Machinery Hall, the third great structure, was like the Main Building in general appearance, though less beautiful and grand. The ground floor embraced an area of nearly thirteen acres. The cost of the structure was five hundred and forty-two thousand dollars. Agricultural Hall occupied a space of a little more than ten acres, and was built at a cost of nearly two hundred and sixty-two thousand dollars. The fifth and smallest of the principal buildings was Horticultural Hall, an edifice of the Morrish pattern, covering a space of one and three-fifths acres, and costing three hundred thousand dollars. The other structures of chief interest were the United States Government Building, the Woman's Pavilion, and the Department of Public Comfort. After these came the Government buildings of foreign nations; model dwellings and bazaars; schoolhouses and restaurants; judges' halls and model factories.

On the 5th of January, 1876, the reception of articles for the Exposition was begun. A system of awards was adopted; and on the 10th of May the inaugural ceremonies were held under the direction of the Centennial Commission, President Grant making the opening address. The exhibition itself was perhaps the grandest and most interesting ever witnessed in the world up to that time. All summer long the throng of visitors--gathered from every clime--poured into the spacious and beautiful park. On the 4th of July, the Centennial of the great Declaration was appropriately celebrated throughout the country. the city of Philadelphia was crowded with two hundred and fifty thousand strangers. In Independence Square the Declaration was read from the original manuscript by Richard Henry Lee, a grandson of him by whom the resolution to be free was first offered in Congress. A National Ode was then recited by Bayard Taylor, and the Centennial Oration delivered by William M. Evarts. At night the city was illuminated, and the ceremonies concluded with a brilliant display of fireworks.

The daily attendance at Fairmount Park during the summer varied from five thousand to two hundred and seventy-five thousand persons. The grounds were open for one hundred and fifty-eight days; the total receipts for admission were three million seven hundred and sixty-one thousand dollars; and the total number of visitors, nine million seven hundred and eighty-six thousand. On the 10th of November, the exhibition was formally closed by the President of the United States attended by General Hawley, chairman of the Centennial Commission, and Director-General Alfred T. Goshorn, of Cincinnati.

During the last year of Grant's administration, the country was disturbed by a war with the Sioux Indians. These fierce savages had, in 1861, made a treaty with the United States, agreeing to relinquish all the territory south of the Niobrara, west of the one hundred and fourth meridian, and north of the forty-sixth parallel of latitude. By this treaty the Sioux were confined to a large reservation in southwestern Dakota, and upon this reservation they agreed to retire by the 1st of January, 1876. Meanwhile gold was discovered in the Black Hills--a region the greater part of which belonged, by the terms of the treaty, to the Sioux. But no treaty could keep the hungry horde of gold-diggers and adventurers from overrunning the interdicted district. This gave the Sioux a good excuse for gratifying their natural disposition by breaking over the limits of their reservation, roaming at large through Wyoming and Montana, burning houses, stealing horses, and murdering whoever opposed them.

The Government now undertook to drive the Sioux upon their reservation. A force of regulars under Generals Terry and Crook, was sent into the mountainous country of the upper Yellowstone, and the savages, numbering several thousand, led by their noted chieftain, Sitting Bull, were crowded back against the Big Horn Mountains and River. Generals Custer and Reno who were sent forward with the Seventh Cavalry to discover the whereabouts of the Indians, found them encamped in a village extending for three miles along the left bank of the Little Big Horn. On the 25th of June, General Custer, without waiting for re-enforcements, charged headlong with his division into the indian town and was immediately surrounded by thousands of yelling warriors. Of the struggle that ensued, very little is know; for General Custer and every man of his command fell in the fight. The conflict equaled, if it did not surpass, in desperation and disaster any other Indian battle ever fought in America. The whole loss of the Seventh Cavalry was two hundred and sixty-one killed, and fifty-two wounded. General Reno, who had engaged with the savages at the lower end of the town, held his position on the bluffs of the Little Big Horn until General Gibbon arrived with re-enforcements and saved the remnant from destruction.

Other divisions of the army were soon hurried to the scene of hostilities. During the summer and autumn the Indians were beaten in several engagements, and negotiations were opened looking to the removal of the Sioux to the Indian Territory. But still a few desperate bands held out against the Government. Besides, the civilized Nations of the Territory objected to having the fierce savages of the North for their neighbors. On the 24th of November, the Sioux were decisively defeated by the Fourth Cavalry, under Colonel Mckenzie, at a pass in the Big Horn Mountains. The Indians lost severely, and their village, containing a hundred and seventy-three lodges, was entirely destroyed. The army now went into winter quarters at various points in the hostile country; but active operations were still carried on by forays and expeditions during December and January. On the 5th of the latter month, the savages were again overtaken and routed by the division of General Miles; and with the opening of spring the remaining bands, under Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, were so scattered as to be able to offer no further serious resistance.

On the 1st of July, 1876, the constitution of Colorado was ratified by the people of the Territory. A month later the President issued his proclamation, and the new commonwealth took her place as the thirty-eighth member of the Union. The population of the State already numbered forty-five thousand. Until 1859, Colorado constituted a part of Kansas. In that year a convention was held at Denver, and a distinct territorial government was organized. At the close of 1875, the yield of gold in "the Centennial State" had reached the sum of seventy millions of dollars.

The excitement occasioned by the Centennial celebration and the Sioux war was soon over-shadowed by the agitation attendant upon the twenty-third Presidential election. Before the close of June, standard-bearers were selected by the two leading political parties. General Rutherford B. Hayes, of Ohio, and William A. Wheeler, of New York, were chosen as candidates by the Republicans; Samuel J. Tilden, of New York, and Thomas A. Hendricks, of Indiana, by the Democrats. An Independent Greenback party appeared, and presented as candidates Peter Cooper, of New York, and Samuel F. Cary, of Ohio.

The canvass began early and with great spirit. The battle cry of the Democratic party was Reform--reform in the public service and in all the methods of administration. The Republicans answered back with a cry of Reform,--averring a willingness and an anxiety to correct public abuses of whatsoever sort. To this it was added that the nationality of the United States, as against the doctrine of State sovereignty, must be upheld, and that the rights of the colored people of the South must be protected with additionals safeguards. The Independent party echoed the cry of Reform--monetary reform first, and all other reforms afterward. For it was alleged by the leaders of this party that the measure of redeeming the national legal tenders and other obligations of the United States in gold, was a project unjust to the debtor class, and impossible of accomplishment. But the advocates of this theory did not succeed in securing a single electoral vote. The real contest lay between the Republicans and the Democrats. The election was held; the general result was ascertained; and both parties claimed the victory! The election was so evenly balanced between the two candidates, there had been so much irregularity in the electoral proceedings in the States of Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina, and the powers of Congress over the votes of such States were so vaguely defined, that no certain declaration of the result could be made. On the face of the returns all of these three Southern States voted for Tilden, who lacked, without them, only one vote of being elected. The Republicans therefore in order to win in the contest must have all the electoral votes of these States and a disputed one in Oregon.

When Congress convened in December, the question of the disputed presidency came before that body for adjustment. The point at issue was whether the electoral votes of the several States should be opened and counted by the presiding officer of the Senate, or whether some additional court ought to be constituted to determine the result. Meanwhile the necessity of doing something became more and more imperative. The winter was one of intense excitement throughout the country. At times it almost seemed as if civil war was imminent. But as time passed the conservative, law-abiding common sense of the American people more and more asserted itself. The spirit of compromise gained ground; and after much debating in Congress it was agreed that all the disputed election returns should be referred to a Joint High Commission, consisting of five members to be chosen from the United States Senate, five from the House of Representatives, and five from the Supreme Court. The commission was accordingly constituted; and on the 2d of March, only two days before the time for the inauguration, a final decision was rendered. It happened that in this Joint High Commission, composed of fifteen men, eight were Republicans and seven were Democrats; and when they came to decide the contest they all voted as partisans and not as an independent judiciary. As the Republicans had the majority of one it was decided to accept that Republican electors in every case. The Republican candidates were therefore declared elected. One hundred and eighty-five electoral votes were cast for Hayes and Wheeler, and one hundred and eighty-four for Tilden and Hendircks. The greatest political crisis in the history of the nation passed harmlessly by without violence or bloodshed.

*Including the Indian Territory and Alaska.


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