Most important, Ambrose writes about writing history. In this book he not only lays out the history presented in Ambrose once again continues to lay out history in a way that anyone from a high school student to a PHD candidate can read and learn from. To America : Personal Reflections of an Historian. Stephen E. In "To America," Stephen E.
Ambrose, one of the country's most influential historians, reflects on his long career as an American historian and explains what an historian's job is all about. He celebrates America's spirit, which has carried us so far. He confronts its failures and struggles. As always in his much acclaimed work, Ambrose brings alive the men and women, famous and not, who have peopled our history and made the United States a model for the world.
Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. Johnson refused to punish the white South, or promote the fortunes of the black South. He was impeached by the House and survived in office by only one vote in the Senate. Had Lincoln lived, no one knows what he might have done. We do know that Grant stood with him on Reconstruction.
For some time, Grant attempted to support Johnson, but soon gave it up, turned against him, and, in , won election. So it fell to Grant to bring about a reconciliation.
The only other men who took over as President when the country was so badly divided were Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, and even in their cases the nation was not as deeply split as it had been in Both men were honorable, intelligent, hardworking, but neither could win reelection because of their failure to heal the wounds left by Vietnam. The wounds of were far more widespread, and deeper. To denounce Grant as a venal politician, stupid, ignorant, corrupt, is to miss entirely what his administration tried to do, and in some ways succeeded in doing.
Most of all, for a time at least, the Grant administration disproved the Democratic assertion in the election that "This is a white man's country. Southern whites were furious, of course, as were many Northern Democrats, who figured their chances at taking control of the White House were thwarted by the occupation. Like Dwight Eisenhower, the only other West Point graduate to become President, Grant never wanted the job and had tried to avoid it. William T. He soon learned that he could not do both. In effect, by the end of his two terms he had abandoned the African Americans to white supremacy and conceded the political leadership of the South to former Confederates, in return for keeping a Republican in the White House.
To America: Personal Reflections of an Historian
As President, Grant wanted peace and reconciliation and to be President of all the people. There were hundreds of thousands of ex-Confederate soldiers living in the Southern states. They hated the Yankees and everything the Yankees stood for, including most of all peace and reconciliation. And there were millions of former slaves, now citizens. How could Grant be an effective President of both the ex-Rebels and the ex-slaves? Bringing the white South back into the Union could be accomplished only by excluding the former slaves from the body politic, or so it was thought.
But denying the rights of citizens, especially the right to vote, to African Americans would be to betray them and the cause for which the Union had fought, and to which Abraham Lincoln had committed the nation and the Republican Party. What to do with the freed slaves was the number one concern for the North which had fought to free the slaves and now had the responsibility for them and the South which had fought to keep them in slavery and now had to live with them.
Difficult enough by itself, the problem was compounded because many people had mixed feelings or, even more commonly, hardly knew what they thought and had no clue as to what to do. That included Grant. Although born in Ohio, with his father, Jesse Grant, an abolitionist, he had many Southern friends while at West Point.
His best friend was Simon Buckner, later the Confederate commander at Fort Donelson, captured by Grant in for the first victory for the Union in the war. Grant had borrowed money from him in James Longstreet of Georgia, as noted, was Grant's best man. Jesse Grant had refused to attend the wedding because Julia Dent's family were Missouri slaveholders. Neither Ulysses nor Julia Grant were slaveholders, but they were not abolitionists either. During the war Grant welcomed escaped slaves into his lines and put them to work digging ditches, erecting living quarters, repairing railroads, and other jobs.
When he was fighting Lee in Virginia, in to , Grant organized the Negro troops into regiments and divisions and used them extensively. The Rebel infantry fought with a special hatred against armed African Americans. And the Southern leaders from West Point gave their best to their cause. In the first stages of Reconstruction, Andrew Johnson had refused to grant the demand of the Radical Republicans that African-American males be given the vote. The Radicals had passed the Fourteenth Amendment: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside Nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
But with Johnson's approval, the Southern states, then being run, mostly, by former Confederates, had rejected the amendment. To them, he gave his advice: go home, ratify the Fourteenth Amendment, and grant Negro suffrage. Not committing himself, he told the delegation that the North was heartily in favor of the amendment and if it were not adopted by the South, Congress would impose more stringent terms. My mentor, William B. Hesseltine, wrote in Ulysses S. Grant: Politician, the only full-scale study of President Grant.
It was sixty-six years after Grant was elected President before anyone assessed his two terms, and in the sixty-seven years after Hesseltine's book there have been no other books written only about his presidency. In the s Hesseltine liked to say in his seminars that in his view his book would last forever. One attendee said, jokingly, that he thought every book over thirty years old should be pulled from the library's shelves and burned, thus making room for new books written by younger scholars.
We all laughed, including Hesseltine, but none of us expected then that fifty years later there would still be no competition for Ulysses S. Grant: Politician. Hesseltine goes on to say that the phrase "might well have been the prayer which accompanied his exit from the White House nine years later. In his two presidential terms, fierce political warfare supplanted and almost surpassed in bitterness the military conflict of the four preceding years. Historians and biographers He was, Hesseltine charges, "peculiarly ignorant of the Constitution and inept in handling men.
His mental endowment was not great and he filled his state papers with platitudes rather than thoughts His militant qualities of decisiveness and obstinacy which brought success on the battlefield only insured defeat in politics. In his administration had seen the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, which guaranteed the right of citizens except women to vote.
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When in white groups in South Carolina led by the Ku Klux Klan were attacking the State's Republican government, Grant's Attorney General told him that "There was no question of the existence of these disorders and crimes and as the elections approached they would be increased. In a message to Congress, he said "the proof is there" that the state officers were incapable of suppressing disorder. Before it passed, the South Carolina Republican government asked Grant for troops to suppress disorders. He complied by sending twelve companies of infantry and four of cavalry.
When more outrages were committed anyway, Grand declared there was more disorder in South Carolina than in any other state and he would use all his power to put down the disturbers. If two regiments would not suffice, he would send ten and keep them there. He issued a proclamation describing conditions in the state and threatening the "use of military force" unless the "insurgents" dispersed within twenty days.
They did and the Ku Klux Act was passed. The white South was not pacified. The determination to keep the votes and the right to hold power from the former slaves ran deep and wide throughout the South. In the summer of , riots broke out in New Orleans. White opposition to Republican Governor William P. Kellogg, who was supported by Grant, tried to wrest control from him and take over the government. Barricades appeared overnight in the streets.
Kellogg found refuge in the custom house and wired Grant for troops. Instead, Grant issued a proclamation ordering the rebels to disperse, which in September, under the threat of military action, they did. Congressional elections were approaching. The national Democratic Party press went after Grant with vigor and delight.
You cannot fight a war for the Constitution, the Democrats argued, and then ignore it. This approach helped in November, when the Democrats took control of Congress. In his annual message to Congress in December , Grant defended himself. Since then the rise of the Republican Party in the former Confederacy has brought about major changes in politics. But we still have not achieved what Grant spoke for in his last two sentences: "Treat the Negro as a citizen and a voter, as he is and must remain, and soon parties will be divided not on the color line but on principle. Then we shall have no complaint of sectional interference.
In December, when the newly elected legislature came to New Orleans to organize for the session, Democrats and Republicans alike claimed a majority. Upon arrival, Sheridan informed Grant that it was obvious that the disorders were the result of the organized and armed White Leagues of the state Louisiana's version of the Ku Klux Klan. The Democrats set up a howl at this. There were countless condemnatory editorials about Sheridan's use of the word "banditti.
The Senate demanded that Grant provide information on Sheridan's actions. Grant complied. Few residents, before or after the s, would disagree.
He spoke of the many instances of mob violence and even political murder in Louisiana. He concluded that Sheridan's words were thoroughly justified. The Ku Klux Act gave him the power to prevent White Leagues or any such organization "using arms and violence" from governing any part of the country. He would use the act to protect "Union men or Republicans from being ostracized, persecuted, and murdered on account of their opinions. But whatever the facts or the law, Grant realized that he could not have both peace and reconciliation and suffrage and other full rights for Negroes.
It had to be one or the other. Even the Radical Republicans were deserting him as the presidential election drew nearer. One of them, the American consul at Nuremberg, Germany, asked the consul at Liverpool, "Is it not too dammed bad that our party should be ruined. I believe Genl. He had never given in to the Confederates. But this time he succumbed to the deep rage of the white Southerners, whose fury at the "impudence of those niggers" was so monumental. This was politics, not a shooting war. Grant gave up. He sent no more Federal troops into the South. The presidential election of , to pick a successor to Grant, was disputed.
It was so close that the Congress had to set up a fifteen-member Electoral Commission to decide who won. The commission had eight Republicans, seven Democrats, and as expected each member voted his party's choice.
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Not until March 2, two days before Grant's term expired, was the count completed. Hayes won with electoral votes, to for Tilden. What had happened was a deal between the Southern Democrats and the Northern Republicans. The deal was concluded on February 26, , at the Wormley Hotel in Washington. The Southerners said that if the Republicans promised to withdraw all Federal troops from the South, thus insuring "good" government in South Carolina and Louisiana which otherwise would remain Republican , the South would forgo any proposals to use force to inaugurate Tilden.
The promise was made. The South also promised to treat the former slaves humanely. Of February 26, Hesseltine wrote, "Reconstruction ended, for the Hayes men promised that the troops would be withdrawn from the South. In other words, the Republicans surrendered the Negro to the Southern ruling class, and abandoned the idealism of Reconstruction, in return for the peaceable inauguration of their President [Hayes].
Grant did not complain, but accepted what had been done. He had earlier set a precedent no other President until Eisenhower dared to emulate. He did so to enforce civil rights for African Americans. So did Eisenhower, in , when he sent troops into Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce a court order desegregating Central High. Until then, for eighty years, and more, Southern blacks lived in a system that banned private slavery but kept alive a public segregation that was the disgrace of the nation.
Over the half-century since I first sat in on an American history survey course, I've always been ready to praise Grant as a general, damn him as a politician. I was especially furious at the way he gave in to, or sold out to, the white supremacists. I realize now that when Grant threw up his hands, he had a reason.
Had he been able to garner any support from prominent white Americans, he might have. But with Lincoln gone, there was no chance. Rather, Grantism as a term of opprobrium referred to the scandals of his administration. They were supposedly wide and deep and did irreparable harm to the nation. There was Orville Babcock, Grant's secretary, who pocketed money from the Whiskey Ring for sale of tax revenue stamps. The ring also distributed money to the Republican Party. There was corruption in the War Department and the Indian reservations, where trading post operators paid a kickback to higher officials.
It was the Gilded Age, after all. The Civil War was over, the boom times had arrived. Fortunes were being made, and lost. In its own way, the United States during Grant's administration was somewhat like the United States in the s. In foreign affairs, Grant's record, thanks in large part to his Secretary of State Hamilton Fish, was solid. Most notably, he managed to support Fish in negotiation of the Treaty of Washington , which lay the foundation for the amicable arbitration of U.
Grant sent his Farewell Address to Congress in December He began with a personal note: "It was my fortune, or misfortune, to be called to the office of Chief Executive without any previous political training. Under such circumstances it is but reasonable to suppose that errors of judgment must have occurred. Failures have been errors of judgment, not of intent. He and Julia and their son went on a two-and-a-half-year round-the-world tour, on which he was greeted everywhere by huge, enthusiastic crowds. On the first ballot, James G.
Blaine of Maine got votes, Senator John Sherman of Ohio got 93, two others got 34 and 30 respectively, and Grant led the way with votes were necessary to nominate. Grant held in there for a while, but finally he and Conkling and his supporters gave it up.