Grant’s Whole Phantasmagoria of Insolent Fraud:

Grant’s Whole Phantasmagoria of Insolent Fraud:

“All the cost of the Civil War can, in fact, not be learned from Grant, and though he presided over the country in the White House for eight years after the war (1869-1877), the consequences of Northern victory, with its unleashing of the money-grabbing interests, were quite beyond his grasp. Grant’s Memoirs, like the writings of Lincoln, are after all, a literary creation, and intellectual construction with words. They are a part of that vision of the Civil War that Lincoln imposed on the nation, and we accept them as firsthand evidence of the actualization of that vision.

[F]ormer Vice-President Andrew Johnson . . . was opposed by the Radical Republicans, who even tried to remove him as President and who, in the period of “Reconstruction,” humiliated and exploited the South. This period would certainly have been difficult for Lincoln. He was dead and safely out of it, but Grant was still alive and only forty-three.

Simple-minded beyond the experience of Wall Street or State Street, he resorted, like most men of the same intellectual caliber, to commonplaces when at a loss for expression: “Let us have peace” . . . The progress of evolution from President Washington to President Grant, was alone enough to upset Darwin.

He had the idea, for example, that it might be an excellent thing to send some of the freed Negroes to Haiti, and he had taken advantage of a situation created by two rival governments there to draw up with one of its Presidents a treaty for the annexation of the whole island of Santo Domingo.

His appointments to his cabinet were often fantastic: he had no judgment about people in civil life, and he appointed as Secretary of the Treasury the proprietor of a large New York dry-goods store, unaware that anyone in foreign trade was debarred from holding this office; for Minister to France he selected a half-illiterate Illinois Congressman.

Under Grant’s two administrations, there flapped through the national capital a whole phantasmagoria of insolent fraud, while a swarm of predatory adventurers was let loose on the helpless South. There was the Credit Mobilier affair, in which the promoters of the Union Pacific Railroad, who had obtained an immense government loan and twelve millions acres of government land, made a contract with themselves under another name and paid themselves three times more than the cost of building the railroad, in the meantime bribing the congressmen with shares in the imaginary company.

There was the gold conspiracy of [Big] Jim Fisk and Jay Gould, in which Grant was persuaded by these two financiers, without in the least understanding their aims, to assist them in cornering the gold market by causing the United States Treasury to shut off the circulation of gold. There was the Whiskey Ring, a group of distillers who evade the internal revenue tax by bribing Treasury agents – a scandal that landed at the President’s door when his secretary, a General Babcock who was with him at Appomattox, was shown to have been taking the distillers’ money and to have used it in financing Grant’s campaign.

One can hardly even say that Grant was President except in the sense that he presided at the White House, where the business men and financiers were extremely happy to have him, since he never knew what they were up to. It was the age of the audacious confidence man, and Grant was the incurable sucker.”

(Patriotic Gore, Studies in Literature of the American Civil War, Edmund Wilson, Oxford University Press, 1962, pp. 159-167)

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