The Union Saved, the Republic Lost
With the South out of Congress since 1861 and no Southern leadership to provide a conservative and responsible voice in US government, the predictable occurred. As a soldier Grant was a butcher who sent wave after wave of new recruits to wear down the thin Southern brigades; as a politician, Orville H. Browning of Illinois described Grant as “weak, vain, ignorant, mercenary, selfish and malignant”; that he was surrounded by corrupt and unprincipled men and that his reelection would be a great calamity to the country.”
The Union Saved, the Republic Lost
“The eight years of Grant’s administration rocked with one scandal after another. Citizens defrauded the government in the acquisition of land and in claims for [Northern veteran] pensions; contractors supplying the army and navy were often venal; and unscrupulous lawyers levied toll on ignorant and defenseless Indians.
Members of Congress were bribed and disgraced. Cabinet officers were investigated and impeached. Subordinate officials and employees were revealed in outright betrayal of public trust. Never had the Republic sunk to so low an estate of official morality.
During the 1870s there was both incompetence and dishonesty in the large customhouses; discipline and integrity among the navy-yard labor forces were at a low ebb; the Indian service had been roundly condemned by [James] Garfield; land agents connived at irregularities, and surveyors made fraudulent claims for work not performed.
The tone of the eight years of Grant’s administration was . . . set by a small number of weak and unreliable persons holding seats in Congress and in high executive office. It was during these years that the most resounding scandals occurred, not only in Washington but in many States and cities. When the mighty wandered far from the paths of rectitude, it was not surprising that some of the lesser ranks followed their example.
To a few of the scandals we turn . . . The Credit Mobilier . . . originally organized to finance railroad construction, [it] fell into the control of a group of adventurers, including a member of Congress, Oakes Ames. The corporation was awarded a lucrative but fraudulent contract for the . . . [Union Pacific Railroad and disgraced Grant’s] Vice Presidents Colfax and Wilson.
Laxness or corruption in the award of Indian trading posts had been suspected for some time under General [William] Belknap’s administration of the War Department. [Secretary of the Navy George M. Robeson levied] percentages on . . . contractors’ engagements with the navy, [and] Robeson grew rich. [Secretary of the Treasury John D. Sanborn, a protégé of Benjamin Butler, siphoned money destined for the Internal Revenue Service].
The most dramatic and perhaps the most damaging evidence of corruption during the Grant administration involved the evasion of internal revenue taxes on distilleries. Fraud had long been suspected [and persons involved] included General John A. McDonald, collector of internal revenue in St. Louis . . . other collectors, the chief clerk of the internal revenue division of the Treasury Department in Washington [and] General Orville Babcock, President Grant’s private secretary, who was subsequently indicted but who escaped conviction.”
(The Republican Era, 1869-1901, A Study in Administrative History, Leonard D. White, Macmillan Company, 1958, excerpts pp. 366-373)