First inauguration (March 4, 1869): advocated freedom from sectional prejudice, resumption of specie payments, restoration of the national credit, healthy national commerce, reform in national policy toward American Indians leading to their ultimate citizenship, and ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment.
Signed Public Credit Act, providing that government obligations were to be paid in gold (March 18).
“Black Friday” financial panic erupted when Jay Gould and Jim Fisk attempted to corner the gold market (September 24), but it ended when Grant ordered the sale of government gold to stabilize the market.
Following the expulsion of black legislators in Georgia, Grant requested that state’s temporary return to military rule, adding much needed momentum to efforts to ratify the proposed Fifteenth Amendment.
Issued proclamation celebrating ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution (March 30, 1870).+
The Fifteenth Amendment states that no citizen can be denied the right to vote based upon race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
In this proclamation, Grant called the amendment “a measure of grander importance than any other one act of the kind from the foundation of our free government to the present day.”
Signed first Enforcement Act, which protected the voting rights of blacks (May 31).
Resisting strong pressure for U.S. military involvement in the Cuban rebellion, Grant issued an announcement of strict neutrality (June 13).
Signed bill creating the Department of Justice under the Attorney General (June 22); this marked a major consolidation of the federal government’s power to enforce civil rights.
Signed act establishing the first Civil Service Commission in U.S. history (March 3, 1871).
Grant’s “Quaker” Indian Peace Policy:
Grant signed the Indian Appropriation Act, which established Indians as national wards and nullified Indian treaties (March 3).
A major part of Grant’s Peace Policy, this act caused the government to recognize for the first time the need to insure the welfare of Indians as individuals rather than as tribal entities.
This was the first step in years of federal initiatives toward Indian policy reform that ultimately led to the Indians’ citizenship.
Under Grant’s program, educational and medical programs were institutionalized in the Interior Department, and tons of food, clothing, and books were donated by churches and relief organizations to tribes.
Between 1868 and 1876, the number of houses on reservations climbed from 7,500 to 56,000; the amount of land under cultivation increased sixfold; teachers and schools tripled; and Indian ownership of livestock increased by over fifteen times.
Issued proclamation against unlawful combinations in South Carolina (March 24).
Signed Ku Klux Klan Act, which enabled the president to suspend habeas corpus to further enforce the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendment rights of southern blacks (April 20).
Enacted successful arbitration of Alabama claims with Great Britain and other lingering international disputes:
This controversy centered around extensive damage caused by the Alabama, a Confederate warship built in British shipyards, and other Confederate ships of similar origin during the Civil War.
Grant faced strong pressure throughout the country for war against Great Britain and failure on the part of the Johnson adminstration to reach a settlement.
In his Second Annual Message, Grant made an international issue of the dispute and ultimately secured British cooperation in submitting the matter to its peaceful resolution.
Grant won approval of the resulting Treaty of Washington (May 8). This treaty:
Ended the threat of war with Britain.
Secured an international tribunal that met in Geneva, Switzerland, to arbitrate the claims. The tribunal awarded the U.S. $15,500,000 for damages connected with the Alabama claims.
Led to the settlement for the first time in U.S. history of every standing border dispute.
Settled disputes over fishing rights in Canada.
Established the principle of international arbitration. This triggered a movement to seek alternatives to war through arbitration and to codify international law in order to mitigate the effects of war. A crucial component of modern peacekeeping efforts, this would be the motivating principle behind the Hague Conventions, the League of Nations, the World Court, and the United Nations.
John Bassett Moore, the renowned expert in international law, called this “the greatest treaty of actual and immediate arbitration the world had even seen.”
Prosecution of the Ku Klux Klan (1871-1872):
White supremacist terrorists made persistent attempts throughout Reconstruction to suppress the political rights of former slaves, most notoriously through the Ku Klux Klan (est. 1866).
Grant issued a proclamation ordering the Ku Klux Klan in South Carolina to disperse and surrender arms (October 12, 1871).
Suspended the writ of habeas corpus in nine South Carolina counties, one of the boldest displays of peacetime presidential power in U.S. history (October 17).
Following this, Grant would send federal troops to South Carolina and pursue a prosecution of white supremacist terrorism that would destroy the Ku Klux Klan by the end of 1872.
Signed act establishing Yellowstone as the world’s first national park: this was the genesis of the national park system (March 1, 1872).
Signed Amnesty Act, which restored civil rights to all Southerners except certain former Confederate leaders (May 22).
Election of 1872
Much of the election season was marred by the Credit Mobilier scandal, which revealed that several congressmen had taken bribes between 1867 and 1868 during the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad in exchange for legislation.
Grant’s strong civil rights record had forced the Democratic Party for the first time to accept the finality of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. This “new departure,” however, did not end their opposition to federal military intervention in the South during Reconstruction.
A number of elite reformers, who considered themselves the “best men” for positions in government, embraced civil service reform, and opposed Grant’s Reconstruction policies, formed the Liberal Republican Party to oppose the president’s reelection.
The Democrats and Liberal Republicans nominated New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley for president.
Grant was reelected by a landslide (November 5).
Prior to his second inauguration he signed the Coinage Act, making gold the sole monetary standard (February 12, 1873).
Second Administration (1873 - 1877)
Second Inauguration (March 4, 1873): advocated civil rights legislation for former slaves, the gold standard, domestic and international commerce, industrial development, and continued reform of Indian policy.
Ordered disorderly bands in Louisiana to disperse (May 22).
Louisiana, which had a small black majority and a fragile government, required Grant’s military support throughout his term in order to retain its Republican governors, who were repeatedly threatened within the state.
During his second administration, Grant’s intervention in the South on behalf of blacks became widely unpopular in both North and South, largely because of racial prejudice throughout the nation.
The Panic of 1873 began with the failure of Jay Cooke and Company, a major New York banking firm (September 18).
Virginius dispute with Spain:
The Virginius, a merchant ship commanded by Captain John Fry, a U.S. citizen, and flying the American flag, was captured by the Spanish gunboat Tornado.
Claiming that the vessel was aiding Cuban rebels, Spanish authorities executed Fry, 36 of the crew members, and 16 passengers.
Resisting intense pressure to declare war on Spain, Grant secured a successful arbitration of the matter, including an indemnity and apology from the Spanish government (November 28).
Authorities later discovered that the Virginius was owned by Cubans, was illegally registered, and had no right to fly the American flag.
Vetoed inflation of currency bill (April 22, 1874).
This was perhaps the most important of Grant’s 93 vetoes (a greater number than all of his predecessors’ vetoes combined).
This move began a minor party realignment by making Republicans the party of “hard money” and paving the way for the resumption of specie payments.
Daughter Nellie Grant married Algernon Sartoris in the White House in one of the largest Washington social events of the century (May 21).
Acknowledging the widespread unpopularity of his southern policy, Grant expressed his continuing commitment to Reconstruction in his Sixth Annual Message: “While I remain Executive all the laws of Congress and the provisions of the Constitution…will be enforced with rigor….Treat the negro as a citizen and a voter, as he is and must remain….Then we shall have no complaint of sectional interference.”
Ordered disorderly gatherings in Mississippi to disperse (December 21).
Following the mass murder of blacks in Vicksburg, federal troops restored order and removed a fraudulently installed Democratic sheriff.
Due to intimidation during the election of 1875, Mississippi would become the only state with a black majority to be seized by a Democratic (anti-Reconstruction) administration during Grant’s term.
Signed Specie Resumption Act (January 14, 1875).
This act would help stabilize currency by reducing greenbacks in circulation and by resuming specie (gold) payments starting January 1, 1879.
At the time this act went into effect, the depression that started with the Panic of 1873 came to an abrupt end.
Signed Civil Rights Act (March 1, 1875).
This act prohibited racial segregation in various modes of public accommodations and transportation and discrimination in jury selection.
The most sweeping piece of civil rights legislation before 1964, this would be ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1883.
While Grant saw this as a stand taken on principle, the law was unpopular and lamented by many as a move that would hurt the Republican Party.
Congress would not pass another civil rights law until 1957.
The Whiskey Ring, a conspiracy of whiskey distillers who had been defrauding the government for years, is uncovered (May 1).
With Grant’s support, Secretary of the Treasury Benjamin Bristow secured over 350 indictments.
After someone hinted that Orville Babcock, his personal secretary, might be among the guilty, Grant stated, “Let no guilty man escape if it can be avoided….No personal consideration should stand in the way of performing a public duty.”
Weighing the evidence, Grant later defended Babcock, who was acquitted of the questionable charges against him due to a lack of evidence.
Ordered white terrorist “rifle clubs” in South Carolina to disperse (October 17, 1876).
Election of 1876
Republican Rutherford B. Hayes faced Democrat Samuel J. Tilden.
Grant utilized troops to protect the rights of black voters in South Carolina and Louisiana, both of which had black majorities and were holding gubernatorial elections. Both elections were disputed, but the Republican candidates would be inaugurated. Grant sustained both governors until the end of his term.
Presidential Electoral Crisis (1876 - 1877)
Louisiana, South Carolina, Florida, and Oregon all submitted two sets of electoral returns, one by the Democrats and one by the Republicans, bringing the presidential election into dispute.
Facing this unprecedented controversy in which the nation was unsure who (if either candidate) would be inaugurated in March, a crisis developed.
Grant supported the establishment of an electoral commission to decide the dispute (though playing no role in its deliberations).
In a controversial move, the commission decided that Hayes had won the electoral votes of all four states, giving him the presidency by one electoral vote.
Compromise of 1877: Democrats agreed to recognize Hayes in exchange for an assurance by Republicans that the new president would end intervention in the South.
Grant was widely credited with preserving the peace during this crisis and silently prepared troops to prevent any disruptions.
Hayes was peacefully inaugurated on March 5.
One of Hayes’ first actions was the withdrawal of the last remaining federal troops in the South from South Carolina and Louisiana, ending Reconstruction. The Republican regimes of these states soon collapsed, and the “Solid South” was born. With the end of Reconstruction, the government had repudiated Grant’s policy, and subsequent decades would see a new era of disfranchisement and segregation sweep the South until the 20th-century Civil Rights Movement.