CHAPTER II. IN PRESIDENT GRANT'S TIME
Aside from President Lincoln, the most prominent personality on the northern side during the latter part of the Civil War was General Ulysses S. Grant. His successes in the Mississippi Valley in the early days of the war, when success was none too common, his capture of Vicksburg at the turning point of the conflict, and his dogged drive toward Richmond had established his military reputation. When the drive toward Richmond resulted at last in the capture of Lee's army and its surrender at Appomattox, the victorious North turned with gratitude to Grant and made him a popular idol, while the politicians began to question whether his popularity might not be put to account in the field of politics.
Grant himself had never paid any attention to matters of government. In only one presidential election had he so much as voted for a candidate, and then it was for a Democrat, James Buchanan. In 1860 he was prevented from voting for Senator Stephen A. Douglas and against Abraham Lincoln only by the fact that he had not fulfilled the residence requirement for suffrage in the town where he was living. Nevertheless in his capacity as general of the army his headquarters after the war were in Washington and his duties brought him into contact with the politicians and eventually entangled him in the controversy between the President and Congress. Circumstances at first threw him into close association with Johnson, but at the time of the Stanton episode late in 1867 a misunderstanding arose between them which developed into a question of veracity, and then into open hostility. The opponents of the President took up the General's case with alacrity and from then on the popular hero was looked upon as the inevitable choice for the next Republican nomination.
The convention of the National Union Republican Party, as it was called at that time, was held in Chicago, May 20, 1868, during the interval between the votes on the eleventh and second charges of the impeachment of President Johnson. General Grant was unanimously nominated for the presidency and Schuyler Colfax, Speaker of the House of Representatives, for the second place on the ticket. The platform portrayed the benefits of radical reconstruction and defended negro suffrage in the South. In the North at that time the black was commonly denied the vote - the Fifteenth Amendment having not yet been ratified - and the convention accordingly declared that the question of suffrage in all the "loyal" states properly belonged in the states themselves. Other planks asserted that the public debt ought to be paid in full, that pensions for the veterans were an obligation and that immigration ought to be encouraged. The administration of President Johnson was denounced and the thirty-five senators who voted for his conviction in the impeachment trial were commended.
The Democrats met at Tammany Hall in New York on July 4. Their platform approved the pension laws, advocated the sale of public land to actual occupants, praised the administration of President Johnson, arraigned the radicals and declared the reconstruction acts "unconstitutional, revolutionary, and void." If the radical party should win in the election, the Democrats asserted, the result would be "a subjected and conquered people, amid the ruins of liberty and the scattered fragments of the Constitution." The regulation of the suffrage, one plank declared, had always been in the hands of the individual states. The most prominent place in the platform, however, was given to the question of the public debt. Part of the bonds issued during the war had, by acts of Congress, been made payable in "dollars," a word which might mean either paper dollars or gold dollars. Paper, however, was much less valuable than gold, times were hard, and many people held the opinion that the debt could properly be paid in paper. Such was the "Ohio idea," which was made part of the Democratic platform.
The choice of a candidate required twenty-two ballots. Early trials indicated the strength of George H. Pendleton, popularly known as "Gentleman George" and the chief exponent of the "Ohio idea." Johnson also had support. Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, having failed to obtain the Republican nomination, allowed it to be known that he was willing to become the Democratic candidate. At length, on the twenty-second ballot, a few votes were cast for Governor Horatio Seymour of New York, the chairman of the convention. The move met with enthusiastic approval, despite Seymour's insistence that he would not be a candidate, and he was unanimously chosen.
The developments of the campaign depended largely upon occurrences in the South. Military reconstruction had not been wholly completed in Virginia, Mississippi, Texas and Georgia. The last of these states had once been readmitted to the Union, but had immediately expelled the negro members of its legislature, and was thereupon placed again under military rule. The Ku Klux Klan was meanwhile in general operation throughout the South and its activities, both real and imaginary, received wide advertisement in the North. Public interest, therefore, in the underlying issues of the campaign centered upon the attitude of the candidates toward the southern question. General Grant was understood to be with the radicals and Seymour with the conservatives. The result of the election was the choice of the Republican leader by an apparently large majority. He carried twenty-six out of thirty-four states, with 214 out of 294 electoral votes, but he received a popular majority of only 300,000. Examination of the returns indicated a strong conservative minority in many of the solid Republican states. The strength of the radicals in the South, moreover, was due, in the main, to negro-carpetbag domination, and when these states should become conservative, as they were sure to do, the political parties would be almost evenly divided.