CHAPTER II. IN PRESIDENT GRANT'S TIME
On account of the varied character of the elements which composed it and the independent spirit of its members, the Cincinnati assembly resembled a mass meeting rather than a well-organized political conference. It numbered among its members, nevertheless, many men of influence and repute. Some of the most powerful newspaper editors of the country, also, were friendly to its purpose, so that it seemed likely to be a decisive factor in the coming campaign. In most respects the platform reflected the anti-Grant character of the convention. It condemned the administration for keeping unworthy men in power, favored the removal of all disabilities imposed on southerners because of the rebellion, objected to interference by the federal government in local affairs - a reference to the use of troops to enforce the radical reconstruction policy - and advocated civil service reform. The convention found difficulty in stating its attitude toward the tariff question. It was deemed necessary to get the support of Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune, the most powerful northern newspaper of Civil War times, but Greeley was an avowed protectionist. The platform, therefore, evaded the issue by referring it to the people in their congressional districts, and to Congress. But the rock on which the movement met shipwreck was the nomination of a candidate. Many able men were available - Charles Francis Adams, who had been minister to England, Senator Lyman Trumbull, B. Gratz Brown and Judge David Davis of the Supreme Court. Any one of them would have made a strong candidate. The convention, however, passed over all of them and nominated Greeley, long known as being against tariff reform, against civil service reform and hostile to the Democrats, whose support must be obtained in order to achieve success. Although a journalist of great influence and capacity, Greeley was an erratic individual, whose appearance and manner were the joy of the cartoonist.
The Republican convention met on June 5, and unanimously re-nominated Grant. The platform recited the achievements of the party since 1861, urged the reform of the civil service, advocated import duties and approved of the enforcement acts and amnesty.
To the Democrats the greatest likelihood of success seemed to lie in the adoption of the Liberal Republican nominee and platform. Such a course, to be sure, would commit them to a candidate who had excoriated their party for years in his newspaper, and to the three war amendments to the Constitution, which the Liberal Republicans had accepted. Yet it promised the South relief from military enforcement of obnoxious laws, and that was worth much. Both Greeley and his platform were accordingly accepted.
The enthusiasm for the Liberal movement which was observable at the opening of the campaign rapidly dwindled as the significance of the nomination became more clear. Greeley was open to attack from too many quarters. The cartoons of Nast in Harper's Weekly, especially, held him up to merciless ridicule. In the end he was defeated by 750,000 votes in a total of six and a half million, a disaster which, together with the death of his wife and the overwork of the campaign resulted in his death shortly after the election. As for the Republicans they elected not only their candidate but also a sufficient majority in Congress to carry out any program that the party might desire.
On March 3, 1873, as Grant's first term was drawing to a close, Congress passed a measure increasing the salary of public officials from the President to the members of the House of Representatives. The increase for Congressmen was made retroactive, so that each of them would receive $5,000 for the two years just past. To a country whose fears and suspicions had been aroused by the Credit Mobilier scandal, the "salary grab" and the "back pay steal" were fresh indications that corruption was entrenched in Washington. Senators and Representatives began at once to hear from their constituencies. Many of them returned the increase to the treasury and when the next session opened, the law was repealed except so far as it applied to the president and the justices of the Supreme Court.
The congressional elections of 1874 indicated the extent of the popular distrust of the administration. In New York, where Samuel J. Tilden was chosen governor, and in such Republican strongholds as Massachusetts and Pennsylvania the Democrats were successful. In the House of Representatives the Republican two-thirds majority was wiped out and the Democrats given complete control. Even the redoubtable Benjamin F. Butler lost his seat.