Ulysses S. Grant presidential administration reforms

Main article: Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant
18th President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1869  March 4, 1877
Preceded by Andrew Johnson
Succeeded by Rutherford B. Hayes
Personal details
Born Hiram Ulysses Grant
(1822-04-27)April 27, 1822
Point Pleasant, Ohio
Died July 23, 1885(1885-07-23) (aged 63)
Mount McGregor, New York
Nationality American

During the Presidential Administration of Ulysses S. Grant there were reforms, investigations, and prosecutions implemented by President Grant, Congress, and several of his Cabinet members. Historians have traditionally focused on President Grant Administration scandals, while some historians have noted this is an exaggeration, since Grant established the first Civil Service Commission, and ended the moiety system. Many in his Cabinet including his Secretary of State Hamilton Fish and his Secretary of Interior Jacob D. Cox implemented Civil Service reform in their respected departments. Historian H.W. Brands has noted that the Grant Administration thwarted the 1869 Gold Ring in addition to the successful prosecution the Whiskey Ring in 1876. The Grant Administration took place during Reconstruction and a boom and bust economy following the Civil War that fueled financial corruption in Government offices. The Grant Administration was known to fluctuate between the forces of reform and corruption. Several of Grant's Cabinet members supported and implemented Civil Service reform in their respected federal departments. President Grant signed a bill into law that allowed the Postal Department to prosecute pornography through the mail, a law that is still in effect today. President Grant appointed several leading reformers including Hamilton Fish, Benjamin Bristow, and Edwards Pierrepont. During his first administration Grant prosecuted and shut down the Ku Klux Klan under the Enforcement Acts he signed into law in 1870 and 1871. Grant, a trained military leader, was often at odds with Cabinet reformers whom he believed were insubordinate to his administration. On several occasions Grant dismissed Cabinet reformers without notice or explanation.

Thwarted Gold Ring (1869)

Further information: Black Friday (1869)

In September 1869, financial manipulators Jay Gould and Jim Fisk set up an elaborate scam to corner the gold market through buying up all the gold at the same time to drive up the price and actively encouraging gold investment by speculators. The plan was to keep the Government from selling gold, thus driving its price, while Gould promoted that a higher price of gold would help farmers gain more profits overseas on a good year of crops. President Grant's Secretary of Treasury George S. Boutwell had implemented a policy of monthly sales of Treasury gold to reduce and pay off the national debt, caused by the Civil War. This federal Treasury policy affectively kept the market price of gold low. Desiring the government to stay out of the gold business, President Grant stopped Boutwell's monthly sale of Treasury gold in September. Keeping track of the rapid rising price of gold at Gould's banking house in New York, President Grant and Secretary of Treasury George S. Boutwell ordered the sale of $4 million in gold on (Black) Friday, September 23. The result of releasing the gold by President Grant and Secretary Boutwell thrawrted Gould's and Fisk's plan to corner the gold market. After the treasury gold was released, the market price of gold dropped. The effects of releasing the gold by President Grant and Secretary Boutwell, however, had temporary detrimental effects on the economy as stock prices plunged and food prices dropped, devastating New York Bankers and southern farmers for months.[1]

Enforcement Acts (1870-1871)

U.S. Attorney General Amos T. Akerman, appointed by President Grant, prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan

During his first administration, President Grant signed a series of laws known as the Enforcement Acts that were to reform the South and protect African Americans from violent attacks and intimidation by the Ku Klux Klan and Redeemers .[2] This was done in order to enforce the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the constitution that respectively gave African Americans United States citizenship and the right to vote. [2] The first bill that Grant signed into law was the Enforcement Act of 1870 on May 31, 1870. This law was designed to keep the Redeemers from attacking or threatening African Americans and white Republicans who supported Reconstruction. This act placed severe penalties on persons who used intimidation, bribery, or physical assault to prevent citizens from voting and placed elections under Federal jurisdiction.[3] In 1871 Congress passed the First Enforcement Act and Second Enforcement Act to specifically go after local units of the Ku Klux Klan after a Congressional investigation into the South instigated by President Grant revealed violence and intimidation against African Americans. President Grant signed the bill into law on April 20, 1871 after being convinced by Secretary of Treasury, George Boutwell, that federal protection was warranted, having cited documented atrocities against the Freedmen.[4] This law allowed the President to suspend habeas corpus on "armed combinations" and conspiracies by the Klan. The Act also empowered the president "to arrest and break up disguised night marauders". The actions of the Klan were defined as high crimes and acts of rebellion against the United States.[5][6]

The Ku Klux Klan in South Carolina was strongly entrenched and continued acts of violence against African American citizens. On October 12, 1871 President Grant, who was fed up with their violent tactics, ordered the Ku Klux Klan to disperse from South Carolina and lay down their arms under the authority of the Enforcement Acts. There was no response, and so on October 17, 1871, Grant issued a suspension of habeas corpus in all the 9 counties in South Carolina. Grant ordered federal troops in the state who then captured the Klan; who were vigorously prosecuted by Att. Gen. Akerman and Sol. Gen. Bristow. Although the Ku Klux Klan was effectively destroyed by 1873, Southern resistance against African Americans persisted and a system known has Jim Crow eventually dominated the entire South.[2] Other white supremacist groups emerged including the White League and the Red Shirts.[3]

Civil service commission (1871)

President Grant was the first U.S. President to recommend a professional civil service, successfully pass the initial legislation through Congress in 1871, and appointed the members for the first United States Civil Service Commission. The temporary Commission recommended administering competitive exams and issuing regulations on the hiring and promotion of government employees. Grant ordered their recommendations in effect in 1872; having lasted for two years until December, 1874. Many of Grant's cabinet implemented the Commission's reform rules that improved the overall moral and merit of the federal workforce. At the New York Custom House, a port that took in hundreds of millions of dollars a year in revenue, persons who applied for an entry position had to take and pass a civil service examination. Chester A. Arthur who was appointed by Grant as New York Custom Collector stated that the examinations excluded and deterred unfit persons from getting employment positions.[7] Grant, however, allowed Secretary Delano to exempt the Department of Interior from the Commission's rulings. However, Congress, in no mood to reform itself, denied any long-term reform by refusing to enact the necessary legislation to make the changes permanent. Historians have traditionally been divided whether patronage, meaning appointments made without a merit system, should be labelled corruption.[8]

The movement for Civil Service reform reflected two distinct objectives: to eliminate the corruption and inefficiencies in a non-professional bureaucracy, and to check the power of President Johnson. Although many reformers after the Election of 1868 looked to Grant to ram Civil Service legislation through Congress, he refused, saying: "Civil Service Reform rests entirely with Congress. If members will give up claiming patronage, that will be a step gained. But there is an immense amount of human nature in the members of Congress, and it is human nature to seek power and use it to help friends. You cannot call it corruption – it is a condition of our representative form of Government."[9] Grant used patronage to build his party and help his friends. He instinctively protected those whom he thought were the victims of injustice or attacks by his enemies, even if they were guilty.[10] Grant believed in loyalty with his friends, as one writer called it the "Chivalry of Friendship".[11]

Anti Obscenity Act (1873)

Main article: Comstock laws
Anthony Comstock worked for the Postal Service under President Grant and prosecuted pornographers

On March 3, 1873, President Grant signed into law the Comstock Act which made it a federal crime to mail articles "for any indecent or immoral use". Strong anti-obscenity moralists, led by the YMCA's Anthony Comstock, easily secured passage of the bill. Grant signed the bill after he was assured that Comstock would personally enforce it. Comstock went on to become a special agent of the Post Office appointed by Secretary James Cresswell. Comstock prosecuted pornographers, imprisoned abortionists, banned nude art, stopped the mailing of information about contraception, and tried to ban what he considered bad books.[12] The law banned obscene material from entering into the United States from foreign countries through the U.S. Postal System.[13] Obscene materials were allowed to be immediately seized and destroyed by federal authority.[14]

Treasury Department (1874)

On June 3, 1874 President Grant appointed Benjamin Bristow Secretary of the Treasury after William A. Richardson was removed in light of the Sanborn incident.[15] As Treasury Secretary, Bristow proved to be an energetic and popular and trusted reformer among reformers, even gaining the admiration of one President Grant's staunch critics, Senator Carl Schurz. He initiated a much-needed internal reorganization of the Treasury Department, dismissing the Second-Comptroller for inefficiency, shaking up the detective force, and consolidating collection districts in the Customs and Internal Revenue Services.

Justice Department (1875)

When Edwards Pierrepont assumed the office of U.S. Attorney General, appointed by President Grant, he immediately implemented overdue reform in the South's U.S. Marshal and U.S. Attorney departments.[16] The culmination of these reforms took place in June, 1875. Attorney General Pierrepont had given specific reform orders to U.S. Attorneys and U.S. Marshals in the South that were vigorously enforced.[16] Pierrepont ran extensive investigations into the conduct of the U.S. Attorneys and U.S. Marshals, exposing fraud and corruption. Pierrepont was fully sustained by President Grant's endorsement of the investigations, reforms, and persons to be removed and replaced from office.[16]

Interior Department (1875)

On October 15, 1875 President Grant's appointed Secretary of Interior Columbus Delano resigned due to scandal. Rampant corruption prevailed in the Interior Department's Patent Office and the Department of Indian Affairs due to Delano's lax supervision. On October 19, 1875 Grant appointed Republican party leader and reformer Zachariah Chandler Secretary of the Interior. Chandler, obtaining Grant's approval, immediately went to work reforming the Interior Department by dismissing all the important clerks in the Patent Office. Chandler had discovered that during Delano's tenure, money had been paid to fictitious clerks while other clerks had been paid without performing any services. Chandler next turned to the Department of Indian Affairs to reform another Delano debacle. President Grant ordered Chandler to fire everyone, saying, "Have those men dismissed by 3 o'clock this afternoon or shut down the bureau." Chandler did exactly as Grant had ordered, and banned bogus agents, known as "Indian Attorneys," who had been paid $8.00 a day plus expenses for, ostensibly, providing tribes with representation in the nation's capital. Many of these agents were unqualified and swindled the Native American tribes into believing they had a voice in Washington.[17]

Prosecuted Whiskey Ring (1875-1876)

Secretary of Treasury Benjamin Bristow, appointed by President Grant, prosecuted the Whiskey Ring

After the American Civil War, whiskey distillers in St. Louis developed a tax evasion ring that depleted the U.S. Treasury. By 1875, the Whiskey Ring had grown into a nationwide criminal syndicate that included whiskey distillers, brokers, and government officials; making enormous profits from the sale of untaxed whiskey. Also rumored, was that in 1872 the Ring had secretly funded the Republican Presidential campaign. In an effort of reform and to clean up corruption, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Benjamin Bristow, as U.S. Secretary of Treasury in 1874, who immediately discovered millions of dollars were being depleted from the U.S. Treasury.[18] Under orders from President Grant, in May 1875, Sec. Bristow struck hard at the Ring, nationally shutting down distilleries, arresting hundreds involved in the ring having obtained over 350 indictments. The Ring through Bristow's vigorous raids had been effectively shut down. In April 1875, President Grant appointed Pierrepont Attorney General and teamed him up with Bristow to prosecute the Ring and clean up corruption.[19]

During the Summer of 1875, both Bristow and Pierrepont obtained President Grant's order to "let know guilty man escape." During the Fall of 1875, evidence was discovered that Grant's private secretary, Orville Babcock had been involved in the Ring. Bristow and Pierrepont, stayed behind after a cabinet meeting with President Grant and showed him correspondence between Babcock and William Joyce in St. Louis, indicted in the Ring, cryptic telegram messages as evidence of Babcock's involvement in the Ring. Babcock was summoned to the Oval Office for an explanation and was told to send a telegram to bring Wilson to Washington D.C. After Babcock did not return to the Oval Office, Pierrepont discovered Babcock was in the process of writing a letter warning Wilson to be on his guard. This angered Attorney General Pierrepont, who spilled ink over Babcock's letter and shouted, "You don't want to send your argument; send the fact, and go there and make your explanation. I do not understand it."[20] Babcock was indicted and later acquitted in a trial in St. Louis, after an oral deposition from President Grant defending Babcock was given to the jury. The Justice Department obtained 110 convictions of persons involved in the Whiskey Ring.

Dismissed or resigned Cabinet reformers

Postmaster Marshall Jewell, a reformer appointed by Grant, was ubruptly dismissed after a Cabinet meeting by Grant.

Three of Grant's reform Cabinet members were forced to resign or dismissed by Grant without notice or explanation including Ebenezer R. Hoar, Amos T. Akerman, and Marshall Jewell.[21][22] Attorney General Hoar was dismissed for political and geographic reasons. Politically Grant wanted to implement a tougher Reconstruction Policy on the South where there was violence against African Americans by the Ku Klux Klan. Hoar believed in a state prosecution of the Klan rather than federal. Hoar was also replaced since Grant had appointed two men from Massachusetts on his Cabinet, including Hoar and Secretary of Treasury George S. Boutwell. In 1870, Grant sent a letter to Hoar demanding his resignation without any explanation or warning. Grant replaced Hoar with reformer Akerman who went onto prosecute the Ku Klux Klan.

Akerman was later forced to resign by Grant without notice or explanation and replaced by George H. Williams. Grant was under pressure to replace Akerman for political reasons do to his zealous prosecution of the Klan and his reluctance to appease the railroad lobby. Grant did not want the image of being a Presidential dictator. Williams continued to prosecute the Klan until June 1873, the Justice Department was understaffed and underfunded. Grant's Secretary of Interior Jacob D. Cox resigned due to lack of cooperation from Republican Party leaders after implementing Civil Service reform in the Department of Interior. Cox was also under pressure to resign from Grant who believed Cox was overstepping Grant's authority as President. Both Cox and Hoar opposed Grant's Santo Domingo annexation plan. Cox, who afterwards joined the Liberal Republicans, was replaced by Columbus Delano who discontinued Cox's civil service policy that resulted in creating a spoils system within the Department of Interior, until Delano's resignation and replacement by Zachariah Chandler who reformed the department.

Postmaster Jewell was ubruptly dismissed without notice or explanation after a Cabinet meeting because Grant believed Jewell and Secretary of Treasury Benjamin Bristow were both disloyal to the administration. Both Bristow and Jewell ran for the presidency in 1876. During this time period Presidents could run for office indefinitely. Bristow, who successfully prosecuted and shut down the Whiskey Ring in 1875, was not out right dismissed by Grant. Rather, Bristow resigned on his own under pressure from Grant in 1876, since Bristow had discovered Grant's private secretary Orville Babcock was involved in the Whiskey Ring corruption.


  1. Smith 2001, pp. 481–490.
  2. 1 2 3 Simpson 2005, p. Introduction and Acknolledgements xxiii.
  3. 1 2 Scaturro 2006.
  4. (1990), Grant Memoirs and Selected Letters pp. 1146, 1147; McFeely (2002), Grant: A Biography, pp. 368–369
  5. Trelease 1971, ch. 22–25.
  6. McFeely (2002), Grant: A Biography, pp. 368–369
  7. Howe (1935), p. 48, 295
  8. Smith 2001, pp. 587–589.
  9. Young 1880, p. 126.
  10. Nevins 1957, p. 710.
  11. Smith 2001 pp. 587–589.
  12. Carpenter 2001, pp. 84–85.
  13. Statutes at Large, 42nd Congress, 3rd Session, p. 599
  14. Statutes at Large, 42nd Congress, 3rd Session, p. 600
  15. Memormorial of Benjamin Helm Bristow (1897), p.10
  16. 1 2 3 New York Times (June 17, 1875), The Conduct of Southern Marshals and Attorneys
  17. Pierson 1880, pp.343–345
  18. Smith (1981), Grant, p. 584
  19. Smith (2001), Grant, p. 585
  20. McFeely (1981), Grant A Biography, p. 411
  21. McFeely, p. 365
  22. Chicago Daily Tribune (Feb 18, 1883), Marshall Jewell


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