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Chapter 6: Grant, Grant, Grant

"When people talk about the Grant Administration they almost always only focus on reconstruction. While reconstruction is certainly interesting it's also important to mention that the Grant Administration didn't only focus on reconstruction. Let's talk about foreign policy. Grant was an avid supporter of the republicans in the Mexican Civil War raging to the south. Only a month after taking office he made multiple demands to France, ordering their total withdrawal. Juarez throughout the war was provided with plenty of weapons and Phillip Sheridan was even allowed to do small raids in northern Mexico and weaken the monarchists. The Grant Administrations strict adherence to the Monroe Doctrine led to a quick downfall of Emperor Maximilian by June of 1867. Other than Mexico there were also dealings with Russia. Prior to his death, William Seward hoped to acquire the Territory of Alaska from the Russian Empire. His son and the current Secretary of State Frederick Seward pushed Grant to allow him to make the deal, the Tzar for his part had been trying to sell Alaska for some time. However Grant was uninterested in Alaska. He, like the Tzar, only saw it as a financial liability and told Seward to drop the idea. Instead Grant pushed for the acquisition of the Danish West Indies, seeing it as a more financially intelligent territory to buy. The Senate approved that deal in 1868.

The other major piece foreign policy that took place in 1868 was the compensation battle with Great Britain. During the war the British built multiple warships for the Confederate Navy. These ships sank lots of American shipping. The ship that did the most damage was the CSS Alabama. The Americans wanted the British to pay up to 100 million dollars in damages. The British outright refused. Seward, seeing another opportunity to expand North West, then offered to take British Columbia. Once again the British refused. After multiple months of back and forth the British proposed that the Austrians arbitrate. Seward said no. The Austrians were mad about Mexico, which takes France off the table as well. Seward then said the Russians would be agreeable or the Danish. The British declined seeing that both would side with the US. At the end of the day in March of 1869 the British ended up saying sorry and paying 8 million in damages. Which was practically nothing compared to the actual cost of the Alabama's rampage.

Aside from foreign policy the Grant Administration would work to improve infrastructure, especially the damaged infrastructure in the south. Post war inflation was rising. The Treasury under Edwin Morgan successfully stabilized this by issuing more greenbacks and investing into new railroads and homesteading. All in all the economic work that was done was hugely successful. Under the Grant Administration only one new State was added to the union. The state of Nebraska, the first state added post war.

Grant's cabinet was held in high regard by the people and seen as very efficient. Vice President Hamlin was known to help President Grant quite a lot throughout his term. Grant wrote later in life that Hamlin was "his closest ally in Washington". Hamlin had the experience of being in the executive branch in a stressful time, and would constantly advise Grant on what to do as a politician and not a general. Grant stated as much saying, "Hamlin helped me keep the strategic mind intact, but translate it into this new setting." Grant did see three resignations though. Edwin Stanton resigned in 1868. He told the President that he was tired of politics one night and Grant told him that even though he would be saddened, Stanton's service to the nation couldn't be understated and it would be fine for him to leave. John Usher the Secretary of the Interior was a carry over from the Lincoln administration. Grant asked him to resign in 1867 after some mismanaged homesteading on the frontier. Or at least that was the official reason. In reality Grant was trying to become his own man at this point. While the cabinet full of Lincoln appointees was useful in his early presidency, it was becoming a liability as 1868 came along. He asked the same of the Postmaster General General, William Dennison Jr. He ensured however that Dennison would get a new job in the Department of Equity."


by Howell Leanman, published 1977

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