Ulysses S. Grant - Key Events
Ulysses S. Grant, the Civil War hero and Republican candidate, is inaugurated as the eighteenth President of the United States.
The first transcontinental railroad is completed at Promontory Point, Utah, through the work of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific track crews.
Transcontinental Railroad Completed
On May 10, 1869, the transcontinental railroad was completed when a ceremonial golden spike was driven into the place where the two railroads met. The Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads joined the railroad together in Promontory Point, Utah. Celebrations and special addresses took place across the nation after a telegraph message announced the event to the world.
Agitation for the construction of a transcontinental railroad had existed since the 1840s. Army Topographical Engineers had proposed five separate routes during the 1850s, but sectional tensions prevented construction. The Civil War later resulted in Southern routes being removed from consideration. On July 1, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act, calling for the construction of a railroad from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean. The act provided government bonds to fund the project and mandated a timetable for completing railroad mileage. The endeavor was virtually risk free for the government, as the bonds were to be repaid and mileage requirements forced the two companies building the tracks to work quickly.
The Union Pacific railroad began construction in Omaha, Nebraska, while the Central Pacific began in Sacramento, California. Armed guards and U.S. troops guarded the construction crews from potential Native American attacks as workers moved across the country in temporary, military style encampments. With the end of the Civil War, former soldiers often went west in search of work, helping to alleviate the lack of labor available in the region that had made large projects difficult to execute. In California, Chinese immigrant laborers provided much of the necessary manpower. A sense of competition developed between the two companies, leading to both crews working faster and at times even leading to sabotage.
As the project neared completion in the late 1860s, it became evident that a meeting point would have to be established, as otherwise the two companies were likely to continue building past one another. Under pressure from Congress, the meeting place was selected at Promontory Point, Utah. Railroad companies would complete additional transcontinental railroads in the following decades, although the Panic of 1873 delayed construction on those projects.
The “Black Friday” financial panic takes place in New York City. The panic results from the efforts of two railroad entrepreneurs, Jay Gould and James Fisk, Jr., to corner the gold market. Gould and Fisk, along with President Grant's brother-in-law, frame their argument by claiming that if the government refrains from selling gold, its value will increase and improve depressed farm prices. A suspicious Grant finally orders a large sale of $4 million in gold, ruining many speculators. The gold plot is the first of several scandals to take place during the Grant years.
September 24, 1869, became known as "Black Friday" when a financial panic began in New York City after the price of gold crashed and caused financial ruin for many investors.
In 1869, the price of gold in the volatile New York market was determined primarily by how much of the metal the government sold per month. Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, two investors who controlled the Erie Railroad, recognized that it was possible to corner the gold market by either predicting or influencing the government's sales. Gould and Fisk began to work on a plot to purchase gold and drive up the price with the help of the government, and then sell their supplies for an immense profit before the inflated price crashed.
Fisk and Gould befriended President Ulysses S. Grant's brother-in-law and friend, Abel Corbin, hoping to influence treasury policy through his connections. Through Corbin, Gould and Fisk were able to meet with Grant on several occasions and tried to convince the President to increase the price of gold through reduced government sales, arguing that doing so would help improve depressed farm prices. While Grant was not convinced, Gould and Fisk mistakenly believed that the President would engage in the policy they recommended and began to purchase gold, slowly driving up the price.
Grant eventually became aware of their intentions and instructed Treasury Secretary George Boutwell to sell government gold reserves to lower the price and foil Gould and Fisk. On September 24, Fisk's continued purchases had driven the price of gold to $162 an ounce (Gould found out about Grant's discovery of the plan from Corbin and had quietly begun to sell) when Boutwell announced that the government would sell $4 million in gold. Within minutes, the price dropped to $133. Grant had been successful in preventing Gould and Fisk from cornering the market, but the affair had a devastating effect on the economy. Stock prices fell and trading diminished, brokerages went bankrupt, and prices for agricultural goods dropped sharply.
Grant received criticism for the affair, which had a particularly devastating effect on farmers as the prices of crops tumbled. Grant's meetings with Gould and Fisk prior to the affair also served to hurt the President's reputation. While Gould and Fisk were prevented from cornering the market through Grant's intervention, their excellent legal defense and connections with judges enabled them to emerge from the disaster without penalty and with their large fortunes intact.
President Grant's military aide and private secretary Orville Babcock signs a treaty to annex Santo Domingo of the West Indies, and a second document to lease Samana Bay. The Senate defeats the annexation treaty on June 30, 1870, and never votes on the Samana Bay treaty.
Construction of the Brooklyn Bridge begins. It will be the longest suspension bridge in the world when completed thirteen years later.
Grant vetoes the Private Relief Bill and will continue to veto many additional relief bills during his two terms.
Virginia is readmitted to the Union after completing its reconstruction.
The United States Weather Bureau is established. Originally, the Bureau is part of the Signal Corps.
Mississippi is readmitted to the Union.
Black male suffrage becomes universal when the Fifteenth Amendment -- stipulating that no state shall deprive any citizen of the right to vote because of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” -- is adopted with Grant's help and approval. The suffrage amendment is only partially successful. During Reconstruction, black men vote frequently; following Reconstruction, however, whites use discriminatory laws and taxes to disenfranchise black men.
Texas is readmitted to the Union.
Grant issues a proclamation against the attempts of the Fenian Brotherhood to damage Anglo-United States relations by attacking Canada. The next day, the Fenian Army of Vermont attempts to invade Canada but is driven back. The British government agrees to handle compensation for Canada in the Treaty of Washington in 1871, which will be signed by both nations on May 8, 1871.
Congress makes it a federal crime to deprive anyone of his civil or political rights by interfering with the right to vote. It is the first of three such Enforcement Acts the legislature will pass. The act is designed to allow the federal government to take action against the Ku Klux Klan when local authorities fail to prosecute crimes. The KKK, organized in 1866 in Pulaski, Tennessee, employs harassment and terror to dissuade African-Americans from voting.
Congress passes an act creating a Department of Justice under the direction of an attorney general.
A new tariff is passed following debates about tariff reduction. The new law maintains most existing protectionist features.
The Federal Election Law passes, calling for federal supervision of elections in cities with populations greater than 20,000. The act is designed to ensure fair treatment of black voters in the South and is the second of three enforcement acts.
An Indian Appropriation Act is passed with an amendment ending tribal recognition and the treaty system. All Indians are made wards of the state.
Grant establishes the first civil service commission. Without additional appropriations from Congress, however, the commission is rendered ineffective.
The third of the Enforcement Acts, the Ku Klux Klan Act, is passed to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment in the South. It outlaws activities such as wearing disguises, forming conspiracies, and intimidating officials. Grant has worked extensively to secure such legislation to fight the Klan and uses the provisions of the act to ensure fairness in the election of 1872.
Ku Klux Klan Bill Enacted
On April 20, 1871, at the urging of President Ulysses Grant, Congress passed the Ku Klux Klan Act. Also known as the third Enforcement Act, the bill was a controversial expansion of federal authority designed to give the federal government additional power to protect voters. The act established penalties in the form of fines and jail time for attempts to deprive citizens of equal protection under the laws and gave the President the authority to use federal troops and suspend the writ of habeas corpus in ensuring that civil rights were upheld.
Founded as a fraternal organization by Confederate veterans in Pulaski, Tennessee, in 1866, the Ku Klux Klan soon became a paramilitary group devoted to the overthrow of Republican governments in the South and the reassertion of white supremacy. Through murder, kidnapping, and violent intimidation, Klansmen sought to secure Democratic victories in elections by attacking black voters and, less frequently, white Republican leaders.
In response to Klan violence, Congress passed the first of three Enforcement Acts on May 31, 1870, to ensure that the provisions of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments were followed. The act, which made it a federal offensive to try to deprive anyone of his civil rights, had little effect on the deteriorating situation. A second Enforcement Act, passed on February 28, 1871, established federal supervision over elections, but also did little to remedy the situation.
After the failure in the House of a more powerful bill that would have given the federal government additional power to enforce election law, President Grant decided to intervene. The President met with Congressional leaders to urge the passage of stronger legislation, and on their recommendation, Grant issued a direct appeal to Congress requesting a new law. Grant's appeal was successful, and Congress passed the Ku Klux Klan Act.
President Grant put the new legislation to work after several Klan incidents in May. He sent additional troops to the South and suspended the writ of habeas corpus in nine counties in South Carolina. Aided by Attorney General Amos T. Akermen and the newly created Department of Justice, extensive work was done to prosecute the Klan. While relatively few convictions were obtained, the new legislation helped to suppress Klan activities and ensure a greater degree of fairness in the election of 1872.
The Treaty of Washington is signed between the United States and Britain, initiating friendly relations between the two nations. The treaty provides for an arbitration procedure to settle the Alabama claims, in which the United States demands that Britain pay for damages to American shipping during the Civil War caused by Confederate vessels built and equipped in England. The treaty also renews Canadian-American fishing arrangements.
A citizen's commission is formed in New York to investigate corruption at William M. “Boss” Tweed's Tammany Hall. A major political power in the city since its formation in 1789, the organization had been associated with bribery and fraud. Tammany's dedication to the city's lower classes and immigrants explains its endurance on the political scene.
The city of Chicago is nearly burned to the ground in one of the worst disasters in U.S. history. The rise of skyscrapers, as part of the city's rebuilding project, marks an innovation in urban architecture.
Grant issues a proclamation against the Ku Klux Klan in South Carolina.
Grant appoints a special Interoceanic Canal Commission to determine the best of three proposed canal plans connecting the Atlantic with the Pacific. In February 1876, the commission reports in favor of a route through Nicaragua.
Grant becomes the first President to veto a Private Pension Bill. He will veto five such bills while in office.
The Republican National Convention nominates Grant for reelection and Senator Henry Wilson for vice president.
The Democratic National Convention nominates New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley for President and Missouri Governor Benjamin Gratz Brown for vice president. An avid reformer, Greeley is first approved by Liberal Republicans who favor free trade, civil service reform, and the restoration of former Confederates' rights. The Democratic Party opts to endorse Greeley as the only candidate who can possibly defeat Grant and the Radical Republicans.
After a meeting in Geneva, the five-person arbitration panel established by the Treaty of Washington issues its report. The panel dismisses the “indirect claims” first proposed by irate Senator Charles Sumner. Secretary of State Hamilton Fish had expected this rejection and submitted claims to the panel in order to settle the issue and silence Sumner. The panel does, however, require that Britain pay the United States $15.5 million in gold. The payment is made within one year without protest.
Grant is reelected in the largest popular-majority victory for a Republican in the nineteenth century. He wins 55.6 percent of the popular vote and 214 electoral votes to Greeley's 80. The result is more an expression of dislike for Greeley than support for Grant.
The House of Representatives adopts a resolution to investigate the relations of Credit Mobilier in conjunction with the Union Pacific Railroad. In 1872, the New York Sun published the story of a scandal in which Union Pacific Railroad directors used the dummy Credit Mobilier Corporation to pay themselves from the railroad treasury; additionally they had bribed congressmen to avoid an investigation. Thirteen Senators are involved, although only two receive censure.
A coinage act passed by Congress omits silver currency due to scarcity. When Nevada mines begin producing greater quantities of silver, they demand renewed coinage, referring to the coinage act as the “Crime of '73.”
A House resolution censures Oakes Ames of Massachusetts and James Brooks of New York for connections with the Credit Mobilier scandal.
Congress passes an appropriations bill raising senior government salaries and providing two years' back pay for members of Congress. The “back-pay grab” or “salary grab bill” generates significant public criticism of Congress.
Grant is inaugurated for his second term as President, and Vice President Henry Wilson is sworn in.
The failure of the prominent brokerage firm Jay Cooke & Company initiates the Panic of 1873. The underlying causes for the panic are rapidly expanding railroads, over-speculation in land and securities, and excessive issuance of paper money and inflation. As rampant selling takes place, the panic will cause the New York Stock Exchange to close for ten days on September 20. The Panic initiates six years of depression.
A Spanish cruiser near Cuba captures an alleged U.S. ship, the Virginius, and argues that the ship was sent to provide armaments for an invasion of the island. Before Spain's instructions not to impose the death penalty could reach Cuba, fifty-three of the men captured on the ship are executed. Tensions are calmed when Secretary of State Fish and the Spanish minister to the United States sign an agreement providing for the return of the remaining prisoners and the payment of an indemnity.
William M. “Boss” Tweed of New York's Tammany Hall is convicted on 204 charges of fraud, having relieved New York City of roughly $200 million through corrupt enterprise. He is sentenced to twelve years in prison and fined $12,550. The court of appeals will reduce his sentence, but Tweed will be arrested again in connection with other charges after his release. Tweed escapes from prison in1875 and flees to Cuba and then Spain before being recaptured. Samuel J. Tilden gains recognition for his role in breaking up the Tweed ring and reasserting control of the Democratic organization in the city.
The “salary grab bill” of March 3, 1873, is repealed, with the exception of sections pertaining to the President and Supreme Court justices.
After vacillating on the issue, Grant vetoes the inflation bill, passed by Congress, which would have increased the money supply by $100 million to alleviate the effects of the depression. Grant understands the motivation behind the measure but believes that inflating the currency is a dangerous strategy.
Grant issues a presidential proclamation calling for the dispersal of the rebellious “White League” in Louisiana. Grant sends five thousand troops and three gunboats to New Orleans; the resistance ends two days later. Grant and the Republicans are criticized severely for the intervention.
Benefiting from public discomfort over the economy and governmental corruption, Democrats enjoy success in midterm congressional elections, gaining seats in the Senate and a majority in the House. These legislators will take a more aggressive approach to the Grant scandals.
The Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) is established in Cleveland, Ohio. The group is founded after a massive movement to protest the traffic of liquor in the Midwest spreads across the country.
The Hawaiian Reciprocity Treaty is signed, making the islands a virtual protectorate of the United States. The treaty gives preferential and exclusive trade status to Hawaii and prevents the Hawaiians from giving any territory to a third power.
The Specie Resumption Act is passed, allowing fractional currency and legal-tender notes to be redeemed for coin, beginning January 1, 1879. Sponsored by John Sherman, the bill also increases the number of national banks throughout the country. Grant sends a special message to Congress approving the bill.
Grant signs the Civil Rights Act of 1875, guaranteeing black Americans equal rights in public places and prohibiting their exclusion from jury duty. The act includes no enforcement provisions and will be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1883. School integration, championed by the now-deceased Charles Sumner, is not included in the bill. The act, nevertheless, creates an important precedent.
Two-hundred thirty-eight people are indicted in connection with the “Whiskey Ring Scandal,” in which distillers conspired with Treasury Department officials to defraud the government of millions of dollars in liquor taxes. Distillers had bribed Treasury officials to evade the taxes. Grant's private secretary, Orville E. Babcock, will be indicted later in the year, another example of Grant's poor choice of appointees.
Vice President Henry Wilson dies.
In his annual message to Congress, Grant advocates nonsectarian and compulsory education.
A resolution against third presidential terms receives overwhelming support in the House and is directed at Grant. The President, however, has already stated in May that he does not intend to run for reelection.
Impeachment articles against Secretary of War William W. Belknap are presented to the Senate. Belknap and his late wife had engaged in a scandal involving bribes from traders at Indian trading posts. Belknap resigns.
The Republican National Convention nominates Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio for President and William A. Wheeler for vice president.
General George A. Custer and 265 men of the Seventh Cavalry are killed in a battle with Sitting Bull's Sioux Indians at Little Big Horn.
Battle of Little Bighorn
On June 25, 1876, Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer led a detachment of the Seventh Cavalry to attack an encampment of Sioux and Cheyenne Native Americans led by Sitting Bull on the Little Bighorn River. Custer underestimated the size of the force he attacked and was killed along with all 266 men in his detachment in the ensuing battle.
George Armstrong Custer graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1861 and proved himself an excellent cavalry commander during the Civil War. In 1874, he announced to the public that the military expedition he had led into the Black Hills had discovered gold. The Black Hills were sacred Native American territory and had been protected from white incursion by an 1868 treaty (although expeditions of Custer's type were permitted). Custer's announcement predictably led to a rush into the area. President Ulysses S. Grant, after deciding that it would not be possible to restrain the overwhelming rush of fortune seekers to the region, pressured the Sioux to allow settlement. The affair soon led to renewed fighting between the U.S. military and the Sioux.
After Custer's debacle in the Battle of Little Bighorn, anti-Native American sentiment increased among the American people as the story of the Custer's “massacre” at the hands of aggressive Native Americans spread. Custer's widow Elizabeth did much to popularize a heroic image of her late husband, creating for him an almost mythic status, despite the fact that Custer's death was the result of an attack he himself had initiated. President Grant, who never had been fond of Custer, referred to the battle as “wholly unnecessary.”
Custer's actions only exacerbated the federal government's worsening relations with Native Americans and therefore dealt a serious blow to the President. Grant had wanted to shift the federal government's Native American policy toward what he called the Peace Policy. This approach attempted to move Native Americans closer to white civilization (and ultimately U.S. citizenship) by housing them on reservations and helping them become farmers. Grant had also hoped to end outright conflict between the U.S. military and Native American, but he was ultimately unsuccessful in helping improve the lives of Native Americans through his policy.
The Democratic National Convention nominates Samuel J. Tilden for President and Thomas A. Hendricks for vice president. Tilden, a millionaire corporate lawyer and reform governor of New York, overthrew the corrupt Tweed Ring.
Congress authorizes the minting of $10 million in silver for coinage to be exchanged for legal tender notes. The trade dollar is no longer to be legal tender.
The Senate acquits Secretary of War Belknap. While few Senators doubt his guilt, Belknap has already resigned, and therefore most Senators believe he is not constitutionally impeachable as a result.
Colorado is admitted to the Union as the thirty-eighth state.
The presidential election results are inconclusive. Tilden appears to have a 250,000 edge in the popular vote as well as 184 electoral votes to Hayes's 165. But the returns from Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Oregon, representing 20 electoral votes, are disputed.
Both parties in Congress agree to establish a commission to determine results of the contested presidential election. The commission will be composed of five members of each house of Congress and five members of the Supreme Court. The commission contains eight Republicans and seven Democrats.
The Senate accepts the decision of the electoral commission, which awards the contested electoral votes and the presidency to Rutherford B. Hayes in an 8-7 vote along party lines. Though the House disagrees, the Senate's approval proves sufficient to justify the findings of the electoral commission; the House votes to accept the report.
Rutherford B. Hayes is privately sworn in as the nineteenth President of the United States. Because March 4 falls on a Sunday, he will be publicly sworn in on March 5.