Monday, November 5, 2018

The Election of 1868 (and 2018)

Since my hometown is Grant City (Mo.), I have long had an interest in, but not much knowledge of, Ulysses S. Grant. My recent reading about him, though, has convinced me that he is a man who should not be taken for granted and that his election in 1868 was one of great importance.
The Election of 1868
Even though my Oct. 30, 2016, blog article was about the presidential election of 1868 (see here), I didn’t write much about Grant, who was the winner of that election and thus became the 18th POTUS.
For whatever reason, during most of my lifetime Grant seems not to have received the attention and the accolades he has deserved. But he and his accomplishments as President should not be taken lightly.
In one of the most important elections in U.S. history, 150 years ago on November 3, 1868, Grant won a decisive victory that was of great significance to the nation.
His election was especially significant for the American Indians and for the “freedmen,” the former enslaved persons who had a new birth of freedom because of the Civil War.
The Background of the 1868 Election
Hiram Ulysses Grant was born in Ohio in 1822, the son of a tanner—and a fervent abolitionist. When he was 16, Ulysses, the name by which he was called, was nominated to West Point by the district’s U.S. Representative—but his name was mistakenly given as Ulysses S., and the name stuck.
After graduation, Grant distinguished himself as a daring and competent soldier during the Mexican-American War of 1846-48. He left the army in 1854 but joined again in 1861, the beginning year of the Civil War.
Grant distinguished himself as a war hero, and after being elevated to the rank of lieutenant general in 1864, he forced and then received Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender in April 1865.
Results of the 1868 Election
Because of his great popularity across the nation—and it has been said that he was more popular in the 19th century then Lincoln—Grant was nominated unanimously as the Republican candidate for the presidency in 1868.
In spite of his political opponents calling Grant a drunk and accusing him of trying to “Africanize” the South, he won the 1868 election decisively: 214 to 80 electoral votes.
Among the premier accomplishments of Grant’s presidency are these:
** Organized (in April 1869) the Board of Indian Commissioners; this was Grant’s attempt to formulate a new humane policy towards Native American tribes. While not without problems, this “Peace Policy” was a great advancement in the way American Indians had been treated in the U.S. up to this time.
** Ratification (in February 1870) of the 15th Amendment giving the freed slaves the right to vote.
** Passage of the “Ku Klux Klan” Act (in April 1871) that curtailed the activities of the KKK and other white supremacy organizations; this bill is also called the Civil Rights Act of 1871.  
(Actual 1868 campaign poster with an explanation added)
And What about the Election of 2018?
While not a presidential election, U.S. voters will go to the polls tomorrow (Nov. 6) to determine whether the racist, xenophobic, pro-white supremacy policies and rhetoric of the current administration are going to remain unchecked by a supportive Congress or whether there will be a better balance of power in the U.S. government.
The election of 1868 proved greatly beneficial for people of color then, and I fervently hope and pray that tomorrow’s election will similarly turn out well for people of color, immigrants, Jews, and the poor in contemporary society.
For further reading:
Two recommended books for further study of Grant (and the election of 1868):
** Grant (2002) by Jean Edward Smith, which presents Grant much more positively than most biographies up to that time.
** Grant (2017) by Ron Chernow, the latest, highly-acclaimed, 1000-page tome about Grant.


  1. Just now received the following comments on today's blog article; they are from Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago.

    "Thanks, Leroy, for your remarks about these two elections.

    "Grant accomplished many very good things, although his administration was one of the more corrupt in U S history. I do not believe, however, that Grant was himself corrupt.

    "The election tomorrow may determine the ultimate future of the U S. Whatever the outcome, I fear that divisiveness will only worsen. There is a real danger that this divisiveness will become more and more violent.

    "I am amazed by Trump's ability to whip his followers into a frenzy over allegations that are not true. As Joseph Goebbels advised, 'If you tell a lie, tell a big one.' Our president has told lots of big ones."


    1. Thanks, as always, for your substantial comments, Eric.

      Concerning your last paragraph, this article in today's Washington Post is especially relevant:

      Concerning Grant: yes, there was a lot of corruption in his administration, especially during his second term. But, as you wrote, Eric, Grant himself was not corrupt but many of the people under him were. Some historians have said his major fault was being gullible, i.e. trusting his friends (and appointees) too much.

  2. A local Thinking Friend wrote, "Thanks for educating us on Grant’s accomplishments. Of course, he was the enemy of the South that I grew up in."

    I responded, "Yes, in spite of being generous with Lee and the South in the surrender documents, Grant was very unpopular in the south--so much so that our neighbor woman in north Missouri reportedly had trouble getting letters to and from her family of origin in Mississippi since the post office there did not want to have anything to do with mail to or from Grant City."

  3. Thinking Friend John Tim Carr, who was first my boyhood friend in Grant City, sent an email that said only this: "We know where you stand!"

    Well, I am happy for you all to know that. Actually, it is the same place where I was standing two years ago today when the blog article I posted then was titled "Confession: I Am a One-Issue Voter." I ended that article with these words:

    "Thus, voting on the one issue of justice means voting for candidates most likely to work against oppression of people because of race, class, or gender.

    "So, here’s how I plan to vote on Nov. 8—and how I urge you to vote if you haven’t already: I will vote for the candidates who seem most likely to oppose oppression in order for there to be justice for women, for people of color, for LGBT people, for economically poor people, for American Indians, and for immigrants."

  4. While we rightly celebrate the good that President Grant did, history has repeated itself in another way, as we now have a President whose favorite predecessor was Andrew Jackson. There was nothing peaceful about Jackson's policy concerning native Americans. He was the author of the Trail of Tears. We live in a country where many people claim freedom is more important than justice, especially when it is MY freedom versus YOUR justice. The prophet Micah did not tell us to do capitalism, love profits, and walk proudly to the bank.

    Which will get us first? Increasing droughts, famines, and floods from global warming? Increasing plastic pollution in the biosphere (including in our bodies)? Thermo-nuclear war? A super pandemic? Is it possible God is getting the four horsemen ready to get their steeds out of the barn? I already see the rich and powerful getting ready to play Noah. Some are building escape tunnels in New Zealand. Others are building flying arks to take them to Mars. As the cartoon Pogo taught us some years ago, "We have met the enemy and he are us!" How many politicians in either party have said anything constructive about any of this? Mostly we have identity politics on both sides with entitlements versus austerity and tax cuts. It is not so much right versus wrong as it is inadequate versus evil.

    So, tomorrow is election day. Everyone, please get out and vote. Vote for the lesser of two evils. Then, the day after tomorrow, lets get down to work on figuring out what we really need to do to have a better world, a world where we can nurture a society capable of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly before God and God's creation. Or, we can wait for God to get out the big red pencil to give us our final grade. Are we ready for that report card?

  5. Leroy, I am actually in agreement with you on the basis of my voting choices. My original point was that I do not blindly vote for a party or against one. However, as I went on to say, it will look that way anyway due to the lack of a moral compass when it comes to Trump among many Republican candidates.

    And I also have become concerned that some of Trump's followers will go to war if the election results are not favorable to him. It seems some of them have been practicing in the lead-up to the election. I am no historian, so I found the election comparison interesting. Definitely two periods in US history when there were great divisions. The 150 year separation just shows how difficult it is to achieve justice for all.

    1. Thanks, Dennis, for your comments. And I am in mostly agreement with you that one should not "blindly vote for a party or against one." But I think I would have to qualify that: if a party is clearly aligned with evils such as racism (to give only one example)--as the Democrats were in 1868 and as the Republicans largely seem to be in 2018--then perhaps an across-the-board vote against that party is in order. But that would not be done because of blindness but because of seeing what the party was advocating.

  6. Here are rather negative comments from a Thinking Friend in Arizona--one of my few TFs who are older than I:

    "Thanks for another stimulating blog. I really don't know how to respond. We have voted early by mail but the choices have been very marginal. I am so sick of the gutless politicians in State and Federal government who support the worst president we have had in history. For these people, it is all about staying in office and not serving the people or honoring their integrity. Election reform is needed so badly but who will wager that the Washington folks will 'kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.'

    "Only God can straighten out this mess and He will if we don't. If God doesn't bring judgment on this country, He owes an apology to Sodom and Gomorrah. I believe I'm repeating myself so better end this comment.

    "Thanks for your efforts to make us look at our challenges and hope for a better world."

  7. Just received this message from Thinking Friend Michael Olmsted in Springfield, Mo.:

    "We voted this morning. The line at the polling place was very long and I pray it was long because people of faith and convictions about freedom were motivated to change the negative and divisive direction of our politics.

    "Freedom is fragile, constantly threatened by greed and the lust for power. None of us has perfect knowledge, but life without trust in God … without respect for honest debate free of violence in word and action … without love for liberty … leads to dictatorship over freedom.

    "We cannot honestly ask for God's help if we are not willing to offer ourselves as instruments for change and freedom for all."