General Ulysses S. Grant Fully Approves Strong Reconstruction Measures, Despite President Johnson’s Opposition

In the lead-up to Johnson’s impeachment, Grant “heartily approves of” General Meade’s removal of the Georgia Governor and Treasurer under the Reconstruction Acts

He also accuses Johnson of trying to trap him into an impropriety

After sweeping the elections of 1866 in the North, the Radical Republicans gained almost complete control over policymaking in Congress. Along with their more moderate Republican allies, they controlled the House of Representatives and the Senate, and thus gained sufficient...

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General Ulysses S. Grant Fully Approves Strong Reconstruction Measures, Despite President Johnson’s Opposition

In the lead-up to Johnson’s impeachment, Grant “heartily approves of” General Meade’s removal of the Georgia Governor and Treasurer under the Reconstruction Acts

He also accuses Johnson of trying to trap him into an impropriety

After sweeping the elections of 1866 in the North, the Radical Republicans gained almost complete control over policymaking in Congress. Along with their more moderate Republican allies, they controlled the House of Representatives and the Senate, and thus gained sufficient power to override any potential vetoes by President Andrew Johnson. Johnson’s policy was to make reintegration of the former Confederate states as easy as possible, and have few federal requirements other than resumption of loyalty to the United States and end to slavery. However, Congress wanted no part of this. With the Civil War over for just a year, and with many hearthsides in the North missing a loved one killed in the Union Army, they wanted the fruits of victory. And foremost among these fruits was guaranteeing equality and suffrage to former slaves. The Southern governments that sprung up in 1865-1866 were dominated by whites, both former Confederates and those who had sat out the war, and manifestly did not have these same goals in mind.

A famous cartoon by Thomas Nast published in Harper’s Weekly in late 1865 illustrates the feeling in the North perfectly. It showed in a left panel ex-Confederates bowing before a figure of Columbia, and in the sea of Southern faces everyone could recognize Robert E. Lee and other prominent leaders of the rebellion. The caption reads, “Columbia: Shall I trust these men…” The right hand panel shows a Negro soldier in his Union Army uniform; he is on crutches having lost a leg to save the Union. Columbia rests her hand on his shoulder and says, “And not this man?”

So Congress took matters into its own hands and in March 1867 passed the First and Second Reconstruction Acts. The bill placed the South under military rule, set up 5 military districts, provided that a general be appointed to head each, and gave him authority to suppress southern opposition. In effect Congress declared martial law and dispatched troops to keep the peace and protect former slaves. Congress also required that Southern states redraft their constitutions, ratify the Fourteenth Amendment, and provide suffrage to blacks in order to seek readmission into the Union. To further safeguard voting rights for former slaves, Republicans passed the Second Reconstruction Act, placing Union troops in charge of voter registration and giving them the right to supervise elections. Johnson vetoed both acts, but his vetos were overridden.

Georgia, together with Alabama and Florida, became part of the Third Military District, supervised by General John Pope as military governor. As directed by Congress, General Pope registered Georgia’s eligible white and black voters, 95,214 and 93,457 respectively. From October 29 through November 2, 1867, an election was held for delegates to another constitutional convention, one to comply with the requirements of the Reconstruction Acts. The convention convened in Atlanta in December 1867 to create a new state constitution, and in accordance with the demands of the Reconstruction Acts, to ratify the 13th and 14th Amendments and grant blacks the right to vote. They instituted these reforms and more, protecting small farmers and giving women the right to own property. The plantation, business and political interests that had traditionally maintained power, as well as many others in Georgia, were not too pleased by this interference (as they saw it.) Even as that convention met a backlash formed, as a two-day Conservative Convention assembled in Macon to attack Radical Republican policies and to decry black political participation. Then General Pope issued a $40,000 draft on the state treasury to pay convention expenses. White Georgians were offended by the effrontery of Pope’s submitting them the bill for the convention; not only did they have to submit to military rule, but had to pay for it!

Georgia Governor Charles J. Jenkins, after having reestablished state credit and stabilized Georgia’s finances, advised the legislature not to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment, and tried unsuccessfully to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to issue an injunction against the Reconstruction Acts. He protested Pope’s invoice as illegal and unconstitutional. By now General George G. Meade of Gettysburg fame had succeeded to Pope’s position as military governor. Jenkins and Georgia state treasurer John Jones refused to pay, and Meade removed them from office in January 1868 and replaced Jenkins with General Thomas Ruger. Meade’s grounds were that the Governor “failed to cooperate” with him in executing the Reconstruction laws of Congress. Removing the elected governor of a state caused a firestorm of controversy.

Later in January the removed Governor Jenkins fled the state with the executive seal and the Treasury funds. He deposited them in a New York bank to prevent Meade getting his hands on them. Then he went to Washington with the avowed purpose of filing a complaint before the U.S. Supreme Court against Meade and Ruger, also adding as a party Ulysses S. Grant, who as commander-in-chief of the United States Army was their superior officer. Grant had just finished serving as interim secretary of war at President Johnson’s request. He was also the clear favorite for the 1868 Republican Presidential nomination, and widely considered a sure bet to be the nation’s next chief executive. His opinion on Reconstruction mattered. Here, amidst the Georgia controversy, he gave it, writing to Meade that he approved of his actions. He also made a rather snide reference about President Johnson trying to detect him in an impropriety, giving an insight into his true feelings about him.

Autograph Letter Signed, two pages, Washington, February 27, 1868, to Meade in Atlanta. “I am much obliged to you for your letter of the 22nd of Feb. enclosing my copy of the President’s dispatch to you. I had been called upon for copies of the same correspondence by the President, and had furnished it, but I presume he expected to detect me in mutilating it. Before you removed the state Treasurer and Governor, the President received a dispatch from the latter notifying him that you contemplated such action. I told the President that I had received a dispatch from you in which you meditated removing the Treasurer but said nothing about removing the Governor. This was before your final action which I heartily approved of, including the removal of the Governor.”

President Johnson was firmly against the actions taken by Grant and Meade, but he had his own troubles. Just the day before this letter was written, he replaced Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, despite Congress’s objection, and two days after he was impeached. As for Jenkins and Jones attempt to file a suit against Grant, Meade, and Ruger, the Supreme Court dismissed the case, citing lack of jurisdiction.

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