Saturday, May 26, 2018

the last book I ever read (Grant by Ron Chernow, excerpt seventeen)

from Grant by Ron Chernow:

The Sioux had acquired the reputation, Sherman said, of being “the most brave and warlike Savages of this Continent.” By late May, Phil Sheridan confessed that his two department commanders, Generals Crook and Terry, hadn’t the foggiest idea where Sitting Bull and his Sioux warriors had fled. Sheridan took refuge in the illusion that a large body of hostile Indians couldn’t remain cohesive for long and even imagined that the approach of three columns would herd them back onto the reservation. Shattering such na├»ve expectations on June 17, Crazy Horse led a band of warriors against the thousand-man column under General Crook, dealing them a bloody setback and driving them rearward to their base camp. As Custer drifted westward toward his doom, he knew nothing of this stunning defeat.

As the nation got ready to solemnize its centennial on July 4, reports filtered back that Custer and 263 of his men in the Seventh Cavalry had been annihilated by Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne warriors along the Little Bighorn River in southern Montana, their mutilated bodies strewn among the hills. Custer was found naked, a bullet hole in his head, a gash in his thigh, an arrow piercing his penis. Supposed to be marching toward a rendezvous with Generals Terry and John Gibbon, he had arrived too soon, failed to wait for other troops, and confronted alone an enormous Indian force favored with overpowering numbers. “I deeply deplore the loss of Custer and his men,” Sheridan wrote. “I feel it was an unnecessary sacrifice, due to a misapprehension and a superabundance of courage—the latter extraordinarily developed in Custer.”

Friday, May 25, 2018

the last book I ever read (Grant by Ron Chernow, excerpt sixteen)

from Grant by Ron Chernow:

Following a grand fireworks display, the elaborate inaugural ball that evening was a dismal affair that did not bode well for Grant’s second term. A cavernous wooden building, lit with gas chandeliers, had been especially constructed for the occasion, with an enormous eagle, streaming the national colors from its claws, suspended from the ceiling. To camouflage the rough wood structure, the walls were draped with so much white muslin it was nicknamed “the Muslin Palace.” Hundreds of canaries were imported to warble their greetings to three thousand guests. In a courageous move, Grant invited black guests, leading some members of the Washington beau monde to boycott the event in protest at this racial mixing.

The whole ostentatious affair was undone by a simple design flaw: the big barnlike room lacked heat. As guests arrived, they were shocked by the frosty temperature and attempted to dance in their fur wraps, hats, and overcoats to keep warm. Champagne, food, and ice cream froze in the arctic air. By the time Ulysses, Julia, and Nellie Grant arrive at 1:30 p.m., canaries had started to keel over and die in droves on their perches, the first martyrs to Grant’s second term. The presidential family decided not to tarry long and the dwindling crowd, seeing their chance to escape the deep freeze, had piled out of the hall by the stroke of midnight.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

the last book I ever read (Grant by Ron Chernow, excerpt fifteen)

from Grant by Ron Chernow:

Grant was the first president to confront the feminist movement as a viable political force. The same fervor for equality that generated abolitionism had spurred on feminists, who created the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869. While Grant showed sympathy for women’s rights, he didn’t cover himself with glory on the issue. Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and other feminist leaders had opposed the Fifteenth Amendment unless the sequel was a Sixteenth granting women the right to vote. They wanted black and women’s suffrage to advance hand in hand. In spring 1972, a New York conference composed predominantly of women, under the banner of the Equal Rights Party, nominated thirty-four-year-old Victoria Woodhull as its first female candidate for president—she was legally too young to be president—on a platform dedicated to female voting rights. Two years earlier, Woodhull, a prophetess of free love, and her sister Tennessee Claflin had opened the first female brokerage house on Wall Street, secretly aided, it was said, by Cornelius Vanderbilt. On Election Day 1872, Woodhull would up in jail, imprisoned for sending obscene materials through the mail, her paper having broadcast salacious details of Henry Ward Beecher’s alleged philandering.

When the Republican Party met in Philadelphia that June, Susan B. Anthony implored the platform committee to take a stand for women’s suffrage. She got a rhetorical nod in that direction, what she termed a “splinter” in the platform, urging “respectful consideration to the rights of women.” Anthony, a temperance advocate, associated Grant with drink. When a reporter asked if he was her favorite candidate, she replied, “So far, yes. Personally, I do not admire Grant, and do not care to see a ‘fast man’ at the head of the nation; but . . . principles to me are more than individual character.” When the reporter asked whether Grant was friendly to the women’s movement, she answered, “Yes, and his wife, who is said to influence him greatly, is with us heart and soul. Grant’s letter of acceptance pleases me, inasmuch as the last paragraph recommends ‘equal rights to all citizens,’ which is evidently a sop thrown to us women.” When Democrats met in Baltimore to nominate Greeley, an opponent of female suffrage, Anthony came out foursquare for Grant: “The mountain has brought forth its mole, and we are left to comfort ourselves with the Philadelphia splinter as best we may.”

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

the last book I ever read (Grant by Ron Chernow, excerpt fourteen)

from Grant by Ron Chernow:

Handsome, Harvard-educated, a cosmopolitan traveler, Sumner had long been adored by abolitionists. Right before the Civil War, his antislavery crusade led the South Carolina representative Preston Brooks to thrash him severely with a cane on the Senate floor, transforming him into a secular saint. As he droned on in endless, windy speeches, the sanctimonious Sumner was easier to admire than love. A cold, humorless bachelor, he sashayed around Washington with his walking stick, glorying in his self-importance. As Grant’s son Jesse recalled, he “was a tall man of commanding appearance, rendered doubly conspicuous by the garments he wore . . . He always wore the most glaring clothes I have ever seen on a civilized man: heavy plaids in vividly contrasting colors, looming above a foundation of white spats.” Sumner’s mandarin hauteur stood opposed to Grant’s modesty and his baroque language was a world apart from Grant’s spare eloquence.

Grant had admitted Sumner’s statesmanship and ardent abolitionism. Sumner, for his part, had high praise for Grant as a soldier, but reluctantly endorsed him for president and only belatedly threw his weight behind him during the 1868 race. Dismissing Grant as an intellectual lightweight, he fancied he would function as Grant’s tutor on foreign policy and expected to be named secretary of state as a reward for his support. His hopes were dashed when his friend Fish beat him out for the post, and he bristled further as Grant toed an independent line in foreign policy. With a sense of senatorial privilege, Sumner expected to dominate American foreign policy and suggested appointments. “Mr. Sumner . . . who is the idol of the reformers, was among the first senators to ask for offices for his friends,” Grant noted. “He expected offices as a right.” Chairing the Foreign Relations Committee, he also expected his views to prevail. Sumner typified a Senate that had grown arrogant and imperious, demanding patronage as the price of its cooperation with the president. The press and reformers expected Grant to tame the headstrong Senate, a clash that would come to a head in his conflict with Sumner.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

the last book I ever read (Grant by Ron Chernow, excerpt thirteen)

from Grant by Ron Chernow:

After his testimony, Grant felt badly in need of a breather from the poisonous atmosphere of Washington. For the first time, he and Julia took a seaside cottage in Long Branch, New Jersey, a hideaway where Grant could revert to a life suited him more. The town had recently become a fashionable watering hole for millionaires. The waterfront house on Ocean Avenue was three stories high with a shingled roof and two glassed-in observatories. Twice a day Grant rode in a carriage to breathe in tangy salt air before returning to the house and poring over mail and newspapers on the verandah. Staying in Long Branch struck him as a guilty pleasure. “Every day that I am absent from Washington,” he informed Stanton, “I see something in the papers or hear something, that makes me feel that I should be there.” At the same time, he admitted wistfully that “I have got so tired of being tired down that I am nearly ready to desert.”

Monday, May 21, 2018

the last book I ever read (Grant by Ron Chernow, excerpt twelve)

from Grant by Ron Chernow:

In early March, Grant applied to Johnson to have his fifteen-year-old son Fred admitted to West Point and he was promptly accepted. Grant and longtime aide Theodore Bowers shepherded Fred to the academy for his entrance exams a few days later. Bowers was a thirty-three-year-old bachelor and former newspaperman from Illinois, a handsome, bearded young man with dark, wavy hair and expressive eyes. The Grant family had delighted in his self-deprecating humor. On the way home, Grant boarded the train at Garrison Station, across the Hudson River from the academy, but Bowers, running late, tried to leap onto the train as it left the station. Unable to find a solid footing, he got trapped between the train and the platform and was dragged along, then fell to the tracks and was run over by one wheel, which mangled his face, severed his arms, and killed him on the spot. When Grant got off the train to see what had happened, the rails were streaked with blood, his friend’s body twisted beyond recognition. Those with Grant admired his stoic calm as he drafted orders to dispose of the body. Crushed by the calamity, he told Sherman, “The loss of poor Bowers is one that I feel more keenly than it is usually possible for anyone to feel for another not an immediate member of their own family.” It was typical of Grant to respond profoundly to death with inner grief but no outward show of emotion.

After attending Bowers’s funeral at West Point, Grant returned to a capital preoccupied with the civil rights bill introduced by Radical Republicans to mollify Black Codes in the South that prevented freedmen from owning property, making contracts, and filing lawsuits. Though silent on voting rights, the bill sought to bring the full blessings of citizenship to anyone born in the United States, including blacks, protecting them by the “full and equal benefit of all laws.” (Native Americans were excluded.) This landmark legislation defined citizenship rights in a new manner that made the federal government, not the states, the guarantor of basic liberties.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

the last book I ever read (Grant by Ron Chernow, excerpt eleven)

from Grant by Ron Chernow:

On February 7, President Johnson met at the White House with five black leaders, including Frederick Douglass, who came to lobby for a civil rights bill. The black leaders were treated in a tasteless, abusive manner. After they shook hands with the president, their spokesman, George T. Downing, said they hoped he would support voting rights for blacks, which elicited a bizarre, rambling monologue from Johnson. He admitted to having owned slaves, but boasted of never having sold one, as if that would somehow ingratiate him with his visitors. He presented himself as a kindly master who had been “their slave instead of their being mine.” To promote civil rights, Johnson went on, would “result in the extermination of one [race] or the other.” If given the vote, “the colored man and his master, combined,” would conspire to keep poor whites “in slavery,” denying them a portion “of the rich land of the country.” After the bewildered delegation filed out, Johnson boasted to his secretary, “Those damned sons of bitches thought they had me in a trap.”