« AnteriorContinua »
new political organisation, calling itself the Whig party, and sympathising, no doubt, with the victories, then recent and imposing, of the English Whigs, came into existence. The Whigs were powerful for some years, but they were undermined by the dissensions which followed the accession of Mr. Tyler to the Presidency, and their party perished at the election of Mr. Pierce in 1852. It was during Mr. Pierce's presidency that the Republican party, as it now exists, arose. The · Know-Nothing' or 'Native American' party had attempted to establish itself, and had failed; and the best part of it, with such of the old Whigs as still retained a footing in politics, joined with the Free-Soilers, who were opposed above all things to the territorial extension of slavery. In the Congress of 1857–59, the Republican party was formed and disciplined. It was in a minority, but it knew its own mind. It had definite aims, able leaders of high character, and, behind it, the respect of the non-political middle class. So it fought and won the Presidential contest of 1860. The Democrats were not only vanquished, but rent asunder. Those of the North supported Mr. Douglas against Mr. Lincoln; those of the South threw away their votes on Mr. Breckenridge, and when they found that they had defeated their own purposes they rushed into rebellion. The Republican party was thus placed in possession not only of the executive power, but of an unquestioned predominance in Congress. The secession of the South left the Northern Democrats helpless, and when the Union was seen to be at stake great numbers of prominent men previously attached to the Democratic party went over to the Republican side. The Federal disasters at the beginning of the war stung the pride of the North ; the victories of Grant and Sherman at the close strengthened it. When the achievement was viewed in its completeness after the death of Lincoln, the world acclaimed the work.
Yet there were germs of weakness in that triumph, full as it was of moral grandeur, and rich as it was in practical fruit. It is one of the curses of war that, while it often lifts a people to heights of unselfish devotion, it seldom fails to educate their rulers in methods of government unfitted for peace and constitutional progress. To rule in war, a coarse, hard-handed grasp is needed, a courage that does not falter in seizing desperate expedients, an indifference to the moral consequences of measures, provided they will serve their immediate purpose. Many a great war has left a nation ennobled in spirit, but none, I think, can be recalled which has elevated the ethical standard of the government that waged it. In the United States four years of hard fighting had infected politics with the ideas of the camp, and had crowded political life with men whose loyalty to the flag was their only title to respect. Scrupulosity in public affairs was spurned as effeminate, and after a while denounced as treacherous. Men of sensitive honour chose rather to fight for the Union in the ranks than to busy themselves with the affairs of State. It was in such a medley that persons like General Butler made their way to the front. Others less daringly indifferent to political decency, but equally unscrupulous, rose at the same time, and rose higher. When the war came to an end, many men of this type sat in the front ranks of the Republican majority in Congress. Unfortunately, too, President Johnson had neither the culture, the temper, nor the refinement of feeling which would have enabled him to remedy the degradation of political character that the war had caused. He engaged in a bitter feud with the Republican majority upon the question of Southern reconstruction, and, whether he were right or not on the main point, he took the readiest means to paralyse his powers for good on other questions as well as on this by creating a dead-lock in Congress. His impeachment revealed the full extent of the moral mischief that the war had wrought;—how completely it had substituted • loyalty and energy' for every other political gift. A perusal, after nine years have elapsed, of the speeches on the impeachment debates and trial, especially those of Mr. Boutwell, Mr. Stevens, and General Butler, would bring a blush to the cheek of most self-respecting Republicans. It was this spirit, however, and these methods which carried the Congressional policy of reconstruction against the President's, and which reigned in the Cabinet as well as in Congress after General Grant's first election.
General Grant was an able and a fortunate soldier. Political training he bad none (as he has confessed in a recent message to Congress) when he was called to the highest office in the Republic. He had good intentions and no conscious sympathy with corruption. But there his merits ended. Incapable of estimating political capacity, intolerant of scrupulous, temperate, and critical minds, the President insisted upon a soldierly discipline among the rank and file of the Republican party ; and if they obeyed their orders and stood firmly by their colours he was not too careful to inquire into their slight departures from the moral code. A good Republican had a claim to reward in the shape of office, just as a loyal soldier had to his pay and pension; and the party chief was under the same obligation to sustain his followers against carping complaints as a general in war time. This was, in brief, President Grant's political morality. Applied to the situation at Washington as he found it when he entered the White House in 1869, it separated him at once from the mass of moderate and intelligent men, who had disapproved of the impeachment of Mr. Johnson and the reconstruction of the South by the
agency of Northern adventurers and negro electors. The President would have nothing to do with the men who had sided with his predecessor, or had even shielded him. He thus deprived himself of the services and the guidance of the most clear-headed and sober politicians, and in dealing with difficult problems of government he was driven to rely on men who were incapable, or ignorant, or intemperate. The reconstruction of the South, the management of the national finances, the administration of the civil departments of State, still suffering from the disorganisation of the war—these were tasks to which the highest statesmanship would have been no more than equal. Of the methods that should have been employed upon any of them it is not too much to say that General Grant had not the faintest glimmering of an idea. Among his Cabinet advisers during his first term were Mr. Boutwell, who was placed in charge of the Treasury; Mr. Delano, Secretary of the Interior; General Belknap, Secretary of War; and Mr. Robeson, Secretary of the Navy.
Among these, Mr. Boutwell quickly exposed his incompetence as a financier by encouraging the demand for an inflation of the currency which a few years later became so dangerous, and by reversing Mr. M‘Culloch's policy of contraction. A severe Puritanical personage, of strict personal morals, with a scorn for political scruples, and a bitter determination to see evil in every act of an opponent or even of a critical ally, Mr. Boutwell was a fellow-fighter whom the President could understand. But his policy' at the Treasury neither the President nor any one else could understand. Yet those were critical times for the national credit. Shortly before General Grant's election there had been a cry for the payment of the bondholders in greenbacks instead of coin, and two conspicuous Republicans--Mr. Morton in the Senate and General Butler in the House of Representatives-supported that scheme of spoliation. Senator Sherman, who has been appointed Secretary of the Treasury the other day by President Hayes, offered a “compromise,' by which the bondholders were to be induced to accept 5 instead of 6 per cent. without the option of being paid off. It was while the financial views of many leading Republicans were in this flaccid condition that Mr. Boutwell was placed in charge of the Treasury. His determination to pay off debt when he could and how he could was praiseworthy, but he did not see that, by leaving the currency question untouched, or by touching it only to complicate it, he put a drag upon the forces of the nation, and gave quacks and panic-mongers the chances they desired. In truth, Mr. Boutwell had a stern contempt for economic science, which he carried into his conversation as well as his policy, if we may credit the story that he once surprised a man of business who quoted Adam Smith to him by declaring that “no two books in the world contained so many lies as the Koran and the “ Wealth of Nations !". The Treasury, during his tenure of office, failed to gain the confidence of the country, and especially of business men, who looked upon finance as the most vital of all questions. Though the abounding energies of the nation piled up wealth unceasingly, and enabled Mr. Boutwell to effect a considerable reduction of the debt, and though the popular voice condemned the attacks on the bondholders so loudly that all save the irrepressible Butler were silenced, the financial policy of General Grant's administration from 1869 to 1874 was not reassuring. It bred doubts which had much to do with the panic of 1873 and the inflationist movement that followed. So even on this question the Republican Administration lost ground, and it was only prevented from lapsing into ruinous unpopularity by the more flagrant follies of the Democratic opposition.
The policy of General Grant on the question of civil service reform' was not less influenced by dangerous advisers. The majority of the Cabinet of 1869 were favourable to the system which dispensed offices under the Federal Government as the fitting rewards of party fidelity, and which with the immense power of this instrument moved and checked at will the complicated machinery of the party conventions. Mr. Cox, who was first appointed Secretary of the Interior by General Grant, honestly attempted a reform of this vicious system, but he was opposed within the Cabinet by Mr. Boutwell and others, and in the Senate by Mr. Chandler, one of the most celebrated 'managers' of his day. Of course Mr. Cox fell. He was succeeded by Mr. Delano, of whom it is sufficient to say that, in 1875, he resigned under a cloud, after a long controversy over his management of Indian affairs. It will, of course, be understood that Mr. Delano did nothing to unsettle Mr. Chandler's view of the beauty of the arrangements under which the managers of the political ‘machine' controlled the convention system by the use of patronage, and controlled popular discontent by the convention system. Nor did the other ministers who dispensed patronage--the Secretaries for War and for the Navy, and the Postmaster-General--display any troublesome zeal for reform. The first, General Belknap, was ejected from office a year ago on the disclosure of scandalous corruption for which he confessed himself responsible, and the second, Mr. Robeson, was for many months under the stigma of similar charges, and possibly would have been impeached if he had not gone out of office with his chief. It is a part of General Grant's military character that he has a deep-seated contempt for popular criticism, and that he unflinchingly supports his, men under fire.' Thus the President has been credited, often unfairly, with a full knowledge and approval of all that his ministers have done, and advised. He has also, and more justly, been held responsible for the bestowal of patronage subject to the recommendations of the dominant party in Congress. All the lesser offices—the supervisorships of excise, the collectorships of customs, even the postmasterships-are given away in reality by the actual (or possible) senators and representatives from the State in which their work lies. A skilful political manager, like Mr. Conkling in the State of New York, may thus be successful in building up, out of patronage simply, a commanding power. But the results, it is needless to say, are not always beneficial to the public. Since popular discontent has fastened upon the Civil Service system, General Grant has shown a disposition to throw the blame of his worst appointments upon the senators and others who advised them. He has sometimes, however, acted of his own
motion, and seldom creditably. Thus, in spite of a protest from the whole Congressional delegation of Missouri, he nominated one Macdonald to an excise office at St. Louis, on the ground that he had been a 'good Union soldier.' Macdonald became soon one of the purchased tools of the • Whiskey Ring,' and was afterwards sentenced to imprisonment in the Penitentiary.
Neither the management of the finances, then, nor the administration of the civil departments was such as to satisfy the American people. Dissatisfaction gathered rapidly around the Executive and Legislative powers, and after a while the familiar spell of · The Union in danger' lost its potency. The Republican leaders towards the end of General Grant's first term (and indeed ever since) laboured to prove that the condition of the South was one of continued war, that the Southern whites were resolved upon the reduction of the negroes to a state of disguised slavery, and that the intervention of the Federal power, under a provision which Mr. Sumner once called 'the sleeping giant of the Constitution,' was inevitable. These assertions have been repeated by the apologists of the party during the late contest, and they have been set forth with admirable point and vigour by an • American Republican' in the January number of Macmillan's Magazine. Are we to take them as indisputably proved ? Are we to weigh no other considerations against them? These are questions which lie at the root of the present difficulty in the United States.
When the Confederacy fell the Federal Government had before it three courses: (1) To govern the conquered States with despotic authority supported by military force, as the Punjab, for instance, was governed by us after the annexation of 1849; (2) to recognise the existing State governments on their legally acknowledging the Union and taking the oath of allegiance; (3) to disfranchise the ex-rebels, that is, the whole white population of the South, to enfranchise the negroes, and to supply leaders for the latter from the North. The first course would certainly have been the wisest and the most effective. A strong government in the South, rigorously keeping order, energetically promoting education, pushing on public works everywhere, but managing the finances carefully, would, in a dozen years, have wrought a marvellous change. But the experiment was too plainly impossible. The people of the North were weary of the burden of a great army; they were jealous of Imperialism,' of the spirit that irresponsible rule breeds, of the ambition that military government nourishes. Moreover, though the doctrine of State rights had wellnigh wrecked the Union, there were great numbers of loyal men who were loth to surrender the principle of the independence of the States in local affairs. The choice practically lay between the second and third courses, and the latter was deliberately chosen by the Republican party.
When General Sherman forced Johnston to capitulate in 1865, the Confederate commander held out for fair terms, and his conqueror