The Republican Party/Chapter IX

CHAPTER IX

PROGRESS AND REFORM

Early in President Grant's first term the Republican party had the profound gratification of marking the beginning of a new and most advanced and beneficent era in the international relations of the world. This was the recognition of the right of expatriation. Down to that time European nations had denied the right of their subjects to renounce their allegiance and to become citizens of the United States. When such naturalized citizens of the United States revisited their former homes they were often seized as deserters and subjected to penalties, or were subjected to the laws of those countries as though they had never left them. The Republican party, standing supremely for the rights of man, insisted from the outset that every man in the world had a right to choose for himself to what nation he would belong and to what government he would give allegiance. As already recorded, it made that demand a conspicuous and unequivocal plank in its platform. At an opportune time, in 1868, it proceeded from words to acts. Congress enacted a law asserting that right and indicating the purpose of this government to enforce and to vindicate that right in behalf of all its naturalized citizens. The matter was one of high importance, for at that time the volume of immigration from various European lands was great and was increasing, and nearly all of the immigrants purposed to become naturalized.

It was of course desirable to have that principle recognized by the nations which had theretofore denied it, by means of treaties or otherwise. In 1868 several such treaties were made with various German States and with Belgium, and in 1869 with Sweden and Norway. The German treaties were of little significance, however, since the German Empire in 1871 practically repudiated them with respect to all male immigrants who could by any jugglery be charged with having evaded or failed to perform their full quota of compulsory military service. The really important establishment of the principle occurred in 1870 when there was promulgated a treaty, which had been made in 1869, between the United States and Great Britain, in which the British government unequivocally recognized the right of its subjects or citizens to renounce their allegiance and become Americans, and to enjoy thereafter the same protection from the American government and the same consideration and respect from the British government that native American citizens enjoyed. After that it was only a question of time when every nation in the world was compelled to give the same recognition to that great Republican doctrine of the right of the individual man to self-determination.

It was in Grant's first year, too, on May 10, 1869, that another great work was achieved through the wisdom of Republican statesmanship and the energy of Republican enterprise. This was the completion of the first Pacific railroad. On the day named the two roads which for several years had been pushed, the one from the Mississippi Valley westward, the other from the Pacific coast eastward, met at Promontory Point, and the last spike was driven “with a silver hammer and a golden nail.” The line was 1,914 miles long from Omaha to San Francisco, and the Atlantic and Pacific coasts were thus connected by a highway of steel and steam. There followed other comparable undertakings. It was in 1869 that the government began the gigantic work of removing the dangerous obstructions at Hell Gate in New York Harbor, and in the following year it committed itself to the project of a trans-Isthmian canal at Darien or Panama.

The year 1870 saw all the southern states fully restored to participation in the national government, with the political rights of most of the former Confederates also restored while the enfranchisement of the negro race was emphasized by the election of some of its members to both Houses of Congress. Many of the stamp taxes and other domestic imposts of war times were abolished or reduced, and there were also substantial reductions of the tariff on imports, particularly on tea, coffee, sugar, and other articles of popular use. The army was reduced to a peace footing of only 30,000 men.

One of the greatest administrative reforms in the history of the government was begun in March, 1871 in the establishment of the merit system in the civil service. More than forty years before the Democratic party, under Andrew Jackson, had established the spoils system under which there was a “clean sweep” at every change of administration and loyalty and usefulness to the party, rather than efficiency for public service, was made the requirement for office holding from the highest places down to the most humble. The abuses which thus crept into the government were widespread and scandalous, but no serious and efficient attempt to correct them was made until the first Grant administration and the Forty-first Congress, both of course Republican. Then a law was made empowering the President to make rules for admission to the civil service of the nation. Under that law there was appointed the first United States Civil Service Commission, consisting of George William Curtis, Alexander G. Cattell, Joseph Medill, D. A. Walker, E. B. Ellicott, Joseph H. Blackfan and David C. Cox. The keynote of the movement was that fitness for the place was to supersede political “pull.” It was reserved for a later Republican administration and Congress to develop the system fully, but this first act was an irrevocable step toward the great reform.

In 1872 the great postal reform of issuing one-cent postal cards was established; internal taxes on food were abolished together with the import duties on tea and coffee; the income tax and most of the stamp taxes were repealed; the Geneva Arbitration resulted in the award of $15,500,000 indemnity to the United States for the damage done by Confederate cruisers through British negligence or connivance; and the San Juan boundary at the extreme northwest was established in favor of the United States through international arbitration. Despite these great achievements of the Republican party for the profit and honor of the nation, however, there arose within its own ranks a certain dissatisfaction which increased to actual hostility. This was in part aroused because of the necessity of enacting and executing some strenuous laws for the enforcement of the new constitutional amendments and for the vindication of the equal civil rights of citizens in the South. A widespread and murderous conspiracy against such rights was organized, known as the Ku-Klux Klan, against which the national government was compelled to use much force. These disturbances made it inevitable that there should be further delay in removing all the political disabilities of all the former Confederates. In addition to these things, the comparative inexperience of President Grant in civil administration and the too great trust which he, in his own transparent honesty, sometimes reposed in other men led to some more or less serious acts of maladministration and even of corruption in the government, such as had been suffered by almost every preceding administration; and these were exploited and magnified for political purposes by the enemies of the President and his party.

As early as 1870 a number of disaffected Republicans in Missouri, calling themselves “Liberals,” united with the Democrats and defeated the Republicans in the state election. The movement was extended to other states and in consequence the Republican majority in Congress was somewhat reduced by that fall's elections. In 1872 various “Liberal Republican” conventions were held, and finally in May a national convention of that faction was held at Cincinnati, at which after much dispute and uncertainty Horace Greeley of New York and B. Gratz Brown of Missouri were nominated for President and Vice-President. Mr. Greeley was one of the most eminent newspaper editors of the country and had been one of the founders of the Republican party. But his course had generally been eccentric. He had opposed his one-time political partner, Seward, for the Presidency in 1860 because of personal pique at Seward's having declined to advance his political and office-seeking ambitions; he had raised the untimely cry of “forward to Richmond!" in 1861 which led to the disaster of Bull Run; he had bitterly opposed Lincoln's administration because Lincoln would not issue the Emancipation Proclamation as soon as he wished; he had advocated the severest possible punishment for all the participants in secession; and yet, soon after the close of the war, he had gone upon the bail-bond of Jefferson Davis. Despite his great abilities as a political writer and the purity and benevolence of his character and motives he was obviously not a man of sound leadership. The platform of this convention was devoted chiefly to denunciation of President Grant and his administration. It expressed adherence to most of the principles of the Republican party, though in a somewhat equivocal manner, and was obviously intended to be so vague and neutral as to be acceptable, or at least not unacceptable, to all who were for any reason dissatisfied with or opposed to the Republican party. Indeed, the prevailing cry at the convention was, “anything to beat Grant!"

The Democrats met in national convention at Baltimore on July 9th and, realizing the hopelessness of running a ticket of their own, with little demur ratified the candidates of the Liberal Republicans; thus accepting as their leader the man whom down to that day they had most of all reviled and detested and who had been their bitterest foe and most scathing critic in the American press. They also adopted without change, save of party name, the platform of the Liberals. This provoked a revolt of many Democrats who held another convention at Louisville, Ky. and nominated Charles O'Conor of New York for President and Charles Francis Adams of Massachusetts for Vice-President on a platform of state rights, strict construction of the Constitution and a tariff for revenue only.

Amid all this “sound and fury, signifying nothing,” the Republican party pursued the steadfast tenor of its way. It met in convention at Philadelphia on June 5th, unanimously renominated President Grant and named Henry Wilson of Massachusetts for Vice-President. The platform recounted the achievements of the party during its eleven years' control of the national government. It pledged the party to a comprehensive scheme of progressive and constructive statesmanship, including: civil service reform; reservation of public lands for homesteads for actual settlers; a tariff for revenue so adjusted as to aid in securing remunerative wages for American workingmen and to promote the industries, prosperity and growth of the whole country; pensions for soldiers and sailors; the maintenance of the rights of American citizens abroad, naturalized as well as native; abolition of the much-abused franking privilege and reduction of the rates of postage; legislation to give protection and opportunity to capital, and to labor a just share of the profits of industry; and the restoration of American shipbuilding and ocean commerce.

In this platform for the first time in the platform of either of the great parties appeared a cordial recognition of the obligations of the nation to the women of America “for their noble devotion to the cause of freedom;” an expression of satisfaction at their entrance into wider spheres of activity and usefulness; and a pledge of respectful consideration for whatever demands they might make for additional rights as citizens. From that platform utterance of the Republican party in June, 1872 dates the real achievement of “votes for women” throughout the United States.

Various other conventions were held that year of minor parties and factions, serving chiefly to illustrate the futility of such movements. Among them were those of the Prohibition party, the Labor Reform party and the Liberal Colored Republicans.

At no time was the result of the campaign in doubt, the only question being as to the size of the Republican majority. Greeley carried Maryland, Georgia, Texas, Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee with 63 electoral votes, and received 2,834,125 popular votes. Grant carried all the other states with 286 electoral votes, and received 3,597,132 popular votes. The “straight-out” Democrats polled only 29,489 votes for Mr. O'Conor and the Prohibition candidate got 5,608 votes. Of course a strongly Republican Congress was elected at the same time.

Following this election the Forty-second Congress continued to the end of its term its work of constructive legislation. It abolished the franking privilege for Members of Congress, which has since been restored; and it established the inestimably valuable Life Saving Service on the Atlantic coast. It also early in February, 1873 took the very important action of discontinuing after April 1st the coinage of the standard silver dollar, confining silver coinage to subsidiary coins and to “trade dollars” for use chiefly in Asiatic commerce and not legal tender in the United States. This was the first step in the protracted controversy over the “silver question” which did not, however, become acue until a number of years later, but then convulsed the nation in two campaigns.

The Forty-third Congress, in Grant's second term, continued the good work. It abolished all duties on tea and coffee, and made great reductions of import duties. It provided for the sale of public lands containing coal to encourage mining; passed stringent laws for the protection of animals from cruelty while being transported on railroads or otherwise; required national banks to restore their capital when impaired; and encouraged the growth of timber on the treeless western plains. It authorized the establishment of public marine schools for instruction in navigation and seamanship to encourage the American shipping industry. Then, near the end of its term, the Senate in December, 1874 and the House in January, 1875 enacted a bill, which President Grant signed on January 14th, providing, as herein before stated, for the resumption of specie payments on January 1, 1879. In both Senate and House, every Republican voted for this feature and every Democrat voted against it. One of the last important acts of this Republican Congress was the appropriation of $5,200,000 for the Construction of jetties for the improvement of navigation at the mouth of the Mississippi River, an act of immense value to the commerce of the central part of the United States and of national importance.

Despite this record of usefulness, a serious financial panic accompanied with widespread business depression in 1873 caused such political reaction that in the fall of 1874 the Democrats made great gains and elected a strong majority in the House of Representatives of the Forty-fourth Congress; their first majority in that body since 1859. The Republicans, however, retained a majority in the Senate.