PRESIDENT DAY EDITION BHM 2021- Ulysses Grant: Black America's Greatest President
As we celebrate President's Day during Black History Month, the Martin Luther King Republicans will like to raise awareness about Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th President of the United States, and his work on behalf of Black Americans. While many historians present Grant's presidency as one full of scandal and his attempts during Reconstruction a failure, I will not. The record must reflect the significant advances that Black Americans could accomplish during that time. There were elected officials, a record number of businesses and patents created, and so much more. According to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, African Americans looked on Grant with favor: "Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, but it was Grant who actually freed the slaves." Please take a moment and learn more about the Reconstruction Era and how America began to fulfill its promise that all me are created equal. Please visit the Reconstruction Era National Historical Park in South Carolina, where the information is gathered. And as always, please COMMENT, LIKE, and SHARE. Jimmy Lee Tillman, II founder, and President.
A Short Overview of the Reconstruction Era and Ulysses S. Grant's Presidency
The Reconstruction Era was a transformative period in U.S. history during the Civil War era. Historically, scholars had defined Reconstruction as having lasted from 1865 (the end of the American Civil War) until 1877, when a political compromise between the Republican and Democrat parties allowed for Republican Rutherford B. Hayes to become President of the United States on the condition that the last remaining federal troops in the South be removed. More recent interpretations, however, offer a broader timeline for Reconstruction. Reconstruction Era National Historical Park in Beaufort, South Carolina, defines Reconstruction as having started in 1861 (the beginning of the American Civil War) and lasting until the early twentieth century.
Reconstruction's central question was how to reunite a badly divided country fractured by four years of civil war. Connected to this question were more extensive discussions about the rights of four million newly-freed African Americans, the extent to which Union should punish former Confederates for their role in the war, the fulfillment of "Manifest Destiny" through westward expansion and settlement of Indian Country, and the meanings of freedom and justice in the United States. At the end of the day, what did it mean to be an American, and whose rights were deserving of the full protection of the U.S. government?
Critics confronted Ulysses S. Grant with these momentous questions upon his election to the presidency in 1868. His campaign theme was "Let Us Have Peace," He tried his best to promote sectional and racial harmony throughout the country. Before his election, Congress had already passed, among other legislative acts:
- The Civil Rights Act of 1866, which guaranteed protection for all U.S. citizens, regardless of color, to "to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, penalties, taxes, licenses, and exactions of every kind." This legislation overturned "Black Codes" established in the former Confederate states and had been used to keep African Americans in a near-state of slavery.
- The Military Reconstruction Act of 1867 split ten former Confederate states (excluding Tennessee) into five military districts to be overseen by the U.S. military. It mandated that each state rewrite its state constitution to allow for black male voting rights before readmittance into the Union.
- The 14th Amendment (1868) established the concepts of birthright citizenship (anyone born within U.S. boundaries or territories subject to the jurisdiction of U.S. law was automatically a U.S. citizen, excluding Indians) and equal protection of the law.
Grant won the 1868 presidential election by a landslide in the Electoral College but only won the popular vote by 300,000 ballots. Grant's victory came primarily to nearly 500,000 black voters in the South who overwhelmingly voted for him and the Republican party during the election. Upon taking office, Grant hoped to build upon the previously established framework by championing the 15th Amendment to enhance, protect, and guarantee black male voting rights nationwide. He also supported a series of legislative acts in 1871 to improve the federal government's ability to stop acts of racial terrorism committed by the Ku Klux Klan, and in 1875 he signed a Civil Rights law that outlawed racial discrimination in public transportation and accommodations and barred black exclusion from jury service.
Reconstruction was successful in helping to reunite a divided country. Equally important, the concept of "civil rights" was established during this period. Grant was nearly universally revered by the time of his death in 1885. A monumental tomb in New York City was constructed in his honor as a result of what was the most extensive public fundraising campaign in history up to that time. However, what gains were made in the realm of civil rights were under assault by the time Grant died and almost destroyed by the century's turn. In this sense, Reconstruction failed not because of President Grant or even because of southern opposition to civil rights, but because an entire nation--North, South, and West--lost the political and moral will to support the cause of equality before the law. The Jim Crow era replaced Reconstruction and ushered in a new era of racial segregation, violence, and murder well into the twentieth century. In parallel, the "Lost Cause" narrative of the Civil War argued that the Confederacy had been justified in its effort to secede from the Union and that Reconstruction had been a mistake. This narrative was promoted by former Confederates, academics, and politicians alike and served to provide an underlying ideology to justify denying equal rights falsely. Although the Lost Cause narrative argued that Grant's presidency had been a complete failure, more recent scholarship has attempted to reevaluate his legacy in a more balanced manner, highlighting both the accomplishments and shortcomings of his eight years in office.
LITTLE KNOWN BLACK HISTORY FACT
African American Commissioner Frederick Douglass appointed by Grant believed Santo Domingo annexation would benefit the United States. Grant was determined to keep the Dominican Republic treaty in the public debate, mentioning Dominican Republic annexation in his December 1870 State of the Union Address. Grant was able to get Congress in January 1871 to create a special Commission to investigate the island. Grant appointed Frederick Douglass, an African American civil rights activist, as one of the Commissioners who voyaged to the Dominican Republic. Returning to the United States after several months, the Commission in April 1871, issued a report that stated the Dominican people desired annexation and that the island would be beneficial to the United States. Although the Commission supported Grant's annexation attempt, there was not enough enthusiasm in Congress to vote on a second annexation treaty.