the 1868 presidential campaign was blatantly racist -- 4/05/17

Today's selection -- from American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant by Ronald C. White. In 1868, victorious Civil War general U.S. Grant ran for the office of president. Even with the anti-slavery legacy of Abraham Lincoln, and even with "every drop of blood drawn with the lash ... paid by another drawn with the sword, "the campaign of 1868 stands as perhaps the most blatantly racist in American history, with Grant decried by his Democratic opponents as -- in the inexcusable lingo of the time -- a "nig­ger lover":

"Republicans sought to strengthen their appeal in the South by finally readmitting seven southern states in June and July that had voted to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment, hoping for the first time in their brief his­tory to garner southern votes. They believed newly franchised black vot­ers would provide an edge in several states. The long battle for the Fourteenth Amendment culminated in ratification on July 9, 1868.

Grant/Colfax campaign card

"Just as Grant promised, others campaigned for him. Both Republicans and Democrats campaigned with torchlight parades boosted by singing Civil War songs. Both sides displayed colorful banners, Grant supporters trumpeting U.S.G. -- THE TANNER OF REBELS and OUR SYMBOL IS PEACE, NOT THE SWORD, while Democrats countered with, WE GO FOR SEYMOUR AS WE WENT FOR LEE and LET ALL GOOD MEN VOTE NO NIGGER. Republicans orga­nized 'tanner' clubs, with Grant and Colfax depicted 'tanning old Dem­ocratic hides.' 'Boys in Blue' organizations paraded to evoke the spirit of the war. One word -- 'Appomattox' -- echoed everywhere.

"The campaign biography had become one of the most effective tools in the nineteenth century, and Albert D. Richardson's A Personal History of Ulysses S. Grant became a bestseller in 1868. Richardson emphasized that as war correspondent for the New York Tribune, he came to know Grant personally and thus could reveal anecdotes the public did not yet know.

"If the campaign biography had become standard fare by 1868, an ad­vance on this older medium leapt into the fray. Political cartoons had been around forever, but by the 1860s Thomas Nast elevated the art form of satirical cartoons to a new prominence. Nast, who would become known as the 'Father of the American Cartoon,' working first at Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper and then at Harper's Weekly, wielded tremen­dous influence. From his experiences of the Civil War came his sympa­thies for the plight of African Americans. By 1868, he threw his now considerable influence solidly behind Grant, by both pictorial applause and devastating criticism of Grant's opponents.

"Democrats sought to criticize Grant by claiming he had another wife out west, an Indian squaw he'd met at Fort Vancouver with whom he had three children. The New York World charged that Grant had been careless with soldiers' lives, enduring far more casualties than Lee. This latter claim, although not true, would have legs down to the present.

"They particularly defamed Grant as a 'black Republican' and a 'nig­ger lover.' But Grant had his defenders, no one more than Nast. For the celebrated cartoonist, the 1868 election was a contest between his hero, General Grant, and Horace Greeley and the Democratic Party, intent on suppressing the rights of African Americans.

"On September 5, Harper's Weekly published one of Nast's most evoca­tive cartoons. He depicted an Irish Catholic immigrant, Confederate Na­than Bedford Forrest, leader of the Ku Klux Klan, and August Belmont, Jewish financier and national chairman of the Democratic Party, holding high a bundle of money intended to buy votes. All three, joining hands, had their feet on the back of a black Union veteran who was clutching an American Flag and stretching his hand toward a ballot box."



Ronald C. White


American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant


Random House


Copyright 2016 by Ronald C. White


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