To what extent was President Grant involved in the different scandals that plagued his administration? How did he attempt to combat them?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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President Grant displayed the idea that war might be easier than politics.  His genius as a general was matched by an overwhelmed reality he faced while in office.  Part of what made the scandals in the Grant Administration so prevalent was the Gilded Age's emphasis on money in all aspects of life.  The movement of the nation from farms to factories resulted in a handful of people having a great deal of the nation's wealth.  These individuals did not see any problem in using that money to buy influence.  

Grant did not have a firm handle on being able to stop the collusion between industry and politics.  Lacking any frame of reference to address such corruption helped to enable it.  This collusion can be seen in the Credit Mobilier and the 1869 Black Friday scandals.  Both of them revolved around business interests moving too close to political interests, where money acted as a subterfuge for political action.  Executive oversight was not used as a check regarding such reality.  

Grant never quite understood the pervasive nature of money and wealth. He thus never understood how to effectively combat it.  Economic consolidation and control was never envisioned on this level, and thus Grant lacked an articulation of how to stop its corrupting influence. The approach Grant took to attempt to combat such matters were from a military perspective.  These consisted of orders given and lacked a subtle understanding of nuances that helped to prevent him from actively stopping corruption before it festered.  This represented a failure in attempting to stem the corruption that was so intrinsic to his administration.

Grant himself was not necessarily corrupt.  There is little evidence to show that he personally benefitted or that he masterminded what was transpiring in the political realm.  Yet, Grant did not know how to effectively get ahead of the corruption, thereby becoming victim to it.  At the same time, Grant lacked the political will to cut himself off form those in his administration that were part of the corruption.  In the Whiskey Ring scandal, bribes were administered all the way up to Grant's Private Secretary.  While Grant publicly demanded that "Let no guilty man escape," Grant used executive power to protect Orville Babcock, thereby reducing the perception that Grant actually wanted to stop the corruption.  

While Grant really did want to stop the corruption present, one can see that even his responses in his deposition regarding the Whiskey Ring Scandal lacked a temperament and demeanor that demanded the end to such practices. Responses such as "I was not aware" and "I did not remember" do not strike as one who is truly committed to ending a plague of corruption.  They read of a man overwhelmed with forces around him, a perception that lingered around Grant in terms of his response to his administration's corruption.

"Grantism" was another aspect of his administration where corruption could be seen. The political spoils system where government was an extension of patronage and influence infected Grant's administrations as President.  Grant had friends and family members working in government positions, helping to enhance the notion that Grant's power was compromised and helping those who knew him.  While Grant himself was not found guilty of corruption that benefitted him directly, it is clear that he lacked a full- throated and comprehensive response to it.  This ends up historically tainting him as President.

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