The Next President
WE shall not claim greater honor than prophets commonly receive in their own country when the vote of the nation confirms the impression we feel that General Grant is to be the next President, though there are some things which make us aware of risk in the prediction. It is not long since General Grant was formally named for the Presidency by a class of persons in several of our large cities who conceived themselves singularly qualified to choose the head of a free people, because they had hitherto had little or nothing to do with politics, and were, as a class, less self-governed than any other part of our population. They proposed to take politics out of the hands of politicians, and to elect a President by the force of wealth and respectability ; and, besides the dangerous favor of these down-trodden and quite helpless merchant-princes, General Grant has had the disadvantage of a literary father celebrating his boyhood in the “ New York Ledger.”But, on the other hand, there are Vicksburg and Richmond, and the great fact that General Grant has said nothing to injure himself, however mischievous his friendships and relationships may be. We take courage from what he has done and has not done, and find his surviving popularity an assurance of his success, at least before the Republican Convention appointed for an early day at Chicago.
It seems quite possible now that no one will appear there to dispute the nomination with him. The question has, up to this time, been solely between him and Chief Justice Chase; no other has had the slightest reason to hope for the nomination ; and now the Chief Justice’s influence with the party throughout the country seems fairly and finally tested by the action of the party in his own State, where there is scarcely a doubt that its whole strength will be given for Grant.
What manner of man this is who is to be our next President is plain enough. As we all know, he has of his own motion said little about it, yet he has done a vast deal about it ; and, though a silent man, he has shown himself a very frank one. If we sketched him according to the popular ideal of a year ago (for the most part evolved, as we think, from the inner consciousness of the reporters and correspondents) he would appear as a smallish military gentleman, not too scrupulous in dress, who is in the pretty constant receipt of calls from eminent politicians anxious to sound him upon this and upon that, and who baffles all these wily intriguers by smoking speechlessly, with a scarcely perceptible quivering of the left eyelid, or else, with an impenetrable astuteness, by turning the discourse upon horses. Several events have occurred within the past year to modify this ideal; and, as matters now stand, we do not see how the mind of General Grant could be better declared than it is upon whatever politicians would like to know. As rapidly as practical questions have arisen, he has answered for himself in word and act; and, since the removal of General Sheridan, nobody has been more satisfactory in the expression of his opinions than the taciturn soldier reputed never to open his lips. No one, it is true, has used him ; and no one, we suspect, has attempted to do so, except Mr. Johnson ; but Mr. Johnson is a pure empiric in politics : he even tried to make use of General Custer, and in like manner would probably have resorted to Mr. Train as a specific for the Presidential complaint, had he happened to call to mind a gentleman who, in view of his public character and last arrest, we may describe as our National Debtor.
There is no longer a doubt of General Grant’s convictions upon the great question which unites the whole Republican party, or which divides us from the Democratic party ; and if we asked him at this moment for a declaration of his opinions, beyond the question of reconstruction, he might reasonably retort upon us with a like demand. For some time our bow of Republican promise has been much like the ordinary rainbow, of which there is supposed to be a separate one for the gratification of each beholder. We share with our opponents a general desire for lighter taxes and a lower tariff; but we have been somewhat uncertain about the currency, and we are not agreed upon any form of repudiation, or upon repudiation at all. We no longer desire to hang Jefferson Davis, or even John Surratt; and though the impeachment of Mr. Johnson commands the approval of the party as a serio-comic necessity, it must be owned that the impeachment of Presidents is hardly an “ issue ” to inspire enthusiasm in their election.
In fine, but for reconstruction it would not be easy to say what Republicanism is, beyond the assurance each Republican feels that his party will do justice as occasion arrives. He knows that his party embraces all that is best in the national life,—intellect, education, public spirit, private worth and weight in such degree that it cannot go wrong without destroying itself. It is essentially the party which saved the government from rebellion, and it seeks to restore prosperity in States which, till its triumph, had never known freedom. It is not, in broad terms, the party which sends prizefighters to Congress ; it can even boast of having been beaten when it named a ’cute showman for a seat in the national legislature. It embodies the American idea, with some of its defects and errors, but with all its strength and honesty, its steadfastness and generosity. It can have no being but in progress and good-faith. It may be divided and beaten, but in the end it must be the triumphing majority, for it is the reason and the heart of the people.
General Grant could give no better proof of his sympathy with this party, besides his avowed adherence to its main purpose, than the respect he has uniformly shown for the national sense of honor and justice, and the recognition which his acts have given of the supremacy of public opinion. Explicitly or tacitly, our government is based upon the idea that the people can do no wrong; and, consciously or unconsciously, the office of the Chief Magistrate among us has been simplified to intelligence and obedience, — the ability to understand the popular mind, and the will to rule by it. We want no leader in the White House, but we nevertheless want a great man there, for it is only a great man who can comply with these conditions. Mr. Johnson early showed himself helpless to discern and to acquiesce, blinded as he was with original conceit, and narrowed by the provincial life of a minor Slave State. He conceived of us from the first as a nation of emancipated tailors, and he never could see that the eagle differed essentially from the goose. It required a sagacious humility, which he never possessed, to act upon public feeling, to keep even with it, to confess practically, that, unless our democracy is feigned and our existence a sham, we can scarcely be worse misgoverned than when we are forced aright by an executive. “ I don't believe,” says Mr. Wade, in a recent conversation attributed to him, “that a President ought to be setting himself up as a policy-maker. When I am asked what my policy will be in case I have to discharge the Presidential duties, I generally answer that I won’t have any policy. It’s the duty of Congress to adopt a policy, and the duty of the President to execute it. We ’ve had trouble enough from the efforts of Presidents to set up a policy for themselves, and force Congress into its adoption by the use of the government patronage, and otherwise.” To some such clear idea of the business of Presidency General Grant has shown himself to have attained; and whether he has reached it through the experience of a lifetime, or through the events of the two instructive years of Mr. Johnson’s administration, we need not very diligently inquire.
It is certain that Grant’s whole life has been one to teach him America, if not Americanism ; and he has had even wider opportunities to know his countrymen than that great President who understood them better than any other, and with whom he had in common a backwoods origin and a youth of hard work. In order to believe that these opportunities were not lost to a man of his shrewd and independent temper, we need not be at the trouble to suppose that he made an ambitious study of the people with whom he was brought so variously acquainted, or that he was not always chiefly interested in advancing his fortunes by the paths plainest before him. The destiny which took him from his rude early life, and placed him in contact with discipline, science, and culture at West Point, was not of a kind to inspire trust in its infallibility, since it concerned itself so little with Grant personally that it even blundered in his name, and put fame and the family Bible forever at variance about him ; nor is it. probable that he was led in any very confident or prophetic spirit from West Point to active service in Mexico, and thence to garrison-life in New York and on the Canadian frontier, and, yet later, on military duty to California and Oregon, with their goldmining tumults and Indian wars. Nevertheless, he thus came to know Americans of every class and section ; and when, having married, he resigned his place in the army, and tried farming, and, in a small way, slaveholding, in Missouri, and still later devoted himself to the leather business at Galena, he completed his own experience of all the prominent phases of American life,—the backwoods, the school, arms, agriculture, and commerce. When the war overtook him with the rest of us, In 1861, he was still selling leather in Galena. We dare say he did not then, in his thirty-ninth year, regard himself as a very successful man, and no effort of the imagination could depict him as a great one. He was a widely experienced, undiscouraged American, who was doing the work that lay next his hand, with no reason to exult in his past, nor any disposition to make less of himself in the future. He must have seemed to everybody a plain man of average ability ; but his taciturn habit no doubt did him injustice, and made him pass for a man of less weight than he really was. Considering his whole character and career, it is probable that he valued his neighbors more justly than they valued him ; and it is pretty certain that since that time he has had the advantage of his countrymen in approaching the reciprocal understanding which has been finally reached.
We are all Abolitionists since the emancipation of the slaves ; and if we find it hard to forgive Grant, that, up to the beginning of the war, he had failed to sympathize with the popular resolution to limit and annul the political influence of slavery, we can remember it merely as we recall the political history of, say, General Butler up to about the same period. Grant’s thorough knowledge of Americans as men was the foundation on which he built the victories of Fort Donelson, Vicksburg, and Richmond, and in the mean time his political education has proceeded with the greatest rapidity. At the outset he saw that the end of slavery had come, and the " three likely negroes ” whom his wife owned in Missouri were then freed by private proclamation; nor did he ever propose to subdue the Rebels with one hand and crush the slaves with the other, upon the plan of our more imaginative generals. He felt that the work belore him was more serious than this, and that the people behind him were earnest to extremity. He put his silent faith in their resolution, and beat out the Rebellion with their inexorable numbers, which he knew could not fail him so long as there was need of them ; but, the work done, he respected their supremacy, as if he had been the least of his victorious soldiers, and had never had power over one American citizen.
Yet how thoroughly events had educated him in our political character and the most advanced ideas of self-government few of us understood till, two years later, we read those words in protest against the removal of General Sheridan: “ I earnestly urge, in the name of a patriotic people, who have sacrificed hundreds of thousands of loyal lives, and thousands of millions of treasure, to preserve the integrity and union of this country, that this order be not insisted on. It is, unmistakably, the expressed wish of the country that General Sheridan should not be removed from his command. This is a Republic where the will of the people is the law of the land. I beg that their voice may be heard. General Sheridan has performed his civil duties faithfully and intelligently. His removal will only be regarded as an effort to defeat the laws of Congress. It will be interpreted by the unconstructed element in the South — those who did all they could to break up this government by arms, and now wish to be the only element consulted as to the method of restoring order — as a triumph. It will embolden them to renewed opposition to the will of the loyal masses, believing that they have the Executive with them.”
Neither for the great exigency of reconstruction, which makes us all Republicans, whatever our opinions of tariffs or debts or taxes, nor for the imperishable principles of justice and freedom upon which our national existence rests, could there have been any franker expression than this. Here is a man who interprets the Presidential duty as respect for the public will, and the Presidential policy as a plain obedience to the laws of Congress. Reading this passage over again in the light of Mr. Wade’s attributive theory of the Presidential office, we cannot find how it differs from the ideal of the most radical among us. If there is stuff to make a broader or sounder reconstruction clause for the Republican creed, we shall be glad to have it used at Chicago. Grant’s acts since the war, and particularly during the last six months, if they could somehow be formulated, might serve the occasion.
No doubt General Grant will pledge himself to as great truth in the future as he has shown in the past; and we say again, if there is any form of promise by which he can be most clearly and distinctly bound to the purposes and destiny of the party, we owe it to ourselves and to the country to exact it. The one great duty before us is the reconstruction of the Southern States upon the basis of equal rights for every race and color. This is the first thing; but another duty associates itself with it, in all just men’s minds.
The party ought to declare unmistakably against every form of repudiation, lest thereby we who urged on the war at every cost incur a double guilt, such as never could attach to the opponents of the war if they favored national bad faith. Honesty is the best principle as well as the best policy, and we must secure the national creditors, because, as men of honor, we do not betray the friends who trust us, or forget the claims of those who succor our necessities. The right is plain, and there is no expediency that holds as argument against it. Our bond to our creditors ought to be as good as our word to the liberated slaves.
We think that the Chicago Convention should also give some distinct hope of relief to the tax-payers ; and we would have something said in recognition of the justice and reason of free-trade, even if no pledge for the immediate reduction of imposts can be made. We might, for example, have a plank in the platform on which, instead of slavery, lately deceased, the protective tariff and Mormon polygamy should figure as “ the twin relics of barbarism.” However, we do not insist upon this. It can scarcely be necessary to urge upon the Convention the nomination of a thoroughly tried and upright man for the Vice-Presidency or to dwell on the error of trusting anything to disease or assassination in the secondary choice of an Executive. We must ourselves provide for a chance which is so possible as the accession of the Vice-President to the Chief-magistracy, and see to it that no form of Tyler or Johnson succeeds General Grant,—a man indeed given us by the war that saved us, but also a man who has done everything since the war to keep our honor and gratitude, —a man who, from his own varied life, can judge aright nearly every phase of our national life, — a man who is in practical sympathy with American ideas of self-government, and whose words and deeds promise for the future a President without a policy and a people without a master.