Skip to content

“I Was Mistaken”

The answers to the following questions are taken from chapter 16 of Grant’s memoirs.

Q: President Grant, you have told us that in 1856, instead of voting for the antislavery candidate, you voted for James Buchanan, whose party supported slavery.  This seems out of character for you.

A: With a Democrat elected by the unanimous vote of the Slave States, there could be no pretext for secession for four years.  I very much hoped that the passions of the people would subside in that time, and the catastrophe be averted altogether; if it was not, I believed the country would be better prepared to receive the shock and to resist it.

Q: You seem to have been a disciple of that great Whig compromiser, the late Henry Clay.

A: I was a Whig and a great admirer of Mr. Clay.

Q: Even though you had not met the residency requirement and were not eligible to vote in 1860, and even though you felt obligated to Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, were you happy when Mr. Lincoln was elected President?

A: Stephen A. Douglas… had no possible chance of election.  The contest was really between Mr. Breckinridge and Mr. Lincoln; between minority rule and rule by the majority.  I wanted, as between these candidates, to see Mr. Lincoln elected.

Q: But didn’t you believe that Mr. Lincoln’s election was going to cause the Slave States to secede?

A: I still had hope that the four years which had elapsed since the first nomination of a Presidential candidate by a party distinctly opposed to slavery extension, had given time for extreme pro-slavery sentiment to cool down; for the Southerners to think well before they took that awful leap which they had so vehemently threatened.  But I was mistaken.

Under These Circumstances

The answers to the following questions are taken from chapter 16 of Grant’s memoirs.

Q: President Grant, who did you vote for in 1860?

A: When the election took place in November, 1860, I had not been a resident of Illinois long enough to gain citizenship and could not, therefore, vote.

Q: Who would you have voted for?

A: My pledges would have compelled me to vote for Stephen A. Douglas.

Q: So, you were a Democrat?

A: I was a Whig by education and a great admirer of Mr. Clay.  But the Whig party had ceased to exist before I had an opportunity of exercising the privilege of casting a ballot.

Q: When did you first vote in a Presidential election?

A: The Presidential election of 1856.

Q: Why didn’t you vote in 1852 or 1848 or 1844?  You were old enough and could have voted for the Whig candidate each time.

A: I had been in the army from before attaining my majority and had thought but little about politics.

Q: So, when you voted in 1856, you voted for the Whig candidate?

A: The Whig party had ceased to exist before I had an opportunity of exercising the privilege of casting a ballot; the Know-Nothing party had taken its place, but was on the wane.

Q: Did you vote Republican in 1856?

A: It was evident to my mind that the election of a Republican President in 1856 meant the secession of all Slave States, and rebellion.  Under these circumstances I preferred the success of a candidate whose election would prevent or postpone secession, to seeing the country plunged into a war the end of which no man could foretell… I therefore voted for James Buchanan for President.

“Poor James Buchanan”

In his memoirs former President Grant wrote: “In 1856… I preferred the success of a candidate whose election would prevent or postpone secession, to seeing the country plunge into a war the end of which no man could foretell.  With a Democrat elected by the unanimous vote of the Slave States, there could be no pretext for secession for four years.  …I therefore voted for James Buchanan for President.”  Unfortunately, by the time Buchanan left office, seven of the Slave States had already seceded.  Of course, they blamed their actions on the election of Buchanan’s successor. Although in Buchanan the country got someone who may have postponed secession, he could not prevent it indefinitely.  He believed the Constitution gave the South no right to secede, but he also believed it gave him no means to stop them.

According to President Truman, Buchanan was “a compromise candidate in a time of compromises.”  In fact, Buchanan’s entire political career spanned from before the Missouri Compromise of 1820 through the Compromise of 1850.  Compromise was the language Buchanan understood, but within days of taking the Presidential oath, the Supreme Court handed down a decision which made any further compromise impossible.  The Union was now headed for dissolution.

Buchanan was not a great President.  Many have called him one of the worst, but not every man of letters has treated him so harshly.  After holding the office about one year, President Kennedy told a noted historian: “No one has a right to grade a President – not even poor James Buchanan – who has not sat in his chair, examined the mail and information that came across his desk, and learned why he made his decisions.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tyler and Monroe

John Tyler was not the sort of man who would have been elected President in the first place.  James Monroe served as President for two terms.  Tyler became President only after William Henry Harrison’s untimely death.  Monroe was unopposed when he ran for re-election.  Monroe died in 1831, almost ten years before Tyler became President.  Tyler died in 1862.

Monroe is known for the Monroe Doctrine and the Era of Good Feelings.  Tyler is known primarily as the first Vice President to become President upon the death of his predecessor.  Monroe signed the Missouri Compromise.  Tyler vetoed the bills that would have resurrected The Bank of the United States.

Monroe and Tyler were both from Virginia.  Both had served as officers in the U.S. military.  Lieutenant Monroe crossed the Delaware with General Washington.  Captain Tyler served in the local militia during the War of 1812 but saw no action.

Both Presidents are buried in Richmond, Virginia’s Hollywood Cemetery. Their graves are a stone’s throw apart.  Monroe’s casket is surrounded by an iron cage.  Tyler’s lies beneath  an obelisk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tyler and Lincoln

John Tyler was not the sort of man who would have been elected President in the first place.  Neither was Abraham Lincoln.  Tyler became President only after William Henry Harrison’s untimely death.  Lincoln became the first Republican President because the Democrats were split in 1860.

Tyler left public life in 1845, but in 1861 he seized the opportunity to lead the peace conference whose goal was to prevent the dissolution of the Union.  He failed.  When Virginia seceded from the Union, he followed his home state.

Unlike Tyler, Lincoln had never been Vice President, U.S. Senator, or governor of a state.  Lincoln had served mostly as an Illinois state legislator.  He had served a single term in the U.S. House of Representatives.  When he ran for the U.S. Senate in 1858, his party won the popular vote, but the Illinois state legislature, which was still in the hands of the Democrats, chose Stephen Douglas instead.

In November 1861 Tyler was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives.  He died in January 1862 before he could take his seat.  If he had died during the peace conference of 1861, perhaps historians would have been kinder to his memory.

If Lincoln had died in January 1862, historians would probably have regarded him as a failure.  By that time eleven states had seceded from the Union, Fort Sumter had been seized, and the disastrous 1st Battle of Bull Run had occurred.  Fortunately, Lincoln lived long enough to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, fight for the 13th Amendment, and receive word of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.  He is generally regarded as the greatest U.S. President.

Tyler and Calhoun

John Tyler was not the sort of man who would have been elected President in the first place.  Neither was John Calhoun.  Tyler became President only after William Henry Harrison’s untimely death.  Calhoun gave up on the idea of becoming President and instead sought to become Vice President.  In this capacity he served in two very different administrations.

It would be wrong to say that he served the Presidents who headed the aforementioned administrations, because Calhoun clearly had his own agenda.  In the John Quincy Adams administration Calhoun was not really favorable to Adams’s proposed program of internal improvements.  In the Jackson administration he resigned during the Nullification Crisis.  Neither Adams nor Jackson was very happy with him.

When Daniel Webster resigned in 1843, President Tyler appointed Abel Upshur as Secretary of State.  He was, politically speaking, the ideal man to handle the negotiations that would make the Republic of Texas into a state in the American republic.  Unfortunately, he was accidentally killed in 1844.

Tyler needed a replacement who could sell Texas annexation based on nationalist sentiment.  Even though Tyler was not considering Calhoun, word got around that Calhoun was his choice.  Calhoun was certainly qualified to be Secretary of State, but he was also a strong apologist for the institution of slavery.  Ten years earlier, in a conversation with a Northern friend, Calhoun had said: “There cannot be a durable republic without slavery.”

Tyler decided it would be better to appoint Calhoun than to insult him, and this resulted in some reduction of support for Texas annexation.  Still, all was not lost.  On March 1, 1845, just three days before Tyler left office, he signed the bill that would lead to eventual statehood.  On December 29, 1845 Texas became the 28th state.

 

 

 

Tyler and Jackson

John Tyler was not the sort of man who would have been elected President in the first place.  He became President only after William Henry Harrison’s untimely death.  Andrew Jackson had been elected and re-elected President by significant popular and Electoral vote margins.  His coattails extended even to the next election when his hand-picked successor became President.  When Jackson’s entrenched monetary policy ultimately failed, his successor lost re-election to the Whig Party ticket that named Tyler as Vice President.  However, Tyler and Jackson were mostly in agreement regarding the issues of the day.

Among these issues was the annexation of Texas.  So, when Tyler asked the former President to write a letter to Sam Houston, Jackson accepted the challenge.  He began by appealing to personal friendship.  “…I have been & still am your friend…Some of your enemies have been & are circulating [rumors]…that you are desirous to become closely allied to Great Britain.”  Of course, Jackson wrote that he had put down these notions, saying that Houston “could never become the dupe of England.”

Five days later Jackson wrote again.  Once again he appealed to personal friendship.  He also appealed to Houston’s pride.  “…if you will achieve this annexation your name & fame will become enrolled amongst the greatest chieftains… It will be an unfailing laurel in your ploom (sic).”

When Houston replied, he reiterated Texas’s desire to join the United States.  His main concern was the security of Texas during the negotiations.  What if the Senate should fail to ratify the treaty of annexation?  Texas would be left without a friend.  Jackson assured him “that 39 senators will vote for it.”  This was four more than needed.

However, when the Senate voted in June 1844, the treaty of annexation was rejected.  Jackson died the following June.  Tyler was out of office by then.  Although Texas had not yet officially entered the Union, Tyler and Congress had found a way to make that happen soon.