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Grant Defeats the KKK

The 13th Amendment, ratified in 1865, freed the slaves.  Around the same time the Ku Klux Klan was founded.  By 1867 the Klan had evolved from a fraternity of disgruntled white supremacists into a terrorist organization.  The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, made the former slaves citizens.  The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, gave them the right to vote.  In 1871 the Klan unleashed a reign of terror upon the former slaves.

The President’s Cabinet advised against decisive action, but Grant did not think this was a time for political caution.  He had already asked Congress for legislation that would give him authority to intervene, and Congress had obliged.  He could not shrink from using this new enforcement power in the face of such atrocities as were being reported.  In just two South Carolina counties the total number of citizens who had been victims of violence exceeded two hundred.  Two had even been murdered.

On October 12, 1871 Grant ordered all perpetrators “to retire peacefully to their homes within five days.”  When the five days were up, and Grant observed that the Klan had not dispersed, he suspended the writ of habeas corpus.  Two days later, the Federal government made over one hundred arrests in South Carolina.

There had been Klan disturbances in other states as well, but Grant’s no nonsense approach prevailed.  The Klan was crushed.

However, some of Grant’s former supporters turned against him.  They even formed a new political party and nominated a very famous person to run against Grant in 1872.



The July Born Presidents in Rhyme

John Quincy had a talk with Clay,

A corrupt deal some would say;

But when no longer President

They called him “Old Man Eloquent.”


His moniker was “Silent Cal,”

Economy his rationale.

He lowered taxes and the debt;

Then faded into the sunset.


Jerry hadn’t sought the post;

It wasn’t what he wanted most.

He pardoned Dick to save the nation

But received no appreciation.


Although he went to Yale and Harvard

Many found his syntax awkward;

And though the victim of vile rumor

Dubya kept his sense of humor.




Senator Charles Sumner is one of the good guys of history.  Before the Civil War he was a determined abolitionist who spoke boldly against slavery.  Although he never joined the Union Army, he did suffer physical injury at the hands of Democrat Congressman Preston Brooks.  Unfortunately, his ego got the best of him during the post war years.  He appointed himself to run foreign policy, undercutting the President and Secretary of State.  He also opposed some of Grant’s efforts to destroy the Ku Klux Klan because he didn’t care for the other Senators who were supporting Grant.

Senator Carl Schurz is one of the good guys of history.  In his youth he fought for democracy against the Prussian army, barely escaping execution.  He was one of the Union generals at Gettysburg.  Unfortunately, his idealism became so focused on civil service reform that he could not see the need to vigorously support Grant’s efforts to destroy the Klan.  Besides, Senators Chandler, Conkling, and Morton – men who supported Grant’s anti-Klan policy – were spoilsmen who strongly opposed civil service reform.

President Ulysses Grant is one of the good guys of history.  During the Civil War he demonstrated what it means to persist.  When victorious, he pressed his advantage.  When defeated or when achieving a pyrrhic victory, he didn’t malinger.  He carried these same qualities into the Presidency.  Unfortunately, many of his political lieutenants took advantage of his good nature.

Also, most unfortunately, lazy historians have perpetuated a one-sided narrative that emphasizes the corruption of these lieutenants and fails to adequately celebrate President Grant’s outstanding record on civil rights.



Staying the Course

Before ratification of the 20th Amendment, the prescribed date for the beginning of Congress’s annual session was the first Monday of December.  The U.S. Constitution does afford some leeway.  Article I, Section 4, Paragraph 2, although setting a fixed day, then reneges by stating “unless they shall by Law appoint a different Day.”

Appointing a different day is exactly what President Grant asked Congress to do in 1871.  He wanted them to meet the day after the previous Congress adjourned.  After giving them five days to get organized, he wrote to the Speaker of the House on March 9: “There is a deplorable state of affairs existing in some portion of the South demanding the immediate attention of Congress.”

What was this “deplorable state of affairs?”  The Ku Klux Klan was suppressing the vote of the former slaves by unleashing an epidemic of violence and murder on them and on any whites who came to their defense.

The previous Congress had passed two Enforcement Acts which pertained to voters’ rights, but they failed to give Grant the authority necessary to defeat the Klan.  Men of principle, who had opposed slavery in Congress and on the battlefield and who had supported the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, had become rather lackadaisical in protecting the civil rights of former slaves.  Senator Sumner, who before the Civil War suffered a beating from a proslavery Democrat, and Senator Schurz, who had been one of the Northern generals at Gettysburg, were trying to move the political discussion away from Reconstruction issues.  Schurz was even planning to work against Grant’s re-election in 1872.

But Grant continued to press the issue.

An Invitation of Honor

Because its commanding officer had been severely wounded at Chancellorsville, the 82nd Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Edward S. Salomon at Gettysburg.  Salomon was a member of the “religious class, some of whom are fighting in our ranks,” that General Halleck referenced in his rebuke to General Grant.  Near the end of the Civil War, Salomon was promoted to brigadier general.  In 1870 President Grant appointed him Governor of the Washington Territory.  Salomon thus became the first Jew in U.S. history to hold a governorship.

Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, who had called General Order No. 11 an “outrage,” now reconsidered his opinion of Grant:  “The appointment shows that President Grant has revoked General Grant’s notorious order No. 11.”  Seven years had elapsed since Grant withdrew the order.  The Rabbi in turn withdrew his disapproval of Grant.

Not everyone was delighted.  Some Protestant and some Catholic leaders were upset, but Grant continued his policy of inclusion.  He next appointed Dr. Herman Bendell as Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Arizona Territory.  In the past such appointments often went to Quakers, but this time Grant appointed a Jewish Civil War surgeon.

Grant was re-elected President in 1872.  When his second term was near the end, he received an invitation to the dedication of Adas Israel synagogue in Washington, D.C.  Grant was the first U.S. President to attend such an occasion.  Nearly fourteen years after issuing the infamous General Order No. 11, Grant became a welcome friend to the Jews.

Text of FDR’s D-Day Prayer

FDR’s Prayer on D-Day, June 6, 1944: 

My fellow Americans: Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas — whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them–help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the Nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.



A Landmark Appointment

President Grant gave his first inaugural address on March 4, 1869.  Near the end he spoke of “proper treatment of the original occupants of this land—the Indians,” and promised to “favor any course toward them which tends to their civilization and ultimate citizenship.”

In the penultimate paragraph he mentioned the recently freed slaves.  “The question of suffrage is one which is likely to agitate the public so long as a portion of the citizens of the nation are excluded from its privileges in any State. It seems to me very desirable that this question should be settled now, and I entertain the hope and express the desire that it may be by the ratification of the fifteenth article of amendment to the Constitution.”

Clearly, Grant had aligned himself with the liberal sentiment of his day, but Grant was not always known for his devotion to civil rights.  Since late 1862 he had been associated with the antisemitic General Order No. 11.  Although he quickly revoked the order and was genuinely remorseful, he had not yet earned the esteem of everyone in the Jewish community.  Fortunately for Grant, some important and influential Jews supported his bid for the Presidency in 1868.

One of these was Simon Wolf, a Washington, D.C. lawyer, who had opened his law practice in the nation’s capital the same year that General Grant had issued the infamous order mentioned above.  President Grant appointed Wolf to the office of Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia.  Wolf had not sought the office and was going to decline, but when he finally did accept, he held that position through all of Grant’s two terms and more than a year into the term of Grant’s successor.