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Black Friday, Part 2

February 22, 2017

General Grant was not yet 47 years old when he became President.  This made him the youngest President up to that time.  Although he had recently served in the Johnson Administration as Secretary of War ad interim, that was the extent of his experience in public life.  Even at that, the structure of the Cabinet was similar to a council of generals.  President Washington had assembled the first Cabinet back in 1789, and it was based upon his understanding of how a commanding officer would interact with those immediately under his command.  Therefore, in a qualified sense, we can truthfully say that Grant had no political experience when he became President in 1869.

James Fisk and Jay Gould were wealthy businessmen in their early thirties who had bested Commodore Vanderbilt for control of the Erie Railroad.  Grant’s new brother-in-law Abel Rathbone Corbin introduced them to the President as they all stood in the foyer at Corbin’s mansion.

The Federal Treasury was taking steps to stabilize the gold market.  If Fisk and Gould could get insider information, they could manipulate the market to their advantage.  When they spoke with the President about the topic in a general way, he listened; but when it was Grant’s turn to speak, he simply lit another cigar and changed the subject.

Unfortunately, Fisk and Gould interpreted Grant’s reticence as his way of preserving deniability.  Also unfortunately, the public interpreted Grant’s visits with Fisk and Gould as endorsement of their developing scheme.

It all came to an end on Black Friday, September 24, 1869.

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