Grant Administration Scandals
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The postwar era was marked by widespread political corruption. Dishonest scalawags and carpetbaggers enriched themselves in state and local governments of the South during Reconstruction. Cities in the North were not immune to the prevailing greed where the infamous Tweed Ring of New York City set the standard for urban corruption. On the national level the two Grant administrations established a woeful record, although few doubted the president`s personal honesty.
Major scandals included the following:
Nevertheless, the fraud was exposed in 1872. It was apparent that Vice president Schuyler Colfax had been bribed with stock. House Speaker James A. Garfield was linked to the dealings, but his participation was never proven.
Despite the loss of $20 million (a huge sum in the 1870s), no prosecutions ever occurred.
The conspirators bought huge amounts of gold and gold futures, sending the price of the commodity spiraling upward. They intended to sell everything at an enormous profit. However, Grant came to realize that his brother-in-law’s advice was harming public confidence and he ordered the immediate sale of $4 million worth of government gold. The price plummeted. Thousands of people suffered financial losses – not including Fisk and Gould, who refused to pay off their obligations.
Belknap was impeached by the House of Representatives, but acquitted by the Senate in August 1876.
The frequency of these events led to the use of the term “Grantism,” a word synonymous with greed and corruption. Many people at the time speculated that money from these ventures was being funneled into Republican Party coffers.
These unsavory dealings led to the establishment of a Liberal Republican Party.
The true villain in these scandals was the spoils system, in which successful officeholders rewarded their supporters with political appointments. An ever-growing part of the population began to recognize the need for some type of civil service reform.
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