The first Grant administration exhibited little in the way of initiative but also faced few major crises, a rarity over the last four decades. Yielding often to Republican leadership, Grant appointed many party regulars to his cabinet and rubber stamped most Republican approved legislation. One of the few pieces of legislation Grant was active in passing through Congress was the return of three Confederate states to the Union, completing the process of Reconstruction. As well, Grant was active in continuing the Transcontinental Railroad project, completed under his watch.
His administration, however, was marred by a continuous stream of corruption and lax judgement. Grant was a partisan to a fault, only crossing over to gain Democratic support from his opponent during the 1872 election. Vice President Schuyler Colfax was part of the Credit Mobilier scandal during the first administration, consorting with “robber barons” and con men to take money out of railroad construction projects. Businessmen Jay Gould and James Fisk took advantage of Grant and his patronage network to attempt cornering the gold market. Only a last second maneuver by the Treasury prevented an economic disaster from taking place. Grant was a great military leader but an ineffective bureaucrat.
The Democratic Party, eager to supplant Grant and put the secession issue behind them, nominated Horace Greeley as their presidential candidate for 1872. Greeley, a wealthy New York publisher, was one of the founders of the Republican Party in 1854. The fact that the Democrats endorsed Greeley showed that they wanted to go in a significantly different direction as far as policy was concerned. Greeley was a liberal who favored higher tariffs to protect American business and reform the civil service. The Democrats used Greeley’s outspoken nature to their advantage, having him speak throughout the country and reach out to voters. Greeley spoke against the corruption of the Grant administration and vowed to bring a new voice to a government overrun by complacency.
Grant, not a great campaigner, let surrogates get out his message. The economy was improving under the Republicans, despite some brief forays into malfeasance. Greeley was a Republican who embraced the Democratic label for purely political, not ideological, purposes. The Democrats still represented the secessionist South and could not be trusted to lead the United States.
Overall, Grant’s campaign was effective in discrediting Greeley as a viable presidential candidate. With a new vice-presidential candidate in Henry Wilson, Ulysses S Grant won a second presidential term. In the electoral college vote, Grant won 286 votes to Greeley’s 66, but Greeley died before the electoral college votes were confirmed. In technical terms, Greeley received only three votes (all from Georgia) while the other 63 votes went to various Democrats. Grant continued on as president, but his second term would be much more difficult to weather as corruption and apathy mounted in the White House.