Post–Civil War Presidents

Ulysses S. Grant, who became a national hero after leading the Union to victory in the Civil War, was inaugurated as president in 1869. He served two terms despite scandals within his administration involving railroad fraud and whiskey taxes. Rutherford B. Hayes succeeded him, winning a controversial election by one electoral vote over Samuel J. Tilden. As a result, he was sometimes referred to as “His Fraudulency” or “Rutherfraud” B. Hayes. Fairly lenient toward the South, Hayes won over his critics by the end of his single term in office.

James A. Garfield came to the presidency in 1881, making him the third Civil War general in a row to become president. It turned out, however, that Garfield was probably safer on the battlefield, for tragedy struck four months into his presidency: he was shot by Charles Guiteau, a disgruntled man who had failed to obtain a federal job. Garfield survived with his gunshot injuries for two months, dying on September 19, 1881.

As with many ascending to high office, no one figured that Chester A. Arthur would become president. Upon Garfield's death, Arthur was sworn in. Ironically, this man who had formerly been given political jobs in return for party loyalty became a staunch supporter of earning federal jobs based on merit. In 1883, Arthur signed the Pendleton Act, which established the Civil Service Commission, requiring job seekers to pass examinations before being admitted to civil service.

Having failed to win the Republican Party's nomination for a second term, Arthur left office. Grover Cleveland then served two terms as president, though not consecutively. He was ousted from office by Benjamin Harrison in 1889, but returned to the White House four years later. Cleveland won the popular vote 49 to 48 percent, but Harrison triumphed in the Electoral College, becoming president. In his two terms, Cleveland earned the nickname of “Old Veto,” for he vetoed more legislation than any prior president. During a severe economic depression, known as the Panic of 1893, Cleveland failed to restore the nation's sagging economy and didn't win a third nomination.

The original Pledge of Allegiance was written by Christian Socialist Francis Bellamy in 1892. The phrase “my flag” was in the original. An act of Congress in 1954 inserted the words “under God” in part as a Cold War patriotic response to the Soviet Union's prohibitions on religion.

Harrison, grandson of the former president William Henry Harrison, supported the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 designed to regulate big business and eliminate monopolies. He also signed the McKinley Tariff Act, which placed tariffs on imported goods, causing a rise in prices.

William McKinley came to office in 1897 and quickly established his reputation in foreign affairs. In 1895, Cubans had risen up against their Spanish rulers, and many Americans sympathized with the revolutionaries. In January 1898, McKinley ordered the U.S. battleship Maine to Havana harbor to check on the hostilities. One month later, the Maine exploded and sunk, killing 262 sailors, causing headlines to cry “Remember the Maine! To hell with Spain!” Having accused Spain of this deliberate attack, the United States declared war on April 25.

Theodore Roosevelt, secretary of the navy at the time of the attack, quit his post and formed a cavalry unit of volunteer soldiers. Known as the Rough Riders, these men landed in Cuba in June, heading inland toward San Juan Ridge. On horseback, armed with a pistol, Roosevelt led his men to victory. The Spanish-American War lasted 113 days, ending with the Treaty of Paris. Under the terms of the treaty, Spain left Cuba, giving Puerto Rico and Guam to the United States along with the Philippines, for which the United States paid $20 million. Also during President McKinley's administration, the nation annexed Hawaii as a territory. The United States was becoming a global force.

Unfortunately, on September 6, 1901, an anarchist from Buffalo, New York, shot President William McKinley. Eight days later the president died from his wounds.

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