The most significant political issue of Grant's presidency was Reconstruction in the South. Grant continued the military occupation of the South that was begun during Andrew Johnson's time in office. Further, he fought for the right of African Americans to vote because many states had begun denying them this right. In 1870, the fifteenth amendment was passed providing that no one could be denied the right to vote based on race.
Even though Theodore Roosevelt's name is most often mentioned when discussing conservation, it was actually Ulysses S. Grant who created the first national park. On March 1, 1872, he dedicated Yellowstone National Park. It was not only the first of its kind in America but also, according to the National Park System, the first in the world.
In 1875, the Civil Rights Act was passed. This ensured that African Americans would have the same rights for public accommodation, transportation, and entertainment, among other things. It remained in effect until it was ruled unconstitutional in 1883.
Unfortunately, Grant's time as president is most remembered for the major scandals that occurred. The first of these involved speculation by Jay Gould and James Fisk in the gold market. They attempted to corner the market by buying up gold — keeping Grant and his treasury from realizing what was occurring. The two speculators quickly drove up the price of gold. When Grant saw what was happening, he had the treasury add gold into the market to bring the price down on September 24, 1869. This date was known as Black Friday because many investors and businesses that held gold were ruined by the sudden drop in its price.
Credit Mobilier and the Whiskey Ring
In 1872, the Credit Mobilier scandal occurred. Officers in the Credit Mobilier Company were stealing money from the Union Pacific Railroad. To cover up their wrongdoings, they sold stocks at a huge discount to members of Congress. This was revealed during the election of 1872. An investigation by Congress hurt the political reputations of Vice President Schuyler Colfax and other senators and representatives.
The Whiskey Ring scandal occurred in 1875. The government had placed a tax on liquor, and many distillers and federal agents were illegally keeping money that should have been turned over to the government from these taxes. Grant called for punishment of those involved, but upon learning that his personal secretary had been involved, the president acted to protect him from prosecution.
Two other scandals that occurred during Grant's administration involved his secretaries of the treasury and war. Grant's secretary of the treasury, William A. Richardson, gave John Sanborn a job collecting delinquent taxes. At that time, they were experimenting with outsourcing the collection of taxes to private individuals. Sanborn was allowed by Richardson to keep 50 percent of what he collected. Eventually, he got greedy and started collecting taxes even from those not known to be delinquent. Congress investigated and in the end the private collection of taxes was officially ended.
Finally, in 1876, it was revealed that Grant's secretary of war, W. W. Belknap, had taken bribes from traders selling at Indian posts. The House voted unanimously to impeach him. Belknap resigned.
In the end, the corruption and scandals of Grant's administration had a huge impact on national politics. For one thing, the Republican party was weakened. Further, prior to his administration, Reconstruction had been the big national issue but these scandals, along with an economic depression that began in 1873, replaced the Reconstruction of the South as the top news stories of the day.
Little Big Horn
While Grant was president, conflicts were occurring between Native Americans and the military in the West. In 1875, Sioux and Cheyenne Indians decided to fight against the settlers who were intruding on their sacred lands. They gathered with chief Sitting Bull to fight. Lieutenant Colonel George Custer was sent to attack the Lakota and Northern-Cheyenne at Little Big Horn but instead was massacred and scalped. Retribution against the Indians was swift and the Sioux nation was defeated within a year.