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President Ulysses S. Grant's Foreign Policy

Instructor: Richard Weil

Richard teaches an online world geography class, he holds a doctorate in the field.

During President Grant's two terms he had a good Secretary of State who counseled him in foreign relations. They avoided war with Spain and settled claims with Britain, leaving America at peace and respected in the world. Read on to learn more about Grant's foreign policy during his presidency.

President Ulysses S. Grant

U.S. Grant, President 1869-1877
President U.S. Grant

Most people know Ulysses S. Grant as a Civil War general and the man on the $50 bill, but he was also president of the United States. Domestically he wasn't too successful, in fact his administration was one of the most corrupt in American history. Grant was not politically sophisticated and people often took advantage of him. But in foreign affairs he was lucky. It was a mostly quiet time in world history and he had a good man to guide him.

Hamilton Fish served as Grant's Secretary of State. A former governor and senator, Fish was smart, honest and well-respected. He made the State Department more efficient and kept America on good terms with other nations.

Caribbean Affairs

The first big foreign problem Grant and Fish had was with Cuba. The island was fighting a revolution against Spain. Officially American was neutral, but private citizens sympathized with the Cubans, raised money and sent arms. In 1873 the public was outraged when Spain captured an American blockade runner, the ''Virginius'', which was carrying weapons and soldiers to the Cuban rebels. Fifty-three of the passengers and crew were shot. Fish negotiated for the freedom of the remaining prisoners, and Madrid later paid restitution. War with Spain would not come until 1898.

The Virginius survivors come home
Return of the Virginius survivors

Grant was less successful in the Dominican Republic. After decades of occupation by Haiti and then Spain, the nation was in poor condition. While Fish negotiated for a naval base at Samaná Bay, its president asked that the U.S. just annex the country, so Grant submitted a treaty to do so. But despite his efforts, the Senate rejected the treaty. Congress did not want to get involved in a foreign and unstable land. Attempts by Fish to purchase lands for a canal across either Panama or Nicaragua also failed due to Congressional indifference and native opposition.

Grant wanted a base at Samana Bay
Samana Bay, D.R.  Photo by author, all rights waived.

The Pacific and Africa

While Europe remained the focus of America's business interests, there was concern with other parts of the world. The Reciprocity Treaty of 1875 was signed with Hawaii, enabling the U.S. to import native crops, notably sugar, duty-free, and American manufactured goods were given the same access to the islands. This economically tied the Hawaiian Islands to the United States.

The U.S. was also involved in Liberia during Grant's presidency. In 1847, freed American slaves founded the country. Now the native Grebo people were in revolt. James Turner, a former slave himself, was sent by the United States as consul general and successfully negotiated peace.

The Korean Expedition

Grant allowed one foreign military action. Korea had isolated itself and refused to trade with other countries. In 1866, an American merchant ship forced its way in, and the Koreans killed its crew. Shortly afterwards the government began to execute Catholic missionaries and Korean converts. After this, a French naval force attacked Korea, accomplishing little. In 1871, Grant sent a naval squadron. It reached the peninsula near Inchon, but the Koreans would not negotiate. The ships fired on local forts, then the Marines landed and took them. In the fighting, three Americans and hundreds of natives died. With Korea still refusing to talk, the fleet then withdrew.

USS Colorado in Korea, 1871
USS Colorado in Korea

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