The Cabinet of President Ulysses S. Grant

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will learn about President Ulysses S. Grant's cabinet members. We will highlight some of Grant's most influential advisers and explore their notable achievements.

Ulysses S. Grant: War Hero, but Unpopular President

Ulysses S. Grant is probably better known as a Civil War general than a U.S. President. While he is typically regarded as a brilliant military strategist, he has consistently been ranked by historians and the general population alike as one of the most unpopular presidents in American history. Grant served as the 18th President of the United States. Like Abraham Lincoln before him, Grant was a Republican. He was elected to two terms and was in office between 1869-1877, during a period of time we call Reconstruction. In this lesson we will not be exploring why he was an unpopular president; instead we want to examine his cabinet. Let's learn about the men who advised President Grant.

Ulysses S. Grant was an unpopular president whose administration was marked with scandal.

Grant's Secretaries of State

We'll start with the position of Secretary of State since that is typically regarded as one of the most important cabinet positions. Grant had two Secretaries of State. The first, Elihu B. Washburne, served for only 11 days in 1869! An ally of Abraham Lincoln, and a congressmen from Illinois (as Lincoln had also been), Washburne was a leader of the Radical Republicans, a group of Republicans who favored civil rights and took a hard-line stance against former Confederates. Washburne resigned his position of Secretary of State after becoming ill, but it is believed he never intended to serve long in the first place.

Washburne was succeeded by a gentlemen with a rather interesting name, Hamilton Fish. Fish served as Grant's Secretary of State throughout the end of his term. Fish was invaluable to Grant and has typically been regarded highly by historians. Fish helped keep the U.S. from going to war with Spain, and negotiated a settlement with Great Britain in which the U.S. was paid $15 million.

Hamilton Fish served as Secretary of State between 1869-1875 and was an important adviser to President Grant.

Secretaries of Treasury and War

Grant had four Secretaries of Treasury: George S. Boutwell (1869-73), William A. Richardson (1873-74), Benjamin H. Bristow (1874-76), and Lot M. Morrill (1876-77). George S. Boutwelll is probably the most noteworthy of Grant's Treasury Secretaries. He was a gifted administrator who was reform-minded. He worked to reorganize the Treasury Department, supported a reduction of the national debt, and called for a return to the Gold Standard. Boutwell was also forced to react to the Gold Panic of 1869 after speculators attempted to corner the market.

Scandal plagued the Grant Administration. Treasury Secretary Benjamin H. Bristow was responsible for breaking up a government conspiracy known as the Whiskey Ring. This basically involved bribes and tax evasion between the government and whiskey distillers.

Grant also had numerous Secretaries of War. They included: John A. Rawlins (1869), William T. Sherman (1869), William W. Belknap (1869-76), Alphonso Taft (1876), and James D. Cameron (1876-77). This case, his interim secretary, William T. Sherman is the most noteworthy. You may remember that Sherman had been a popular and effective Union general during the Civil War. Sherman served as an interim secretary for only one month, until William W. Belknap succeeded him.

Civil War hero, William T. Sherman served briefly as Secretary of War.

Belknap was another of Grant's secretaries whose fall resulted from scandal. His involvement in the Trader Post Scandal (in which he accepted bribes) led to his impeachment. He was succeeded by Alphonso Taft, the father of William Howard Taft (who would later become the 27th president).

Other Cabinet Members

Under President Grant, the Justice Department was created. This government agency is headed by the Attorney General. Grant's Attorney General's included: Ebenezer R. Hoar (1869-70), Amos T. Akerman (1870-71), George H. Williams (1871-75), Edwards Pierrepont (1875-76), and Alphonso Taft (1876-77). Throughout the Grant Administration these men worked to arrest and convict members of the Klu Klux Klan (KKK). They also worked to ensure civil rights for African Americans.

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