President Grant's Last Message to Congress


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Grant's Last Message to Congress.—The following is the opening of his last message to Congress (Dec. 5, 1876), the part in which he reviews the events of his double term of office:

To the Senate and House of Representatives,—In submitting my eighth and last annual message to Congress, it seems proper that I should refer to, and in some degree recapitulate, the events and official acts of the past eight years.

It was my fortune, or misfortune, to be called to the office of chief executive without any previous political training. From the age of seventeen I had never even witnessed the excitement attending a Presidential campaign but twice antecedent to my own candidacy, and at but one of them was I eligible as a voter.

Under such circumstances it is but reasonable to suppose that errors of judgment must have occurred. Even had they not, differences of opinion between the executive, bound by an oath to the strict performance of his duties, and writers and debaters, must have arisen. It is not necessarily evidence of blunder on the part of the executive because there are these differences of views. Mistakes have been made, as all can see and I admit, but it seems to me oftener in the selections made of the assistants appointed to aid in carrying out the various duties of administering the government, in nearly every case selected without a personal acquaintance with the appointee, but upon recommendations of the representatives chosen directly by the people. It is impossible, where so many trusts are to be allotted, that the right parties should be chosen in every instance. History shows that no administration, from the time of Washington to the present, has been free from these mistakes. But I leave comparisons to history, claiming that I have acted in every instance from a conscientious desire to do what was right, constitutional within the law, and for the very best interests of the whole people. Failures have been errors of judgment, not of intent.

My civil career commenced, too, at a most critical and difficult time. Less than four years before the country had emerged from a conflict such as no other nation had ever survived. Nearly one-half of the States had revolted against the government; and, of those remaining faithful to the Union, a large percentage of the population sympathized with the rebellion and made an "enemy in the rear," almost as dangerous as the more honorable enemy in the front. The latter committed errors of judgment, but they maintained them openly and courageously; the former received the protection of the government they would see destroyed, and reaped all the pecuniary advantage to be gained out of the then existing state of affairs.

Immediately on the cessation of hostilities, the then noble President, who had carried the country so far through its perils, fell a martyr to his patriotism at the hands of an assassin.

The intervening time to my first inauguration was filled up with wranglings between Congress and the new executive as to the best mode of " reconstruction," or, to speak plainly, as to whether the control of the government should be thrown immediately into the hands of those who had so recently and persistently tried to destroy it, or whether the victors should continue to have an equal voice with them in this control. Reconstruction, as finally agreed upon, means this and only this, except that the late slave was enfranchised, giving an increase, as was supposed, to the Union-loving and Union-supporting votes. If free, in the full sense of the word, they would not disappoint this expectation. Hence, at the beginning of my first administration the work of reconstruction—much embarrassed by the long delay—virtually commenced. It was the work of the legislative branch of the government. My province was wholly in approving their acts, which I did most heartily, urging the legislatures of States that had not yet done so to ratify the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution. The country was laboring under an enormous debt, contracted in the suppression of rebellion, and taxation was so oppressive as to discourage production. Another danger also threatened us—a foreign war. The last difficulty had to be adjusted, and was adjusted without a war, and in a manner highly honorable to all parties concerned. Taxes have been reduced within the last seven years nearly $300,000,000, and the national debt has been reduced in the same time over $435,000,000. By refunding the 6 per cent. bonded debt for bonds bearing 5 and 41/2 per cent. interest, respectively, the annual interest has been reduced from over $130,000,000 in 1869 to but little over $100,000,000 in 1876. The balance of trade has been changed from over $130,000,000 against the United States in 1869 to more than $120,000,000 in our favor in 1876.



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