The Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant in the United States was marred by many scandals, including Black Friday, corruption in the Department of the Interior, and the Whiskey Ring. (The Crédit Mobilier scandal, although exposed during his tenure, is not considered a Grant scandal.) Although Grant was not directly involved with these scandals, his associations with people of questionable character and his reliance on cronyism, nepotism, and political patronage gave rise to accusations of "Grantism".
The term "Grantism" was originally coined by Senator Charles Sumner in a speech on May 31, 1872, a Presidential election year. It was used by Sumner to differentiate the Republican Party from Grant. The two men had been political enemies ever since Sumner's refusal to annex Santo Domingo to the United States. Sumner accused Grant of political patronage, nepotism, and being an autocrat like Julius Caesar.
Sumner charged that Grant had hindered African American national sovereignty rights in the Caribbean with the annexation proposal of Santo Domingo, although it is now believed Grant wanted to annex the country as a safe haven for African Americans from Ku Klux Klan violence and overturn slavery in Cuba and Brazil. Sumner was also angry that Grant used his personal secretary to establish international relations with Santo Domingo, rather than acting through the State Department and Congress. Sumner summed up Grantism as a despotic government of "one man and his personal will". The lengthy speech was used as the political platform for the Liberal Republican Party and launched the political career of Horace Greeley as the party's presidential candidate in 1872.
Grant as reformer
Historian Louis Arthur Coolidge noted that although Grant had critics, including Sumner, concerning presidential patronage, he was the first president to advocate and sign into law civil service reform legislation on March 4, 1871. Grant said that the "elevation and purification of civil service of the government will be hailed with approval by the whole people of the United States". The historians H. Wayne Morgan and Ari Hoogenboom say that Grant's presidential reputation for corruption has been exaggerated. Grant placed leading reformer George William Curtis as head of the civil service commission set up to establish regulations, in order to ensure the best person qualified would hold office. In addition to signing the civil service reform, Grant limited and finally abolished the moiety system in which private citizens contracted as Treasury revenue agents and received a percentage of delinquent taxes assessed and collected.
The Liberal Republicans defined "corruption in government" to mean Grantism from 1873-1875. The Liberal Republicans ceased to exist after the reforming Democratic Party assumed a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1875-1881. After assuming control of the House, the Democrats launched a series of corruption investigations into the Grant Administration from 1875-1876. Today, "Grantism" is defined as any political corruption and greed in government. During Grant's presidency, many of his associates took part in price skimming and tax evasion. "Grantism" also refers to big business undermining control of local and national government.