Once Upon a Time

Quincy lawyer pushed for Grant presidency

Isaac Newton Morris of Quincy is the subject of this undated photograph. Grundy County’s county seat was named for him. | Photo courtesy of Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County
Posted: Jul. 22, 2018 12:30 am Updated: Jul. 22, 2018 12:39 am

He was, said presidential candidate Ulysses S. Grant of Isaac Newton Morris of Quincy, "a lifelong friend." So, when Morris, who had encouraged fellow Democrats to support Republican Grant in the 1868 presidential election and invited the Civil War general to Quincy, Grant agreed. The visit was not what Grant expected.

As a soldier, Grant had known the strategies and politics of war. Although he liked neither, he found they did not end when the war did. After the war, Grant found himself cast often in the vortex of strategy and politics. President Andrew Johnson, who was facing impeachment, tried to use Grant to smooth over the firing of Congress' Radical Republican favorite, secretary of war Edwin Stanton.

Johnson had appointed Grant temporarily to replace Stanton, which appeased the opposition, temporarily. Grant would not be used, however, and denied that he told Orville Hickman Browning, a Quincyan who was President Johnson's secretary of interior, that he had promised to take the position permanently.

Grant's strenuous objection to Johnson's attempt to stop Reconstruction in the South, which was among the 11 charges for which Johnson was impeached, made Grant an even more credible candidate for the Republican nomination for president.

When Johnson was acquitted, which left radical Republicans badly wounded politically, the more conservative but Reconstruction-minded Grant won the Republican nomination for the presidency.

His journey to this point had been strenuous, and Grant now wanted little more than some seclusion.

Isaac Morris thought Grant needed more than that. Morris was the son of U.S. Senator Thomas Morris of Ohio. The younger Morris studied law in Ohio and moved to Illinois to join brother-in law Calvin A. Warren in a law partnership in Warsaw in 1836.

Morris dissolved the partnership after Warren and Mark Aldrich, a founder of Warsaw, were caught cheating and gouging newly arrived Mormons in sales of land and food.

Morris moved his wife, Anne, and their three sons, Edgar, Lucien and Robert, to Quincy in 1838. He established a law practice and became an editor of the Argus newspaper. Although his father had been an ardent abolitionist and in 1844 became the vice presidential candidate of the Liberty Party, Isaac Morris separated himself from his father's beliefs and became active in Illinois Democratic politics. He developed a friendship with Thomas Carlin, a Democrat who headed the federal land office in Quincy. After his election as governor in 1838, Carlin sought to appoint Morris secretary of state in 1840. Both Carlin and Morris were embarrassed to learn that Stephen A. Douglas had outmaneuvered them to win the Senate's approval of his candidacy. Carlin appointed Morris a commissioner to the Illinois-Michigan Canal board. When Grundy County was organized along the canal right of way, the county seat of Morris was named for him.

His political acuity growing, Morris was elected to Congress in 1857 and served two terms. He joined Illinois Democrats to oppose President James Buchanan's demand that Democrats support the Lecompton Constitution, which would have guaranteed slavery in Kansas.

Morris supported Douglas' plan to permit the residents of Kansas to decide the issue by their vote, known as "popular sovereignty." Like Douglas, Morris did not believe people would vote for slavery.

"I am satisfied that not one Democrat ... would hesitate a single moment to vote for the admission of Kansas as a slave state if it was the will of the majority of her people to have it so," Morris said on the floor of Congress in his opposition to President Buchanan.

His brother-in-law, Calvin Warren, blocked Morris' renomination in the party's state convention in 1860, and Democrat William A. Richardson of Quincy was nominated to replace him. Unlike Richardson, Morris shifted his support to Lincoln and the Union, a position he retained throughout the war.

Grant and Morris had maintained a personal correspondence over the years. In 1863, with the nation weary of war, Morris suggested that Grant consider answering calls to the presidency.

Grant declined: "I am not a politician, never was and never hope to be, and could not write a political letter. My only desire is to serve the country in her present trials."

Grant asked Morris to keep this letter confidential. "I want to avoid being heard from by the public except through acts in the performance of my duties."

Believed the first to advocate a Grant presidency, Morris wrote a 17-page pamphlet, "Grant: And Why He Should Be Elected President." He also wrote eight letters to Francis Blair Jr., the Democratic vice presidential candidate, who had charged that Grant's support for Reconstruction would usurp the rights of the South.

Grant had hoped that Morris would have kept his visit to Quincy confidential, as well. Wherever he went, the candidate -- reluctant to be heralded and even more reluctant to make speeches -- was met by throngs of appreciative well-wishers.

The enthusiasm amazed him. It also tired him. He had not made his plan to visit Quincy known. Thinking he had gone to Quincy with the understanding he would do so quietly, Grant was surprised by the huge reception.

"What was my surprise to find what seems to be not only the whole city, but the whole county of Adams, turned out to welcome me to your midst," he told the thousands who greeted him on his arrival Aug. 15, 1868. But that night, he wrote, "I flattered myself that I was getting here quietly; but the telegraph seemed to notify everybody on the route after we got about halfway and everybody was out on the platforms to meet us. I felt sorry that I had consented to come. The enthusiasm of the people seemed to be very great, but I feel a little out of place putting myself in a position where I may be misunderstood."

Grant's dissatisfaction with the unwanted public attention to his Quincy visit did not change his friendship with Morris. In early 1869, President Grant appointed Morris a commissioner of the Union Pacific Railroad.

Morris died Oct. 29, 1879, in Quincy and was buried in Woodland Cemetery.


Reg Ankrom is the author of an award-winning biography of U.S. Sen. Stephen A. Douglas. He is a member of several history-related organizations and speaks frequently on pre-Civil War, American and local history.



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"Obituary, Death of the Hon. Isaac N. Morris: Brief Sketch of His Life and Public Services," Daily Quincy Herald, October 30, p. 1879.


The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, Vol 19: July 1, 1868-Oct. 31, 1869, edited by John Y. Simon. (Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press), pp. 13, 22, 38, 49


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