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Scandals of the Reconstruction Period

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Regardless of the time period, issue, or importance, when it comes to politics, people are bound to make mistakes. Sometimes these mistakes are quite large, and other times they are rather small and insignificant. But sometimes these mistakes can develop into scandals. During the Reconstruction period after the American Civil War, there were four main scandals that occurred, the Tweed Ring scandal in New York, the Credit Mobilier scandal, the Black Friday scandal, and lastly, the Dawes Acts.

The Tweed Ring scandal was a political scandal that stretched from 1866 to 1871. During this time, Tammany Hall in Manhattan was the Democratic organizer and it was led by William ‘Boss’ Tweed. On top of being the main leader in the political aspect of the organization, Tweed was also the chief officer in embezzling millions of dollars in public funds. Although he managed to steal millions of dollars, the scandal had more to do with politics. The Tweed Ring organization dominated New York politics, encouraged judicial corruption and even bought votes from many people. This ongoing and extreme fraudulence went on from the mid-1860s to the early 1870s, but reached its peak in 1871 when they openly remodeled the City Court House, which describes as a “a blatant embezzlement of city funds that was exposed by The New York Times”. After the efforts of many opponents, every member of the Tweed Ring was swept from power and many, if not all, were formally punished and sentenced to prison. Boss Tweed was tried and sentenced to prison which he served for a short period of time before escaping and fleeing to Cuba. However, he didn’t last long before he was identified and sent back to prison where he eventually died. After stealing millions of dollars and holding the politics of New York in his hand, he was forced to be punished.

The next scandal we will talk about is the Credit Mobilier scandal. The Credit Mobilier scandal was a political scandal that involved the stealing of money amongst the bribery of many important political figures. Thomas Durant was the Union Pacific Executive and the chief involved in the Credit Mobilier scandal. He created what was considered a business model that was a money-making machine. It wasn’t illegal at the time, but it should have been. Durant believed that building a railroad would be easier than running one. So, he created a construction company and involved a specific group of investors while greatly limiting their liability. Through skilled work and bribery amongst other executives in the business, Durant was able to essentially hire himself to build the railroad, being paid by the Union Pacific and the investors while barely spending anything himself for the actual construction of the railroad. He had conned his way into making astronomical profits for his phony business. He even went so far as to add an unnecessary 9-mile bend to the railroad, generating even more profit from absolutely nothing. Some three years later, the company was taken over by Oliver and Oakes Ames, who later found themselves overwhelmed by legislators who wanted in on the action. Later, scandal erupted as the stock receipts from the business showed the embezzlement as well as the name of a dozen or so political figures involved in the corruption. Congress looked to an investigation on all who were involved, including the investors, but only the Ames brothers and those they specifically pointed out were punished. Durant, the investors and others on the board for the organization were never punished, only one of Ames brothers and a single Democrat investor were tried. American Experience explains the situation by saying, “As a crowning insult to the public trust, the schemers were never punished”.

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Next, we have the Black Friday scandal. The Black Friday scandal, like most political sandals, involved stealing, embezzlement, conning, and even political figures. Two men, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk were financers who worked through bribery and conning to gain wealth and important positions. When Ulysses S. Grant became president, he wanted to work at improving the economy by reducing the supply of paper money. His plan was to buy the paper money back from people using gold. This plan would ruin Gould and Fisk’s plans at cheating Wall Street. They wanted to buy as much gold as they could while the value rose, and then once the price of gold got high enough, they would sell it off for a huge profit, but if President Grant put more gold into the market, it would devalue and keep the prices low. Gould and Fisk plan was to connect with Grant's brother-in-law, Able Rathbone Corbin, who was also a financier. The three of them would meet and discuss finances with Grant at social gatherings, arguing against the idea of putting the gold into the market. Corbin came in contact with a man named Daniel Butterfield who was also a con man in the financial world. Corbin then convinced Grant to hire Butterfield as the assistant of the Treasury, where he would then tip off Gould and Fisk’s when the government was thinking of selling the gold. This plan seemed flawless until Grant started to become suspicious. He discovered a letter from his sister to his wife, talking about the gold con, and then was fully aware that he himself was being conned. Furious, he sent word that Corbin should be stopped, and Grant immediately began to sell the gold. Gould and Fisk's plan to buy gold as the prices raised worked, but once the government gold hit the market, the prices dropped at an extreme rate. Many people lose thousands of dollars including Corbin. Butterfield was removed from his post, Grant was seen as having gone through another scandal, Gould escaped with a profit and managed to continue conning his way through various companies, while Fisk’s didn’t last long before he was killed by a fellow financier.

Lastly, we have the Dawes Act. Unlike the other scandals mentioned in this paper, the Dawes Act was an inhumane scandal against the Native Americans. It didn’t involve money, conning, or political figures, it only harmed the Native Americans and their way of life for the convenience of the white man. It was proposed by Senator Henry Dawes of Massachusetts and was enacted in 1887. Under the Dawes Acts the federal government could break up the Native Americans land into sections, and only those Native Americans who accepted the rules and laws under the Dawes Acts were allowed to become U.S. citizens. Essentially the purpose of the Dawes Acts had started out innocent, those who agreed with it wanted the best for the Native Americans, but under these initial laws, it didn’t gain enough approval, and in effect the Dawes Act became a severely harsh treatment of the Native people of the country. By the time the Dawes Act was passed and put into action, its purpose was to bring Native Americans into the new culture by annihilating their own culture and social traditions. As a result, over 90 million acres of land were stolen from the Native Americans and sold to non-natives for the purpose of ‘helping’ the Native Americans. This scandal was among one of the most gross, inhumane periods in American history. As a result, Native Americans lived in poverty, were stricken with illness and disease, lived in filth and many were unable to conform to this society that was forced upon them.

American history has had its highs and its lows. Through the development of the country and its culture men, whether powerful or not have managed to con, deceive, steal and lie their way to wealth and power. These acts of unhealthy desire have led to the cause of some of the biggest scandals in American history. Scandals such as the Tweed Ring, the Credit Mobilier, and the Black Friday scandal all involved the embezzlement of money along with the distrust of many political figures. While scandals such as the Dawes Act were proven to be inhumane and disgusting towards others in the country. As was proven by all of these, lying and deceit will only get you somewhere until you inevitably get caught.


  1. Editors. “‘Boss’ Tweed Delivered to Authorities”., A&E Television Networks, 9 Feb. 2010,
  2. Georges, Jessica. “Boss Tweed and the Tammany Republicans”. The Gotham Center for New York City History, The Gotham Center for New York City History, 15 Sept. 2016,
  3. “The Crédit Mobilier Scandal”. PBS, Public Broadcasting Service,
  4. “The Crédit Mobilier Scandal”. US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives,
  5. “Black Friday, September 24, 1869”. PBS, Public Broadcasting Service,
  6. “The Dawes Act (Dawes Severalty Act) (Article)”. Khan Academy, Khan Academy,
  7. “Dawes General Allotment Act”. Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.,
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Scandals of the Reconstruction Period. (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 10, 2023, from
“Scandals of the Reconstruction Period.” Edubirdie, 15 Dec. 2022,
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Scandals of the Reconstruction Period [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 15 [cited 2023 Dec 10]. Available from:
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